Changes made to BBC Complaints webform

The BBC has recently made changes to the online form which can be used by members of the public to submit a complaint.

Not only is the look of the form different but the order of some of the questions has been changed – for example the request to provide details of the programme/report concerned now appears after the actual complaint – which may cause some confusion to those familiar with the previous version.

As always we nevertheless recommend using the online form rather than the phone-in or postal options available and we strongly suggest taking a screenshot at the ‘review and submit’ stage for future reference.

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BBC clarifies inaccurate claim by Jeremy Bowen but fails to meet editorial guidelines

Earlier this month we documented an inaccurate claim made by the BBC’s Middle East editor during the September 26th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

In an item relating to post-election Israeli politics Jeremy Bowen told listeners that:

“Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“That, however, is not the case: “next month” – i.e. October 2019 – pre-indictment hearings before the attorney general will take place over four working days commencing on October 2nd. As the Times of Israel notes:

“The hearings, which will see Netanyahu’s lawyers argue his conduct was entirely proper and within the boundaries of the law, will stretch over four days and wrap up before the start of the Yom Kippur fast on Tuesday evening.

Prosecution officials told Channel 12 news on Tuesday they hoped to reach a final decision on whether to indict the premier by the end of the year.”

In other words, Bowen’s claim that allegations against Netanyahu will “come to court next month” is inaccurate and misleading to audiences both from the point of view of the time frame presented and with regard to the implication that indictments have already been made. Any potential indictment is dependent upon the outcome of the ongoing hearings and as we see above, that process will take time.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning Bowen’s inaccurate claim which BBC Complaints initially tried to dismiss with the following response:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding From Our Own Correspondent, broadcast on Thursday 26th September.

We have spoken with the programme team about your concerns. During his report Jeremy Bowen says, “Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” Although a verdict is due to be made by the end of the year we don’t believe it was inaccurate for Jeremy to say “they’re due to come to court next month”, as he was referring to the allegations that were due to be bought forward at this time. We hope this clarifies Jeremy’s statement.”

BBC Watch submitted a second complaint, pointing out that the response received was unsatisfactory:

“What is “due to be made by the end of the year” – is a decision by the Attorney General’s office whether or not to indict Netanyahu on all or any of the three cases. Hence “the allegations” are not “due to come to court next month” as claimed by the BBC – i.e. October – because as yet no indictment has been made. Reasonable members of the audience would understand from Bowen’s words that a court case is due to commence in October and would necessarily conclude from that that an indictment has been made. That is not the case and so Bowen’s claim is both inaccurate and misleading.”

On October 28th we received a further response from BBC Complaints in which once again we see that the BBC takes the liberty of declaring a second response at Stage 1b of the procedure “your first reply”. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us again. We are sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.

We’re sorry you had to come back to us and we appreciate why. We always aim to address the specific points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. Your [sic] previous reply didn’t tackle the exact issue you raised and we’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We have spoken with the From Our Own Correspondent team about your concerns. They would like to respond with the following:

“Thanks for writing in again and I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the previous reply.

You are right to suggest that Jeremy was referring to the pre-trial hearing with the attorney-general, which took place behind closed doors at the Justice ministry.

Jeremy was using a turn of phrase, to indicate the legal process was reaching its crucial next stage, but in case listeners thought the case was actually coming to court next month we can clarify the point on our complaints website.

The Attorney-General has of course already indicated that charges are likely.”

Thank you again for getting in touch.”

On October 28th the following correction was posted on the BBC’s ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ page:

However, no notification of that correction has been added to the programme’s webpage, where the item is still available to audiences.

The new BBC editorial guidelines published in July state that:

“Where mistakes in our on-demand content, which is available online after broadcast, are unlikely to be a serious breach of editorial standards, a correction should be published on that platform, so that it is visible before the output is played. Such on-demand content does not then normally need to be changed or revoked.

