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.

Related Articles:

BBC headlines for same story differ according to target audiences

BBC Arabic misleads on naval blockade of Gaza Strip

Why is BBC Arabic feeding its audiences politicised terminology?

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. 

Related Articles:

2016 Charter Review 

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.”

Related Articles:

BBC Charter Renewal – White Paper 

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

BBC Trust: ‘it ain’t what we say; it’s what we meant to say that matters’

h/t Dr CL

The BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee’s latest publication includes a section which will be of interest to anyone contemplating allocating some of their precious time to making a complaint to the BBC.

On page 75 of that document we learn that the BBC dismissed a complaint concerning an inaccurate statement made by a BBC reporter on the grounds that it wasn’t what she meant to say.

“The complaint concerned the accuracy of a sentence in a news item about an upsurge in violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Speaking about Jerusalem’s Old City and over general pictures from the Old City showing Muslims and Jews going about their day, the correspondent said:

 “It’s home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, sacred to Muslims and Jews.””

That report by Orla Guerin from October 9th 2015 can be found here.Guerin filmed 9 10

The statement is obviously inaccurate but the BBC’s response to the complaint was as follows:

“BBC Audience Services raised the complainant’s concern with BBC News:

“They note your points and accept that [the reporter] shouldn’t have said that the Al-Aqsa Mosque was sacred to both Jews and Muslims. She meant to say the compound (which includes the Mosque and the Dome of the Rock).” Audience Services said they had nothing further to add and that they did not believe the complaint had raised an issue that justified further investigation.”

Apparently BBC Audience Services also did not see the need for a correction to be made. Unhappy with that response, the complainant pursued the issue.

“The complainant appealed to the BBC Trust reiterating the points he had made. He rejected the explanation given by BBC News, asserting that even as amended it was wrong:

“The … response that [the correspondent] intended to say Al Aqsa Compound is unacceptable. Accuracy demands the description/name used should have been that historically used for many hundreds of years which is extensively documented, as Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif).”

He said the description the correspondent used was the one favoured by the PLO and was evidence of bias.”

Readers will no doubt recall that in November 2014 the PLO put out a ‘media advisory’ document (since removed from its website) instructing foreign journalists to use the term “Al Aqsa Mosque compound” instead of what was described as the “inaccurate term” Temple Mount. 

The BBC Trust Adviser advised against the complainant’s request for a review on the following grounds:

“The Adviser took the following factors into account:

  • the BBC said that the reporter had used the wrong wording: it was a slip of the tongue and not intentional
  • this was a passing reference to one of the flashpoints in the ongoing conflict
  • the majority of the report concentrated on a number of incidents – which had occurred elsewhere in Jerusalem and the occupied territories – and speculated that “lone wolf” stabbings of Jewish civilians might be the beginning of a third intifada

The Adviser reached her decision for the following reasons:

  • whilst the statement, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is sacred to Jews, was incorrect, the audience would not have taken the statement literally and would have been unlikely to conclude that a mosque was sacred to Jews
  • the main point of the reporter’s reference here was to communicate to the audience that the area was sacred to both Judaism and Islam
  • this was achieved using unambiguous language which stated simply that it was considered sacred to both religions: neither view was favoured over the other, they were both given equal weight
  • the Al-Aqsa Mosque is situated very close to, and on the same raised platform as, the Dome of the Rock (under which the ruins of the two Jewish temples are assumed to be buried – although there was ongoing debate about this) [emphasis added]
  • the audience would not have expected nor needed more details on this point in order to reach an informed understanding about the main focus of the programme
  • the audience were not therefore likely to have been misled on a material fact.”

One can only hope that the bolded statement above does not suggest that the BBC subscribes to or accommodates the narrative of ‘Temple denial’ propagated by some PA officials and others.

The complainant then appealed that decision by the Adviser and an ESC panel subsequently rejected his appeal.

