On March 1st 2016 news emerged that suggested the BBC Trust was doomed.
An independent review concluded the BBC’s in-house regulatory body was flawed.
Sir David Clementi, who led the independent review, said there was a need for “fundamental reform”.
Sir David said: “The BBC Trust model is flawed. It conflates governance and regulatory functions within the Trust.
“The BBC should have a unitary Board charged with responsibility for meeting the obligations placed on it under the Royal Charter and Agreement, and responsibility for the interests of Licence Fee payers.
“Regulatory oversight should pass wholly to Ofcom, which is already the public service regulator for the UK’s broadcasting industry and has the ability to look at the BBC in the context of the market as a whole. Ofcom would be a strong regulator to match a strong BBC.”
Having witnessed the obfuscation and bloody-mindedness displayed by the Trust I firmly believed Ofcom could only be an improvement. How wrong I was.
In April this year an interview was broadcast on Reporting Scotland. The interview saw the First Minister being asked to respond to attacks from the Scottish Conservatives who had accused Nicola Sturgeon of ignoring her ‘day job’ by visiting the USA.
What viewers to Reporting Scotland did not know was that the programme had cut the first part of Nicola Sturgeon’s answer out. The First Minster had began her answer to James Cook’s question by exposing Tory hypocrisy.
The Scottish Conservatives had attacked the First Minister’s trip to the USA in the same week that Theresa May had embarked on a trip to Saudi Arabia, Philip Hammond had visited India and the hapless David Mundell had flown off to Burma.
The First Minister had highlighted the Tory visits. But it was cut from BBC Scotland’s flagship evening news programme.
A complaint was lodged with the BBC. Two responses from BBC Scotland and two from the Editorial Complaints Unit merely served to ensure the complaint would be passed to Ofcom. How would it deal with what appeared to be a pretty strong claim of imbalance?
Below is the full wording of the complaint to Ofcom.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited the USA. BBC Scotland covered the trip. Each news bulletin, as well as summarising Nicola Sturgeon’s trip, also contained the obligatory attack from Unionist politicians – chiefly the Scottish Conservatives.
The thrust of the Tory attacks used the familiar line that the First Minister was ignoring her day job. The ‘day job’ attacks featured right across the BBC Scotland spectrum – online, radio and TV – for several days.
A sample of the radio bulletins can be heard here:
An example of the TV coverage can be viewed here:
On April 4th the First Minister was finally given an opportunity to respond to Scottish Conservative ‘day job’ attacks. An early morning radio bulletin contained her reply in which she directly addressed her Tory critics.
However when the First Minister’s response was broadcast on Reporting Scotland, the highly relevant segment was missing. It had been edited out of the item.
Viewers were thus denied the opportunity of hearing the First Minister respond to attacks that had already featured on the same programme more than once. By removing the highly relevant segment, Reporting Scotland ensured balance was not maintained.
The coverage, in terms of ‘day job’ attacks by the Scottish Conservatives, was biased in favour of the Scottish Conservatives.
The BBC’s initial response to my complaint indicated the FM’s response was cut because “It is a necessity, and editorially justified, to edit clips from a long interview for inclusion in a short news report”.
The BBC cut that part of the FM’s answer that offered the most effective response to her critics. It was the first part of a two part answer which suggests Nicola Sturgeon believed it highly significant. The segment lasted a mere 23 seconds.
If a prime time news programme allows criticisms to be broadcast in full then it is obliged to report the response in full, especially when that response highlights very clear hypocrisy on the part of the critics.
Viewers who were not aware senior members of the Conservative Government were themselves on foreign trips were denied the opportunity of hearing an honest and pertinent reply.
Below is part of the BBC’s final justification for cutting out the first part of the FM’s answer. It is an insult to my intelligence.
“I note that in the original interview, she responded to the question put to her by Mr Cook by noting ‘There’s two points to make to that, isn’t there’ which would indicate she was not solely concerned with drawing attention to the comments of Scottish Conservatives which she described as ‘rather hypocritical’.”
Below is the relevant section of the response from Ofcom.
We assessed the content in this case under Rule 5.1 of the Code, which state: “News, in whatever form, must be reported with due accuracy and presented with due impartiality”.
The definition of “due impartiality” set out in the Code makes clear that: “‘Due’ impartiality does not mean that an equal division of time has to be given to every view, or that every argument and every facet of every argument has to be represented”. News broadcasters will typically edit pre-broadcast interviews for the purposes of inclusion in news bulletins. This is acceptable as long as the content is duly accurate and duly impartial.
In our view, in the context of a short news item, it was not a requirement that every aspect of Nicola Sturgeon’s response had to be reflected in order to ensure that Rule 5.1 was complied with. We considered that the content as broadcast showed Nicola Sturgeon clearly and robustly responding to criticisms being made of her trip to the USA.
Specifically, in our view, her statement describing what she had been undertaking in the USA as being “part of my day job” would have been likely to be seen by viewers as an implicit retort to the Conservative criticisms being referred to by James Cook in his question.
Accordingly, while the First Minister may have originally given a two-part response to the question asked about her views, what was broadcast in this case did not detract materially from the response she had given in the original interview. Therefore, we considered that Rule 5.1 was complied with in this case.
I realise this decision is likely to come as a disappointment to you, but I hope this letter makes clear that we have considered your concerns very carefully. Our decision not to pursue an investigation in regards to your complaint will be published on our website in the fortnightly Broadcast and On Demand Bulletin1.
The response makes absolutely no mention of the pertinent and compelling points made in the complaint. Indeed the careful drafting of the complaint and compiling of relevant points of argument were a complete waste of time.
The Ofcom conclusion, which took over one month to complete, is a joke, and a bad on at that. The organisation has reached a verdict without cause to look at any of the evidence. Reporting Scotland is not guilty … It will not be investigated because it is not guilty.
The BBC Trust is gone … Trust in the BBC is gone … both for good. Ofcom? … Fuckoffcom more like.
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