By Naomi Foyle
I am currently at the fourth stage of a complaint to the BBC about the outrageously imbalanced Jan Newsnight report by Col Tim Collins, described as the ‘Celebrated Iraq war veteran’s view of the Gaza conflict’. I have so far been met with only doublespeak and the most stunning manipulation of both my own language and Collins’. I will post separately about the progress of this complaint, but for now I would like to give this advice to any one complaining to the BBC.
1) Numbers count. Apparently if more than 20 people complain about a programme, they have to take it seriously. I know several other people who complained about the Collins’ report, and that has undoubtedly helped me. In cases of Offense, numbers in particular count, so joint-signatories to a complaint of being offended by a programme would be useful.
2) Don’t give up. It was only after contacting the BBC twice – one phone call and one letter – that I was invited to complain directly to the Editorial Complaints Unit. I won’t post the address, as the BBC has a clear three stage complaints process, but if you persist they will invite you to complain to the ECU as well.
3) Read the guidelines and refer to them constantly in your complaint.
Be aware of the following. This, according to past upheld complaints — available on their website — is how they define crucial terms in the guidelines:
Bias – ‘to strongly approve or disapprove’. IE, bias cannot be inferred simply from a one-sided programme. The presenter’s words, or tone of voice, must clearly indicate approval or disapproval of one side or the other. Complaints of bias have been upheld, but very rarely, so be careful how you use this one.
Factual accuracy – this is used in a strictly limited sense. IE – is the statement true or not. A statement that we might say is inaccurate because it presents a hugely incomplete picture of a situation, is nevertheless not inaccurate to the BBC unless it is patently false.
Authored content – this is a news report given from a personal point of view, for example of a great ‘expert’ like Col Collins. Nevertheless, it must still retain a respect for factual accuracy, and fairly represent opposing viewpoints.
I would strongly recommend reading the sections on impartiality, and unless you have a water-tight case of bias, complaining on the basis that a programme does not ‘fairly represent opposing viewpoints’. This is particularly true in cases of ‘active controversy’, so please stress this as well in your complaint, as otherwise they will try to fob you off with their nefarious get-out clause (see next point!)
4) Challenge the following section of the guidelines:
Impartiality is described in the Agreement (which accompanies the BBC Charter) as ‘due impartiality’. It requires us to be fair and open minded when examining the evidence and weighing all the material facts, as well as being objective and even handed in our approach to a subject …
The principle of ‘due impartiality’ does not however require ‘The representation of every argument on every occasion or an equal division of time for each view’
Please join me in asking what exactly ‘even-handed’ means, it if allows such a selective approach to presenting arguments, and doesn’t require equal time to each viewpoint. Ask for a clear, positive, working definition of even-handed, fair and open minded, and ‘fairly representing opposing viewpoints’.
Again, they may fob you off with reference to ‘overall output’ – so ask for links or transcripts of programmes that present the Palestinian point of view.
5) Finally, to repeat point 2, please don’t give up. We might be disgusted by the BBC and infinitely prefer to get our news elsewhere, but they are hugely influential and ought to be brought to account for their active collusion in the global dissemination of Zionist propaganda to the exclusion and great detriment of the Palestinian narrative.
Naomi Foyle is a British poet and performer. Find out more about Naomi and her work by clicking here.