The Catch 22 clause in the BBC’s complaints procedure

Several readers have brought to our attention instances of the BBC’s recent employment of what is known as the Expedited Complaints Procedure. According to that BBC protocol (introduced in June 2012 – see Annex B):

Expedited Complaints Procedure 1

Expedited Complaints Procedure 2In one case a correspondent has had his access to the BBC complaints system limited until September 2016 and in another case a reader has been informed by the BBC that the Expedited Complaints Procedure will be applied to his complaints in the coming two years on the basis of clauses (d) and (e) in the above protocol.

“(d) are shown on investigation to have no reasonable prospect of success; or

(e) after rejection of the complaint at an earlier stage (eg Stage 1), are persistently and repeatedly appealed unsuccessfully to the next stage (eg Stage 2).”

Of course the body which rules whether or not a complaint has a “reasonable prospect of success” and which rejects or accepts an appeal is none other than the self-regulating BBC itself.

The concept of stakeholders in an organisation they are obliged to fund by law being subjected to limitations on complaints on the basis of arbitrary decisions made by that same self-regulating organisation is surely one which is worthy of public debate ahead of the renewal of the BBC’s Royal Charter in 2016.

Related Articles:

The saga of three questions the BBC did not want to answer – part one

The saga of three questions the BBC did not want to answer – part two

The saga of three questions the BBC did not want to answer – part two

In part one of this article we noted the process which led to the BBC’s eventual response to three questions regarding its complaints system which were posed by Mr Neil Turner in April 2013.

 • How many complaints were made to the BBC over the last 5 years on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were upheld (i.e. the BBC makes a correction) on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were rejected by the BBC (i.e. no corrective action taken)?

So what does the information provided by the BBC tell us about its three-stage complaints system?

complaints 1

Because of the general nature of some of the complaints or comments made at Stage 1, the fact that there is no way of knowing what proportion of them related to editorial issues and the additional fact that no information is kept regarding whether changes are made to BBC content as a result of those complaints or comments, it is impossible to establish how many of the members of the public complaining about editorial content at Stage 1 were satisfied with the response they received (if at all) and how many simply abandoned the process at this stage.  

We can, however, clearly conclude that only a small proportion of those complaints were actually pursued further along the process.

At Stage 2 of the complaints process, we see that whilst the actual number of complaints made at that stage has generally risen over the past five years, the percentage of those upheld has fallen.

complaints 2

complaints 3

Seeing as all complaints going on to Stage 3 would have had to pass through Stage 2, we can also look at the number of people whose complaints were not upheld at Stage 2, but dropped out of the process at that point rather than continuing to Stage 3. Hence we see that on average, 45.2% of complainants chose not to pursue further a complaint which was not upheld at Stage 2.

complaints 4

Of those complaints which were pursued to Stage 3, we see that an average of 4.28% were upheld in full.

complaints 5

The fact that a complaint is upheld at Stage 3 indicates that the process at Stage 2 was inadequate, and thus we can see how many complaints which were rejected at Stage 2 were later found to be justified at Stage 3.

complaints 6

The information provided does not include complaints which were partially upheld at Stage 3 and thus likewise indicate that the process at Stage 2 was at least inadequate in part. It is of course impossible to know how many of the 45.2% of complaints which dropped out of the system after rejection at Stage 2 would have been upheld at Stage 3 had they reached that part of the procedure.

As we have documented here in the past (see for example here and here), even the fact that a complaint – which may have spent months or even years going through the entire long and complicated BBC complaints procedure –  is upheld at Stage 3 does not guarantee that a correction will be made to the relevant report or that the public will be informed of any amendment made. Clearly there is an urgent need for reform of that part of the procedure.

As a publicly funded body, the BBC should welcome the feedback from its licence-fee payers which comes in the form of comments or complaints. That feedback is a valuable tool for the improvement of the standard of its journalism and a way for the BBC to feel the pulse of the people for whom – after all – it exists. Instead, members of the public find themselves facing a complicated, time-consuming  and – importantly – self-regulating and therefore subjective process which, as these figures provided by the BBC show, simply causes most people to abandon the process and drop out along the way. 

