Ofcom

Confirmed: BBC complaints process is unfit for purpose

Confirmed: BBC complaints process is unfit for purpose

At the heart of the BBC’s reform under its new Charter – due to come into effect imminently – is that for the first time, an outside body, Ofcom, will become the final court of appeal in complaints about impartiality.

The idea is that this will clean the Augean stables and the Corporation will end its rampant bias towards Brexit, climate alarmism, the impact of immigration, multiculturalism and rafts of other issues.

This is looking increasingly like poppycock. For a start, the members of the Ofcom Content Board are drawn from exactly the same prejudiced background as the BBC Trustees. But putting that aside for one moment, the tale below illustrates precisely why.

On August, 31, Arkadiusz Jozwik, a Polish man living in Harlow, was killed in a late-night fracas in the pizza parlour where he worked.

In the immediate aftermath of the crime, police arrested six local youths (all under 16) but quickly released them on bail without charge.   There were no further developments until this week when a 15-year-old from Harlow was charged with Mr Jozwik’s manslaughter. Of fundamental importance, it has also emerged that a race hate charge in connection with the death is not being pursued.

When news of the killing emerged, the BBC’s news operation went into hyper-ventilating overdrive.

On the BBC1 News at Six, reporter Daniel Sandford compiled a report in which the fulcrum was there were now fears that this was a ‘a frenzied racist attack triggered by the Brexit referendum’.

A few hours later, John Sweeney, on BBC2’s Newsnight – one of the Corporation’s main investigative journalists – took matters a step further in the editing of his report. He included as the conclusion so that it could not be ignored this inflammatory sounbdbite from another local Polish man:

But I mean, Nigel Farage, I mean, thank you for that, because you are part of this death, and you’ve got blood on your hands, thanks to you, thanks for all your decision, wherever you are, er . . . yeah, it’s your call.

Clearly in play and being reinforced to maximum extent by the Corporation was the central idea – evident in other programmes, too, as is documented on the News-watch website here –  that June 23 had unleashed a torrent of racist venom. In the BBC’s world the jackboots were now out – and on the march.

The following Monday, Guardian columnist and political activist (sorry, ‘rights campaigner’) Garry Younge was allowed to put together for a BBC Radio 4 series a barrage of sensationalist allegations in the same vein: that Britain, overnight since June 23, had become a seething cesspit of race-hate. Attacks were underway in terrifying, unprecedented volume.

On the advice of a senior BBC news executive – who claimed that the Corporation was listening to problems about post-Brexit coverage – News-watch submitted a formal complaint about the coverage of Harlow killing to the BBC Complaints Unit, focusing principally on the Sandford report.

Over seven-pages, it detailed that his approach was sensationalist, deliberately contrived to give maximum impact to the race hate claims, and also pointed out that it was seriously irresponsible and premature – in the light of the facts known to the police on August 31 and more generally about race-hate crime – to speculate so prominently either about race-hate motivation or about the crime’s possible link to Brexit.

The BBC’s response? A curt high-handed letter. It asserted that such speculation was legitimate because there had been a rise in reports of race-hate crime since June 23, and because other possible motives for Mr Jozwik’s death had been included in Sandford’s report.

The letter – which was mostly in an obviously standard format, and was so slipshod that it even spelled the name of Sandford incorrectly, omitting the ‘d’ – glossed over with what can only described as haughty arrogance the key points.

In response, News-watch submitted a second complaints letter pointing out the omissions and stating that the reply was totally unsatisfactory. That was on October 20.  On November 30 (ironically, the day of the manslaughter charges were laid) came the Complaints Unit’s second reply. It states:

‘We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions made about this issue or our responses to it.’