Where mistakes to our on-demand content are likely to be considered a serious breach of editorial standards, the content must be corrected and the mistake acknowledged, or in exceptional cases removed. We need to be transparent about any changes made, unless there are editorial or legal reasons not to do so.”  [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, BBC audiences will continue to be misled by Jeremy Bowen’s inaccurate account because BBC Radio 4 has not complied with those editorial guidelines.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Middle East editor warns against premature claims yet makes one

BBC Complaints makes it up as it goes along

BBC publishes new Editorial Guidelines

OFCOM reports on the BBC complaints procedure

On October 24th OFCOM – which in April 2017 became the BBC’s external regulator – published its second annual report on the BBC.

“The Royal Charter requires Ofcom to publish a report each year that sets out how we have carried out our functions as the BBC’s independent regulator, and assesses the BBC’s compliance with the requirements of our Operating Framework and associated documents.

Separately, we are required to report at least annually on the BBC’s performance against the measures we set alongside the Operating Licence. This forms the evidence base for our assessment of the BBC’s performance against its public purposes.”

Given the nature of OFCOM, the report is predictably UK focused but it does include some notable insights into the communications regulator’s view of the BBC complaints procedure – especially for the many members of the public who hoped that external regulation would bring about much needed improvements in that system.

As readers may be aware, the first two stages of the BBC’s complaints system are outsourced to a private company and responses to complaints submitted are all too often not received within the designated time frame of 20 days. In fact in late August this year, BBC Watch received an e-mail from BBC Audience Services concerning three unanswered complaints which appeared to suggest an insufficiently staffed system:

“Many thanks for the complaints you have sent since the beginning of August (attached) with apologies for evidently yet-to-come replies due to the volume of correspondence and (un)availability of relevant staff. I hope you will understand…

More to the point, the complaints are all with the appropriate editorial staff and I hope to have responses to them in due course.”  

Replies received at Stage 1a not infrequently give the impression that they are intended to fob off the complainant.

The accessibility of the complaints procedure is in itself an issue: BBC Watch regularly receives e-mails to our ‘contact us’ address from members of the British public who have difficulty navigating the BBC’s complex and tedious online complaints form.

However on page 49 of its report we discover that OFCOM is of the opinion that the outsourced system is up to standard.

“When a BBC viewer or listener has a complaint, it is important that there is a fair and transparent process in place to hear their views. We believe the current BBC complaints system achieves this at the early stages of the complaints process, but we have some significant concerns […] about the later stages. […]

The BBC’s complaints statistics for 2018/19 indicate that ‘BBC First’ continues to work effectively and most complainants are satisfied with the BBC’s final response to their complaint.”

How OFCOM came to that conclusion regarding complainant satisfaction is not explained.

OFCOM does however have “significant concerns” about the later stage of the complaints procedure – the stage handled by the BBC itself.

Page 53: “However, […] we consider the BBC should provide more transparency on the reasons for its findings from the Executive Complaints Unit on compliance with the relevant requirements in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines which reflect the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. We will be addressing the BBC’s lack of transparency in this area as a matter of urgency.”

Page 21: “Transparency is important for public confidence in the operation and effectiveness of the BBC’s complaints process. While we consider, generally, that the BBC First process is working well […] a recent case has given us significant concerns that the way in which the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (‘ECU’) currently publishes its decisions does not give transparency to this part of its complaints process and the reasons for the decisions it reaches on compliance with relevant requirements in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines which reflect the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.”

As for OFCOM’s own handling of complaints concerning BBC content (page 49):

“Between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, Ofcom received a total of 1,539 content standards complaints about the BBC. However, of these: 1,272 complaints were referred back to the BBC under ‘BBC First’. Although these complaints were about BBC programmes, after an initial assessment we found that these complainants had not completed the BBC’s complaints process before submitting their complaint to Ofcom; and 236 complaints had completed the BBC’s complaints process, but the complainant was not satisfied with the outcome. In all but two of these complaints we did not consider that the complaint raised a substantive issue under the Code which warranted further investigation.” [emphasis added]

OFCOM does not specify how many of those 1,272 complaints it referred back to the BBC reached it because BBC Audience Services regularly refers complainants to OFCOM:

Regrettably, in the two and a half years since OFCOM became the BBC’s external regulator BBC Watch has been unable to discern any meaningful improvement in the BBC’s handling of complaints which, in contrast to OFCOM’s opinion, we consider to be far too slow in comparison to other media outlets, cumbersome and lacking transparency.  