 

The saga of three questions the BBC did not want to answer – part one

• How many complaints were made to the BBC over the last 5 years on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were upheld (i.e. the BBC makes a correction) on a year by year basis?

• How many complaints were rejected by the BBC (i.e. no corrective action taken)?

Whilst none of the questions above may seem particularly controversial, the BBC refused to answer them when, in April 2013, they were presented by Mr Neil Turner – as previously explained in this article – as a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. What followed over the next twelve months will be of considerable interest to the many readers whose expressions of frustration with the BBC’s labyrinthine complaints procedures drop into our inbox every day.

With the BBC having refused to answer the questions above posed by one of its licence fee payers, Mr Turner asked his Member of Parliament for help in retrieving the information from the BBC’s director general Tony Hall and chair of the BBC Trust Chris Patten. But despite the MP’s significant help, that request was also unsuccessful, as were further communications Mr Turner then made to BBC executives.

The BBC’s refusal to release the requested information under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act cited a clause with which those familiar with the decade-long story of the Balen Report will be only too familiar: it claimed that the BBC was not required under the terms of the FOIA to respond to Mr Turner’s questions, because the corporation is only subject to the FOIA  “in respect of information held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature.”

In other words, the same claim used for the last decade to prevent publication of the Balen Report was again employed to avoid providing the information requested by Mr Turner.

In July 2013 Mr Turner contacted the Information Commissioner with regard to the BBC’s refusal to answer his questions under the FOIA, but the Commissioner backed the BBC’s stance, again citing the “journalism, art or literature” clause – as explained in the parts of the response reproduced below.

FOIA 1

FOIA 2

FOIA 3

FOIA 4

FOIA 5

Mr Turner’s subsequent appeal to the Information Commissioner also upheld the BBC’s stance. His approach to the Information Rights Tribunal in November 2013 was followed in March 2014 by a surprising about-turn in the BBC’s position and a letter from the BBC’s Litigation Department which included the information below.

reply complaints 1

reply complaints 2

reply complaints 3

reply complaints 4

reply complaints 5

reply complaints 6

Despite this provision of previously withheld information to him personally, Mr Turner maintained that the purpose of the FOIA is to make information available to the public at large rather than just to interested individuals.  A week later, Mr Turner was informed by the BBC that should he not withdraw his appeal, he would be pursued for the corporation’s legal costs. As a private citizen without professional legal backing, Mr Turner had no choice but to comply.

This case – in particular given the BBC’s sudden change of stance – of course once again raises questions about the BBC’s use of the “journalism, art and literature” clause of the FOIA,  as indeed does the continuing Balen Report saga.

In part two of this article we will look at what the information provided by the BBC tells us about its complaints procedure.   

 

 

 

 

 

Exclusive: how a complainant convinced the BBC Trust’s ESC to uphold his appeal

As we have previously noted, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee recently upheld an appeal regarding a complaint about a report by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly which was broadcast on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme in June 2011. 

As reported by The Times in mid-March:

“The BBC Trust has upheld a complaint which alleged that a five-minute report on Radio 4’s Today programme about the Six-Day War was misleading and biased, The Times has learnt. […]

The latest complaint relates to an item which aired on the Today programme in June 2011. The report, by Kevin Connolly, one of the BBC’s Middle East correspondents, examined the legacy of the 1967 conflict between Israel and several neighbouring states.

According to the trust’s findings, which were obtained by The Times, a listener alleged that the Today report wrongly gave the impression that Israel occupied land three times its original size as a result of the war, when it had given 90 per cent of the land captured in 1967 back to Egypt. The programme also, the complainant alleged, gave a misleading impression that Israel was not willing to trade land for peace, when it had reached peace deals with Jordan and Egypt that included transfers of conquered territory.

The trust found that the Today report had been inaccurate on both points and that the complaints should be upheld.”