The lessons learnt? The core BBC complaints process, which will remain as the conduit which will deal with most of the complaints submitted to the BBC after Charter renewal, is intrinsically and, irrevocably unfit for purpose. The Corporation remains the primary judge of what is deemed a ‘significant issue of general importance’

The second Complaints Unit letter does point out that the BBC Trust, in some circumstances, does entertain appeals. But the fact is that – as Richard Ayre, one of the current Trustees, has admitted – it has not upheld a complaint on EU-related matters in its entire existence.

Will Ofcom change that approach? Don’t hold your breath. And meanwhile, the totally inaccurate BBC assumptions about Brexit and race-hate continue to spew forth.

 

 

Ten of 13 ‘independent’ Ofcom Content Board members have close BBC links

Ten of 13 ‘independent’ Ofcom Content Board members have close BBC links

At the heart of the BBC’s new Charter – due to be formally adopted within the next fortnight – is that the new ‘independent’ court of appeal for complaints against the BBC will be the Ofcom Content Board.

The end of the BBC being totally its own judge and jury on these matters is supposed to herald the dawn of a new, more rigorous impartiality regime.

A criticism of the BBC Trustees in this respect was that far too many of them were ex-BBC employees, such as (in the current line-up) Mark Damazer, the former Controller of Radio 4, and Richard Ayre, a former Controller of BBC editorial standards.

So how does this compare with the Ofcom line-up? Astonishingly, nine of the 13 board members have spent several years of their careers in direct employment by the Corporation, and one, Mary Anne Sieghart, is currently paid by them for semi-regular work as a presenter.

This is a complete list of the BBC connections of the Content Board:

Aled Eirug was, for 14 years, BBC Wales’s head of news and current affairs and a member of BBC Wales’s Board of Management.

Zahera Harb is now a university lecturer in journalism at City University, but earlier in her career as a journalist in the Middle East was a correspondent for the BBC Arabic service. Her first job in the UK was at Cardiff University, which has strong links to the BBC, and is commissioned by them to do most of the Trustees’ ‘impartiality’ reports.

Andrew Colman was, for 13 years, head of news and current affairs for BBC Northern Ireland, and was editor of all BBCNI’s election programmes between 1986 and 1998.

David Levy worked for the BBC from 1982 until 2007, and from 2000-2007 was Controller, Public Policy, which involved him leading the Charter renewal negotiations. He was Head of Policy Development and chief adviser and head of European Policy (1995-2000),

James Thickett was Controller of Business Strategy at the BBC, responsible for ‘all the BBC’s performance and measurement functions’, as well as leading editorial and business process change across the organisation. He was involved in the BBC’s Charter review process and Greg Dyke’s ‘Making it Happen’ culture change project.

Janey Walker, currently Deputy Chair of the Board of Governors of Brighton University, began her career at the BBC and worked there as a journalist from 1982-94. She then joined Channel 4, where she became managing editor for commissioning.

Nick Pollard began his broadcasting career in BBC Television in 1977 and worked there for around five years before joining ITN and then Sky News, where he became Head of News. He led the inquiry into the BBC’s handling of the Newsnight investigations of Jimmy Savile (appointed by the BBC).

Robin Foster, an economist, worked at the BBC from 1993 to c.2001 in ‘senior strategy positions’ and was responsible for developing its online and digital channel services.

Andrew Chitty has worked in software production at the BBC and has produced BBC2 programmes. More recently, he participated as a board member in David Puttnam’s report A Future for Public Service Television: Content and Platforms in a Digital World. This strongly defended the licence fee.

Mary Anne Sieghart, the journalist, has worked principally on newspapers, but also extensively for the BBC as presenter of programmes such as Radio 4’s Start the Week, Profile, One to One and Beyond Westminster.

Those who do not appear to have employment links with the BBC are:

Tony Close, who is currently Ofcom’s Director of Content Standards. He joined Ofcom in 2003, and before that worked for the Broadcasting Standards Commission (which Ofcom superseded). There is no trace of his earlier career.