Over four months on BBC News amends claims about women’s rights in Iran

An article by the BBC’s world affairs editor John Simpson which appeared in the ‘features’ section of BBC News website’s Middle East page on February 1st 2019 under the title “The plane journey that set Iran’s revolution in motion” told readers that:

“Today, Iran is a lot more easy-going than most outsiders imagine.

The rules about women’s dress are sometimes enforced harshly, but the Islamic Republic has never clamped down on women’s rights in the way you see routinely in Saudi Arabia.

Iranian women run businesses, own property, drive cars and play an important part in politics.

The present government is probably more liberal than any other since the revolution.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“The World Economic Forum publishes an annual ‘Global Gender Gap Report’ which ranks countries in terms of women’s economic participation, educational attainment, health, and political empowerment. The 2018 report put Iran in slot 142 out of 149, with Saudi Arabia one place higher. Despite Simpson’s claim that “Iranian women…play an important part in politics”, the WEF’s sub-index on political empowerment ranks Iran 141 out of 149. Saudi Arabia is ranked 127th. […]

This is by no means the first time that the BBC has whitewashed the specific issue of women’s rights in Iran as well as the general picture of human rights in that country. But this is not some junior reporter dashing off a report: this is the BBC’s highly paid world affairs editor – no less – writing a feature, with time to check facts in order to avoid misleading audiences.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that article on February 6th. On February 15th BBC Complaints informed us that it “had referred your complaint to the relevant people and regret that it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On March 6th we received another e-mail from BBC Complaints informing us that – as is all too often the case – “we’ve not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.

On June 17th – over four months after the complaint was originally made – we received an e-mail from the BBC News website.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our feature article entitled The plane journey that set Iran’s revolution in motion (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-47043561).

You appear never to have received a response to your complaint, submitted in early February, and we would like to apologise for the long and regrettable delay in writing back to you.

After consider [sic] your points in more detail we have amended this paragraph to now explain that:

Today, Iran appears a lot more easy-going than most outsiders imagine.

The rules about women’s dress are sometimes enforced harshly, but the Islamic Republic has never clamped down on women’s freedom of movement in the way you see routinely in Saudi Arabia with its male guardianship system.

In my experience, Iranian women have more belief that they can run businesses, own property, drive cars- and play an important part in politics, despite figures to the contrary.

We have also added a note of clarification at the bottom of the article outlining these changes.”

That footnote reads:

The BBC claims that: [emphasis added]

“We aim to deal with your complaint fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by our Royal Charter to have a complaints framework which provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure we are meeting our obligations and fixing problems.”

And:

“If you complain in writing we post or email over 90% of our replies within 2 weeks.”

In April 2018 the BBC once again renewed its contract with the private company to which it outsources the first two stages of its complaints system.  

Obviously a complaints system which takes over four months to come up with a response is neither “timely” nor “effective” and the continued absence of a corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that audience members who read Simpson’s article when it was first published remain unaware of the changes made to it.

Related Articles:

BBC World Affairs editor misleads on women’s rights in Iran

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

 

BBC replies late to complaint on failure to reference definition of antisemitism

Back in February of this year the BBC News website covered a story concerning the UK Labour party. As was noted here at the time:

“A report […] published on the BBC News website’s UK Politics page on February 20th – “Derek Hatton suspended by Labour days after being readmitted” – […] failed to explain to readers why the Tweet is problematic and likewise gave the misleading impression that the issue is “comments…about Israel” rather than antisemitism.”

In addition we noted that:

“The same report closed with what was apparently intended to be background information:

“Mr Hatton posted the 2012 message during “Operation Pillar of Defence” a week-long offensive by the Israel Defence Forces in Gaza.

According to a UNHCR report, 174 Palestinians were killed during the operation, and hundreds were injured.

At the time, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said “of course Israel has the right to self-defence and attacks against Israel must end, but the international community would also expect Israel to show restraint”.”

