Have your say on the BBC complaints system

Earlier this year we noted the apparent intention of the new BBC Board to hold a public consultation concerning the corporation’s complaints system.

That public consultation is now underway and members of the public can make submissions until August 16th.

“The BBC aims to resolve complaints fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by the Charter to have a complaints framework that provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure that the BBC is meeting its obligations and fixing problems.

Since April the BBC has operated with an interim Complaints Framework, published on the BBC’s complaints website. The Framework reflects the new governance and regulatory arrangements that came into effect in April 2017. Under these arrangements, the BBC Board has oversight of the complaints process and Ofcom is the independent regulator for most types of BBC complaints.

The Framework sets out the BBC’s approach and the procedures for handling different types of complaints, from editorial to regulatory, so that everyone who wants to make a complaint – whether as an individual or on behalf of an organisation – knows what to expect.

As the Charter requires the BBC to publicly consult on the Framework before it is finalised, we have opened a consultation which will run until mid-August.”

The interim Complaints Framework is available here.

Guidance for those wishing to make a submission is available here and includes the following:

“Specifically we are seeking views on whether they [the draft framework and procedures]:

  • Seem readily available, easy to understand and accessible.
  • Make clear and give sufficient information to those who complain what they can expect from the BBC and how to appeal, including whether they are clear on timeframes.
  • Make clear the roles and responsibilities of the BBC and Ofcom and the circumstances under which complaints can be referred to Ofcom (or to other relevant bodies) by complainants.
  • Seem fair to those who might wish to make a complaint.
  • Seem proportionate, balancing the cost to licence fee payers of handling complaints with the need to give people who complain a proper hearing.”

Those wishing to make a submission should send it by email to:

bbc.complaintsframework2017@bbc.co.uk

or by post to:

BBC Corporate Affairs, Room 5045, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA.

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How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes 

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How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes

As noted here earlier this month, OFCOM is now able to consider complaints concerning content on some of the BBC’s platforms.

Background information – including the Broadcasting Code against which complaints are assessed – is available here and here.

Before a complaint concerning a BBC TV channel, radio station or BBC iPlayer can be considered by OFCOM, it should in most cases have first been made to the BBC itself: details and online form available here

Note: it is important to keep the reference number of any complaint made to the BBC that you may wish to pursue further through OFCOM.

Different categories of complaints to OFCOM are explained here and the online form for submission of a complaint concerning a BBC programme is available here.

We have updated our ‘Resources’ section and the page titled ‘How to Complain to the BBC’ in the ‘Get Involved’ section of the menu bar above to include information concerning the new system.

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OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

For the first time in its ninety-five year history, yesterday – April 3rd 2017 – the BBC ceased to be an entirely self-regulating body. Under the terms of the new Royal Charter, OFCOM is now the BBC’s external regulator.

As required by that Charter, OFCOM has compiled an ‘Operating Framework’ for the BBC, details of which can be found here.

OFCOM also recently published a document titled “Introduction to Ofcom’s Operating Framework for the BBC“.

“During 2016, the Government ran a review process for setting a new Charter for the BBC. An independent review to look at how the BBC is governed and regulated was commissioned by the Government and, in March 2016, concluded that regulation of the BBC should pass to Ofcom. The Government confirmed its decision that Ofcom should regulate the BBC in a White paper published in May 2016.  

A new BBC Royal Charter for the period 2017-2027 was published by the Government on 15 December 2016, together with an accompanying Agreement between the BBC and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Charter and the Agreement together set out how the BBC will operate in the new Charter period.”

The document states:

“Under the Charter and Agreement, Ofcom has regulatory responsibility for all areas of BBC content standards including, for the first time, for the accuracy and impartiality of news, and the impartiality of any programme covering politically controversial issues or current public policy.

Ofcom holds the BBC to account under the rules of its Broadcasting Code (“the Code”). These rules reflect the standards objectives set out in the Communications Act 2003 which Ofcom also applies to all its licensed broadcasters. From 3 April 2017, the Code applies in full to BBC licence-fee funded broadcasting services and, as relevant, to BBC on demand programme services (such as the BBC iPlayer).”