Professor Philip Schlesinger holds the Chair in Cultural Policy at Glasgow University. He has written about using communications to expand the legitimacy of the EU. During the Scottish referendum on independence, he warned that an independent Scottish broadcaster (envisaged by the SNP) would be inferior to the BBC.

Dame Lynne Brindley is a former CEO of the British Library (2000-12), and spent her career in that sphere. A connection with the BBC is that in 2009, she signed a wide-ranging deal with the BBC involving collaboration over digital rights and access to archives. Roly Keating, a former BBC executive, succeeded Dame Brindley as CEO of the British Library.

Overall, therefore, the Content Board has ‘BBC’ etched through it like a stick of Blackpool rock. Looking at the various affiliations of the members –  for example Andrew Chitty’s membership of David Puttnam’s group or Zahera Harb’s board seat on the so-called the Ethical Journalism Network (which advocates that the Syrian war was caused in part by climate change) – it is not hard to see that they are likely to share the same biased mindset as their former BBC colleagues.

Joe, Smithies, a spokesman for Ofcom, said: “Ofcom is scrupulously independent and our track record shows that. Members of the Content Board, which plays an advisory role for Ofcom, have experience across the broadcasting industry including Sky, BBC, ITV, Channel 4 and S4C.”

Mr Smithies also pointed out that James Thickett has now left the Content Board. He has been replaced by Graham Mather, who, he says, has not ever worked at the BBC.

Photo by Matt Biddulph

Pro-EU zealot quietly dropped from Ofcom content board

Pro-EU zealot quietly dropped from Ofcom content board

Hallelujah! Quietly, a significant positive development in the broadcasting establishment may have occurred.

Might it be that the government is at last waking up to that the liberal figures who occupy the key regulatory posts are a menace to Brexit?

The current deluge of anti-Brexit propaganda emanating primarily from the BBC, but also from Ofcom-regulated services such as Channel 4, is the consequence of their current stranglehold over the regulation of broadcast services.

Back in January, the Department of Culture – as the referendum debate snapped into gear – incredibly appointed arch-Europhile and former editor of The Economist, Bill Emmott as chairman of Ofcom’s content board.

It meant he was in charge of investigations into allegations of bias in commercial radio and television’s coverage of EU affairs.

On The Conservative Woman, I wrote that this was, in effect, appointing a fanatical fox as guardian of the hen house. Emmott, with funding from the EU – and in close collaboration with the BBC – had made The Great European Disaster Movie, which envisaged right-wing Armageddon if the supremacy of the EU was challenged or changed.

Not only that, through his Wake Up Foundation, Emmott was engaged in a full-scale propaganda exercise – with Richard Sambrook, a former BBC Director of News, and using the BBC film as ammo – around the universities of Britain and across Europe to brainwash students  into believing that exiting the EU would indeed be a disaster.

Immediately after the piece appeared, however, Emmott’s appointment began to unravel. On this website, I wrote:

‘After the publication of this post, an Ofcom spokesperson has contacted Newswatch with the following statement: “Any conflicts of interest involving non-executive Board members are managed appropriately and Bill Emmott would not be involved in discussions or decisions related to the EU referendum.”

Ofcom thus formally acknowledged that – at a crucial time in the coverage of EU affairs – Emmott’s interests and pro-EU passions were a conflict of interest.

That was back in February. In the meantime, Analisa Piras, Emmott’s partner in the making of The Great European Disaster Movie, wrote to News-watch:.

the piece… (about The Great European Disaster Movie) is slanderous and full of falsities. Please remove the slanderous comments or take it down immediately.

Please note that in the absence of any action from you I will be taking legal action.

That was back in June. News-watch replied robustly that the item was fair comment on a matter of public and national importance and there has been nothing back since.

There matters hung. It seemed that Emmott was gradually taking up his role at Ofcom, despite the contradictions and his unbridled campaigning pro-EU zealotry. But then – without fanfare – it has been announced that he is definitely leaving. The Guardian here discusses the reasons without – surprise, surprise – mentioning the elephant in the room, Europe, at all. Neither side is commenting ‘for legal reasons’ but it is clear that Ofcom finally woke up to the massive conflict of interest issues.

