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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

BBC Trust chair stepping down

Ahead of the announcement of the BBC’s new charter which is expected on September 15th, the chair of the BBC Trust has announced her intention to step down, as reported by Reuters and others.pic BBC

“The BBC is to get a new boss after British Prime Minister Theresa May chose not to make her predecessor David Cameron’s nominee an automatic pick for the role, the latest of several breaks with his legacy.

The public broadcaster is about to undergo an overhaul of its governance structure that will involve scrapping the BBC Trust, which currently regulates the broadcaster and which critics including senior ruling Conservative Party figures say is ineffective.

Cameron had told Rona Fairhead, who chairs the Trust, that when it was abolished she would be able to move seamlessly to a newly created role as chair of the BBC Board that will take over running the corporation next year.

But the Trust said on Wednesday that May’s government had decided to run a competitive process to appoint the Board’s first chair, and published a statement from Fairhead saying she would not be applying.”

In addition, as the Guardian reports, the body which under the new BBC charter is to take over part of the BBC Trust’s current functions – including final adjudication of editorial complaints – has already stated that it may not be able begin its new role on schedule.

“The new charter, expected to come into force by the beginning of 2017, is to scrap the historic system of self-regulation for the BBC and replace it with a new unitary board to govern the BBC. Media regulator Ofcom is to have oversight of the corporation.

However, Ofcom has already said it will not be ready at the start of 2017 to fulfil its expanded role and the previous government agreed that Fairhead should stay in order to help with transition. It is unclear whether she will stay until this system is in place, which is unlikely to be until next spring.”

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BBC to review its complaints system again

The July 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Feedback’ (available here) included an item in which presenter Roger Bolton discussed the topic of BBC impartiality with the corporation’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan.BBC R4 Feedback

Towards the end of that discussion (from 11:43), the conversation turned to another subject.

RB: “David Jordan; just before you leave us can I ask you about the BBC complaints procedure because we’ve just heard that it’s being overhauled and you indeed the man who is going to overhaul it. Why?”

DJ: “I think overhaul might be over-egging the pudding but…ahm….we are having a look at our complaints system in the light of the fact that…err…under the new charter which will be introduced in the New Year, we will be regulated for the first time by OFCOM – the office of communications: an outside regulator – and they will be responsible for all the third stage appeals against our complaints that are currently handled by the BBC Trust.”

After explaining the terms first, second and third stages, Jordan went on to say:

“We’re just having a look at the first two stages in the whole process to make sure it’s as simple as possible, as transparent as possible and that we’re as accountable as possible under the new system and that’s what I’ve been asked to do.”

Whether or not members of the corporation’s funding public whom the BBC complaints procedure is supposed to serve will be consulted on the topic of the current system’s ‘simplicity’ and ‘transparency’ is unclear. At the moment, no such consultation appears on the BBC Trust’s website

IHRA adopts working definition of antisemitism: when will the BBC?

At the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism held in May 2015, one of the many issues identified was the necessity for media organisations to adopt standard accepted definitions of antisemitism such as the EUMC Working Definition or the US State Department definition.

We have in the past noted here the need for the BBC to work according to a recognised definition of antisemitism in order to prevent the appearance of antisemitic discourse in its own content as well as on its comments boards and social media chatrooms.pic BBC

Among the proposals included in BBC Watch’s submission to the DCMS public consultation on the renewal of the BBC’s charter was the following:

“The need for the BBC to work according to an accepted definition of antisemitism in order to ensure that complaints are handled uniformly, objectively and accountably is obvious. In addition, the absence of adoption of an accepted definition of antisemitism means that […] public funding is likely to be wasted on dealing with complaints from the general public which, if a definition were available, might not have been submitted.

Clearly the compilation of such a definition is neither within the role nor the expertise of the BBC and common sense would dictate that the definition adopted by Britain’s public broadcaster should be the one already used by the All Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism and the College of Policing Hate Crime Operational Guidance (2014) – i.e. the EUMC Working Definition. That definition was also recommended to media organisations as an industry standard by the Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in May 2015.”

Last week the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) – of which the United Kingdom is a memberadopted a working definition of antisemitism.  

“IHRA Chair, Ambassador Mihnea Constantinescu, stated:

“All IHRA Member Countries share concern that incidents of antisemitism are steadily rising and agree that IHRA’s Member Countries and indeed IHRA’s experts need political tools with which to fight this scourge. IHRA’s 31 member countries- 24 of which are EU member countries- are committed to the Stockholm Declaration and thereby to fighting the evil of antisemitism through coordinated international political action.”