The newest version of the OFCOM Broadcasting Code can be found here.

With regard to complaints, the document states:

“Complaints about BBC programmes are considered under a ‘BBC First’ complaints framework. The BBC handles complaints in the first instance, and complainants can refer their complaints to Ofcom if they are dissatisfied with the BBC’s response or if the BBC fails to respond in a timely manner. To ensure the effectiveness of the ‘BBC First’ framework and to have assurance that audiences are being appropriately safeguarded, Ofcom has oversight mechanisms (such as regular reports from the BBC on complaints handling). Importantly, Ofcom also has the power to ‘step in’ and intervene in a BBC content standards case at an earlier stage, or to launch an investigation in the absence of a complaint, where we consider it necessary.

Ofcom has set and published transparent and accessible complaints procedures for the handling of BBC content standards complaints. These make clear to consumers and other stakeholders how Ofcom considers complaints it receives on a ‘BBC First’ basis and how Ofcom handles content standards investigations (including fairness and privacy cases) for BBC broadcasting services and BBC on demand programme services. Our procedures also set out how Ofcom considers the imposition of sanctions on the BBC.”

And:

“The Charter and Agreement requires that the BBC and Ofcom must set and publish procedures for the handling and resolution of complaints about the BBC’s compliance with its obligations, including content standards. The BBC’s procedures must provide that, with the exception of complaints relating to Fairness and/or Privacy, a complaint must normally in the first instance be resolved by the BBC before a complainant can refer a complaint to Ofcom. This is known as the ‘BBC First’ approach.

Ofcom has set and published procedures for the handling and resolution of relevant complaints about the BBC which are referred to Ofcom in the following circumstances:

  • If a complainant is not satisfied with the resolution of a complaint by the BBC;
  • If a complainant considers, following the resolution of a complaint by the BBC, that the imposition by Ofcom of a sanction, where available, may be appropriate;
  • If the BBC has failed to resolve a complaint within the time period set in its procedures.”

Those complaints procedures are available here.

With regard to the UK version of BBC Online the document states:

“BBC complainants will also be able to obtain an independent opinion from Ofcom on whether the BBC has observed editorial guidelines on the content of online material in its UK Public Services, once Ofcom has the necessary functions in legislation. Ofcom will enter into an arrangement with the BBC making provision for this and will publish procedures to inform consumers and other interested stakeholders as to how we will consider and handle complaints about BBC online material.”

The legislation referenced in that paragraph is The Digital Economy Bill which is currently in process in parliament.

Importantly, OFCOM’s new role does not include standards regulation of all BBC platforms.

Ofcom does not regulate standards for the BBC World Service. BBC commercial broadcast services, provided by BBC companies, are not UK Public Services but are subject to Ofcom’s content standards regulation under the terms of their Ofcom licences.” [emphasis added]

Whether or not this new system of regulation will provide a better alternative for members of the BBC’s funding public who have for years been frustrated by the corporation’s unnecessarily complicated maze-like complaints system remains to be seen.

The process of introducing OFCOM regulation of the BBC is however not yet complete, with the corporation’s operating licence expected to be published in September 2017. A related consultation titled “Holding the BBC to account for the delivery of its mission and public purposes” was launched on March 29th and will remain open until July 17th

Apparently, the new BBC Board also intends to hold a public consultation concerning a new complaints framework in the near future. 

OFCOM launches more BBC related public consultations

In preparation for its new regulatory role under the terms of the new BBC Charter and Agreement, OFCOM has announced further public consultations.ofcom  

“Under a new BBC Royal Charter, Ofcom will become the BBC’s first external regulator in April 2017.

Over the next few months, Ofcom will put together an ‘Operating Framework’ for the BBC, covering performance, content standards and competition.”

1) A consultation on Ofcom’s proposed procedures for enforcement of BBC competition requirements – submissions should be made before March 6th 2017. Relevant reading can be found here.

