Leicestershire is the only historic county of England which does not yet have a flag registered with the Flag Institute. We were delighted, therefore, when BBC Radio Leicester agreed to run a Flag of Leicestershire competition, endorsed by the Flag Institute, to select a flag for this county. An independent panel shortlisted 6 designs. Voting has been taking place between 16th November and is due to conclude on Sunday 29th November at 12 noon. Regrettably, this competition has become the subject of a great deal of controversy. ABC’s view is that the most sensible course of action now is for the results of the current vote to be set aside and a new process to register a flag for Leicestershire begun in 2021.
ABC’s concern in this is to see the registration of a Leicestershire flag which is well designed, clearly represents the county, has an unquestionable public mandate and has the potential to become a popular flag within the county. We have no preference for any particular design. But we do believe it is vital that the competition be conducted fairly, and be seen to be conducted fairly, since only that way can a flag emerge which meets these objectives.
The controversy surrounds the action by BBC Leicester to exclude one of the short-listed entries from the competition after the vote had begun. The BBC’s stated view is that this entrant breaks one of its terms and conditions, specifically that “the entrants warrant, by submitting the flag design, that the flag design will not have previously been offered for publication, in any other form or medium to any other person or company.” The BBC claims to have disqualified the entry since it “had been published on a third party website and made commercially available for sale for anyone to purchase.”
The promoters of the excluded flag have taken issue with the BBC about this alleged breach of the competition terms and conditions. Our understanding is that the promoters of the excluded flag had copies of it made by Mr Flag some time ago to use in promoting their design around the county. This is commonly done by those promoting a flag design. The requirement for inclusion in the Flag Institute’s Flag Registry has always been that the design be offered for public use with no copyright restrictions. The designer and promoters of the excluded flag have confirmed that this flag is offered under those terms. Mr Flag itself has confirmed that the flag was not designed by them and is not owned by them.
Whatever the technicalities of the BBC’s T&Cs, the problem is that the flag which has been excluded would clearly be permitted under the terms and conditions used in previous flag competitions and as described in the Flag Institute’s excellent ‘Creating Local and Community Flags‘ document. Many flags have been registered previously which had been promoted and flown around their county for several years prior to that. In fact, 29 of the 39 registered English flags were commercially available in one guise or another prior to registration. To exclude a flag from the flag registration process on these grounds has no precedent. To our knowledge the BBC has not explained why it has imposed this condition.
The decision to rule out one of the flags has already led to an outcry and can only lead to the result of the competition being challenged and many people not accepting whichever flag is chosen from the reduced list of options presented. The whole situation is unfortunate but it clearly would not be fair on any of the shortlisted entries to conclude the competition as currently configured and to declare a winner.
The solution is to set aside the current competition and to re-run the competition in the new year with terms and conditions which are in keeping with those in the Flag Institute’s published guide and are in keeping with previous flag registrations. The people of Leicestershire should be able to vote freely for which flag design they prefer and not have that choice restricted by a condition the BBC has imposed which no-one seems to understand the point of.
Nobody wants to see this process dragged out and to see a delay in registering a Leicestershire flag. However, it is far more important to do things right than to do them quickly