As previously noted here, this complaint took a shocking two and a half years to make its way through the BBC’s complaints procedure and one of the interesting features of the ESC’s report on the topic (pages 9 -23 here) is the documentation of the sudden about-turn in the BBC’s stance regarding the complaint after input from “the News Division and from the BBC correspondent [Kevin Connolly]”.

“On 3 December 2012 the complainant received an undated letter from the Head of the ECU [Editorial Complaints Unit], advising him of the Unit’s provisional finding. The ECU said that by drawing attention to the original extent of the territory occupied by Israel in 1967 without referring to the return of Sinai, the item may have created the impression that Israel remained vastly larger as a result of the war and that land for peace remained an untested option. It had therefore provisionally decided to uphold a breach of accuracy in this respect. [emphasis added]

Following an inquiry by the complainant in March 2013 about whether the decision had been finalised, the complainant was advised that the last letter he had received telling him of the provisional finding, had been sent to him in error; it had been intended as a draft for internal consultation.

As a result of representations from the News Division and from the BBC correspondent in response to the internal circulation of the provisional finding, the Head of the ECU had now altered his view and had decided not to uphold any aspect of the complaint. He said the point had been made to him that the return of Sinai to Egypt following the Camp David Accords was not an instance of “land for peace” as envisaged in those Accords. An integral part of the Accords had been a commitment to “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” and a staged progression towards full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement. Because the ECU was now satisfied that the return of the Sinai did not constitute “land for peace” the significance of any incorrect impression as to the extent of territory Israel had withdrawn from was much reduced and the ECU decided it would not therefore have affected listeners’ understanding of the question under consideration in the report.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the Head of the ECU – who had previously been inclined to uphold the complaint – was persuaded to completely reverse his position by the specious claim of Kevin Connolly et al that Israel’s return of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt within the framework of the peace treaty between the two countries did not constitute ‘land for peace’.  Many of us might simply have given up in the face of such contorted logic, but the complainant did not. Instead, he persevered with a reply to Connolly’s claims.

“The complainant responded to the revised provisional finding on 13 April 2013 with a detailed rebuttal of the ECU’s conclusions, challenging the ECU’s interpretation of the contents of the Camp David Accords.”

Whilst that detailed rebuttal did not prompt the Head of the ECU to change his mind about rejecting the complaint, it was taken into consideration by the Editorial Standards Committee which eventually did uphold the complaint.

BBC Watch contacted the complainant, Sam Green, who kindly agreed to share with us details of his rebuttal of the claims produced by Connolly. Sam’s account below makes fascinating reading for anyone who has ever waded into the BBC complaints procedure and raises serious questions about the workings of that procedure as a whole.

“The lowest point in the grinding slog of my BBC complaint was probably receiving the Editorial Complaints Unit proposed final ruling. This was the final stage within the Corporation before I appealed to the BBC Trust, the semi-detached oversight body.

It was so demoralising because, on top of the delay (I was strongly suspicious they were trying to use delay as a tactic to bury the complaint), the logic in this finding was so flawed, so tortuous, so surreal that this letter made me doubt the bona fides of the organisation. The important thing was not the journalism; it was preventing a complaint succeeding.

The second response came after they had previously said they were planning to partly uphold the complaint, and then said I’d been told that by mistake.

Here is their reasoning on why my complaint didn’t hold water:

“…the return of Sinai to Egypt following the Camp David Accords was not an instance of “land for peace” envisaged in those Accords, an integral part of which was a commitment to “negotiations on the resolution of the Palestinian problem in all its aspects” and a staged progression towards full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement. Put simply, the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai could be regarded as an instance of “land for peace” if that outcome had been achieved, but it has not been.

…Kevin Connolly’s report was concerned with “land for peace” in the same sense – a peace settlement among all parties on the basis of agreed borders…”

I had a problem in how I was going to respond to this; one of the tactics the BBC used was to layer on complication; the more complication they layered on the easier it was for them to say how complicated it all was and they couldn’t possibly hope to deal with all of that. I needed to focus on the internal logic of the report rather than a history of the Middle East. However I did need to engage with their argument, so I dealt with both. It was a long letter.