2) A consultation on new procedures for handling content standards complaints, investigations and sanctions for BBC programmes:

“In this consultation we set out our proposed procedures that Ofcom will normally follow for complaints about BBC television, radio and on-demand programmes, and how we will conduct investigations and sanctions.”

Submissions should be made before March 6th 2017. Relevant reading can be found here.

3) A consultation on procedures for enforcement of requirements in the BBC Agreement and compliance with Ofcom enforcement action – submissions should be made before March 6th 2017. Relevant reading can be found here

4) A consultation on revising the procedures for TV, radio and video-on-demand services – submissions should be made before March 6th 2017. Relevant reading can be found here.

As a reminder, previous public consultations which were launched last month will close in early February – details here.

Additional consultations are expected in Spring 2017.

An overview of “Ofcom’s preparations for regulation of the BBC” can be found here.

The Draft BBC Royal Charter (updated in November 2016) can be found here.

The Draft Framework Agreement (updated in November 2016) can be found here. The subject of the BBC complaints system and OFCOM’s role is addressed in sections 56 to 60 inclusive. 

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2016 Charter Review 

BBC’s new foreign language services raise an old question

As readers may be aware, the BBC recently announced the expansion of its foreign language services.ws-expansion

“The BBC World Service will launch 11 new language services as part of its biggest expansion “since the 1940s”, the corporation has announced. […]

The new languages will be Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Gujarati, Igbo, Korean, Marathi, Pidgin, Punjabi, Telugu, Tigrinya, and Yoruba.

The first new services are expected to launch in 2017.”

With that announcement meaning that the BBC will be broadcasting in forty foreign languages,  the longstanding issue of the accuracy and impartiality of content produced by the BBC’s foreign language services is obviously of interest.

The BBC World Service Operating Licence published in November 2016 does not clarify the mechanism by which adherence to the four relevant BBC public purposes or compliance with editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality are to be ensured for broadcasts in foreign languages although the licence does state that:

“As far as is relevant, the editorial standards that apply to the BBC’s UK Public Services apply equally to the BBC’s international services.”

The BBC World Service webpage directs members of the public wishing to make complaints to the general online complaints form. However, in our experience when complaints have been made about foreign language reports (for example, this one in Persian), the BBC complaints department has declared itself unable to deal with the complaint and suggested contacting the department which produced the programme.

With OFCOM set to take over later stage handling of complaints from the BBC next year, the issue of the technical ability to handle complaints concerning foreign language content at both early and advanced stages is clearly one which needs to be addressed and clarified to members of the BBC’s funding public.

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OFCOM consultation concerning BBC accuracy and impartiality

Ahead of OFCOM assumption of new responsibilities relating to the BBC, the body has launched the first of a series of public consultations.ofcom

“Ofcom is carrying out a review of the suitability of the list of larger parties for the purposes of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code and rules on party political and referendum broadcasts (PPRB Rules). We are proposing to amend Section Six (elections and referendums) of the Code and Ofcom’s PPRB Rules to remove the concept of the list of larger parties. Broadcasters and political parties will need to plan ahead for the various elections taking place in May 2017.

Ofcom is also currently preparing for its new responsibilities of regulating the BBC. This follows the publication on 15 September 2016 by the UK Government of the new draft Royal Charter and Framework Agreement for the BBC. In this document we also set out our proposed approach for regulating BBC editorial content in the areas of due impartiality, due accuracy, elections and referendums. Specifically, this will require amendments to: Section Five (due impartiality) of the Code; Section Six (elections and referendums) of the Code; and Ofcom’s rules on party political and referendum broadcasts.

This document is the first of a series of consultation documents that Ofcom is publishing as it prepares for its new BBC duties. However, we consider it is appropriate to carry out our review of the suitability of the list of larger parties at the same time. This is an issue that will affect all Ofcom licensees as well as the BBC.”

Submissions should be made by January 16th 2017 at the above link (scroll down to the online form).

