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.
“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.