OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

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

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

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

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

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

The document states:

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

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

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

With regard to complaints, the document states:

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

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

And:

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

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

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

Those complaints procedures are available here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BBC ignores a good news story from Gaza

Last year the BBC World Service’s business department produced a series of highly politicised reports concerning the economy in the Gaza Strip.Business Daily 19 5 Keyworth

BBC Business accuracy fail on Gaza tomato exports

Mainstreaming anti-Israel rhetoric on the BBC World Service

More BBC multiplatform mainstreaming of an anti-Israel trope

Notably, the BBC appears to be less interested in reporting some recent good news on the Gaza economic front.

“The Coca-Cola Company inaugurated its first bottling plant in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a facility which will eventually employ 270 people and indirectly support hundreds of households. […]

The new plant currently employs 120 workers, spans more than 15,000 square meters and contains a single bottling line capable of filling up to 36,000 bottles per hour. Over the next three years the company plans to introduce a second line and expand the number of workers to 270.”

The plant also provides additional employment opportunities:

“Expectations were high in the Gaza Strip in the months leading up to the opening of the plant not only because it meant an end to the import of coke products through border crossings, but also because of the 120 direct jobs and 1,200 indirect jobs the plant brings to workers, suppliers and distributors.”

To date there has been no BBC reporting on that story. 

BBC’s new foreign language services raise an old question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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?

BBC double standards on disputed territories

At the beginning of November the BBC World Service produced two items concerning a decades-old conflict involving an invasion, disputed territory, thousands of people living in refugee camps and more than twenty years of failed negotiations.Witness W sahara audio

However, BBC audiences did not hear the words ‘occupied’ or ‘illegal under international law’ as they so frequently do in content relating to Israel. In fact, what they did hear in those two programmes was a nostalgic and sympathetic portrayal of Morocco’s ‘Green March’ into Western Sahara in 1975.

The audio version of that episode of ‘Witness’ uses the term “disputed territory” in its synopsis.

“In November 1975, King Hassan the Second ordered hundreds of thousands of Moroccans to march into disputed territory in the desert. He wanted to claim the colony of Spanish Sahara for Morocco. The Green March led to a diplomatic victory for the King, but sparked a guerrilla war and decades of instability in the region. Witness speaks to a Moroccan who was on the march.”

The synopsis to the filmed version of the same programme uses the same term.Witness W Sahara filmed

“Forty years ago, the King of Morocco ordered hundreds of thousands of Moroccans to march into the Sahara desert to claim an area of disputed territory from Spain. The Green March, as it became known, was instigated in part to boost King Hassan the Second’s faltering support at home and sparked a long guerrilla war.
Moroccan TV journalist, Seddik Maaninou, was on the march and spoke to Witness about a turning point in North African history.”

The BBC Academy’s style guide entry for Western Sahara describes it as “[d]isputed territory administered by Morocco” and readers will not find terms such as ‘occupied’ or ‘international law’ in the corporation’s profile of Western Sahara.

 

 

BBC webpage: Israel occupying ‘traditional Arab lands’ since 1948

BBC Editorial Guidelines concerning online content include the following:

“However long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it. […]

Claims that an item is inaccurate, biased or seriously misleading must be properly investigated by the originating content team where possible. Such complaints may, at the complainant’s discretion, be referred through the BBC’s published complaints procedure up to the BBC Trust.”

Here is yet another example of a BBC webpage (headed “Education”) with no date stamp which is still available online and contains inaccurate and misleading content – in this case the claim that Israel occupied land in 1948.

“In 1948 the state of Israel was created in traditional Arab lands. Its existence was challenged by neighbouring countries and, in response to attacks by Arab neighbours, Israel secured its borders by occupying lands in which Palestinians had lived for generations.”

Ashrawi page

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Another BBC online content management fail

42+1 years on BBC still refrains from using the word terror

On May 27th the BBC World Service sent the following Tweet to its one hundred and ninety-four thousand followers.

WS Tweet Lod

The link promoted in that tweet leads to a filmed report which was actually first broadcast a year ago.  As was noted here then, the synopsis to that report about the 1972 Lod Airport Massacre makes no use of the words terror, terrorism or terrorists.

That observation still stands.

 

BBC congratulates itself on its accuracy and impartiality

On May 21st the BBC announced its latest audience figures.

“The figures – the BBC Global Audience Measure (GAM) – reveal that the BBC’s weekly global news audience, which is measured each year, has increased by 18m people, or 7 per cent since last year, to a record-breaking 283 million. This means that one in every 16 adults around the world uses BBC News. […]

The BBC World Service’s audience has increased by 10 per cent in its first year of licence fee funding and now stands at 210m, with the biggest boost coming from new World Service TV news bulletins in languages other than English.

The biggest growth for a single service comes for BBC World Service English, which has its highest-ever weekly reach with an audience of 52m, an increase of more than 25 per cent. The countries where the audience increases for World Service English have been highest are Nigeria, USA, Pakistan and Tanzania.”

The press release also states:BBC brick wall

“Fran Unsworth, Director of the BBC World Service Group, says: “These amazing figures demonstrate the importance and impact of the BBC around the world.

