Lords report on the BBC's complaints procedure, accuracy and impartiality
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Friday July 08 2011
|The Lords Select Committee on Communications last week published a report appraising the BBC Trust’s governance and regulation procedures.
The report deals with governance and regulation procedures in general with a specific focus on issues of accuracy and impartiality, which are seen as some of the core commitments of the BBC as a public service broadcaster.
There is no external jurisdiction outside of the BBC Trust to deal with complaints regarding impartiality and accuracy under the current arrangements, and the Lords’ report states:
“Ofcom (the independent regulator and authority for UK communications industries) does not consider whether BBC broadcast content has breached the Ofcom code on ‘due impartiality and due accuracy’’’.
This is the only major remaining area not subject to external regulation and the Lords report concludes that this is inappropriate.
There has been some support from past BBC chairmen for extending Ofcom’s jurisdiction to cover the BBC on impartiality and accuracy. However, the current Director-General, Mark Thompson has argued against this saying it “would lead to a loss of public trust in the governing body and in the BBC”.
The Lords report countermands this argument stating, “we do not believe that the Trust’s continued commitment would be undermined or diluted if the BBC was no longer its own judge and jury on impartiality and accuracy”.
Key recommendations in the Lords’ report include:
- More transparency in how complaints are dealt with.
- The BBC Trust and Ofcom working together to resolve issues of impartiality and accuracy so that the BBC is no longer its own judge and jury. The majority of the committee support Ofcom being given final responsibility for regulating impartiality and accuracy in BBC public service broadcasting content.
The BBC’s record on impartiality has been seriously contested in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, most recently evidenced in the complaints lodged against the Panorama documentary ‘Death in the Med’. The programme was heavily criticized for its bias and inaccuracy in coverage of the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara last May in which nine Turkish aid activists were killed.
The BBC, in responding to the fifty-one complaints that were made upheld three of these, which included issues of accuracy regarding how people died; clarity on the description of the aid content, and the misleading claims made in the documentary that “the Israelis evacuated the badly wounded to hospital”, which did not reflect detailed allegations of mistreatment by the victims.
Earlier controversies on the BBC’s partiality or bias on the issue include the refusal to screen the DEC appeal for aid to Gaza following Israel’s bombardment of the region, and the disproportionate use of Israeli spokespeople in BBC News coverage during the 22 day conflict in Dec 2008 – Jan 2009.
The suggestion advanced in the Lords report on bringing the BBC under Ofcom’s oversight should be taken seriously by the BBC if it is to command public confidence in its impartiality and accuracy and carry out its duty as a respectable public service broadcaster.