This begs the question of why the hell the Department of Culture sanctioned the appointment in the first place – it was plain as a pikestaff to anyone with access to Google that Emmott’s pro-EU passions were a central driving force in his life.

But could now it be that the new Culture Secretary Karen Bradley has seen – and is taking action on  – the crucial issue  that such appointments are the core reason why the broadcasting establishment is so fundamentally biased?

Ofcom will become the court of appeal for complaints against the BBC from next year when the new Charter comes into force. Meanwhile, BBC Trustee Chairman Rona Fairhead – drawn from the same mould and outlook as Emmott – has also been given her marching orders. The crucial next phase will be the appointment of the new BBC management board. Watch this space.

 

 

Photo by UK in Italy

Charter Renewal Review Fails to Tackle BBC Bias

Charter Renewal Review Fails to Tackle BBC Bias

Former deputy governor of the Bank of England Sir David Clementi’s review of BBC governance as part of BBC Charter renewal looks impressive at first glance – but he has badly misunderstood what is required.

What he proposes will leave the Corporation entrenched at the heart of the broadcasting establishment and almost impervious to real change; even worse, the proposals will do nothing to attack endemic BBC bias.

It’s an elegantly worded, absorbing read, and contains some good logistical proposals for improving the Corporation’s internal administration, including the creation of a beefed up BBC executive board, with a full-time chairman who would be more senior in the pecking order than the director-general.

That could provide a much-needed counterweight to arguably the most powerful figure in world media; Lord Hall, the current incumbent, is – almost uniquely in big media organisations – effectively both chief executive and editor-in-chief.

Sir David has also recommended that, as widely predicted, the current Trustees should be abolished. Bravo. But here, his good ideas ran out because his solution is that the BBC should then be placed under Ofcom.

Disaster! The malaise of the BBC is principally that it is run by broadcasting establishment figures with no desire to think radically or independently – and Ofcom is no different. It is a quango, peopled by liberal left quangocrats cast from exactly the same mould as the BBC Trustees.

For example, Ofcom’s current chairman, is Dame Patricia Hodgson, who spent a quarter of a century as a BBC producer, strategy executive, and a BBC Trustee. She has never worked outside the public sector.

All that will happen as a result of Sir David’s proposals is that the Corporation will be absorbed into the overall broadcasting establishment. There might be a few more challenges to some of its more nakedly commercial activities – such as the dominance of the internet – but the chances of radical reform, for example of the licence fee, will vanish, because Ofcom overwhelmingly favours the status quo. To them, it’s an article of faith that taxpayer funding is the highest good.

There’s a further vital area that Sir David missed altogether – so glaring an omission that it negates and renders virtually useless the whole exercise.

The rot in the BBC is not as Sir David appears to think, primarily about management systems. It is that almost every aspect of the Corporation’s output is biased – and the staff are so much in a liberal left bubble that they are blind to it.

That’s because the BBC is its own judge and jury in the handling of complaints and over the years, has constructed a hugely complex complaints procedure that is designed primarily for one purpose: to protect the Corporation and its journalists. In the same vein, editorial guidelines have been fashioned around the false yardstick of ‘due impartiality’, a concept that allows BBC editors and executives to interpret balance in areas such as climate change and immigration entirely on the Corporation’s own terms.

The upshot is that most complaints are rejected on highly cavalier grounds, and the BBC is totally out of touch with its audiences. It despises ‘populism’ in all its forms – and especially the Brexit variety.

Over the years, the Corporation has become cumulatively more biased in line with the prevailing liberal left ideology that forms the stifling orthodoxy at the heart of British public life. Those who work at the BBC would never acknowledge this in a thousand years; but to any outside observer of a different mindset it is blindingly obvious.