“In times of crisis and in countries lacking media freedom, people around the world turn to the BBC for trusted and accurate information.” [emphasis added]

In a separate blog post Ms Unsworth added:

“The Thai news-stream also highlights one of the founding principles of the BBC World Service – to bring impartial, accurate news to countries when they lack it – although our largest market remains the US. […]

We need to make the most of these opportunities while sticking to the values which make us the most trusted news organisation in the world.

And as we increase our impact and reach around the world, we also need to focus on places where people are lacking accurate impartial news.” [emphasis added]

Those laudable sentiments and aspirations are consistent with statements made by Fran Unsworth when she took on the role of director of the BBC World Service Group. Unfortunately, they do not take into account the fact that BBC World Service content – and not least BBC World Service radio programmes – do not by any stretch of the imagination always live up to those professed standards.

That means that when a BBC presenter exploits her position to advance the inaccurate and defamatory notion of “collective punishment” by Israel or when World Service radio broadcasts unchallenged Hamas propaganda or when US audiences are given inaccurate information about a ceasefire or when a senior BBC journalist promotes claims of a ‘massacre’ that never happened, millions more people are now being misled by shoddy, inaccurate and often cringingly transparent politically motivated reporting.

With the BBC’s growing influence must come a commensurate responsibility to justify the trust of audiences around the world by making accuracy and impartiality mean more than just slogans in a self-lauding press release.

Selective BBC reporting on explosions in Sudan implies Israeli involvement

In the early hours of May 6th confused reports began to emerge concerning explosions in Khartoum.

“The Hezbollah-affiliated television channel Al-Mayadeen and foreign media outlets quoted a message issued by the Sudanese army saying that Sudanese forces shot down an Israeli unmanned aerial vehicle north of the capital of Khartoum overnight Tuesday. Sudanese citizens reported hearing loud explosions during the night. Officials in the Sudanese army arrived at the scene of the strike.

The Al-Araby al-Jadeed newspaper reported overnight Tuesday that “foreign planes” had struck a target in Omdurman, in the capital state of Khartoum, citing Sudanese military officials described as “credible”.

 According to the report, which has not been officially confirmed, a military source said that “members of the Air Defense Command in Sudan hit targets, with the assumption being that the strike was carried out by a warplane in the area of Wadi Seidna in the city of Omdurman.”

The Sudanese Army spokesman Colonel Al-Sawarmy Khaled Saad said in an interview with Arabic-language Sky News Arabia news channel on Wednesday that the army’s Air Defense systems intercepted overnight Tuesday a “moving object that resembles a plane or a rocket’ in the area of the city of Omdurman.

 In contrast to reports in Arab media outlets, the spokesman denied the military facilities were targeted by a domestic or foreign source. He claimed that the Air Defense forces intercepted the object after finding it suspicious.

 According to the report, senior officials in the Sudanese army arrived at the scene of the strike but have yet to ascertain the target of the attack.”

Various media organisations ran the story – the details of which have still not been confirmed at the time of writing – with speculation of Israeli involvement being promoted despite the fact that the only apparent supporting ‘evidence’ was guesswork.

“Witnesses in Omdurman said they saw and heard large explosions at a military site near the city, which sits across the Nile River from the capital Khartoum, the Al-Araby news outlet reported.

Witnesses told the paper they thought the planes had come from Israel, which has been fingered for airstrikes in Sudan in the recent past.”

Whilst the BBC did not publish an article on the topic on its English language BBC News website, Twitter followers of its World Service Africa Editor Mary Harper received the following Tweet.

Harper Twitter

The attached link leads to the BBC News website’s live ‘Africa round-up’ page for May 6th where this item appeared:

Harper Sudan Africa live pge

No stand-alone report on the topic appeared on the website’s Africa or Middle East pages.

Additionally, followers of the BBC Arabic Twitter account received the Tweet below.

BBC Arabic tweet Sudan

The link in that Tweet leads to an article on the BBC Arabic website which also promotes the idea of IsraeliBBC Arabic art Sudan involvement in the incident despite – as noted by the Deputy Editor in Chief of the Sudan Tribune – there being no confirmation of that particular version of events or indeed any other.

One obvious question which arises is why the BBC considered this story suitable for publication on its Arabic language website but not on its English language equivalent.

Another notable point is that if the BBC is going to promote the notion that Israeli planes attacked “Sudanese military installations” despite the lack of any concrete evidence to support that claim, then obviously there is also a need to include factual information concerning the history of Iranian arms smuggling to Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip via Sudan rather than just the standard ‘Israel says’-type mention at the end of the BBC Arabic report.

 

 

More BBC promotion of the ‘Jewish lobby’ trope

Barely a week after the mainstreaming of the antisemitic ‘Jewish lobby’ trope in a review of the papers on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Stephen Nolan show, another papers review – this time on the BBC News Channel – promoted the same trope and others on November 8th.

