BBC = Bin And Bypass Complaints

by MediaLens / July 9th, 2010

So Piss Off!

Robert Fisk wrote last week in the Independent of how an
unnamed friend of his, “a Very Senior Correspondent of the BBC”,
responded to a recent challenge. Fisk could no longer recall whether it
“was about the BBC’s grovelling coverage of Israel or its refusal to
show a film seeking help for wounded Palestinian children after the
2008-09 Gaza slaughter (on the grounds that this would damage the BBC’s
‘neutrality’)”. But the BBC correspondent was blandly dismissive:

“I recognise this is an issue.”

Fisk skillfully unpacked the meaning of this “very revealing” BBC
reply:

Of course, what he should have said was: I know this is a
problem. But he couldn’t. Because BBC-speak doesn’t allow words like
problems — because problems have to be solved. And the BBC doesn’t solve
problems. Because they do not exist. There are only ‘issues’. And
issues only have to be ‘recognised’. Thus what my friend really meant
was: ‘I know exactly what you’re talking about but I haven’t the
slightest intention of admitting it, so piss off.’1

This has also been the experience of many of our readers who complain
to BBC editors and journalists about endless examples of bias,
distortion and omission in BBC news. All too often, Kafkaesque responses
are generated by the clanking pistons, turbines and pumps of the BBC
complaints machinery.

Here is a typical example, following a complaint about BBC coverage
of the Israeli attack on the Gaza peace flotilla from one of our most
careful and astute correspondents:

Thank you for your e-mail.

I understand that you believe the BBC in general is biased in it’s
[sic] reporting on the Middle East situation towards the Israeli
perspective.

I can assure you that we are committed to covering events in the
Middle East in a scrupulously impartial, fair, accurate, balanced,
independent manner. The aim of our news reports is to provide the
information across our programming in order to enable viewers and
listeners to make up their own minds; to show the reality of a situation
and provide the forum for debate, giving full opportunity for all
viewpoints to be heard. We are satisfied that this has been the case in
respect of our reporting of the Middle East, Nevertheless, I recognise
you may continue to hold a different opinion about the BBC’s
impartiality.

Please be assured that I’ve registered your obvious strong feelings
about our coverage on our audience log. This is a daily report of
audience feedback that’s circulated to many BBC staff, including members
of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior
managers.

Thank you once again for taking the trouble to share your views with
us.2

This is entirely standard and is the BBC’s idea of a serious reply to
a serious complaint. Tellingly, such responses do not include the text
of the original email, making it difficult for members of the public to
check how well, if at all, their complaint has been addressed.
Typically, these identikit responses contain unsupported, bold
assertions affirming that “scrupulously impartial” BBC news reports
“show the reality of a situation” with “all viewpoints” being heard. No
evidence is offered — the BBC knows best! But as the complainant asked
when he wrote back:

What criteria do you use to decide that you have been
able ‘to show the reality of a situation and provide the forum for
debate, giving full opportunity for all viewpoints to be heard’ when you
judge yourselves in your own cause?3

As far as we know, the BBC has not responded to this question.
Perhaps because it is incapable of doing so.

Helen’s Chocka Diary

Readers may also be aware that the BBC uses a cumbersome web form for
complaints which does not allow a copy of the submitted text to be sent
to the person making the submission. And, shamefully, there is not even
a direct email address for members of the public to use. As one of our
readers observes in a complaint to the BBC:

“Surely the BBC can manage to formulate a system that quotes the
original complaint when issuing a response, and records when the
complaint was sent in so the recipient can tell how long it took to
respond?”4

In 2006, BBC news editor, Helen Boaden, described how she deflects
public criticism sent to her by email. Francis Elliott explained in the
Independent
:

Don’t bother emailing complaints to BBC head of news,
Helen Boaden. She was at the launch evening for the Reuters Institute
for the Study of Journalism in Oxford last Monday night. Discussion
turned to protest groups and lobbying outfits which email their views to
senior editors. Boaden’s response: ‘Oh, I just changed my email
address.’ So much for the Beeb being accountable.5

In January 2010, we invited Boaden to participate in an interview
about BBC News to be made publicly available via our website at www.medialens.org. We proposed
sending a few brief questions via email. “Would you be willing to
participate?”, we asked her. We received a response from Boaden’s
assistant asking:

“Could you give me an idea of the sort of questions you are thinking
of and when you might want to do it?”

We replied saying that the questions would deal largely with BBC news
reporting from the Middle East and Afghanistan; for example, coverage
of the death toll in Iraq. We then sent a number of questions (archived
in our forum
here). A few days later, the assistant wrote again:

“I’ve now had a chance to talk to Helen and I don’t think this is
going to be one we can help with. Helen doesn’t do interviews that often
— mostly because her diary is always chocka.”6

A simultaneous approach made to Sir Michael Lyons, chair of the BBC
Trust, which supposedly ensures that the BBC acts in the public
interest, was again answered by his personal assistant:

Having given your request careful consideration, Sir
Michael has decided to decline your offer. The Trust’s on-going work
programme includes a number of strands focussing on BBC news output, and
as Sir Michael has previously said, there will be an opportunity for
you to contribute to this in the future should you wish. Additionally,
given the fact that some of this work is already on-going, he does not
feel it would be appropriate to engage in any correspondence at this
time which would cut across or be seen to pre-judge the outcome of this
work. I am sorry to disappoint you.7

Lyons had previously declined to debate with us after he had been
sent a copy of our latest book, Newspeak, and asked for his
response to our arguments about BBC News. He told us:

“I do not think that I can fruitfully enter into a dialogue about my
reactions [to the book].”8

In the absence of overwhelming grassroots pressure, the public will
continue to be disappointed by BBC news performance, and will continue
to be fobbed off by robotic insults to the intelligence of people who
care enough to complain.

  1. Fisk,
    ‘Newspeak: why the BBC has an “issue” with problems’, , July 3, 2010. []
  2. Email from BBC complaints, July
    3, 2010. []
  3. Keith Crosby, email to the BBC,
    July 3, 2010. []
  4. Keith Granger, email to the BBC,
    June 30, 2010. []
  5. Elliott, ‘Media Diary – Helen the
    hidden’, The Independent, November 26, 2006. []
  6. Email, January 11, 2010. []
  7. January 13, 2010. []
  8. Media Lens media alert, ‘The
    Silence of the BBC 100′, December 4, 2009. []

Media Lens is a UK-based media watchdog group
headed by David Edwards and David Cromwell. The first Media Lens book is
Guardians of Power: The Myth Of The Liberal Media (Pluto
Books, London, 2006). Read other articles
by Media Lens
, or visit Media
Lens’s website
.

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