Details of the changes proposed by OFCOM can be found here (see Section 4).

The Draft BBC Royal Charter (updated in November 2016) can be found here.

The Draft Framework Agreement (updated in November 2016) can be found here. The subject of the BBC complaints system and OFCOM’s role is addressed in sections 56 to 60 inclusive. 

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BBC Charter Review: draft Charter and Agreement published

The UK government recently published draft versions of the new Royal Charter and the Framework Agreement ahead of their debate in Parliament.pic BBC

“The Royal Charter forms the constitutional basis of the BBC and its current Charter is due to expire at the end of 2016.

Following the publication of the Government’s proposals in a White Paper on 12 May the Government is publishing the draft Charter and draft Framework Agreement.”

The text of the draft version of the new Charter (which will be in effect until December 31st 2027) can be found here. The draft includes details of the proposed new BBC Board, the proposed mid-term review (section 57) and the enhanced role of OFCOM, including in the handling of complaints (section 56).

The draft Framework Agreement (available here) includes a section concerning the complaints procedure from page 35 onwards.

agreement-complaints-1

agreement-complaints-2

agreement-complaints-3

agreement-complaints-4

Additional relevant documents can be found here.

BBC Trust chair stepping down

Ahead of the announcement of the BBC’s new charter which is expected on September 15th, the chair of the BBC Trust has announced her intention to step down, as reported by Reuters and others.pic BBC

“The BBC is to get a new boss after British Prime Minister Theresa May chose not to make her predecessor David Cameron’s nominee an automatic pick for the role, the latest of several breaks with his legacy.

The public broadcaster is about to undergo an overhaul of its governance structure that will involve scrapping the BBC Trust, which currently regulates the broadcaster and which critics including senior ruling Conservative Party figures say is ineffective.

Cameron had told Rona Fairhead, who chairs the Trust, that when it was abolished she would be able to move seamlessly to a newly created role as chair of the BBC Board that will take over running the corporation next year.

But the Trust said on Wednesday that May’s government had decided to run a competitive process to appoint the Board’s first chair, and published a statement from Fairhead saying she would not be applying.”

In addition, as the Guardian reports, the body which under the new BBC charter is to take over part of the BBC Trust’s current functions – including final adjudication of editorial complaints – has already stated that it may not be able begin its new role on schedule.

“The new charter, expected to come into force by the beginning of 2017, is to scrap the historic system of self-regulation for the BBC and replace it with a new unitary board to govern the BBC. Media regulator Ofcom is to have oversight of the corporation.

However, Ofcom has already said it will not be ready at the start of 2017 to fulfil its expanded role and the previous government agreed that Fairhead should stay in order to help with transition. It is unclear whether she will stay until this system is in place, which is unlikely to be until next spring.”

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BBC to review its complaints system again

The July 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Feedback’ (available here) included an item in which presenter Roger Bolton discussed the topic of BBC impartiality with the corporation’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan.BBC R4 Feedback

Towards the end of that discussion (from 11:43), the conversation turned to another subject.

RB: “David Jordan; just before you leave us can I ask you about the BBC complaints procedure because we’ve just heard that it’s being overhauled and you indeed the man who is going to overhaul it. Why?”

DJ: “I think overhaul might be over-egging the pudding but…ahm….we are having a look at our complaints system in the light of the fact that…err…under the new charter which will be introduced in the New Year, we will be regulated for the first time by OFCOM – the office of communications: an outside regulator – and they will be responsible for all the third stage appeals against our complaints that are currently handled by the BBC Trust.”

After explaining the terms first, second and third stages, Jordan went on to say:

“We’re just having a look at the first two stages in the whole process to make sure it’s as simple as possible, as transparent as possible and that we’re as accountable as possible under the new system and that’s what I’ve been asked to do.”

Whether or not members of the corporation’s funding public whom the BBC complaints procedure is supposed to serve will be consulted on the topic of the current system’s ‘simplicity’ and ‘transparency’ is unclear. At the moment, no such consultation appears on the BBC Trust’s website