Notably readers saw no mention of the highly relevant context of the months of terror attacks which preceded that “week-long offensive”. Equally remarkable is the BBC’s portrayal of casualties in that conflict as exclusively Palestinian (despite the fact that six Israelis – two soldiers and four civilians – were also killed) and its failure to clarify that 60% of the Palestinians killed were operatives of terror groups.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint relating to those two issues. Following initial acknowledgement of the complaint, we received a communication on March 7th informing us that “it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On March 26th we received another e-mail stating:

“We are contacting you to apologise that we’ve not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for. We manage this for most complaints but regret it’s not always possible to achieve.”

On May 3rd we received a response from the BBC News website. With regard to the points we raised concerning the article’s inaccurate claim that the issue was “comments…about Israel” and the need for the BBC to explain to audiences why the statement in Hatton’s Tweet is antisemitic according to the accepted definition, the reply states:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that Derek Hatton has been suspended by the Labour Party less than 48 hours after he was admitted back into the party (https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-47312006) and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in writing back to you.

The article does refer to “…comments the ex-Militant man made about Israel” and in the next line quotes a tweet from 2012, which readers can judge for themselves. [emphasis added]

We also point out that his application to rejoin Labour “drew fierce criticism from many leading figures in the party, coming on the same day as seven MPs quit the party in protest at what they said was a culture of anti-Semitism in the party”.”

Our point was of course precisely that the vast majority of readers cannot in fact “judge for themselves” if the BBC does not reference the accepted definition of antisemitism.

With regard to the point raised concerning the absence of relevant context, the reply stated:

“As regards your second point, the article doesn’t refer to Israeli casualties but as it’s about Derek Hatton’s social media comments about an IDF offensive, we don’t see that this was an essential inclusion for balance.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s comments were also included for context.”

Yes, it really did take the BBC over two months to come up with that reply.

Related Articles:

BBC reporting on Labour antisemitism again falls short

 

 

 

 

The BBC’s response to a complaint about Christians in Israel

In late December we noted that listeners to an edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘World at One’ had been told by presenter Jonny Dymond that:

“More than 200 million Christians are at risk of persecution around the world – a number that has risen sharply over the past few decades according to the Foreign Office. In Christianity’s home – the Middle East – the numbers speak for themselves. Four fifths of Iraq’s Christians have fled or been killed. In Israel and the Palestinian territories as those following other religions have grown sharply in number, the Christian population has shrunk. Today the Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a review into the persecuted Christians around the world and how much help they get from the UK.” [emphasis in italics in the original, emphasis in bold added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning Dymond’s inaccurate claim that “in Israel…the Christian population has shrunk” which, nine days later, we were informed would take more time to address. Nearly two weeks after the complaint was originally submitted we received a response from BBC Complaints which includes the following:

“We understand you feel Jonny Dymond falsely stated that the Christian population has shrunk in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The information was clearly flagged up as being Israel and the Palestinian Territories because they are and were the best comparable figures to use to make a comparison between now and pre- Second World War – there was prior to the Declaration (and War) of Independence no administrative unit known as ‘Israel’, only the combined territory of the Ottoman and Mandate units known generally as Palestine, subdivided at times, what is now bits of Jordan, the Palestinian Territories and the State of Israel.

To get as long as possible time frame on the Christian decline in the region that was the administrative unit we chose.”

BBC Watch has submitted a second complaint clarifying that the original one related solely to Dymond’s statement concerning Israel, that the time frame presented was “the past few decades” rather than “between now and pre- Second World Warand that seeing as listeners would have reasonably understood that Dymond was referring to Israel rather than “Ottoman and Mandate units” which were not mentioned at all, a correction is still in order.   

BBC ECU publishes ‘Alternativity’ complaint finding

In July the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) informed BBC Watch that it had upheld one of the three points made in a complaint concerning a BBC Two Christmas 2017 programme titled ‘Alternativity‘.

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

As noted at the time:

“According to further communication with the ECU, that finding “will be published in due course on the complaints pages of bbc.co.uk“. BBC Watch does not know what the BBC considers to be “due course” after it has taken over six months for a point rejected at stages 1a and 1b to be upheld by the ECU.”

Two months later – and over nine months after the complaint was originally submitted – that finding now appears on the BBC News website.