Against this background, Sir David’s proposal is that complaints are still handled in the first instance almost exactly as before by the BBC itself and those focused on impartiality that are not resolved at that level will be passed on to Ofcom’s content board. He glibly concludes that this will hold the BBC ‘more publicly to account’ – but he’s badly wrong.

His ‘Broadcaster First’ internal complaints handling approach will solve nothing. The ‘unitary executive board’ will go native and like the boards of all public sector organisations, their primary drive will be to defend themselves against outside criticism.

Nothing will change about the editorial guidelines, a grotesque creation that allows BBC producers, executives and journalists to get away with blue murder in the name of ‘editorial judgment’.

There is no insistence on regular, robust assessments of content, only a vague requirement that the same sort of (biased) impartiality reviews that the Trustees have been trotting out for years continue.

Even worse is Sir David’s suggestion that Ofcom becomes the final court of appeal. Ofcom’s content board – which deals with impartiality issues – is chaired by Bill Emmott, a fanatical Europhile whose current main objective is to spread propaganda on a massive scale warning that Brexit would spell disaster for the UK.

Bizarrely, when this was pointed out in a previous TCW and News-watch blog, Ofcom’s response was to acknowledge that this was a potential problem. A spokesmen said Emmott would be forced to stand down when any matters connected to the EU were discussed.

But that would not help either, because as the same TCW post also pointed out, nearly every other member of the board has cosy links to the BBC and has spent considerable parts of their career in the BBC orbit. Thus, the handling by Ofocm of BBC complaints will not make one iota of difference to the current regime.

Culture secretary John Whittingdale told an audience of the broadcasting establishment after he received Sir David’s report that he was impressed by it. This TCW blog last year warned that the BBC consultation that he ordered could easily become an empty exercise – that David Cameron wanted the BBC to remain unreformed so that it would help him win the referendum. If Whittingdale adopts the Clementi report, there will be no change. ‘Biased Broadcasting Corporation’ will become a fully accurate description of our most powerful broadcast institution and be set in stone for another generation.

Photo by Matt From London

Commons media select committee misses the elephant in the room

Commons media select committee misses the elephant in the room

The Commons Culture, Media and Sport select committee has spent six months considering reform of the BBC in connection with the imminent renewal of its Royal Charter.

Its report – published last week with little fanfare – contains some half-decent proposals, such as abolishing the current Trustees and replacing them with a regulatory Board with real teeth, including checks on the currently unfettered powers of the Director General.

That said, the strength of such a body would depend on the appointment of members with genuine independence and a real desire to make sure the Corporation is properly impartial and provides distinctive programmes that justify the £3.7 billion public funding.

And the reality of British public life now is that taxpayer-funded bodies are staffed and run by individuals who are to a man and woman followers of liberal-left, right-on ideology. Nothing the Conservatives have done over the past six years has changed this one iota; if anything David Cameron has made things worse.

What is being recommended, therefore, is likely to lead to more of the same: an expensive and fruitless exercise in re-arranging the deck-chairs.

In one fundamental respect, too, the culture select committee might never have bothered with their inquiry. They have totally botched their approach to complaints handling. What they propose in this vital arena will make matters worse, not better.

The rot at the heart of the Corporation is that every aspect of its output is locked in liberal-left thinking. The staff are virtually all so like-minded that they incapable of seeing it. As a result, the BBC is on an unrelenting, no-holds-barred crusade to ram down our throats the importance of the EU, multi-culturalism, feminism and a whole lot more.

This is massively obvious to anyone who listens or watches. But the BBC, from the Trustees downwards, deny it, and they justify their stance using bizarre rules of ‘due impartiality’ which allow Corporation executives and editors to interpret balance entirely on their own terms.

The current complaints-handling system is a department of the BBC. The vast majority of what they receive is rejected. It defies belief that the culture committee have recommended this continues in its present form.