“Trustees agreed that if they took this matter on appeal they were not likely to uphold a breach of the Editorial Guidelines given that:

  • the BBC had said it was the wrong wording, i.e. that it was inaccurate
  • an apology was given. The BBC had said “we’re sorry for this error”
  • the matter had been resolved. […]

Trustees decided not to take the appeal, on the basis that it would not be appropriate, proportionate or cost-effective since there was no reasonable prospect of the appeal succeeding.”

Surely the most cost-effective way of dealing this complaint would have been for the BBC to issue a prompt correction nine months ago when the clearly inaccurate statement was made.  Nevertheless, the valuable lesson we learn from this case is that what a BBC journalist later claims to have meant to have said – but didn’t – is grounds for the rejection of a straightforward complaint concerning an obviously inaccurate statement.

Is it really any wonder that members of the public find the BBC complaints system so ‘through the looking glass’ frustrating?

Related Articles:

Orla Guerin tells BBC audiences Al Aqsa Mosque ‘sacred to Jews’

Disturbing themes in BBC coverage of the wave of terror in Israel

The Temple, the Times and the BDS Supporter (CAMERA) 

BBC Trust rejects appeals on Willcox ‘Jewish hands’ complaints

Eighteen months after the original broadcast, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee has now published its findings concerning complaints about remarks made by Tim Willcox during a broadcast from Paris after the terror attacks at the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hypercacher supermarket in January 2015.Willcox

Readers will no doubt recall that in response to complaints, the BBC originally claimed that Willcox’s subsequent apology on Twitter sufficed. Having received a large number of complaints, the BBC then decided to consolidate them. Concurrently, additional complaints made to OFCOM were rejected.

In February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit provisionally rejected the consolidated complaint, sparking condemnation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In May 2015 the ECU finalised its decision.

On June 16th 2016 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published the outcome of appeals against that decision. A summary can be found on page 4 and the full decision is on page 11 here.

Unsurprisingly, the ESC rejected all the appeals and the convoluted ‘rationale’ behind that decision raises issues in itself. [all emphasis added]

“The Committee noted the response from the Editor of the BBC News Channel:

“Given the apology by [the presenter] at the time, it is clear we accept that the question itself was somewhat clumsy, and the phrase ‘Jewish hands’ might not have been chosen in a scripted context, given the specific point behind the question was about Israel’s relations with the Palestinians. We note the earlier findings that this phrase, while clumsy and insufficiently specific, was not a breach of the BBC’s guidelines given the regular conflation of Israel and Jewish by critics of Israel’s policies, and the use by some of the phrase ‘Jewish state’ to describe Israel.” […]

The Committee did not uphold the points of appeal, for the following reasons:

  • whilst some of the audience clearly found it both harmful and offensive to conflate Jewish and Israeli, the perspective was clearly attributed to critics of Israel
  • it was posited neither as the presenter’s view nor as a valid position. The presenter’s remarks were positing a reason the perpetrators might have used or others might use to try to justify or legitimise their actions in making Jews a target of the attack. The Committee did not accept the suggestion that the presenter had been seeking to hold Jews collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel
  • while it is abhorrent to murder Parisian Jews as a response to the actions of the State of Israel, and the actions of the State of Israel cannot be used to excuse or legitimise the events in Paris or to connect Parisian Jews to the State, it is evidently a justification used by those who perpetrate such acts of violence
  • physical attacks in Paris on Jewish people and their institutions during the war in Gaza a few months prior to the January massacres are evidence that the presenter’s observation was factually based
  • there have been comments by Jewish community leaders in France and the UK acknowledging that the war in Gaza was the motivation for anti-Semitic attacks […]
  • the conflation of Jewish and Israeli was duly accurate and editorially justified in this particular instance: it was clearly attributed, well-sourced, based on sound evidence, and was adequate and appropriate to the output.The Committee acknowledged the sensitivity of the subject matter and the genuine offence felt by some listeners. However, Trustees considered it important to note that the Editorial Guidelines permit the legitimate use of challenging material and allow reporters and presenters, where appropriate, to raise difficult issues in accordance with generally accepted standards. Trustees considered that, although the presenter had acknowledged that some viewers may have been offended by his choice of language, for which he had apologised promptly, given all the circumstances, his phraseology did not breach the Harm and Offence Guidelines.The Committee concluded that the BBC had demonstrated a clear editorial purpose in positing a connection between Jews “being the targets now” and “many critics of Israel’s policy” who would “suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands”.”