I started by signposting the attempt to overcomplicate in their response:

I will not be drawn into a line-by-line dissection of the Camp David Accords; it is a diversion from the question of whether your listeners heard an inaccurate and misleading report. They are for the most part not expert in the history and politics of the Middle East, and nor am I. Nor should there be any expectation that we have such specialist knowledge.

If the BBC starts from the expectation that its listeners ought to have postgraduate level knowledge of all the topics it covers it would not benefit your listernership.

I went on to differentiate between the two treaties that made up Camp David, to outline elements of the Egypt Israel Peace Treaty, summarising;

It is called a Peace Treaty. It establishes a state of peace between Egypt and Israel. It links the establishment of that peace with the exchange of territory.

I engaged with the term “land for peace” (their inverted commas) and my efforts to find out where their singular usage they claimed for the phrase had come from. It was not in the other Camp David accord; the Framework for Peace, it was not in the Egypt Israel Peace Treaty. A Google search took me to Security Council Resolution 242 which itself did not contain the phrase, was not raised in the report or previously in the complaint and did not contain a meaning claimed in the ECU provisional ruling.

I moved on to the contradictory and ever fluid meaning of ‘peace’. In the statement from the ECU there was no peace for which land had been traded because the “staged progression  to full autonomy for the West Bank and Gaza and a final status agreement” did not come to pass, and, at the same time it meant “…a peace settlement among all parties on the basis of agreed borders…”. That’s quite an unexplained stretch for a concept. It shows just how desperate the BBC was to retrofit plausible meaning on their report.

I spent quite some words addressing this; if it was about peace with the Palestinians why talk about Syria so much?

The Camp David Accords were between Israel and Egypt. There were no other regional parties who were signatories to those accords or, as far as I understand, who accepted it.

And which parties do you mean? The states involved in the 1967 Six Day War? Syria was excluded from the Camp David accords, Jordan was not a party. And what about Iraq and the Arab League? The PLO, or Fatah, and what about Hamas? Other Arab states? Who are “all parties”? Why is there an assumption that Egypt spoke for and signed on their behalf when they explicitly rejected it?

It was at this point I mentioned the Jordan Peace Treaty of 1994 which also included territorial concessions. Land as part of a peace deal.

And the withdrawal from Gaza in 2005; more complex but still relevant in terms of willingness to withdraw from conquered territory.

In terms of the extent of territory under Israeli control, the ECU had this to say;

“…the significance of such an incorrect impression is much reduced if the resulting inference that ‘land for peace remained an untested option’ is not viewed as misleading; and, on balance, I don’t think it would have affected listeners’ understanding of the question under consideration in the report to the extent that I would regard it as a breach of editorial standards.”

To me it seemed blindingly obvious:

a listener without specialist knowledge would naturally infer that in the absence of any statement to the contrary Israel remains triple the size (or controls territory triple its original size).

After travelling much further into the complex history of the region than I wanted to, I had moved to my real point; the importance in not losing sight of what the listener heard and the natural meaning they would associate with that.

Turning to the question of land for peace. I again suggest it is appropriate for you to rely on natural meaning… the impression your listener would have been left with by the report that went out was one of intransigence and unwillingness to trade territory for peace. An impression that required context.

…on any natural meaning, as understood by a reasonable listener, trading more than 90% of the territory captured in the context of peace treaties, for peace, constitutes land for peace; land pursuant to peace. Trying to use semantics to argue otherwise smacks of casuistry.

This made no impact on the ECU which rejected the complaint. It is only because the complaint managed to reach the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee that these points (along with later submissions) were properly considered, and the Trust ruled that the report was inaccurate and misleading; that it was bad journalism.

The question now is; why didn’t Kevin Connolly understand that? Does he get it now? Does he accept it? Why didn’t the Today programme producers and Editor understand that? Why didn’t the people dealing with the initial complaint understand that and why, for all their lengthy and reflective deliberations didn’t the ECU understand that?

And what are they all going to do about it?

They haven’t said – and I think we can all have a pretty good guess at the answers to all of those questions.” 

