BBC’s double standards on terror get OFCOM rubber stamp

An issue which many members of the public find objectionable and offensive is the fact that while the BBC consistently refuses to use the word terror in its reports on violent attacks against Israelis, its reports on comparable attacks in other locations (especially Europe and North America) do use such language.  

Back in April we noted a reply received from the BBC Complaints Unit by a member of the public who had submitted a Stage 1a complaint concerning that double standard in the language employed when reporting terrorism.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our report on the attack carried out on Westminster Bridge in London and please accept our apologies for the delay in our response.

The BBC sets out clear parameters on how terms such as “terrorist” might be used:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidance/terrorism-language/guidance-full

Where there is an ongoing geopolitical conflict – as in the Middle East – to use the term “terror attack” or similar might be seen to be taking sides. There are those who might consider the actions of the Israeli government to be considered as terrorist acts.

In a situation where a country that is not involved in a direct physical combat comes under attack, it may be reasonable to construe that as a terrorist incident.

The use of such terminology is never an exact science but where a continuing conflict exists, it is reasonable that the BBC would not wish to appear to be taking sides.”

Unsatisfied with that response, the complainant submitted a stage 1b complaint which was also rejected. Mr Turner then approached the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) which similarly rejected the complaint.

Using the system which came into effect in April, Mr Turner then approached OFCOM which ruled that the issue he raised is not “substantive”.

“Thank you for contacting us about material published on the BBC’s website, specifically the headlines ‘London attack: Four dead in Westminster terror attack’ and ‘Jerusalem lorry attack: Four Israeli soldiers killed’.

I understand that you are not satisfied with the final response you have received from the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit and have referred your complaint to Ofcom for its opinion.

All complaints received by Ofcom are assessed to see if they raise a significant issue which should be considered further. Not all complaints will be pursued by Ofcom. Further information about Ofcom’s role and how we consider BBC online material complaints under our procedures is available on our website: https://www.ofcom.org.uk/consultations-and-statements/ofcom-and-the-bbc/bbc-online-material

We have carefully reviewed the material you are concerned about, your complaint and the BBC’s final response to you on it.

Ofcom considers that your complaint does not raise a substantive issue under the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines that requires our further consideration. We will therefore not be pursuing your complaint.”

Mr Turner wrote back to OFCOM’s Standards Team ask for an explanation of the rationale underpinning that ruling and received a reply including the following:

“Ofcom has considered your complaint and the BBC’s response to it, and our view is that this matter does not raise a substantive issue under the relevant editorial guidelines and therefore does not warrant further consideration by Ofcom.

The BBC’s response clearly sets out its editorial policy on Terrorism: Language when Reporting Terrorism. In our view the use of the term “terror attack” in the headline of the article relating to the incident in Westminster does not meet the threshold of being a substantive issue that requires further consideration by Ofcom because the body of the article makes clear that the Prime Minister had declared the attacker to be a “terrorist” and the matter was being dealt with by counter-terrorism police. Furthermore, the BBC’s Stage 1a response clearly sets out the reasons why they may report incidents like these differently in different contexts.”

Mr Turner then wrote back again, pointing out the many discrepancies in the BBC’s Stage 1a response that was deemed acceptable by OFCOM.

“In your response you stated that the BBC’s use of the term terrorism to describe the attack in London was legitimate because the UK authorities had used that term […]

However, the Israeli government also uses such terminology when attacks take place in Israel but in those cases the BBC does not describe the incidents as ‘terrorism’ in its own words.

The BBC’s editorial guidelines on ‘language when reporting terrorism’ clearly state that:

“When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.” […]

Hence, if the BBC is going to use the word terror on the basis that officials in one country have described the incident as such, consistency demands that such a policy should obviously also apply in other countries.

Moreover, in the past the BBC has justified its use of the word terrorists to describe Jewish attackers using precisely the same argument:

https://bbcwatch.org/2016/02/17/bbc-complaints-clarifies-discrepancies-in-terminology-when-reporting-terrorism/

However, Palestinian or Arab perpetrators are never described in those terms: a clear consistency failure.

You also stated that:

“…the BBC’s Stage 1a response clearly sets out the reasons why they may report incidents like these differently in different contexts.”

However, those ‘reasons’ do not hold water: UK forces are involved in the military campaign against ISIS jihadists in Iraq and Syria and the London terrorists cited that involvement as a motive for their attacks. Additionally, as noted above, the BBC did use the term ‘Jewish terrorists’ to describe the perpetrator/s of the arson attack in Duma, despite the existence of an “ongoing geopolitical conflict”.

