Ofcom

Shock news: BBC-dominated Ofcom backs the BBC

Shock news: BBC-dominated Ofcom backs the BBC

The 2017 BBC Charter bestowed for the first time supervisory regulatory powers on Ofcom, which had previously been in charge of only the independent sector. Its first review of BBC news and current affairs performance shows that this has achieved nothing except to confirm that the broadcasting ‘establishment’ is deeply biased and complacent, and that there is an urgent need to cleanse the Augean stables.

The naive aim – based on recommendations by Sir David Clementi, who subsequently, of course, became BBC chairman – was to create independent scrutiny of complaints and impartiality.

In March 2016, when the Clementi proposals were first published by then culture secretary John Whittingdale, I wrote on TCW:

‘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 . . .

‘Even worse is Sir David’s suggestion that Ofcom becomes the final court of appeal. . . nearly every. . . member of the [content] board has cosy links to the BBC and has spent considerable parts of his or her career in the BBC orbit. Thus, the handling by Ofcom of BBC complaints will not make one iota of difference to the current regime.’

Sadly, the predictions have proved to be spot-on. Recent examples of folk appointed to the Ofcom advisory committee for England are:

· Paula Carter, whose career has been principally at Channel 4 and the BBC;

· Aaqil Ahmed, the former head of religion ethics at both the BBC and Channel 4, and famed, for example, for mounting a BBC Songs of Praise from the Calais migrants’ camp and claiming that inmates could be likened to Joseph, Mary and Jesus nhttp://isthebbcbiased.blogspot.com/2015/08/songs-of-displeasure.html;

· Matthew Littleford, who is a trustee for the theatre companies Frantic Assembly and Paines Plough. He was previously a joint managing director of the TV production company Betty, editorial director for digital at BBC Worldwide, controller of UKTV (joint-owned by the BBC), and controller of entertainment for ITV’s digital channels.

Despite the relentless tide of anti-Brexit bias, the Ofcom content board – eight of the 13 members are ex-BBC – has dismissed the vast majority of BBC complaints appeals referred to it with the same cavalier liberal-Left disdain as the BBC itself.

Most strikingly, a meticulously researched complaint about the anti-Brexit bias of BBC1’s Question Time was dismissed on the basis that a single contribution from Theresa May crony Damian Green proved that the ‘hard’ Brexit perspective had been adequately represented in 25 editions. 

Ofcom has now completed at significant expense – it includes a glossy focus group report from PwC – a year-long review of the BBC’s performance in the news and current affairs domain. Is there any sign that its approach to its new responsibilities might be improving?

In a word, no. I will analyse in more detail the huge inconsistencies of the findings in a second blog, but for now, an outstanding feature of this so-called review is that while it was designed to examine impartiality, it has in reality done no such thing.

As well as the PwC report, Ofcom commissioned the School of Media, Journalism and Culture at Cardiff University to undertake content analysis of elements of BBC output. 

That in itself was a biased decision, because Cardiff, as has been demonstrated by News-watch, is deeply biased towards the BBC. For example, its director of journalism is Richard Sambrook, the BBC’s former director of global news. Irrespective of the personnel, Ofcom unbelievably asked the academics to focus mainly on the depth and range of coverage rather than impartiality.

One of their areas of investigation was Brexit. But none of it was about potential bias and its only finding, from a minuscule sample size, was that in terms of range and depth there might not have have been enough speakers from the EU. Given that most of the Remainer Parliament was made up of those who spoke passionately about the need to stay within the EU, this defies belief.

So how did the wise people of Ofcom decide that output was impartial? A main plank was that they had considered 300 complaints about BBC bias in 2018-19 and upheld none of them. Well, that’s okay then. Or maybe – more likely – it confirms the need for an urgent external investigation of Ofcom itself into confirmation bias – the tendency to search for, interpret, favour, and recall information in a way that affirms one’s prior beliefs or hypotheses.

The second main plank of their approach was the PwC report mentioned above. A key element of this was based on 13 interviews and workshops around the country, each attended by a dozen consumers of BBC output. How precisely these were framed is not disclosed – it is assumed by Ofcom that PwC knew what they were doing. But a striking feature of the exercise, at a time when the news agenda was dominated by Brexit, was that those with strong views about the topic were deliberately excluded.