 

BBC Complaints ‘runs out of time’

Included in the BBC’s revised complaints procedure that was finalised and published in October 2016 are clauses relating to time frameworks:

“The BBC aims to reply within 10 working days of receipt of your complaint though some complaints may take longer than others to investigate.”

And:

“Normally Ofcom will consider relevant complaints only if the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of the BBC process; if, in light of the outcome, the complainant considers that Ofcom should impose a sanction; or if the BBC has failed to reach a conclusion within the time period set in these procedures.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC Complaints website are told that:

“If you complain in writing we post or email over 90% of our replies within 2 weeks. […]

It can take longer to reply to other complaints, depending on the issue being investigated or how many others we have. Sometimes a delay may be due to practical reasons. For example a production team may already be working on another programme or have gone on location. […]

We aim to deal with your complaint fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by our Royal Charter to have a complaints framework which provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure we are meeting our obligations and fixing problems.”

In the past two months BBC Watch has seen three separate instances in which BBC Complaints has not addressed the issues raised within the time frame and has for all intents and purposes thereby effectively closed down the complaint.

Receipt of a complaint submitted on June 24th was acknowledged on the same day. On July 2nd BBC Complaints informed us that it was going to need more time to deal with the complaint.

On July 21st BBC Complaints stated that it had not managed to resolve the complaint within the designated time limit.

We have heard nothing further from BBC Complaints on that topic since.

The same pattern was subsequently repeated in relation to two additional complaints. 

We would be very interested to hear from any readers with similar experiences in the comments below.

 

 

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, after over six months and three complaints, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) finally acknowledged that a claim aired in the BBC Two commissioned programme ‘Alternativity’ in December 2017 was “materially misleading”.

However two additional points made in the same complaint by BBC Watch were rejected by the ECU. As readers may know, the first two stages of the BBC complaints procedure are outsourced to a private company and it is hence interesting to take a look at the responses received on those points.

The second point raised concerned a claim made by Danny Boyle while being filmed in Hebron. As was documented here at the time:

“Standing on Emek Hevron street, Boyle then (22:40) presents pure conjecture as ‘fact’.

Boyle: “And the Star of David on the doorways which is declaring that obviously the…that in these circumstances, declaring that this is…this will become a settlement home…is shockingly reminiscent of something we all…one of the worst horrors of the world. That’s a bit mind-boggling.”

BBC Watch contacted a resident of that area and was informed that the Stars of David painted on those buildings are actually graffiti painted by unknown parties. […]

The doorways mentioned by Boyle are in fact entrances to small Arab market shops that were closed during the second Intifada due to Palestinian violence. Not only are those shops unsuitable for conversion into “a settlement home” – they have never even been considered for that purpose.

As we see, therefore, Danny Boyle – who earlier on in the programme admitted that the nearest he had previously ever been to the region was Majorca – has (presumably with a bit of help from his ‘guides’) let his imagination run wild – and presented his own uninformed assumptions as fact.

Moreover, he appears to be making an oblique reference to Nazi confiscation of Jewish property – an analogy that would be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA working definition adopted by the British government.”

In our initial complaint BBC Watch pointed out that Boyle had presented pure conjecture as fact and that:

“Boyle’s claim that the graffiti ‘declares’ that ‘this will become a settlement home’ is unfounded and inaccurate.”

Although we did not raise the issue of Boyle’s apparent Nazi analogy in that complaint, in the reply received at Stage 1a we were informed by BBC Complaints that what appeared to be the case was in fact so.

“In the course of making the film Danny Boyle spent some time in Hebron (visiting both Hebron 1 and Hebron 2) and saw for himself properties formerly owned by Palestinian residents which were now claimed by Israeli settlers, and he saw that the Star of David was used to mark these properties. His comments in this section of the film are a reflection on what he had seen throughout his visit and on his awareness, as someone who loathes anti-Semitism, of what the Nazis had done to Jewish owned property in Germany in the 1930s.” 