The argument that if a person commits an act of violence against civilians with the purpose of furthering a political or religious agenda in a country in which there is “an ongoing geopolitical conflict”, that is not terrorism but if he does the exact same in a country where there is no such ongoing conflict, it is, is obviously flawed. Terrorism is a means – regardless of the ends it aims to achieve.

The BBC’s inconsistency on the use of the word terror shows that the corporation’s basic approach to the topic does not distinguish between method and aims, means and ends. The result of that is that the description of the means is adjusted according to the perceived cause.

Until BBC editors do indeed begin to separate the means from the ends, it will of course be impossible for the corporation to present a consistent, uniform approach to the subject of terrorism, to adhere to editorial standards of accuracy and impartiality and to fulfil its purpose to educate and inform. 

I find it disturbing that OFCOM would not consider that to be “a substantive issue that requires further consideration”. Might I respectfully request, on the basis of the above points, that you reconsider this appeal, otherwise we allow the BBC to display a clear double standard in its reporting on terrorism: one in Israel – and a quite different policy anywhere else in the world – in breach of its own editorial guidelines.”

OFCOM’s reply to that letter included the following:

“Following the further points you made, we have looked into this matter again. However, it remains our view that your complaint about the articles headlined ‘London attack: Four dead in Westminster terror attack’ and ‘Jerusalem lorry attack: Four Israeli soldiers killed’ does not raise a substantive issue that requires further consideration, and this is our final response in relation to this complaint.”

So as we see, the double standards repeatedly evident in the language used by the BBC when reporting on terrorism in Israel and in other locations now have the OFCOM rubber stamp.   

 

 

 

Advertisements

Have your say on the BBC complaints system

Earlier this year we noted the apparent intention of the new BBC Board to hold a public consultation concerning the corporation’s complaints system.

That public consultation is now underway and members of the public can make submissions until August 16th.

“The BBC aims to resolve complaints fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by the Charter to have a complaints framework that provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure that the BBC is meeting its obligations and fixing problems.

Since April the BBC has operated with an interim Complaints Framework, published on the BBC’s complaints website. The Framework reflects the new governance and regulatory arrangements that came into effect in April 2017. Under these arrangements, the BBC Board has oversight of the complaints process and Ofcom is the independent regulator for most types of BBC complaints.

The Framework sets out the BBC’s approach and the procedures for handling different types of complaints, from editorial to regulatory, so that everyone who wants to make a complaint – whether as an individual or on behalf of an organisation – knows what to expect.

As the Charter requires the BBC to publicly consult on the Framework before it is finalised, we have opened a consultation which will run until mid-August.”

The interim Complaints Framework is available here.

Guidance for those wishing to make a submission is available here and includes the following:

“Specifically we are seeking views on whether they [the draft framework and procedures]:

  • Seem readily available, easy to understand and accessible.
  • Make clear and give sufficient information to those who complain what they can expect from the BBC and how to appeal, including whether they are clear on timeframes.
  • Make clear the roles and responsibilities of the BBC and Ofcom and the circumstances under which complaints can be referred to Ofcom (or to other relevant bodies) by complainants.
  • Seem fair to those who might wish to make a complaint.
  • Seem proportionate, balancing the cost to licence fee payers of handling complaints with the need to give people who complain a proper hearing.”

Those wishing to make a submission should send it by email to:

bbc.complaintsframework2017@bbc.co.uk

or by post to:

BBC Corporate Affairs, Room 5045, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA.

Related Articles:

BBC to review its complaints system again

OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes 

How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes

As noted here earlier this month, OFCOM is now able to consider complaints concerning content on some of the BBC’s platforms.

Background information – including the Broadcasting Code against which complaints are assessed – is available here and here.

Before a complaint concerning a BBC TV channel, radio station or BBC iPlayer can be considered by OFCOM, it should in most cases have first been made to the BBC itself: details and online form available here

Note: it is important to keep the reference number of any complaint made to the BBC that you may wish to pursue further through OFCOM.

Different categories of complaints to OFCOM are explained here and the online form for submission of a complaint concerning a BBC programme is available here.

We have updated our ‘Resources’ section and the page titled ‘How to Complain to the BBC’ in the ‘Get Involved’ section of the menu bar above to include information concerning the new system.

Related Articles:

OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

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. 