Finally, what were the recommendations of the Ofcom report? News and current affairs is largely tickety-boo – with one major caveat, the ‘D’ word. Wait for it: not enough diversity!

Postscript

Cardiff University’s journalism department has strong links with the BBC other than Richard Sambrook. One is that Ian Hargreaves, who is Professor of the Digital Economy at the university,  was Professor of journalism there  from 1999-2010, and is now on the BBC board of management (the body which replaced the former Trustees), and according to the BBC is is ‘responsible for upholding and protecting the independence of the BBC by acting in the public interest and exercising independent judgement’ 

Further, the BBC is currently moving into a new £100m HQ building in Cardiff. Joining them there is the Cardiff University media department  – and students there are offered placements by the BBC. In that context, it is hard to see how the Cardiff report for Ofcom can be considered even remotely ‘independent’.

OFCOM BBC BIAS WHITEWASH

OFCOM BBC BIAS WHITEWASH

In its first major ruling on BBC impartiality,  media and telecoms regulator Ofcom – which became BBC complaints watchdog  under the new 2017 BBC Charter – has starkly rejected any suggestion of bias in the  Corporation’s news and current affairs coverage of Brexit.

Ofcom claims that requirements of ‘due impartiality’ in the Brexit debate were met in the 50 hours of monitored BBC Radio 4 programmes – which included 24 editions of the Today programme as well as ‘Britain at the Crossroads’, a special day-long strand of Brexit-related material – simply through the inclusion of a range of voices and opinions.

Ofcom’s programme standards team – which took in total nine months to consider its response – also ruled that because the debate about Brexit in the survey period was no longer ‘binary’ (divided into Leave and Remain, as it had been during the 2016 referendum), there was no requirement to ensure that coverage reflected these viewpoints on an equal basis.

In reaching their conclusions, the Ofcom verdict astonishingly ignores completely the specific, detailed claims of bias against the Brexit case in the News-watch reports, and maintains that balance on Brexit matters can be achieved simply by including an unspecified range of voices and opinions, apparently without consideration of by whom those opinions were delivered.

The major problems highlighted by News-watch, and based on rigorous scrutiny of every programme transcript, are detailed in the executive summaries which follow, and include:

  • In all the surveys, those who were pro-EU and Remain outnumbered figures who wanted a decisive Brexit by ratios of up to 5:1 and never less than 2:1.
  • BBC presenters and correspondents were not neutral in reports and interviews, but exaggerated the problems of leaving the EU while ignoring the potential benefits of developing new trade policies and restoring national sovereignty.

Ofcom justified its ruling by stating baldly:

“The public debate had. . . developed from a discussion of a binary question – whether the UK should ‘leave’ or ‘remain’ in the EU – into a much more complex and nuanced discussion comprising many different viewpoints on the form that the UK’s exit from the EU should take, and the potential implications on a range of different areas. In Ofcom’s view, it was likely that the audience of the programmes assessed would have expected the discussion of Brexit-related issues to reflect a range of different viewpoints on the UK’s exit from the EU and its implications, and how the public debate on these issues shifted and developed over time”.

A spokesman for News-watch commented:

“This ruling raises very disturbing issues about Ofcom’s neutrality in handling BBC complaints. It has completely sidestepped the very voluminous and meticulous evidence of bias, and has given the BBC a clean bill of health despite the abundant evidence to the contrary conducted using internationally-recognised techniques of assessing media content.

“Ofcom’s assertion that ‘due impartiality’ can be achieved simply including a range of opinions in coverage creates ‘due impartiality’. This is an absurd stance at odds with broadcast research practice followed by, among many others, bodies such as the former BBC Trust.

“The BBC’s handling of the Brexit debate is of major national importance because of its vast resources and reach. But Ofcom, who assumed backstop regulatory responsibility for Corporation impartiality as part of the BBC’s new Charter in 2017, seem to have adopted an extreme laissez faire approach, which is also reflected in the length of time it has taken to reach its ruling”.

