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. 


22 comments on “The strange story of a complaint to the BBC

  1. Don’t they mean “Jehad Haddad”?
    So long as the BBC is permitted to handle complaints in-house, and until a truly independent and impartial complaints procedure is inaugurated, removing adjudication from the BBC itself, the preposterous and outrageous situation detailed above will continue.

  2. We understand you feel our coverage has shown bias in favour of Israel’s actions in Gaza.

    Does rather shine the light on the kind of people employed by the BBC. (Patten etc.)

  3. It is fortuitous that the BBC inverted this complaint as it provides a window as to how it sees its role in providing fairness and balance according to its charter. This response shows its anti Israel bias, evidenced by the total lack of inclusion of even one aspect of the Israeli position. Indeed the only mention of Israel is completely negative with a clear implication of Israel’s culpability in this war. It reiterates that its correspondents on the ground in Gaza and its Jerusalem bureau report the devastation of Gaza. It examples experts appearing on various BBC programmes, not one Israeli or spokesperson representing the Israeli perspective. It is certainly evidence that the BBC complaints department doesn’t even read the substance of a complaint about this area, but functions either in total ineptitude or is inded an intrinsic part of the anti Israel propaganda machine.

    So this is no longer a complaint by those who perceive an anti Israel bias, it is confirmation by the BBC that it is indeed the mouthpiece of Hamas. Surely this breach of its charter is so specifically clear there must be a case for legal prosecution of the BBC.

    • At least they paid the complaint their utmost attention! Can you imagine such a heartfelt apologia had the complaint been interpreted as intended.

      The BBC mindset in all its glory.

      • I had a similar reply to a complaint about anti-Israel bias (I forget what it was, I write so many), except that they did not invert the complaint. They did take the trouble to carefully list what they had said, although I felt it might have been a kind of round robin to a number of complainants. I find they have more trouble with charges of factual inaccuracy than they do with bias (among categories on their complaints form), which they seem to treat as ‘oh, here comes another one’.

  4. “the revenge it takes is greater than the original – erm – suffering in this war.”

    Do the British people know that Afghans never attacked Britain and that UK Forces attacks on Afghanistan are greater than the – erm – zero Afghan attacks on Britain?

    • Jed, I think you will find that many of those who attack Israel will also attack the UK’s involvement in Afghanistan.
      The argument of proportionality is rubbish though.

  5. They know exactly what they’re doing. Deliberately receiving everything and twisting it to their own biases against Israel by furthering the ‘narrative” that they are biased towards Israel enables them to in fact press the narrative toward the Palestinians. Accumulated rhetorical cmplexity as learned in the deepeset tunnels of the British Foreign Office and evasive practice.

    You can’t say they aren’t good at it, offensive and venomous as they are.

  6. “How many other complaints are being registered by the BBC as the exact opposite of what they actually are”


    I can testify to that as a 6 month long appeal to the BBC ‘Trust’ concludes on Thursday, involving an ‘internal independent investigation’ BY them ON me (including the use of searches between private correspondence data in breach of ICO rules, and trawls across online forums), hundreds of pages of reports, reams of selectively-editted ‘testimony’ by un-named staff sources, and blatant misrepresentations and flat out lies by BBC staff… all recorded in archive, often including page captures at the time that have been stealth-editted in cover-up later.

    Post Leveson, forget the press, it’s the most trusted national broadcaster one should worry about more.

    You can ‘persuade’ a Daily Mail or Guardian or SKY to regain journalistic professional integrity and/or management honesty by depriving them of your subscription custom or ad-eyeballs.

    The BBC gets paid, no matter what, by a compelled poll tax imposed by those in power, backed by a legislative system that brought us such as 28-gate and other FoI-excluded ‘uniques’ on a ‘BBC holds only other powers to account, and does not need to answer any questions’-basis, as espoused by the Trust Chairman, a man who recently bought off a failed DG with twice the money required to go quietly, and has several other market-rate colleagues still on stand-aside as the BBC investigates yet more ‘internally’… then opts what not to share with the public who pay through the nose to fund their antics. Backed by a raft of lawyers also on the licence fee.

    Propaganda is one thing with poor historical precedent. Backed by censorship and rigged systems of this nature… and the slide back to a dark time is accelerating to a worrying degree. Faking what happens, or what people say… to suit… to justify… is the final act of a desperate regime.

    MIght I ask… did the reply back have this little gem at the end?:

    “This e-mail (and any attachments) is confidential and may contain personal views which are not the views of the BBC unless specifically stated.
    If you have received it in error, please delete it from your system.
    Do not use, copy or disclose the information in any way nor act in reliance on it and notify the sender immediately.
    Please note that the BBC monitors e-mails sent or received.
    Further communication will signify your consent to this.”


    If so, the complainant by sharing, and you publishing, is likely in for a world of fun as the full might of an unaccountable public-sector body abuses and corrupts their power for you simply… holding a mirror up to what they are really like.

    Only now, if enough unite, and say ‘no more’, the spotlight could well be turning on to the dark places they bunker down at such times, and indeed be getting focussed into a laser of truth and free speech rights that even the BBC’s market rate talents will find very hard to dismiss as they have traditionally done in the past.

    If the MSM picks this one up, and they should, have a nice Christmas, Mr. BBC.

    • I have seen their little gem, and guess (I have no legal experience) that you can convincingly argue that a reply to a complaint is de-facto the BBC speaking. I wouldn’t worry to much about it if you use it in a whistleblowing form, as their Saville whitewash has left them a bit exposed.

