More details of interest.
First for background on the BBC’s internal editorial complaints process: ‘An editorial complaint may proceed through the following stages:
Stage 1a – initial response.
Stage 1b – if the complaint progresses further, a response from or on behalf of a BBC manager or a member of the editorial team.
Stage 2 – if the complaint progresses further, a response from the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU).
The ECU made 6 findings at Stage 2 between 7th – 20th November 2022. Two were upheld, both regarding Scotland-related matters including the one concerning the broadcast of Professor Sridhar’s book.
Here are the texts of the ‘judgements, with my emphasis:
‘Book of the Week: Preventable, Radio 4, 19 April 2022 – 24 November 2022 – Complaint
‘The programme was an extract from the book “Preventable: How a Pandemic Changed the World & How to Prevent the Next One” by Professor Devi Sridhar, which drew on her experience as a public health adviser to the Scottish and UK Governments during the pandemic. A LISTENER complained that it CONTAINED MATERIAL WHICH WAS POLITICALLY PARTIAL in relation to THE SCOTTISH LOCAL AUTHORITY ELECTIONS, which were less than two weeks away. The ECU considered the complaint in the light of the BBC’s editorial standards of impartiality.
‘Outcome: The ECU noted that the programme-makers had sought appropriate advice from BBC Scotland and were advised that THE HANDLING OF THE PANDEMIC IN TERMS OF PUBLIC HEALTH POLICY BY the Scottish and UK Governments (which was Professor Sridhar’s main focus in the 19 April instalment) HAD NOT BECOME A SIGNIFICANT ISSUE IN THE ELECTION CAMPAIGN. Consequently they judged that the proximity of the elections was not a bar to scheduling WHAT WAS REGARDED AS AN EVIDENCE-BASED APPRAISAL BY A RESPECTED SCIENTIST OF THE RELATIVE SUCCESS OF THE PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES TAKEN BY THE TWO GOVERNMENTS.
‘However, the ECU also noted that the 19 April instalment included material (DEALING WITH DOMINIC CUMMINGS’ VISIT TO COUNTY DURHAM AND ITS REPERCUSSIONS) which, in its view, WENT SOMEWHAT BEYOND THAT DESCRIPTION AND, in the context of a campaign IN WHICH AN INVITATION TO COMPARE NICOLA STURGEON WITH BORIS JOHNSON WAS A PROMINENT PART OF THE SNP’S STRATEGY, could have GIVEN THE IMPRESSION OF FAVOURING ONE PARTY OVER ANOTHER. To that extent, IT FELL SHORT OF THE BBC’S STANDARDS OF IMPARTIALITY.’
The second upheld complaint by the ECU in the period concerned BBC Scotland and the subject of Brexit.
‘Reporting Scotland, BBC One Scotland, 20 December 2021 – 24 November 2022 – Complaint
‘The programme included a report about THE EFFECTS OF NEW TRADING ARRANGEMENTS ON EXPORTERS AND BUSINESSES IN SCOTLAND FOLLOWING Britain’s exit from the European Union. A VIEWER COMPLAINED that, BY FOCUSING ONLY ON FIRMS “APPARENTLY DAMAGED” BY THE NEW ARRANGEMENTS, it had CONVEYED AN UNBALANCED VIEW of the impact of Brexit. The ECU considered the complaint in the light of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality.
‘Outcome: The report was introduced in these terms: It’s almost a year since the UK Government and European Union concluded a very long negotiation on the deal with which Britain then left the European single market. Brexit’s advocates say there will be long term economic benefits, but it’s been a tough year for some of the Scottish businesses most affected as our Business and Economy Editor, Douglas Fraser, has been finding out.
‘The ECU noted the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on impartiality say “We may produce content about any subject, AT ANY POINT ON THE SPECTRUM OF DEBATE, AS LONG AS THERE ARE GOOD EDITORIAL REASONS FOR DOING SO”, and considered it legitimate for the report to confine itself on this occasion to “the Scottish businesses most affected” by Brexit.
‘However, A PROGRAMME ADOPTING SUCH AN APPROACH SHOULD MAINTAIN IMPARTIALITY BY EXPLORING OTHER ASPECTS OF THE TOPIC WITHIN A REASONABLE TIMEFRAME, WHICH HAD NOT HAPPENED IN THE CASE OF REPORTING SCOTLAND. The ECU noted that the reporter had conducted research across all sectors of the Scottish economy in preparing the report, which had LED HIM TO CONCLUDE THAT IMPROVED PERFORMANCE IN SOME AREAS WAS ATTRIBUTABLE TO FACTORS OTHER THAN BREXIT. It is generally agreed however, that Brexit has had a differential effect, bearing hardest on the kind of small businesses featured in the report, SO THERE WAS AT LEAST A NEED TO REFLECT AREAS WHERE ITS IMPACT HAD BEEN LESS NEGATIVE, whether on this occasion or in an appropriately linked programme.’
While I’ve complained many times to the BBC about its programme content in matters pertaining to Scotland, I’ve never reached the ‘heights’ of an ECU adjudication.
Of the two judgements, I find both pretty outrageous but the second, candidly, beggars belief. Why? Because one of the defining characteristics of BBC Scotland’s coverage of (almost) anything to do with the work of the Scottish Government and with public bodies in Scotland such as NHS Scotland is the absence of balance provided by context or perspective. And the ECU has the gall to choose to uphold this complaint when so many complaints about lack of context, lack of perspective, absence of balance are dismissed out of hand by the BBC at earlier stages in the complaints process.
Perhaps the (my or others’ ?) error here is in not pushing the BBC process further and getting complaints in front of the ECU – just TWO users of BBC output seem to have succeeded in having (i) pro-SNP bias (I know it’s hard to conceive) and (2) anti-Brexit bias upheld. With such biases, it’s almost as if this must be another BBC, one operating in a parallel universe, to the one we experience daily in Scotland!