In our Stage 1b complaint submitted on January 22nd 2018 we noted that:

“The response provides no proof for the inaccurate claim that the shops on Emek Hevron street “were now claimed by Israeli settlers” – that allegation is simply untrue and unless the BBC can provide factual evidence must be withdrawn. Additionally the response states that Boyle was reflecting on “what the Nazis had done to Jewish owned property in Germany in the 1930s”. The BBC – and Mr Boyle – should be aware that such a Nazi analogy is considered anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition of antisemitism adopted by the UK government.”

The relevant part of the response we received to that complaint was as follows:

“As stated previously, on his trip Danny Boyle saw properties formerly owned by Palestinians that had been claimed by Israeli settlers and marked with the Star of David.  It is your contention that the buildings in this specific scene have never even been considered for the purpose of settlement homes. Nonetheless we believe it was appropriate for Danny to comment on a practise that he had seen throughout his visit.”

Needless to say, no details were provided to support the claim that Boyle had seen Star of David graffiti expressing a claim by “Israeli settlers” to “properties formerly owned by Palestinians” in any other location “throughout his visit”.

In our complaint submitted to the ECU on February 28th 2018 we noted that:

“With regard to the second point raised in my complaint, the BBC once again provides no evidence to support the claim that the Star of David graffiti painted by unknown parties on doors on  Emek Hevron Street ‘declares’ that ‘this will become a settlement home’. Moreover, it again justifies Boyle’s anti-Semitic Nazi analogy while ignoring the fact that other types of graffiti are in evidence on doorways on the same street.”

We included photographs of that additional graffiti, which includes (see here) Arabic writing and an anarchist symbol.

The reply received from the ECU four months after that Stage 2 complaint was submitted is as follows:

In other words, while admitting that Boyle’s remark was “conjecture” which may have been “mistaken as to the motive behind the particular graffito shown”, the BBC ECU still claims that audiences were not materially misled. The “evidence” cited by the ECU consists of three media reports: one from the Palestinian media outlet ‘Maan News’ dating from 2012, one from the New York Times dated 1997 and one from the Times of Israel dated 2014. While those articles may indeed support the ECU’s claim that graffiti can be a “declaration of…hostility to Palestinian residents”, that was not the claim put forward by Boyle in that part of the programme.

The third point raised in our Stage 1a complaint related to a statement made by the narrator at 33:11: [emphasis added]

Colman: “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads.”

BBC Watch pointed out that the claim is inaccurate and misleading, that even according to B’tselem just four Israeli communities are served by roads upon which vehicles with Palestinian plates cannot travel and that:

“Obviously “most” of the people the BBC chooses to call “Jewish settlers” do not live in those four communities.”

The response received at Stage 1a was as follows:

“Jewish settlements in the West Bank are increasingly connected and served by roads inaccessible to Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates. This is a result of the ongoing Israeli policy of expanding the settlements and their infrastructure.”

When we challenged that response – obviously irrelevant to the point made in the original complaint – at Stage 1b, this was the reply received:

“It is not disputed that the majority of West Bank settlers live in settlements. It is also the case that these settlements are accessible by the network of roads which place restrictions on Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates.”

In our Stage 2 complaint to the ECU we pointed out that:

“With regard to the third point made in my complaint, the claim that “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads” is simply untrue and the BBC’s claim that “these settlements are accessible by the network of roads which place restrictions on Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates” is only applicable to the entrance roads to a small number of communities – totaling at most less than 60 kms.”

Four months later the ECU replied with no small amount of ‘whataboutery‘, quoting a report from the politicised UN agency UNOCHA.

Readers can judge for themselves whether six months is an acceptable time-frame for the resolution of a complaint to the BBC and whether or not the practices of outsourcing complaints to a private company and basing responses to complaints on information supplied by political NGOs serves the interests of the public that funds the corporation. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

 

 

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

Readers no doubt recall that in December 2017 the BBC’s Christmas season programming included a programme commissioned for BBC Two titled ‘Alternativity’.

Contrary to prior claims from the station’s controller Patrick Holland, the programme did not present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story at all. Rather, most of the hour-long programme was devoted to context-lite, one-sided political messaging relating to Israel promoted from both its narrator (actress Olivia Colman) and its main character Danny Boyle.