 

EXECUTIVE SUMMARIES:

Report 1  (Today, October 9, 2017, November 4 2017)

The latest News-watch report assessed EU content in 24 editions of BBC Radio 4’s Today programme between October 9, 2017 and November 4, 2017. There was an unusually high level of such coverage hinged mainly on the Brexit negotiations. It amounted to 451 minutes, 93 per cent of which was devoted to Brexit.

The main finding is that there was an unjustified heavy bias towards exploring the difficulties and potential negativities of Brexit. In this context, there is a special investigation of the pervasive and indiscriminate use by this BBC coverage of the word ‘divorce’ – with all its negative overtones – to describe the EU exit process. In academic media analysis, it is held that such value-loaded ‘framing’ of issues by the editorial process can negatively influence audiences. The point here is that with all the resources available to the BBC news-gathering process, the use 47 times of such a controversial word to describe Brexit was at best poor journalism; at worst a sign of deliberate intent to frame Brexit in a particular light.

There was also an almost complete absence in the coverage of ‘ordinary’ people who had voted Leave, and of UKIP, the only political grouping with substantial electoral backing which supported without reservation the need for a decisive Brexit. Only 76 words, 0.2 per cent of the total words spoken on the EU by guest contributors, were in this category.

Another main finding is that in the news bulletins, there were 13 items which projected major problems in the Brexit arena, against none which were positive. The problems highlighted in bulletin stories included plummeting registration of nurses from across the EU, a Brexit cost to every household of £500, the loss of thousands of jobs in the City of London, the government denying ‘panic’ in its attempts to deal with Brexit talks, along with claims from Hillary Clinton that the Brexit vote was based on a ‘big lie’.

Overall there were 199 speakers in Today’s EU coverage, of whom 102 (51.3 per cent) were broadly pro-EU or were negative about Brexit, against 54 speakers (27.1 per cent) who were positive, a ratio of 2:1 (the remainder were neutral). Thus, Today, despite the Leave vote in the EU referendum , inexplicably gave substantially greater prominence to anti-Brexit opinion.

The imbalance was worst among programme guests who were not allied to political parties in the House of Commons, where there were only 16 appearances by supporters of Brexit, or who were against the EU, against 52 from those opposed to Brexit or in favour of the EU. This was 4 a ratio worse than 3:1. In words counts there were 13,498 in the former category against 3,433, a ratio of 4:1.

These 52 non-allied speakers opposed to Brexit or ‘no deal’ predicted a litany of woe for the UK, including the intractable difficulties of reaching new free trade deals; collapsing farm incomes; exports hit by new red tape, tariffs, customs delays and rising prices; Brexit causing a ‘massive energy suck’ against the British economy; ‘panic’ in the government camp because Theresa May’s Florence speech had not worked; that the UK’s xenophobic approach to Brexit would lead to long-term decline; that the cost of dairy exports and imports could soar; and that Brexit was hitting car exports from the UK.

The picture of negativity against Brexit was worsened throughout the period by comments from BBC correspondents and presenters, who projected a picture of a government in panic, insuperable difficulties related to reaching agreement with the EU and in striking new trade deals, and collapsing business confidence. Of course the government’s progress towards negotiations was not smooth, but the BBC’s editorial focus was disproportionately and relentlessly negative.

 

Report 2  – Brexit a Guide for the Perplexed (February-March 2018)

The third series of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Brexit: A Guide for the Perplexed’ was broadcast on five consecutive days between 19 February and 23 February, 2018. Each programme was 12 minutes long and was presented by the BBC’s EU ‘Reality Check’ reporter, Chris Morris. Each edition dealt with the projected impact of Brexit and there were five separate themes: the UK pharmaceuticals sector, food and agriculture, the future of British Overseas Territories (the featured ones were Gibraltar and Anguilla), the regions of the UK outside London, and the socalled ‘transitional phase’ after March 2019.

The series was projected as an objective examination of the issues of Brexit, but it was not. Instead, Chris Morris and the programme team assembled and edited a range of contributions which were overwhelmingly biased against Brexit and pro-EU in their outlook.

There were 46 speakers in total but 22 made very short contributions, often as part of montage sequences, amounting to 285 words in total, and equating to just 3 per cent of the overall programme airtime.