  7. What this reply says to me is:

    1) They are very used to receiving complaints from anti-Israel bots and are reflexively sending out the anti-Israel template

    2) More importantly, the BBC is *bending over backwards* to placate these people. I have made several complaints to the BBC about anti-Israel bias in the past two years and have never once received anything other than a cursory response, if at all.

    • My thoughts exactly.
      I am still awaiting a reply to a complaint I made over “Jeremy Bowen’s [online] Diary” around three years ago. I specifically requested a response!
      And as I’ve posted in various places, a decade ago I complained about two egregiously biased reports by Orla Guerin during the Second Intifada – Fraser Steel,, the BBC’s complaints honcho, refused to “investigate” my complaint on the grounds that since it concerned two reports by the same reporter in a short space of time the fault must lie with me rather than with her!

      • So it appears that the BBC is not only biased in its broadcasting but also MASSIVELY biased in its complaints handling, i.e. “away from prying eyes”. Except it’s not. It’s frustrating, but ultimately the BBC is only delegitimising itself. Thank God for the Internet.

  8. I had an identical response to my totally different complaint about John Simpson referring to ‘occupied Gaza’ and making several other serious inaccuracies on the ‘Today’ Programme on Radio 4.

  9. I despair of the Biased Broadcasting Corporation and its reporters in the Middle East. Donnison, Doucett, Davies and the most notorious of the gang of four Bowen are so pro Arab and anti Israel, that were Israel an undemocratic country (as anywhere else in the ME) they would not be allowed access. However they can get away with downright lies against Israel. Note Dennisons report (lie) showing shots of dead children, which were screen shots from a previous report from SYRIA. No reprimand just a quick apology. The BBC must be brought to book, but how the devil can we the people do that? Answers on a postcard please.

  10. OK, Alan Burton

    What about a demonstration outside parliament against the BBC using our money from the licence fee which we are compelled to pay to undermine and subvert justice by resorting to the courts (again paid for with our money) to hide the findings of the Balen Report from us?

    Given enough notice, I’d be there

    • How about a demo outside the BBC in Portland Place to complain about their biased Middle-East reporting? Given the current low standing of the BBC in the light of the Savile and paedophile stories, I think some of the other television stations and certain newspapers might relish the opportunity to have a go at them and so pick up the story. With proper organisation and commitment, we might even turn it into a vigil where we have several people with placards – “Tell the Truth” – on site every day. Or am I being too radical?

  11. Another fine example of BBC’s “accurate and balanced reporting.” Shameful, highly reprehensible. Hmmm, actually no worse than a tabloid… about the same.

  12. I am afraid that we will not persuade the BBC to be more even handed on this matter especially if the BBC people on the ground in Gaza are well aware that every sentence and nuance they utter is examined by Hamas officials who would suppress anything critical and probably throw out the correspondent and the BBC fears that if it comments negatively from London, Hamas will not admit them in the future. Hamas clearly only invites journalists who will support them. Any way if they criticized Hamas they would have to suffer violent demonstrations ( while the Jews would just send emails!)

    Eg Did we ever hear any comment about the total lack of underground bomb shelters – the main reason for the tragic losses of life (compared to the Israelis who have spent money to protect its citizens) Hamas obviously spends money on bombs etc rather than the medicines they say are in short supply. How comes they can import rockets but the tunnels have problems importing medical supplies ?.

    Golda Meir once said that peace would come when the Arabs learn to love their own children more than they hate Israelis.

    Isn’t it so clear that the rockets were fired from the centre of populated areas deliberately to provoke an Israel response , which they knew had to eventually come. They clearly planned to sacrifice their children for propoganda purposes. Britain evacuated its children from the cities when they knew that bombing might hit them. The BBC Gaza correspondents never compared this with the Israeli protection of its own children) . Why?

    Clearly the British ( the BBC) generally side with the people who suffer the most (or appear to) except if they are persecuted Christians in Nigeria or the Arab world, except if they are being killed by Arabs in Syria etc, except if they are natives being killed in Afghanistan ( by foreign troops) etc but – mainly if Israel is invoved since Jews aren’t anymore seen as Holocaust survivors..

    We have to expect that only on rare occasions will we get balanced reporting on the Middle East conflict since the Israelis are seen to be all powerful and should know better while the massive Arab populations are seen as the under educated underdogs who require support and aid and cannot be expected to know better.

    I reckon that the BBC thinks you cannot meddle with the Arabs since you will fear turning your back in case they kill you while you feel secure criticising the Israelis since they value human life and wouldn’t do this since they understand free speech and the right to give an opinion- just like us British – and are therefore safe to be criticised

    . WE British wouldn’t bomb another country ( like Israel does) even if they were bombing us would we?

  13. why even read the news, or listen to broadcasts?
    they are all Arab owned, and all of the EU and England are afraid of their Muslim populations taking over,and the Islamization of all Europe.
    To get even, don’t buy their products, don’t be tourists to their countries.
    The U.S. and Israel are becoming havens for Europeans getting the hell out of their own countries, taking their money, intelligence, tax base with them.hurrah for us.
    Europe and England will slip back into the dak ages, and serves them right.

  14. For years Israel has restrained itself from invading Gaza, despite thousands of rockets landing in the Israeli town of Sderot. The city has been gradually de-populated due to the constant daily terror. But when Hamas starting firing Fajr-5 long-range missiles into Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem, the line had clearly been crossed. Why does the BBC, the closest thing to state-run media in Britain, side with the Gaza aggressors?

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