How to complain to the BBC

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.

6 thoughts on “How to complain to the BBC”

  1. Since the Gaza aid appeal debacle, I seldom reference the BBC TV or other media for anything. Channel 4 is my source for British news.

  2. One can complain about the BBC coverage until one is blue in the face. Such efforts are of limited use. Maybe the approach to take is to ignore the BBC and generate news (or join a group that does so). If they don’t provide insightful news, then it is time to produce it — or support groups which do stellar work with limited resources.

  3. I too have been through the BBC complaints process. The end result was, apart from a minor concession, a (predictable) whitewash of a dreadful piece of hasbara on Broadcasting House (R4) in 2007. It took about 8 months and many hours of careful thinking and writing to sustain the complaint all the way to the Trust, overcoming the various rebuttals, evasions, misrepresentations etc. at lower levels. (They kept the best bit for the end, reformulating my complaint in a more easily disposable form for consideration by the ESC: I ended up with far more cause for complaint at the end of the process than I started with.)

    But despite my overall negative experience and the dismissive comments above I want to encourage you in your task. I think a good guide to the usefulness of an action can be found in the answer to the question “what would it be like if everybody did this?” I think, in this case, what you are doing and recommending scores rather higher than shrugging the shoulders and spreading the hands. I have a strong suspicion that every bit of pressure exerted on the BBC on the matter of their awful Palestine coverage has at least the potential to strengthen the hand of those on its staff who retain a regard for the truth and may yield an eventual result.

    So stick at it, you’re not the only one currently doing it by the way and the more the merrier. Good on you!

  4. Thanks Alan, for the support. And warning that the Trust will be no different … I already know exactly what you mean about having one’s complaint rewritten – I am already lodging a separate complaint about the way the ECU dealt with stage three of my complaint!

    To the other posters, UK residents are all license payers, so on that basis alone I am determined to register my disgust at the highest level. I also wonder about Ofcom, or other independent media watchdogs should, as is almost predetermined, my appeal fail.

    It has also been suggested to me that making a complaint public does serve to generate discussion within the BBC. I’m sure you don’t have to sign a Zionist clause in your contract, and employees will all have different views. If all our complaints, as Alan suggests, encourage and support dissent within the corporation, that’s got to be a good thing.

    I am currently one of 100 signatories to a letter complaining about the coverage of the flotilla. I am going to suggest we all donate to publish it, or an edited version, in a weekend paper. The BBC has massive influence on public opinion all over the world, and ought to be held to account for its shameless distortion and repression of the truth abou the Middle East.

  5. Is there any form of support group in existence attempting to force the BBC’s hand to change its policy of bias against the minority of licence payers who are continually deprived of ordinary programmes for the sake of the BBC’s sports coverage.
    Or am i the only one to notice this continued occurence ?

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