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning ‘Alternativity’ which, because of the word-count restrictions on complaints, focused on just three aspects of the programme.

Over six months later the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) has upheld one of the points made by BBC Watch and rejected two additional points.  As readers may know, the first two stages of the BBC complaints procedure are outsourced to a private company and it is hence interesting to take a look at the responses received at those first two stages on a point that was eventually upheld.

The first point we raised in our initial complaint referred to a claim made by the narrator at 12:20 minutes into the programme.

Colman: “The separation barrier and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have sliced through communities, separating neighbours. Thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land and although the exact boundaries are hotly disputed, many have been evicted and are now on black-lists banning them from entering Israel, meaning they are unable to travel for work. One of these is Amin. Imprisoned as a teenager, he now makes his living selling refreshments to the workers.” [emphasis added]

We argued that the highlighted claim is untrue. The response we received at stage 1a was as follows:

“Figures on the number of arrests, prosecutions or convictions directly related to the refusal of Palestinians to leave land which has been seized or confiscated by Israel are unavailable, but the claim that “thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is conservative given the scale of the confiscation, annexation and enclosure of Palestinian land, as well as the widespread and systemic scale of arrest and detention without charge or trial (known as administrative detention).”

We submitted a second complaint – Stage 1b – on January 22nd 2018:

“While admitting that the BBC does not have facts and figures, the response claims that the claim “thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is none the less accurate. Unless the BBC can produce concrete examples of people “imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” that claim cannot be considered accurate. The original claim related to land used for construction of the anti-terrorist fence and owners of such land are not only compensated but are entitled to appeal to the Israeli courts.”

Notably, the response we received to that point in our second complaint relied primarily on information sourced from the foreign-funded political NGO B’tselem and the PFLP linked group Addameer.

“The BBC has an obligation towards achieving “due accuracy”.  Our Editorial Guidelines say “Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right.  If an issue is controversial, relevant opinions as well as facts may need to be considered.  When necessary, all the relevant facts and information should also be weighed to get at the truth.”  As we are sure you are aware, the Israeli government does not publish the numbers of individuals subject to what it calls “administrative detention”, nor the reasons why those individuals have been detained (as detailed here www.btselem.org/administrative_detention). But there is a significant amount of information – what the Guideline is referring to when it uses the terms “relevant opinions”, and “relevant facts and information” – that can be analysed to provide a reasonable estimate.  For example, it is reliably reported that around 100,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention over the years. 

You note that Palestinians whose land has been appropriated for construction of the barrier are compensated. But that has no bearing on the issue of how the Israeli authorities dealt with protests against the barrier’s construction.  There have been many such protests, with Addameer documenting at least 295 cases of Palestinians detained for protests against barrier construction and land annexation in 2011 alone. So it is quite clear that numerous Palestinians have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land. 

The next question is therefore whether “thousands” is a reasonable estimate for the numbers detained. As noted above, there is evidence that there were 295 in 2011 alone, by which time a great deal of the barrier in the West bank had already been completed. The correct shorthand expression for 2011 alone would be “hundreds”.  But Israel started construction in 2002, and it is not yet finished.  It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, over a fifteen year period, the total number detained is most likely to be in the thousands.”

Having exhausted stages 1a and 1b of the BBC complaints procedure, we continued with a complaint submitted on February 28th 2018 to the Executive Complaints Unit after having consulted the former IDF Chief Prosecutor in Judea & Samaria, Lt. Col. Maurice Hirsch (at the time senior military justice consultant for NGO Monitor) who, inter alia, pointed out that:

“To the best of my knowledge, as someone intimately involved in law enforcement in Judea and Samaria for 20 years, no Palestinian has been imprisoned for “refusing to leave their land”! That claim is simply a fiction. Firstly, most (approximately 95%) Palestinians resident in Judea and Samaria live in the large Palestinian towns and the surrounding villages. With the exception of one, none of these towns are affected by the security barrier. Secondly, “refusing to leave your land” is not an offence, and consequently no one has been arrested or imprisoned on this basis. Thirdly, Palestinians separated from their land by the security barrier are entitled to and are in practice given permits to access their land.” 