 

 

More on the uselessness of BBC complaints response targets

The same BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee report referred to in this recent post also includes the ESC’s findings regarding complaints made concerning another edition of the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme which was broadcast on November 7th 2012 – see details of that programme here.

The appeal was not upheld (see pages 24 – 29 here).  Among several interesting aspects of the committee’s decision is that fact that it seems to embrace a quaint belief that if something has been written or said by a journalist – any journalist – it must be true.

“The Committee considered that the range of submissions from the BBC demonstrated that the World Affairs Editor’s analysis was broadly representative of the media coverage at the time…”

In its findings regarding the two and a half year-long complaint concerning the ‘Today’ programme’s June 10th 2011 edition which appears before this one in the ESC report, it was noted that the stage 1A reply took over six times the acceptable defined time to reach the complainant than designated by the BBC. target

“the Stage 1A response from Audience Services took 65 working days, against the target of 10 days.” [emphasis added]

One of the people who made a complaint about the ‘Today’ programme’s  November 7th 2012 edition has informed us that:

“I made my complaint at Stage 1A on 9th November 2012 and got my first response (despite numerous phone calls and emails in the meanwhile, which were recorded and given their own BBC Complaints reference numbers) on 24th May 2013.”

In other words, the 10 day target was in that case exceeded by an incredible 186 days.

And yet the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee is not persuaded of “any shortcoming in the procedure itself“.

 

Two and a half years a BBC complainant

Earlier this month we noted a Times report on the subject of the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee’s upholding of a complaint against an edition of the ‘Today’ programme broadcast on June 10th 2011. 

The BBC Trust has now published its findings and they can be read on pages 9 – 23 here.

Beyond the substance of the complaint itself, the ESC also relates to the fact that it took a shocking two and a half years for the complaint to be resolved and documents the serial failures of the BBC’s complaints mechanism to adhere to its own standards. [all emphasis added]

“The Committee noted the detailed timeline of how the complaint had been handled which had been compiled by the Editorial Adviser. It noted in particular the following points:

*the Stage 1A response from Audience Services took 65 working days, against the target of 10 days.

*the Stage 1B response was not forthcoming until the complainant wrote to the Director of News to inquire why he had not received a reply to his letter.

* the Stage 1B response from Audience Services was received approximately 250 working days after the complainant’s submission (the target is 20-35 working days).

*the ECU sent an undated provisional finding to the complainant approximately 60 working days after he asked the ECU to investigate. This was about 20 working days later than he had been advised he could expect to receive a response (it later transpired that the finding was sent in error and had been intended for circulation internally; that provisional decision to uphold his complaint was subsequently reversed).

*three months later, on 5 March 2013, having received no further notification, the complainant wrote to the ECU to inquire about the final outcome of his complaint.

The Head of the ECU responded promptly stating that something had “gone badly amiss” with the handling of the complaint and he would respond fully within a week.

*on 19 March 2013 the Head of the ECU wrote to the complainant saying he should not have received the undated provisional finding he was sent in late 2012:

“What seems to have happened is that a draft of my provisional finding which was intended for internal consultation was sent to you in error. I should explain that the procedure, when we’re minded to uphold any aspect of a complaint, is to allow a period for the BBC Division responsible for the item complained of to make any representations, and I put the proposed finding to the Division – in this instance, News – in the form of a draft letter to the complainant. The reason for this part of the complaints procedure is that the programme-makers and their editorial management don’t have right of appeal to the BBC Trust, whereas complainants do. The consultation period is therefore their last opportunity to correct any errors on our part, or to make a case for altering the finding.”

*the Head of the ECU said that he had received representations from the BBC’s Jerusalem Bureau and from the BBC correspondent which had caused him to change his initial view that the item had been misleading in one respect. He was now not intending to uphold the complaint.

*this substantive Stage 2 finding was issued six months after the complainant had first written to the ECU and almost two years after he had initially lodged the complaint.

* the complainant challenged the finding within the time scale he had been provided. He heard nothing, and five months later on 17 September 2013 he wrote to the ECU inquiring what had happened.