OFCOM launches more BBC related public consultations

In preparation for its new regulatory role under the terms of the new BBC Charter and Agreement, OFCOM has announced further public consultations.ofcom  

“Under a new BBC Royal Charter, Ofcom will become the BBC’s first external regulator in April 2017.

Over the next few months, Ofcom will put together an ‘Operating Framework’ for the BBC, covering performance, content standards and competition.”

1) A consultation on Ofcom’s proposed procedures for enforcement of BBC competition requirements – submissions should be made before March 6th 2017. Relevant reading can be found here.

2) A consultation on new procedures for handling content standards complaints, investigations and sanctions for BBC programmes:

“In this consultation we set out our proposed procedures that Ofcom will normally follow for complaints about BBC television, radio and on-demand programmes, and how we will conduct investigations and sanctions.”

Submissions should be made before March 6th 2017. Relevant reading can be found here.

3) A consultation on procedures for enforcement of requirements in the BBC Agreement and compliance with Ofcom enforcement action – submissions should be made before March 6th 2017. Relevant reading can be found here

4) A consultation on revising the procedures for TV, radio and video-on-demand services – submissions should be made before March 6th 2017. Relevant reading can be found here.

As a reminder, previous public consultations which were launched last month will close in early February – details here.

Additional consultations are expected in Spring 2017.

An overview of “Ofcom’s preparations for regulation of the BBC” can be found here.

The Draft BBC Royal Charter (updated in November 2016) can be found here.

The Draft Framework Agreement (updated in November 2016) can be found here. The subject of the BBC complaints system and OFCOM’s role is addressed in sections 56 to 60 inclusive. 

Related Articles:

2016 Charter Review 

BBC content again featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

The Community Security Trust (CST) recently published its annual report (available here) on the topic of Antisemitic Discourse in Britain for the year 2015.

The section of that report documenting reactions to the 2015 terror attacks at the Hypercacher supermarket in Paris and the Synagogue in Copenhagen includes:

“…examples show[ing] a range of mainstream media and political responses to the Paris attacks […]. They include cases where hostility to Israel appeared to dictate reactions to the killings of French Jews.”

One of those examples (p 31) is described as follows:

“On 11 January, Tim Willcox of BBC News interviewed a French-Israeli woman attending a rally in memory of the victims of the Paris terror attacks. She expressed concern about persecution of Jews, saying “the situation is going back to the days of the 1930s in Europe”, whereupon Willcox stated:

“Many critics though of Israel’s policy would suggest that the Palestinians suffer hugely at Jewish hands as well”.

Willcox’s response sparked an angry reaction from many commentators. For example, historian Simon Schama tweeted “Appalling of @BBCTimWillcox to imply any and all JEWS (not Israelis) responsible for treatment of Palestinians by hectoring lady in Paris”. Writing in the Spectator, Nick Cohen commented:

“…Of course, Willcox would never say such a thing after the murder of Muslims, and rightly so. He was interviewing an elderly Jewish lady, who was trying to mourn Jews killed for no other reason than they were Jews in a Paris supermarket.

Change the religion – make it Judaism, to be precise. Change Islamism to Israel, and the most grotesque apologies for murder become acceptable; standard even. Jews must bear collective responsibility for Israel’s crimes real and imagined.”

On 12 January, Willcox tweeted a bland apology: “Really sorry for any offence caused by a poorly phrased question…it was entirely unintentional”.”Willcox

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

In February 2015 the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit provisionally rejected the consolidated complaint, sparking condemnation from the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In May 2015 the ECU finalised its decision. In June 2016 the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee published its rejection of appeals against that decision. 

In short, both the BBC and OFCOM dismissed complaints concerning a statement which Britain’s leading authority on antisemitism categorises as antisemitic discourse, with OFCOM stating that it had:

“…“carefully assessed complaints about alleged antisemitic comments” and “decided not to take the issue forward for further investigation.”

It explained: “While the comments clearly had the potential to cause offence, Ofcom considered a range of factors, including the live nature of this coverage and the need for an appropriate degree of freedom of expression, especially in news coverage of such a significant event.””

As OFCOM prepares to take on its new role as final adjudicator of complaints concerning BBC content, this worrying example once again highlights the need for both it and the BBC to work according to the definition of antisemitism recently adopted by the British government.

