One thing that members of the public who fund the BBC – and its complaints procedure – should surely be able to take for granted is consistency in the handling of editorial complaints. After all, if something is factually inaccurate on one BBC platform, it is also factually inaccurate on another.
However that rather obvious assumption was recently shown to be mistaken.
Readers may recall that in mid-May listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ were told by presenter Razia Iqbal of “plans to annex part of the occupied West Bank as early as the 1st of July”.
The same claim appeared in two reports published on the BBC News website.
Due to the nature and limitations of the BBC’s online complaints form, CAMERA UK submitted two complaints on May 18th – one concerning the two articles on the BBC News website and one concerning the Radio 4 programme.
The BBC News website quickly amended both reports:
On May 26th we received a response from BBC Complaints informing us that they would “respond as soon as we can” to the complaint concerning BBC Radio 4. On June 16th we were informed that BBC Complaints had “not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”. On June 29th we received the following e-mail.
“Thanks for contacting us about The World Tonight, as broadcast on 14 May. Our apologies for the delay in replying. Like other organisations we have fewer staff able to work normally at the moment, but we’re of course sorry you’ve had to wait so long for a response.
We raised your concerns with the programme team.
According to the power-sharing deal which led to the formation of the current Israeli government, annexation can be put to a vote from 1 July. It has also been reported that Benjamin Netanyahu told his Likud Party that he doesn’t intend to change the July deadline (https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/netanyahu-tells-lawmakers-he-stands-by-july-target-date-to-launch-annexation-1.8871614, https://www.thenational.ae/world/mena/netanyahu-to-push-ahead-with-annexation-of-occupied-west-bank-in-july-1.1024839 – please note the BBC isn’t responsible for the content of non-BBC sites).
So Razia Iqbal was right to refer to “plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank as early as the first of July.”
Razia Iqbal was of course not “right” because, as we pointed out in our complaint, July 1st was set as the earliest date that a process which includes getting approval from the cabinet, the Foreign Affairs and Defence committee and the Knesset could commence.
“Whether or not that issue will be brought to the cabinet on or after July 1st remains to be seen but it is certainly not the case – as suggested by Razia Iqbal – that Israel plans to “annex part of the occupied West Bank” on that date.”
So why was the exact same complaint appropriately and swiftly corrected by one BBC department but tardily rejected by another?
The answer to that is because the company to which the BBC outsources the first two stages of its complaints procedure often refers the complaint to the relevant production team. In other words, the body which decides whether or not a Stage 1 editorial complaint concerning accuracy or impartiality is justified and requires action is the very department which created the content in the first place. In this case the BBC News website team took the points made onboard while the Radio 4 team did not.
That of course makes the still largely self-regulating BBC Complaints procedure more akin to a lottery or a charity raffle than “a complaints framework that provides ‘transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods’ of making sure that the BBC is meeting its obligations and fixing problems” as stipulated by the BBC’s Charter.