A Formal Complaint to the BBC

This is a guest post by Mitnaged
After the Guardian’s Political Editor, Michael White, made ill-judged and scurrilous allegations about the IDF on the BBC Radio London’s Breakfast programme on 14th December, I felt constrained to make a formal complaint to the BBC.   Those who missed what White said can find it verbatim by clicking here.
A copy of the BBC’s reply to me follows, prefixed by “>” and embedded in it, in italics, is my subsequent reply to them:

>—–Original Message—–
>From: complaintresponse@bbc.co.uk [mailto:complaintresponse@bbc.co.uk]
>Sent: 19 December 2009 10:58
>To: [intentionally omitted]
>Subject: [intentionally omitted]
>Thanks for your email about the interview on BBC London 94.9’s
>’Breakfast’ programme on December 14 with the Guardian newspaper’s
>assistant editor Michael White.
>Mr White was invited to give his views on the news story of the attack
>on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
>Having investigated your complaint, BBC London would like to apologise
>for any offence you might have felt on hearing Mr White’s comments.
>However, we would point out that Mr White is not a BBC journalist, and
>he was clearly introduced to listeners as a commentator from the
>Guardian newspaper.

I am glad that you apologised.  It matters little whether or not
Mr White was one of your journalists (given the paper for which he writes his comments were hardly surprising – but most offensive was the fact that he was allowed to make those remarks unchallenged by the BBC hosts of the programme.

>He was putting forward his own views with his own choice of words, and,
>as with other commentators, the listener is free to make up their own
>mind on the validity of his arguments. The BBC’s advice to its own
>journalists would be to use plain and simple language, rather than make
>value judgements, but we cannot apply the same guidance to interviewees.

See my point above.  The BBC has a responsibility to those who pay it to make sure that lies are not promulgated unchallenged.  That the hosts remained silent implied that they agreed with those lies. (Additional note, not in the original:  I have since been reminded that actually, the interviewer did not remain silent.  She made a noise expressing agreement, as if what White said was as obvious as the fact that the sun always rises, and then they went on).

>Mr White’s comments about Israel were a brief aside, along with other
>remarks about Northern Ireland, during the interview about Signor
>Berlusconi. In these circumstances, the presenter had to judge whether
>to divert the interview into a discussion about what Israel calls
>’targeted killing’ or his comments about Northern Ireland rather than
>concentrate on the matter in hand.

I disagree.  Brief asides can nevertheless be offensive and inciteful.  The presenter could either have challenged White or carefully steered him away from digging himself a hole by a statement that his remarks were beyond the remit of the programme.
>Given this background and the incidental nature of Mr White’s comments,
>we believe the presenters were right to concentrate on the substance of
>the interview.

I am not surprised, given the BBC’s record in the past.  I however want to remain on record as taking issue with your reasoning.

I intend to take this up to the highest level.  Not only did the presenters not concentrate on “the substance of the programme” as the BBC called it, but their presenter actually agreed with what White said, or at least failed to correct it.  More predictable, however, was the standard BBC excuse and divesting themselves of all responsibility by reminding me that White was not one of theirs.   That makes little difference – indeed I would argue that there is precious little clear blue water between the BBC’s attitude towards Israel and that of Michael White – but the BBC put out the programme, therefore the BBC was responsible for the content of it and for any offence caused.

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