Baroness Deech on the BBC complaints system and OFCOM

We recently posed on these pages the question of whether or not OFCOM is up to the job of replacing the BBC Trust as the final arbiter for editorial complaints. Baroness Deech has been pondering the same issue and her conclusions are well worth studying.BBC brick wall

“Would OFCOM be any better? In their annual report 13-14 it is revealed that 12,774 complaints were made about content and standards, and 124 breaches found.  22 complaints about fairness were upheld from 241 made. OFCOM cleared Channel 4’s mockumentary on UKIP, The First 1000 Days, despite over 6000 complaints.

The BBC Annual Report for the same period reports 192,459 complaints, and 52 upheld by the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee.  I make that .02%. I rarely see apologies made in the same forum where the offending issue was first aired. Apologies by the BBC or its reporters are reported in the press but diligent searching of the BBC website does not necessarily turn them up. The Commons report referred to the dissatisfaction expressed by complaints about the process.

I highlight this issue because the crux of the importance of the BBC’s impartiality and accountability lies in the way in which complaints about its service are responded to and handled.  Here there have undoubtedly been failings and complications. […]

Taste and decency complaints (e.g. about Russell Brand or Jeremy Clarkson) are less important to my mind, than those about accuracy and impartiality, the values by which the BBC stands or falls. They are the heart of the public service of the BBC.  The current defensive handling of complaints is harmful to the BBC, albeit recently reformed to some extent.  Its impartiality is what makes it a world influence through the World Service.  It is therefore of the utmost significance that its impartiality be guaranteed by a complaints process that matches the significance of the issues.  Issues such as: was the Iraq intelligence dossier “sexed up”?, who may be designated a “terrorist” or a “militant”; reference to ISIL or Daesh; the accuracy of Middle East reporting, the attitude towards climate change science and so on.  These are issues of exceptional national and international importance and deserve to be treated as such, not least because they form national political opinions.   If complaints were transparently and satisfactorily handled, and if more were upheld, there would be even more confidence in the BBC and more audience satisfaction.” 

Read Baroness Deech’s full post – which includes some interesting practical suggestions – here.

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Baroness Deech on the BBC

Earlier this year, Professor the Baroness Deech of Cumnor DBE – who was Gresham Professor of Law between 2008 and 2012 – gave a series of lectures entitled “Regulation, Regulation, Regulation”, two of which pertain to the BBC. 

Both lectures are fascinating and insightful, raising questions about the BBC complaints system and suggesting proposals for its reformation which BBC Watch readers may find interesting.  

The first lecture (April 11th, 2012) is entitled “The BBC – Protecting it from the Government” and can be heard or read here

Overview:

“For 80 years the BBC Governors were charged with regulating the BBC and representing the interests of the licence fee payers. The Governors appointed the Director-General, approved strategy, oversaw complaints and were accountable to Parliament. Did they fail in their task when, in the wake of  the Hutton Report into the circumstances surrounding the death of Dr David Kelly, the Chairman, the Director-General and the broadcaster Andrew Gilligan left their posts in 2004? The governance of the BBC has to ensure that the management deliver impartiality and accuracy without concern for any government agenda.”

The second lecture (April 25th, 2012) is entitled “The BBC – Defending the Public Interest” and can be heard or read here.

Overview

“From 2007 the Governors were replaced by Trustees; but there was still disquiet about the best method of regulating the BBC. BBC regulation is fragmented: some regulatory functions rest with OFCOM, and the National Audit Office investigates some financial matters.  It is said that the Trust cannot be both a champion of the licence fee payers and of the BBC management. Should regulation of the BBC be wholly external to it? Is OFCOM any better placed to defend public service broadcasting than the Trust? The BBC World Service is a vital accurate news source for many parts of the world: is it better placed under the control of the BBC or the Foreign Office?”