The IHRA Chair continued: “By adopting this working definition, the IHRA is setting an example of responsible conduct for other international fora and hopes to inspire them also to take action on a legally binding working definition.””

The text of the IHRA working definition can be found here. Like the EUMC working definition, it too is suitable for use by Britain’s national broadcaster. It is worth bearing in mind that should the proposal concerning the transfer of final adjudication on complaints concerning BBC content to OFCOM as outlined in the recent White Paper be implemented, the adoption of a uniform definition of antisemitism by both the BBC and OFCOM will clearly be crucial.  

 

DCMS report on BBC charter review flags up complaints system

The UK government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport published a report on the BBC charter review on February 11th. Among the findings and recommendations included in the summary of the report is the following:pic BBC

“A new complaints procedure would see all complaints handled initially by the BBC itself, with both industry and editorial issues subsequently escalated to Ofcom.”

The report itself expands on that subject in paragraph 34 of the section titled ‘Conclusions and recommendations”.

“One of the issues that most exercises the public is the BBC’s response to complaints—and, in relation to this, it has been a source of some confusion that certain appeals from the BBC have been referred on to the BBC Trust in its regulatory capacity. In the proposed new regime, all complaints should still be handled initially by the BBC. If unresolved, they should be escalated to Ofcom both for issues relating to competition and the wider industry, such as quotas and fair trading, and for content and breaches of editorial guidelines (such as impartiality, accuracy and taste).”

The full report can be found here.

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BBC’s Director of Standards: it ‘aint what they say, it’s the way that they say it

h/t CST

As readers no doubt recall, on December 22nd listeners to a BBC Radio London phone-in show heard an inadequately challenged thirteen-minute antisemitic rant which later garnered both media attention and complaints from the general public, with the latter receiving dismissive responses from the BBC.BBC Radio London

In an article titled “Bigotry on the Air: Why broadcasters need to challenge hate-mongers” which appeared at the Ethical Journalism Network, some insight into the background to the BBC’s handling of those complaints emerges. Relating to that BBC Radio London show, the EJN’s Tom Law writes:

“This case raises serious ethical questions: How do people working on the edge of live news protect themselves – and their audience – from people with a hateful agenda? How can journalists ensure that they allow free speech, but maintain their ethical duty to do no harm? And what more should be done to help journalists to counter bigoted speech?

According to chair of the Ethical Journalism Network Dorothy Byrne, many of the answers are found by applying the regulations imposed by Ofcom, Britain’s independent state regulator of broadcasting, but much depends she warns on how “hate speech” is defined.

A good broadcaster, she says, would cut the person off and apologise to the listeners, depending on the content, while some programmes would challenge the speaker. She quotes a recent example when a young Muslim woman attacking gay people on the radio. “Instead of cutting her off, the presenter argued with her vociferously and you could say that was the best way to deal with that,” says Byrne.”

The article goes on to quote the BBC’s David Jordan.

“David Jordan, Director of Editorial Policy and Standards at the BBC told us that for live radio shows where members of the public phone in, presenters and producers are obliged to follow the ‘Harm and Offence’ provision of the OFCOM code, which states they must:

“…provide adequate protection for members of the public from the inclusion in such services of harmful and/or offensive material.”

The code goes on to say that offensive material must only be used where it can be justified by journalistic context.

In addition, the BBC has its own editorial guidelines on live output. People spouting offensive views are normally dealt with directly, says Jordan. The decision to challenge offensive speech is left to presenters and journalists. The BBC also pre-screens telephone calls into phone-in shows. […]

The issue, says Jordan is not about people saying things that some people may find offensive whether it is in relation to immigration or race or the Holocaust. “It is about how those views are expressed. If they are expressed in clearly racist ways using racist phrases or words then you might cut the debate off,” he says.” [emphasis added]

David Jordan does not expand on how “racist phrases or words” are defined (or by whom) but apparently, just so long as such terminology is not employed, the BBC is not overly concerned about acting as a conduit for the mainstreaming of antisemitic discourse – which for some reason it appears not to view as falling under the OFCOM category of “harmful and/or offensive material”.

Every time such issues arise, the responses from BBC officials make the dire lack of education and awareness about the issue of antisemitism within the corporation more and more glaringly obvious.

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