The ‘meat’ of the programme was delivered by the 24 main interviewees who provided longer contributions. This group accounted for 48 per cent of the total airtime. 18 of the 24 were pro-EU/anti-Brexit; only three were anti-EU/pro-Brexit; two contributors made points both for and against; and one was neutral. The imbalance was startling. The 18 who made negative points on Brexit delivered 3,824 words (76 percent of words spoken by guests in this category), those speaking positively 352 words (seven per cent), and mixed/neutral speakers 838 words (17 per cent). The anti-Brexit to pro-Brexit word count ratio was thus almost 11 to one. The ratio of pro-EU to anti-EU speakers in this category was 6:1.

Bias in broadcasting, of course, is not measured by metrics alone, but such calculations are held in academic methodology to be a reliable pointer to its existence. Transcript analysis confirms that the negativity from these contributors against Brexit was very strong. At a headline level, it included predictions of serious problems in the regulatory regime governing the pharmaceuticals sector and huge delays in Britain being able to use pioneering medical drugs; the danger of food price rises of up to 46 per cent; the sovereignty of Gibraltar and the economic well-being of both Gibraltar and Anguilla coming under unprecedented attack; the West Midlands, as the chosen main example of a region of the UK, facing serious threats to its prosperity; and a transition period likened to walking the plank, with the likelihood of a UK ruled by the EU without any say.

The overall pessimism was heavily compounded by the comments and opinions of Chris Morris, who spoke 49 per cent of the words across the five programmes. His positive points were a very minor part of the programmes. Mostly, Mr Morris amplified the negativity of those gloomy about the impact of Brexit, and he strongly challenged or cut short those who made positive points. His primary intent seemed to echo the ‘walking the plank’ metaphor introduced in the final programme. Mr Morris did not tell listeners in his introductions and commentary that some of the key contributors who were negative about Brexit had clear pro-EU views and had been campaigners for Remain since before the EU Referendum. One, Professor of Law Catherine Barnard, held the Jean Monnet chair at Cambridge, and was thus at least partly paid for by the EU.

Thus, BBC ‘Reality Checking’ is a complete misnomer. In this series, the BBC seemed intent to cram into 60 minutes as many potential problems about Brexit as it could, with only a fig-leaf acknowledgement of the belief that it presents the UK with vibrant new opportunities.

 

Report 3 – ‘Britain at the Crossroads’, March 29,  2018

On March 29, 2018 BBC Radio 4 broadcast a day of programmes about Brexit designed to reflect the issues involved one year before the EU departure date. Eight separate programmes were involved: special editions of Today, The Long View (a historical discussion programme), The World at One, Dead Ringers and the World Tonight, along with ad hoc commissions The Channel, The Brexit Lab and The EU after Brexit.

News-watch transcribed and analysed all the programmes. With the exception of The Brexit Lab, the word-counts and speaker totals established by the survey found a heavy bias against Brexit.  Only 15 speakers out of 92 during the day were confirmed withdrawalists.  49 were in favour of remain, pro-EU or critical of the government’s approach to the negotiations with the EU  28 supported Brexit or were anti EU

The overall word-count was 15,554 from those who broadly favoured Remain (the 49 above) against 6,889 from those making contrary points.  In Today – which accounted for one third of the day’s output – the bias was much worse, with only eight guest contributors pro-Brexit against 26 negative about it, or positive about the EU.

But, as noted in the introduction, the textual analysis shows that the bias was much worse than the figures.

Of most concern, was that BBC presenters and correspondents, especially in the Today programme, seemed on a mission to highlight every possible snag in the Brexit process, and played down or ignored the opportunities.

The sequences which explored the future of the EU contained heavily pro-EU comment from BBC correspondents, and guest speakers – though pointing out some structural problems – were at core in different ways all strongly in favour of the EU. Entirely missing were any commentators calling for drastic reform – or withdrawal – who were part of so-called ‘populist’ or ‘right-wing’ movements within the EU.

The Brexit Lab, though clearly – and possibly uniquely in BBC history – an attempt to examine post-Brexit opportunities, was announced by the BBC immediately before transmission to be a ‘strongly personal view’ from the freelance journalist Iain Martin. 5

Overall, despite the exploration in The Brexit Lab, ‘Britain at the Crossroads’ was deeply skewed against Brexit. This has been the case in all eight News-watch surveys completed since the EU referendum. It is a matter of major national concern that the BBC is breaching its Charter requirements towards impartiality in this way.