With regard to the claim in the BBC’s response that ““thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is conservative given the scale of the confiscation, annexation and enclosure of Palestinian land, as well as the widespread and systemic scale of arrest and detention without charge or trial (known as administrative detention)”, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“As regards Administrative detention the BBC intentionally combines two subjects that have no connection whatsoever. According to international law (art. 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) a person can only be placed in administrative detention, if it is necessary for “imperative reasons of security”. No Palestinian has been placed in administrative detention for “refusing to leave their land”. According to precedent set down by Israel’s Supreme Court, a person can only be placed in administrative detention if the state proves that he poses an imminent, severe danger to the security of the public. It should be noted, that while the judicial review process of Administrative detention orders carried out by the military courts far extends the requirements of international law, Palestinians also have the right to challenge their administrative detention before Israel’s supreme court.”

With regard to the claim in the BBC’s response that “For example, it is reliably reported that around 100,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention over the years…as detailed here www.btselem.org/administrative_detention“, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“There is nothing ‘reliable’ about the report that 100,000 Palestinians have been held in Administrative detention. The occurrence of administrative detention between the years 1967 – 1987 was very limited. In response to the Palestinian terrorism that started in 1987 the use of administrative detention increased. With the onset of the Oslo Accords, Israel’s use of administrative detention waned. Only in 2001, as a response to the wide scale Palestinian terrorist attacks, did Israel revert to the use of administrative detention. Since then, the number of Palestinians arrested in administrative detention has fluctuated considerably. According to publicly available documents, that organisations like B’tselem chose to ignore, in the 20 year period, between 1995 and 2015, 16,041. In that period, in one year (2000) only 17 new administrative detention orders were issued. In another year (2002) 2,578 new orders were issued. In other words, if one were to use the 20 years between 1995 and 2015 as a basis, it would indicate that Israel placed 800 Palestinians a year in administrative detention. Assuming that these figures are automatically reflective of the statistics since 1967, the result would be that 40,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention. Having said that, noting the tremendous fluctuation in the use of administrative detention, any statistic given, that is not based on official numbers for every year, is inherently unreliable.”

In response to the claim in the BBC’s reply “…with Addameer documenting at least 295 cases of Palestinians detained for protests against barrier construction and land annexation in 2011 alone. So it is quite clear that numerous Palestinians have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land”, Lt. Col Hirsch noted that:

“There is no logical connection between these two statements. Palestinians “detained for protests against the barrier… and land annexation” include those who threw stones, molotov cocktails and committed other related offences. The arrest of these people had nothing to do with “refusing to leave their land”, but rather the fact that they committed violent offences. Moreover, considering the fact that demonstrations against the construction of the security barrier were organized by the Palestinian Authority and called for widespread participation, it is also factually inaccurate to assume that all those arrested were necessarily the owners of the land on which they were arrested.”

In response to the claim in the BBC’s reply “there is evidence that there were 295 in 2011 alone, by which time a great deal of the barrier in the West bank had already been completed. The correct shorthand expression for 2011 alone would be “hundreds”.  But Israel started construction in 2002, and it is not yet finished.  It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, over a fifteen year period, the total number detained is most likely to be in the thousands”, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“…there is no logical or statistical basis to use a statistic for the prevalence of law enforcement in one year alone in order to ‘calculate’ a larger figure for multiple years. For example in 2006, a total of 1120 Palestinians were prosecuted for offences categorized as “Disturbances of the peace” (as opposed to Terrorism; Regular criminal offences; and Illegal entry into Israel). That number decreased in 2008 to only 593. This category included, among other offences, stone throwing. Accordingly, this simplistic statistical approach adopted by the BBC ignores the tremendous fluctuation in law enforcement every year.”

Four months after that complaint to the ECU had been submitted, we received a reply which includes the following:

According to further communication with the ECU, that finding “will be published in due course on the complaints pages of bbc.co.uk“. BBC Watch does not know what the BBC considers to be “due course” after it has taken over six months for a point rejected at stages 1a and 1b to be upheld by the ECU.

In part two of this post we will look at some of the interesting responses received from BBC Complaints in relation to the other two points raised in this complaint.

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Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two