The Mail on Sunday December 26, 2021
The BBC is Silencing the viewers who should be heard
THE BBC’s existence is an attempt to answer a series of linked riddles. How can you sustain a national broadcaster to pursue the best in everything, free from commercial pressure? How can the state collect the funds for such a body, without turning it into a lapdog of the ruling party? How can such a corporation be regulated to ensure impartiality? Once, the BBC contained so many men and women who profoundly believed in its mission that this task was easier and governments worried about it less. But since the 1960s, a growing number of BBC personnel have decided these high principles do not apply to them. If nobody stops them, they turn the Corporation into a megaphone for their largely Left-wing opinions. And, increasingly, nobody does stop them. The public have noticed and so they turn to the BBC’s own complaints system in the hope of having some influence. But as we report today, that system is more or less useless. Its supposed backstop is the quango Ofcom, crammed with ex-BBC staffers and marinated in the same ideas. And the first stage of the complaints procedure itself is just a sort of spongy layer, outsourced to the service company Capita, apparently designed to soak up and ignore public discontent. As we report today, only a tiny number of complaints – roughly one in a thousand – ever reach the real complaints department, the grandly named Executive Complaints Unit. Most viewers almost certainly do not know how to get their grievances past Capita’s software. This is a mockery of the licence-payer. Whatever the right answer is to the BBC’s complaints, this is the wrong one. Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is correct to be worried and should act swiftly to ensure the voice of the viewers is actually heard in the Corporation’s sequestered corridors.
… while broadcaster investigates less than 0.1% of its complaints
By Anna Mikhailova
DEPUTY POLITICAL EDITOR
THE BBC’s complaints process faces being overhauled by the Culture Secretary amid concerns too few are being treated seriously. Analysis presented to Nadine Dorries shows that out of almost half a million complaints in the year 2020-21, less than 0.1 per cent were investigated by the Corporation’s Executive Complaints Unit. It follows concerns from MPs that the BBC is ‘marking its own homework’ and needs to Stop handling complaints from viewers and listeners in-house.
The data, seen by The Mall on Sunday, shows that just 455 of 462,255 complaints were looked at by the Executive Complaints Unit in 2020/21. Of these, only 185 were escalated to the media regulator Ofcom – 0.04 per cent of the total. That year – a record number for complaints – included 23,674 about Emily Maitlis’s critical monologue about Dominic Cummings on Newsnight in May 2020. In 2019-20, 759 out of 368,377 complaints were looked at by the Executive Complaints Unit – or 0.2 per cent -while 233 were escalated to Ofcom, some 0.06 per cent.
The unit represents the second stage of the BBC’s complaints process. The first stage is out-sourced to private firm Capita. Ian Paisley, the DUP MP for North Antrim, said:
‘The figures are absolutely astounding. No other credible complaints process would justify those outcomes. There is something systemically wrong with the system that has to be changed.’
Ms Dorries is expected to look at the complaints system as part of next year’s mid-term review of the BBC’s Royal Charter. A Government source said:
‘The process needs to maintain public confidence. With so few corn-plaints being reviewed, it raises serious questions.’
The BBC said referring cases to the Executive Complaints Unit is down to complainants. However, it is up to them to tell the BBC they are unhappy with the response they received from the network. The process of referring to the unit is contained in a lengthy 52-page document that has to be downloaded from the BBC website.
Last night, the BBC refused to reveal how many complaints are handled entirely by Capita on its behalf. A spokesman said.
‘The BBC has a thorough, transparent and easy to use complaints process, We keep the process under review. This includes a public consultation held last year following which we made changes to increase transparency and the information provided to audiences.’
An Ofcom spokesman said: ‘We have consistently called for the BBC to be more transparent.’