Ofcom Ruling: BBC1 Question Time’s alleged pro-Remain bias

Ofcom Ruling: BBC1 Question Time’s alleged pro-Remain bias

A central part of the New BBC Charter is that appeals about complaints are now handled not by the BBC itself, but Ofcom, the independent sector media regulator.

This change – recommended in a report to the former culture secretary John Whittingdale by Sir David Clementi, who has since become BBC chairman – was trumpeted as a way of ensuring independence of outlook and greater fairness in the complaints process.

So how is this panning out? Well, it has taken nine months for what seems to be the first BBC-based complaint to find its way through to the Ofcom Content Board.

The complaint was submitted by Gavin Hunt, an avid viewer of BBC1’s Question Time, who tracked the 25 editions of the programme in the series running from January 2017, and found that 22 had panels which contained a majority of EU Remainers. This, he claimed, showed significant bias against the Leave case.

The Ofcom response is contained in a five-page letter which can be read here.

They based their findings on only two of the editions of the programme. This was because the Content Board thought it would not be ‘proportionate’ to examine all 25. Instead they picked the two programmes which had five Remainers and no supporters of Leave.

One of these, the Board decided, was irrelevant to the complaint because it was broadcast from Salford soon after the Manchester Arena bombing, and there was no EU-related content.

Thus their inquiry was into the edition – from Oxford – broadcast on April 27, the panel on which was Damian Green (then Work and Pensions Secretary), Clive Lewis, the shadow Defence Secretary, Jo Swinson, the former Liberal Democrat MP, Stephen Gethins of the SNP, and Camilla Cavendish, a non-affiliated peer who was an adviser of David Cameron.

Two questions posed during the edition were deemed by Ofcom to be relevant to the complaint:

Has the General Election been called for the benefit of the Conservative Party and not the country?

Is tactical voting undemocratic or a way to prevent Hard Brexit?   

The conclusion? A key passage of the Ofcom letter relating to panel composition said:

…we considered that there were also views expressed which could be described as supporting Brexit in some form, or otherwise challenging the Remain position. For example, Damian Green disagreed with various statements that were supportive of a Remain position. He said most people had not changed their mind since voting in the 2016 EU Referendum (“the referendum”), and although he was part of the referendum campaign for Remain, he respected democracy and the referendum outcome. He also: rebuked Tim Farron for saying the Liberal Democrats would frustrate the Parliamentary process for introducing Brexit; stated a strong and stable government would get a good Brexit deal; the referendum outcome ruled out membership of the Single Market and being subject to the European Court of Justice; and argued that Brexit had to mean more control over immigration and our budget. We considered that these were views that could be reasonably described as supporting what may be termed a form of “Hard Brexit”.

The second key element of the Ofcom finding related to David Dimbleby’s handling of balance issues, The Content Board letter said:

There are a range of editorial techniques that broadcasters can use to preserve due impartiality. In the case of Question Time, the role of the presenter, David Dimbleby, is crucial. In our view, and as evidenced in the Oxford and Salford programmes, Mr Dimbleby consistently provides critical challenge to panellists’ stated positions, summarises with due objectivity and, where necessary, offers alternative viewpoints. Panellists themselves also challenge viewpoints put forward by their fellow panellists. Alternative viewpoints are also expressed by audience members, who are given the opportunity to challenge statements made by panellists.

In essence, therefore, they turned the complaint down, basically on the ground that first, Damian Green expressed the Hard Brexit perspective, and also because, in Ofcom’s judgment, host David Dimbleby ensured that debate was marshalled fairly and impartially.

Was this ruling robust, independent and fair?  Eyebrows might be raised by that Ofcom only looked in detail at one of 25 programmes, and considered that Damian Green’s remarks added up to an expression of support for a ‘Hard Brexit’ perspective, especially as Mr Green is on record as not supporting it.  Some would also wonder how on the basis of only two programmes out of 25 – one of which contained nothing of EU coverage, the subject of the complaint – the Content Board were sure that David Dimbleby’s handling of his ringmaster’s role was always as balanced as they decided.

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