In other words, the BBC Trust appears to be claiming that because anti-Israel activists – and murderous antisemites – use the terms ‘Israel’ and ‘Jewish’ interchangeably, it is legitimate for it to adopt the same language and that the use of such language is legitimate according to its editorial guidelines. One can of course only speculate whether or not the BBC would find it similarly appropriate to adopt and amplify the language of ‘justification’ used by those perpetrating acts of violence against, for example, the gay community.

The ESC likewise rejected appeals concerning the inadequacy of Willcox’s Twitter apology and the absence of any apology broadcast on the station which aired the remarks.

“The Committee noted the response from the Editor of the BBC News Channel:

“It is important to note that far from failing to recognise the issue, action was taken soon after the interview took place with [the presenter] accepting that the question he posed had been poorly phrased. He gave a clear apology the following morning via the social media network Twitter… This apology was also provided to media organisations by the BBC Press Office.”

The Committed noted the decision of the Editorial Complaints Unit at Stage 2 that the Twitter apology was sufficient because the presenter’s comments did not constitute a serious breach of editorial standards which would require a formal public correction and apology.

The Committee concluded that as the presenter’s comments had not breached the Editorial Guidelines on Harm and Offence, the Twitter apology for the poor phrasing and its wider circulation in the media via the BBC Press Office, was adequate and appropriate.”BBC Trust

Notably, this is not the first time that the self-regulating BBC Trust has rejected appeals concerning remarks made by this reporter, despite their having been flagged up by expert bodies dealing with antisemitism: the CST and the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism.

It is of course also remarkable that the BBC Trust (along with OFCOM, as cited in this document) is apparently convinced that it possesses the authority and expertise to make judgements what is – or in this case, what is not – antisemitic discourse. And that despite the fact that both OFCOM and the BBC have yet to inform their funding public which accepted definition of antisemitism – if any – they use as the basis for such decisions. 

 

 

 

 

BBC Charter Renewal – White Paper

On May 12th the UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport published a White Paper relating to the upcoming renewal of the BBC Charter. The document – titled “A BBC for the future: a broadcaster of distinction” – can be found here.pic BBC

Many BBC Watch readers will find section 3 of the report to be of particular interest, including the recommendations (page 60) concerning the complaints system.

“The new Charter will introduce two changes:

 −a single complaints system with regards to the BBC in relation to editorial matters. In the first instance the BBC will handle the complaint. Where a complainant is unsatisfied with the response, or where the BBC fails to respond in a timely manner, the complainant will then be able to complain to Ofcom;

 −external regulatory oversight of editorial matters. Ofcom will be able to consider complaints about all BBC content, including accuracy and impartiality in BBC programmes. This means the BBC will continue to be held to the high editorial standards that the public expects. It will build on the expertise and experience that Ofcom already has in considering complaints about the BBC and the rest of the broadcasting sector.

This approach will require Ofcom to take on responsibility for the regulation of aspects of BBC content currently outside of the Broadcasting Code. The government will work with Ofcom and the BBC to make sure that the BBC is held to the high editorial standards that the public rightly expects.”

The Clementi Review referred to throughout the White Paper can be found here.

 

An upcoming event for UK readers

UK based readers wishing to improve their ability to make effective complaints to the media may be interested in an upcoming seminar organised by UK Lawyers for Israel.complaint pic

The seminar is entitled “Media regulation, complaints, defamation and misleading advertising” and it will be held on Tuesday, April 5th 2016 from 6-8pm in Central London.

UKLFI directors Mark Lewis and Jonathan Turner will cover complaints and other relevant areas in an interactive session, with questions and discussion being encouraged throughout.  Full materials will be provided to all participants.

The seminar is free to attend but places are limited so those interested in taking part should register at the e-mail address caroline.kendal@uklfi.com as soon as possible.