The only proposal for change is in dealing with complex complaints that are currently pushed upstairs to a unit of the Trustees, the Editorial Standards Committee. This is chaired by trustee Richard Ayre, who worked at the BBC for 30 years. A key lieutenant is Mark Damazer, a former controller of Radio 4 who made it the temple of right-on orthodoxy that it has become.

The culture committee has accepted the blindingly obvious, that this is the equivalent of having foxes in charge of the hen house, but their solution defies belief. They propose that responsibility is passed over to the content board of Ofcom, the body which regulates commercial broadcasting.

How can this improve things? – if anything, it will make matters worse. For starters, the Board is chaired by European Union fanatic Bill Emmott, who is so determined to prevent Brexit that he makes propaganda films showing the nasty outcomes that he believes will inevitably occur if the British electorate has the temerity to disagree with him. Ofcom itself is so worried about his fanaticism that they can’t trust him; they have stated that he will take no part in discussions about anything to do with the EU.

Scratch the surface, and it also emerges that almost every member of the Ofcom content board has worked in some way for the BBC. This TCW item observed:

‘What makes Emmott’s appointment so utterly damaging is that the rest of the Ofcom content board – in step with Quango Land generally, are like minds and like spirits; right-on ‘liberals’ to the core. The full list of 10 is here. What leaps out from their CVs is that all but two have worked for significant parts of their careers at the BBC. They write papers about how wonderful and important the BBC is. Many are closely linked to a BBC-favoured propaganda organisation called the (Reuters) Oxford Institute of the Media – which last November held a seminar about ensuring ‘fair’ coverage of the EU. Guess who chaired it? Bill Emmott!

One of the two content board members who has not worked at the BBC is Dr Zahera Harb, who began her career in journalism in the Lebanon, and is now a board member of the worthy-sounding Ethical Journalism Network. Don’t be deceived by such Orwellian double-speak. Its main concerns include attacking the ‘hate speech’ of Donald Trump and ensuring that the Palestinian Authority – along with immigration generally – gets better coverage in the media.’

And there we have it. The culture select committee’s proposal can only be described as bonkers. It is also a dereliction of duty. Their report only mentions ‘complaints’ 13 times, contains no discussion about the shortcomings of the current system, and no suggestion that they looked at alternatives.

What they propose won’t make a whit of difference to the BBC’s output – if anything, it will reinforce the already blatant bias because in future, editors and senior management will claim they are ‘independently’ monitored.

What’s doubly concerning is that no-one in the media has seen the need to comment on this. Charter renewal is a once in a decade opportunity to reform the BBC. It’s now clear that MPs aren’t prepared to tackle – or worse, don’t understand – what is required to halt the unrelenting stream of propaganda that is poisoning our culture, our civic life and our politics.

 

Photo by Mike Knell

Ofcom: Europhile content board head Bill Emmott ‘will not rule on EU issues’

Ofcom: Europhile content board head Bill Emmott ‘will not rule on EU issues’

This is a guest posting from Craig Byers of the Is the BBC Biased? website.

Further to an earlier post
 
This is what that Ofcom statement says:

“Any conflicts of interest involving non-executive Board members are managed appropriately and Bill Emmott would not be involved in discussions or decisions related to the EU referendum.”

Isn’t that extraordinary?
For starters, they’ve clearly conceded David’s point that Mr Emmott’s appointment is problematic and, even more strikingly, they’ve shown themselves to have absolutely no confidence in the poor man’s capacity to behave in an impartial fashion in his new job on matters related to the EU referendum!
So, if what Ofcom are saying is true, Mr Emmott will surely have to leave the room or keep his mouth firmly shut every time matters relating to the EU referendum are raised?
Given that he’s supposed to be chairing those meetings, that isn’t exactly going to be an ideal situation for his fellow board members, is it?
Especially as Ofcom’s Content Board is likely to have quite a lot of discussions and make a lot of decisions on matters of related to the EU referendum over the coming months (or years).

Photo by UK in Italy