The Head of the ECU responded on 20 September 2013:

“I must apologise profusely for my long silence. An office move in July caused some disruption, and it appears that our correspondence was one of the casualties of it. I have now retrieved the papers, and am reviewing the issues and arguments afresh. I shall aim to give you a definitive ruling by the end of the month, though if circumstances arise in which further consultation with News management is required, it may take me a little longer. In that event, I shall write again to let you know the likely extent of the delay.”  

The Head of the ECU wrote to the complainant on 15 October 2013 advising that he remained of the view that the complaint should not be upheld. He again apologised for the delays which had beset the process.

The Committee noted the reasons given by Audience Services for the Stage 1 delays and by the ECU for the delays and mismanagement at Stage 2 appear to have been the result of an unfortunate series of human errors. The Committee noted the complainant had received an apology from Audience Services. The Head of the ECU had acknowledged the chapter of accidents were inexcusable and that it was an extremely poor example of complaints handling. complaints

The Committee noted this aspect of the complaint related to 19.4 of the Editorial Guidelines which requires the BBC to observe the complaints framework, including the stipulated timelines.

The Committee noted that the relevant test related to the following clause from section 19.4.2  of the Accountability guideline:

 “Complaints should be responded to in a timely manner”

The Committee said the delays at Stages 1 and 2 and the inadvertent dispatch of the provisional finding to the complainant ahead of its circulation internally were deeply regrettable. The Committee added its apology to those already made to the complainant and recorded its dismay that a complaint could be so seriously and repeatedly mishandled.

The Committee noted the complainant’s query in his submission for this appeal as to whether it was routine that complaints were treated in this way and whether in effect the procedure was fit for purpose. The Committee advised that the errors in complaint handling on this occasion were in its view unprecedented, that the complaints procedure outlines clearly how the BBC is required to deal with complaints, along with the required time scale and that this had made it possible for the BBC Trust to speedily and transparently adjudicate on the allegation. The Committee was satisfied that the problems which had beset this complaint at each stage were not the result of any shortcoming in the procedure itself.”

Ah – so that’s alright then.

Of course the many other members of the BBC’s funding public who have written to BBC Watch to inform us of unexplained delays to replies to complaints they have made – and in some cases the complete absence of any response whatsoever – might be somewhat disconcerted by the glaring complacency which enabled that final line to be written. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC’s ECU publishes findings on complaint about R4 ‘Today’ programme

Back in January we noted that a listener’s complaint concerning the November 15th 2013 edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme had been upheld by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit after initially being rejected by the programme’s assistant editor.

The ECU has now published its findings.

Complaint Today prog Sarah Montague

The ECU notes:

“The Editor of Today discussed the findings with the presenter who conducted the interview and underlined the need for care when making references to specific countries in the context of controversial subjects.”

However, no information is provided as to what steps, if any, will be taken to inform listeners of the fact that the impression that Christians in Israel suffer from violence – as given by Sarah Montague’s words –  is inaccurate and misleading. 

Related Articles:

BBC R4′s ‘Today’ programme implies persecution of Christians in Israel

BBC acknowledges breach of accuracy guidelines by ‘Today’ presenter Sarah Montague

The 16 month-long story of a complaint to the BBC

If ever there was an example of the patience and tenacity required to see a complaint to the BBC pursued to its logical conclusion, it has to be the following one.

Back in July 2013 we noted here that the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit partially upheld a complaint made by Mr Stephen Franklin regarding an edition of the BBC World Service programme ‘Health Check’ dating from October 4th 2012.

Despite the ECU ruling that the impression given in the programme that the entry of medical supplies and equipment to the Gaza Strip had been blocked by Israeli authorities was inaccurate and misleading, the programme concerned remained available for public listening on the internet with no attached correction.

In September 2013 we noted that – after further correspondence from Mr Franklin – a footnote reading “This item gave the impression that the Israeli blockade covered drugs and disposables. This was not the case in the period under discussion” was added to the programme synopsis on the webpage, but it was only visible to visitors who clicked on the drop-down menu and did not appear at all to audience members who elected to go straight to the specific segment of the programme.