Related Articles:

BBC programme flagged up in CST report on Antisemitic Discourse

BBC’s ‘Hardtalk’ featured in CST report on antisemitic discourse

BBC Trust’s ESC rejects complaint about Tim Willcox’s ‘Jewish faces’ remark

OFCOM announces further public consultations regarding the BBC

h/t JB

In addition to the public consultation already launched last month, OFCOM has announced consultations on five further topics:ofcom

1) Broadcasting Code Review. The consultation is open until February 9th, 2017 and relevant reading can be found here.

2) Assessing the impact of proposed changes to the BBC’s public service activities: A consultation on Ofcom’s procedures and guidance (i). The consultation is open until February 13th 2017 and relevant reading can be found here.

3) Assessing the impact of the BBC’s public service activities: A consultation on Ofcom’s procedures and guidance (ii). The consultation is open until February 13th 2017 and relevant reading can be found here.

4) The BBC’s commercial activities: A Consultation on Ofcom’s proposed requirements and guidance. The consultation is open until February 13th 2017 and relevant reading can be found here

5) Distribution of BBC public services: A Consultation on Ofcom’s proposed requirements and guidance. The consultation is open until February 13th 2017 and relevant reading can be found here.

Additional consultations are expected in January 2017 and thereafter.

An overview of “Ofcom’s preparations for regulation of the BBC” can be found here.

The Draft BBC Royal Charter (updated in November 2016) can be found here.

The Draft Framework Agreement (updated in November 2016) can be found here. The subject of the BBC complaints system and OFCOM’s role is addressed in sections 56 to 60 inclusive. 

Related Articles:

2016 Charter Review 

OFCOM consultation concerning BBC accuracy and impartiality

 

 

 

BBC’s new foreign language services raise an old question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Related Articles:

BBC headlines for same story differ according to target audiences

BBC Arabic misleads on naval blockade of Gaza Strip

Why is BBC Arabic feeding its audiences politicised terminology?

OFCOM consultation concerning BBC accuracy and impartiality

Ahead of OFCOM assumption of new responsibilities relating to the BBC, the body has launched the first of a series of public consultations.ofcom

“Ofcom is carrying out a review of the suitability of the list of larger parties for the purposes of Ofcom’s Broadcasting Code and rules on party political and referendum broadcasts (PPRB Rules). We are proposing to amend Section Six (elections and referendums) of the Code and Ofcom’s PPRB Rules to remove the concept of the list of larger parties. Broadcasters and political parties will need to plan ahead for the various elections taking place in May 2017.

Ofcom is also currently preparing for its new responsibilities of regulating the BBC. This follows the publication on 15 September 2016 by the UK Government of the new draft Royal Charter and Framework Agreement for the BBC. In this document we also set out our proposed approach for regulating BBC editorial content in the areas of due impartiality, due accuracy, elections and referendums. Specifically, this will require amendments to: Section Five (due impartiality) of the Code; Section Six (elections and referendums) of the Code; and Ofcom’s rules on party political and referendum broadcasts.

This document is the first of a series of consultation documents that Ofcom is publishing as it prepares for its new BBC duties. However, we consider it is appropriate to carry out our review of the suitability of the list of larger parties at the same time. This is an issue that will affect all Ofcom licensees as well as the BBC.”

Submissions should be made by January 16th 2017 at the above link (scroll down to the online form).

Details of the changes proposed by OFCOM can be found here (see Section 4).

The Draft BBC Royal Charter (updated in November 2016) can be found here.

The Draft Framework Agreement (updated in November 2016) can be found here. The subject of the BBC complaints system and OFCOM’s role is addressed in sections 56 to 60 inclusive. 

Related Articles:

2016 Charter Review 

BBC Charter Review: draft Charter and Agreement published

The UK government recently published draft versions of the new Royal Charter and the Framework Agreement ahead of their debate in Parliament.pic BBC

“The Royal Charter forms the constitutional basis of the BBC and its current Charter is due to expire at the end of 2016.

Following the publication of the Government’s proposals in a White Paper on 12 May the Government is publishing the draft Charter and draft Framework Agreement.”

The text of the draft version of the new Charter (which will be in effect until December 31st 2027) can be found here. The draft includes details of the proposed new BBC Board, the proposed mid-term review (section 57) and the enhanced role of OFCOM, including in the handling of complaints (section 56).

The draft Framework Agreement (available here) includes a section concerning the complaints procedure from page 35 onwards.

agreement-complaints-1

agreement-complaints-2

agreement-complaints-3

agreement-complaints-4

Additional relevant documents can be found here.