In addition to its being broadcast on television, the item was also posted on the BBC News website’s UK page the following day. The relevant section can be seen in the video below.BBC Papers on website

Presenter Tim Willcox’s guests are Nigel Nelson of the ‘Sunday People’ and former Lib Dem spin-doctor Jo Phillips who is introduced as “our political advisor”.

Asked by Willcox to explain the story appearing in the ‘Independent’ to viewers, Phillips says:

“…what you get is a lot of unnamed people…ahm…from sort of the Jewish lobby and obviously, you know, they’ve been very supportive of the Labour Party and they are abandoning ‘toxic’ Labour.”

Obviously as far as Phillips is concerned, any British Jew – identified or not – who contributes to a political party can automatically be categorised as a member of a supposed “Jewish lobby”. She goes on:

“But they’re not abandoning it because of Ed Miliband’s personal ratings according to this. This is because of what Ed Miliband actually said…ahm…in the summer; his aggressive condemnation of Israel’s attacks – disproportionate attacks and incursion into Gaza.”

Ms Phillips’ qualifications – legal or military – for judging whether or not Israeli attacks were “disproportionate” are of course highly debatable, but Willcox makes no effort to rectify the misleading impression given to viewers by Phillips’ employment of a loaded label without evidence-based justification.

Instead, Willcox bizarrely introduces into the conversation the equally evidence-free notion that Jewish donors to the Labour party will automatically be opposed to a proposed tax on high-value properties, thus tapping into the old stereotype of ‘rich Jews’.

“Yeah and a lot of these prominent Jewish…ah….ah….faces will be very much against the mansion tax presumably as well.”

Phillips later adds:

“…but it is this terrible thing if, you know, you’re not supposed apparently to say anything anti-Israeli. Ahm…and if you attack Israeli political…ahm…policies or the government policies then, you know, this is what you get. Ahm…you know it seems to me that it’s totally hypocritical that on the one hand they [Labour] are now going to have to look perhaps to the unions to get some funding but will be accused of being in the unions’ pockets. But when he’s [Miliband] being brave and principled and standing up and saying, you know, this time Israel has gone too far, people take their money away…”

So, here we have the BBC once more promoting the age-old antisemitic trope that a “Jewish lobby” made up of rich Jews uses its power and financial clout to manipulate political policy. Moreover, viewers are fed the ridiculous idea that a British politician with a “brave” and “principled” stance is being punished by a wealthy ‘lobby’ (which obviously does not share the same characteristics) simply because “you’re not supposed to say anything anti-Israeli”.

This is just one more example of the growing phenomenon of BBC enablement of the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse. Broadcasting House: you have a very serious problem. 

 

On the BBC’s unwarranted use of legal terms during Operation Protective Edge

The following words will no doubt resonate with readers who have been following the BBC’s coverage of the recent conflict in Israel and the Gaza Strip and have hence heard and read BBC employees and interviewees alike using the terms below on a disturbingly regular basis.EG

“War crimes. Disproportionate response. Collective punishment. Targeting civilians. Throughout Operation Protective Edge, these terms have been fired off at Israel with the same intensity and frequency as Hamas’ rockets. Arab government spokesmen constantly refer to Israel’s actions as “aggression.” In extreme cases, Israel is accused of “genocide” and “ethnic cleansing.” “

Unfortunately for the BBC’s reputation as a provider of accurate and impartial news, those loaded labels were liberally employed and promoted without evidence-based justification for their use and before any proper and professional investigations into the circumstances of the events described in that legal language had been carried out.

In a very interesting article in The Tower the writer of the above words, David Daoud, explains “Everything You Need to Know about International Law and the Gaza War” and it is well worth the long read. Another recent interesting article on a similar topic is titled “The Ethics of Protective Edge” and it was written by Professor Asa Kasher.

Throughout the seven weeks of conflict the BBC made remarkably little effort to explain to audiences the actual meaning of terms such as ‘disproportionate’, indiscriminate’,  ‘collective punishment’, ‘targeting civilians’ or ‘war crimes’ which were so frequently bandied about by its reporters and guests. One of the few efforts which were made came in the form of an eight-minute item (unfortunately no longer available) broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s ‘PM’ show on July 29th in which David Turns of Cranfield University spoke about the meaning of “disproportionate” in international law.

“There is a general misperception that if any civilians at all are killed, then that is automatically disproportionate. But what such people generally fail to say is what something is disproportionate to, and you’ve got to consider; the law requires consideration of the legitimate military objectives of the other side as well.”

Apparently though, there was no BBC memo informing its own employees that the indiscriminate and unwarranted use of such terms is both inappropriate for an organization professing to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality, as well as misleading to audiences who would quite reasonably (but wrongly) assume that the BBC’s frequent employment of such language must mean that a legal justification for its use exists. Obviously too, BBC presenters and producers had not been issued with any sort of guidelines on the topic of the legal definitions of such labels and the resulting significance of their use by correspondents and interviewees whilst no proven justification was available.

That in itself speaks volumes about the BBC’s lack of commitment to impartial reporting of Operation Protective Edge and it is an issue on which the BBC’s Director of News and Current Affairs obviously needs to provide answers to the corporation’s funding public.