Mr Franklin persevered and appealed to the BBC Trust. On February 4th 2014 the Trust published its findings (page 3 and pages 15 – 26 here).

Inter alia, the Editorial Standards Committee concluded:

“that the wording used in the summary of the ECU finding could be understood to mean that the Israeli blockade had covered drugs and disposables at some period.

that the summary was not duly accurate in this regard and that the wording should be referred back to the ECU with a request that it be amended.

that six months was too long a period to wait for a correction of the item to appear online.

that even though there was an acknowledgement of the ECU’s finding on the Health Check website, it was not sufficiently prominent and it was possible that a listener would hear the item without being aware of the factual error. The correction should also be reflected on all BBC webpages on which the content in question was available.

that by including the statement, “Gaza is closed”, without any challenge or further context, explanation or qualification, the audience would have been left with the impression that because of the blockade, Israel is literally closed to anyone requiring medical treatment.

that listeners would be likely to have drawn an inaccurate conclusion about access in general to Israel for medical treatment.

that there had been a breach of the Accuracy guideline in that the item was not duly accurate in how it reflected the complex issue of access to Israel for medical treatment.

that there had been a breach of the Impartiality guideline on this occasion because, in the absence of any challenge, context or alternative view, the opinion of the interviewee – that Gaza is closed in respect of access to Israel for medical treatment – had been allowed to stand as fact.

that taken as a whole the item had breached the Impartiality guideline by failing to give due weight to a significant perspective in this controversial issue.” 

Whilst the BBC Trust’s findings are of course welcome, regrettably – as of the time of writing – nothing has been done to rectify the issue of insufficient visibility of the correction on the relevant webpage and the programme as it originally stood is still available.

Health Check webpage screenshot 6 2 14

 

Let’s hope that it doesn’t take another sixteen months to put that right. Otherwise, some people may begin to question the BBC’s level of commitment to correcting its mistakes.

Related Articles:

Listener complaint partially upheld but BBC programme still available

A complaint to the BBC is upheld – and then what?

 

RTS Chief Exec flags up “culture of denial” at BBC News

h/t GR

Although not related to Israel or the Middle East, readers frustrated by the BBC’s complaints system may find a recent article from the Press Gazette of interest. 

In a speech at his retirement dinner, the outgoing chief executive of the Royal Television Society, Simon Albury, reportedly stated that “the BBC’s news and current affairs departments are beset by a “culture of denial” in which editors are unwilling to “address things that are manifestly wrong”.”

“He told the audience: “So the whole top chain of command from the Newsnight editor up gets a petition from 20,000 people raising a serious issue of misrepresentation – and the BBC don’t plan to investigate because they haven’t received a formal complaint.”

Read the rest here

The strange story of a complaint to the BBC

Readers no doubt remember the report carried here at BBC Watch about an edition of the BBC Radio 5 programme ‘5 live Drive’ from November 14th in which host Peter Allen said: 

“We’re all aware of the arguments that a lot of rockets have been fired at Israel and that the retaliation was both necessary and just, but from the outside it just looks like part of this never-ending cycle of violence. It won’t stop anything, this, will it?”

“Yeah – but it’s not just this man [Jabari] who’s been killed. There’s a lot of innocent people getting killed at the same time.”

“Yeah – but nevertheless, if you count it up – the casualties – it’s those inside Gaza who are suffering rather than those inside Israel.”

“Yeah. You can count up the casualties. I’m sorry, you know, but the outside world would count up the casualties and see – you know – that Israel always wreaks its revenge and the revenge it takes is greater than the original – erm – suffering in this war. It does it all the time.”

One member of the license-fee paying public decided to complain to the BBC about that programme and also had the presence of mind to save a screenshot of his complaint. 

complaint Peter Allen

After having received the following reply to his complaint, that member of the public contacted BBC Watch and gave us permission to reproduce it here. [emphasis added]

Dear Mr XXXX

Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC News’ coverage of the recent escalation of violence in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

 We understand you feel our coverage has shown bias in favour of Israel’s actions in Gaza. We have received a wide range of feedback about our coverage of this upsurge in violence. Bearing in mind the pressure on resources, the response below strives to address the majority of concerns raised but we apologise in advance if not all of the specific points you have mentioned have been answered in the manner you prefer.

