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On June 17th – over four months after the complaint was originally made – we received an e-mail from the BBC News website.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

 

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Towards the end of last month, one of our readers referred in the comments section to an article by Peter Hitchens concerning the BBC’s complaints system:

“I have many times battled my way through the futile outer defences of the Corporation’s complaints system. This was long ago outsourced to an outside contractor, Capita.

I get the strong impression that Capita is there solely to soak up the anger of viewers and listeners. I can get no straight answer from the BBC about whether complaints made to it are even passed directly to the programme-makers involved.”

For those unfamiliar with the background, Capita plc is a London-based business process outsourcing and professional services company. In 2009 the BBC announced that Capita had been re-appointed as “the service partner that will deliver the Corporation’s Audience Services”.

“The BBC’s existing agreement with Capita, which began in 1999, expires in late 2009 and the contract was put out to tender in October 2008.

The company was selected by the BBC after an EU-regulated procurement process with 38 companies initially applying for the contract.

After a rigorous evaluation process, Capita scored highest balancing quality and cost and helping the BBC to fulfil its commitment to value for money and increasing audience accessibility via the web.

The new contract will commence in January 2010 and will run up to March 2019.

The contract is central to the corporation’s relationship with Licence Fee payers as Audience Services is responsible for handling all complaints, comments and enquiries that the BBC receives via phone calls, emails, SMS and letters.” [emphasis added]

According to Capita, that contract “is worth in the region of £5m annually”.

The qualifications required for Capita staff handling sometimes complex complaints from the public include “ideally 6 months consecutive call/contact centre experience” and “educated to GCSE level” as well as “strong media and current affairs knowledge”.

Capita is also the company to which the BBC outsources (for a fee of £58 million a year) collection of the TV licence fee and in February of this year, following a report in the Daily Mail, the BBC’s Director General was obliged to address allegations that vulnerable people were being targeted by Capita employees promised bonuses.

The meaning of the BBC’s Audience Services contract with Capita plc is of course that at the first two stages of the complaints system – 1a and 1b – members of the public are in fact not dealing with the BBC directly but with a commercial entity.

With the current contract set to expire in March 2019, the coming year presents an ideal opportunity for the BBC to consult its funding public on the question of whether nearly twenty years of outsourcing of complaints has – from the point of view of the people who ultimately pay for it – been satisfactory.