BBC Complaints: BBC programme is not BBC output

Yesterday we noted an item aired on the March 30th edition of the BBC News Channel programme ‘Outside Source’ in which audiences were given inaccurate information concerning courts in Israel and partial information concerning measures taken to deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.

BBC News Channel grossly misleads on Israeli courts

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those issues, the receipt of which was acknowledged on the same day.

The following day, however, we received this response from the BBC Complaints team:

“Many thanks for taking the time to contact us. The role of this department is to respond to comment, query or criticism concerning programmes on any of the BBC’s national, regional and local television or radio services.

We also deal with issues related to BBC’s policy. As your complaint is not in reference to BBC output we are unable to investigate this further for you. If you wish to contact us in the future then we would ask that you please refer to BBC programmes, broadcasts, policy or output in your complaint.” [emphasis added]

As noted above ‘Outside Source’ is aired on the BBC News Channel. That platform is described by the BBC itself as “Britain’s most-watched news channel, delivering breaking news and analysis all day, every day”.

The BBC’s complaints webform includes the option of submitting a complaint concerning the BBC News channel. A later drop-down menu also includes the programme ‘Outside Source’ itself. 

A video of the programme was uploaded to Youtube by BBC News. The programme’s presenter circulated that video on her Twitter account – where she describes herself as a BBC presenter.

The programme appeared with the BBC logo on screen.

Nevertheless, the outsourced BBC Complaints system claimed that “As your complaint is not in reference to BBC output we are unable to investigate this further for you”.

While members of the general public may understandably have been put off by such a reply, BBC Watch of course submitted a second (Stage 1b) complaint which included the above information. We have now received the following:

One can of course but wonder about the overall efficiency of a publicly funded complaints system which sends replies “issued in error”. 

Related Articles:

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

BBC complaints procedure consultation reminder

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

An overview of BBC Watch prompted corrections in 2019

Have your say: BBC launches consultation on complaints procedures

Yesterday the BBC launched a public consultation concerning two parts of its complaints procedure: editorial complaints and general complaints.

Editorial complaints are defined as those concerning a particular item broadcast or published while general complaints cover issues that fall outside the BBC’s other categories.

An explanation of the background to the consultation and the BBC’s proposed amendments to the complaints procedure can be found here.

The existing complaints framework can be found here.

The consultation will run until April 3rd 2020 and submissions can be sent by email to:

complaints.framework2020@bbc.co.uk

or by post to:

 BBC Corporate Affairs,

Room 5045,

BBC Broadcasting House,

Portland Place,

London W1A 1AA.

An overview of BBC Watch prompted corrections in 2019

Throughout 2019 BBC Watch prompted the following corrections to BBC content on various platforms:

January:

BBC Radio 4 corrected an inaccurate claim concerning Israel’s Christian population.

After second complaint, BBC clarifies inaccurate claim about Israel’s Christian population

BBC adds missing link following further complaint

February:

The BBC Sport website amended a misrepresentation of a statement from Israel’s foreign ministry.

BBC Watch prompts correction to BBC Sport report

The BBC News website amended claims concerning Lebanese casualties during the Second Lebanon War in three reports.

BBC News website amends Second Lebanon War claim

March:

The BBC News website corrected a report concerning the mixed prayer area at the Western Wall.

BBC News website corrects Western Wall report following complaints

April:

BBC Radio 4 apologised for breaching the corporation’s own style guide on the use of the term Palestine.

BBC apologises for ‘unfortunate oversight’

The BBC News website amended a misleading headline in a profile of Benny Gantz.

BBC News amends errors in election candidate profile

The BBC News website corrected three articles in which it was claimed that the Gaza Strip is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

BBC News corrects inaccurate ‘Palestinian unity government’ claims

May:

The BBC News website removed a video in which a false Hamas claim concerning the death of a baby and a pregnant woman in the Gaza Strip was amplified.

Islamic Jihad unravels BBC amplification of Hamas claim

The BBC News website corrected a mistranslation in an article about vultures in the Golan Heights.

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate portrayal of the Jewish day of rest.

BBC Watch prompts two BBC News website corrections

The BBC Arabic website removed a Nazi analogy.

BBC Watch prompts removal of Nazi analogy from BBC Arabic website

June:

The BBC News website removed an inaccurate claim concerning water from a profile of the Golan Heights.

BBC News website removes inaccurate claim from online profile

The BBC News website belatedly amended a claim concerning women’s rights in Iran.

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

The BBC News website corrected a false claim concerning Israel’s extradition policy.

BBC Watch prompts correction to inaccurate extradition claim

July:

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate quote from the US Ambassador to Israel.

BBC Watch prompts correction of inaccurate US ambassador quote

September:

BBC World Service radio re-edited a programme in which it was claimed that there is a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip.

BBC WS radio corrects inaccurate claim of a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip

The BBC News website corrected a report in which Binyamin Netanyahu was described as Israel’s president.

BBC News website gives Israel’s prime minister an upgrade

October:

BBC Radio 4 corrected an inaccurate claim made by the BBC’s Middle East editor.

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

November:

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate portrayal of an Israeli politician.

BBC News website corrects inaccurate description of Israeli MK

December:

The BBC News website corrected a misrepresentation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

BBC Watch prompts correction to report on French antisemitism resolution

The BBC’s ‘Newsround’ amended a photo feature which breached the corporation’s style guide on the use of the term Palestine.

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

Once again this year we saw inconsistent use of footnotes to inform audiences of amendments to BBC News website reports and the continued absence of a corrections page on that platform means that those who read reports when they are first published – and are unlikely to revisit them at a later date – all too often remain unaware that information they were given was inaccurate.

Likewise, we saw at least one case this year in which the BBC failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on “Correcting Mistakes”.

A significant proportion of the complaints submitted by BBC Watch in 2019 did not receive a response in the time frame set by the BBC itself and in some cases a response was not received at all. In August we received a communication from the BBC World Service which included:

“…apologies for evidently yet-to-come replies due to the volume of correspondence and (un)availability of relevant staff. I hope you will understand…”

As we have previously stated:

“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.”

Related Articles:

OFCOM reports on the BBC complaints procedure

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.

Related Articles:

How to Complain to the BBC

 

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.