BBC News strives to report in an impartial, accurate and fair manner and we believe this has been the case with our coverage of the recent violence in Gaza and Israel.

 Since Israel launched ‘Operation Pillar of Defense’ on November 14 2012, our correspondents on the ground in Gaza – Jon Donnison, Wyre Davies and Chief of the BBC News Jerusalem Bureau Paul Danahar, have detailed the level of destruction caused by Israeli strikes from air and sea on the area. Our main news bulletins on BBC One and Radio 4 have focused on the loss of life in Gaza. For example, the first story during the BBC One bulletin at 2200 on 18 November read as follows:

 “International pressure for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is mounting after the deadliest day of violence in the region so far. Reports say 26 people were killed in Gaza by Israeli airstrikes – and more rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel – including two shot down over Tel Aviv by Israel’s “iron dome” defence system.”

 Reports from Gaza have also explained the level of Palestinian civilian casualties, in particular the deaths of women and children. Jon Donnison’s report during the News at Ten on 14 November explained that:

 “For the people of Gaza tonight it looked like war. And as in most wars, civilians, caught up in the violence.”

 He went on to add:

 “Gaza’s hospitals are expected to face a busy night, with more casualties this evening, among them children and at least one baby.”

 We have seen reports which looked at Israel’s tactic of deploying strikes in a heavily overpopulated urban setting, Wyre Davies’ report for the News at Six on 19 November said:

 “This was a clear message from Israel that anything or anyone associated with the militants is a legitimate target. Israel has, though, struggled to explain this huge bombing yesterday. Military sources told an Israeli newspaper the house was hit by mistake. Israel now says the bombing was deliberate, but their target, a senior Hamas commander, may not have been there, but at least ten people, including four children, were there and were killed. Israel justifies these attacks in urban areas because it says the militants hide among civilian populations, and the problem with such a policy is that civilians are always at risk.” 

 Our main news bulletins have also heard live accounts from presenters Lyse Doucet, with further analysis from Middle East Editor Jeremy Bowen. Such analysis has looked at the wider political context of the conflict, including the impending election in Israel, the relationship with a new Egypt and the effects of Israel’s blockade on Gaza. We have continued to follow diplomatic efforts to reach a truce, featuring live press conferences on the BBC News Channel from interlocutors such as the Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt and the Arab League.

 We have also heard from a wide range of Palestinian and Arab commentators on the BBC News Channel and during flagship programmes such as radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme. This has included Jihad Haddad, adviser to President Morsi, Abdel al-Bari Atwan, the editor in chief of Al-Quds Al Arabi, Adel Darwish -commentator on Middle East affairs and Dr Omar Ashour from the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, Exeter University

 In hearing from these voices and from our own correspondents, we believe we have explored the political, military and humanitarian aspects of this recent conflict. We will continue to strive to report on the story in an impartial manner.

 We’d also like to assure you we’ve registered your complaint on our audience log.  This is an internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily and is available for viewing by all our staff.  This includes all news editors and reporters, along with our senior management.  It ensures that your points, along with all other comments we receive, are considered across the BBC.

 Thanks again for taking the time to contact us.

 Kind Regards

BBC Complaints

Beyond the fact that absolutely no attempt was made to address the substance of the complaint and the obviously bizarre ‘Through the Looking Glass’-style inversion of a complaint about Peter Allen’s expression of anti-Israel bias into a complaint about pro-Israel bias (with some interesting responses),  this section of the reply is notable:

“We’d also like to assure you we’ve registered your complaint on our audience log.”

One cannot but wonder how many other complaints are being registered by the BBC as the exact opposite of what they actually are and how that influences the reliability of the BBC’s complaints statistics and the resulting appraisals of its own performance.   

Yet again we see the problematic nature of self-monitoring by the BBC and an overly complicated and obviously inefficient complaints process – which apparently even BBC staff have trouble navigating.