BBC apologises yet again, but this time you won’t be hearing about it

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25th January 2011

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This seems to be the sorry season

for poor old Aunty Beeb

First, there was Alan Yentob’s expressing the BBC’s regrets after an employment tribunal had upheld 53-year-old Miriam O’Reilly’s appeal against being moved from the popular Countryfile show. Then there were their abasing responses to the public uproar about some particularly nasty turns in the plotlines of two of their favourite soaps, EastEnders and The Archers.

Acres of press space have been devoted to these stories.

What you won’t be getting is any sort of coverage of the BBC’s latest apology, made public today (you can read the BBC’s findings here but you need to scroll down to page 3 for the summary and to page 36 for the full findings). Guess why? Because the name Blair is associated with it.

As I reported here last November [BBC’s Iraq Inquiry Coverage (& Impartiality Rules) Under Scrutiny], a contributor to this site has followed up the successful part of his complaint about the inaccuracy of remarks made by the BBC’ commentator, Laura Kuenssberg, during a report on Tony Blair’s last appearance at the Iraq inquiry with an appeal to the BBC Trust about the unsuccessful part of the complaint relating to bias.

In their response to this appeal the BBC have apologised for the way the BBC News Channel team had defended Ms Kuenssberg’s erroneous reference to Sir Christopher Meyer’s testimony indicating that a deal to take this country to war had been done “in blood” at Crawford. Their dismissal of the complaint was on the grounds that she was only saying what Sir Christopher had really meant and that this was how the rest of the media had reported the story.

After the complainant had pointed out that impartial reporting should not be about reading people’s minds and taking their cue from what the rest of the (largely anti-Blair) media were saying on this matter, the BBC Trust agreed that the initial response of the BBC team had been “below the standards expected of the BBC”. They also noted that “the news team involved had, as part of the appeal process, now accepted that there had been an error and had apologised “.

Bias charge rejected (of course) but complaints can work behind the scenes – up to a point.


In typical fashion the BBC Trust could not bring themselves to admit that the Kuenssberg comments and the way they had been conveyed might have given the impression of bias on this issue.

They concluded in their weasel-worded way that “there was no evidence to suggest that the result of the inaccuracy was to promote the view of the ‘anti-war faction ‘ “, even though the complaint was not about the BBC promoting anti-war views but about the inaccuracy chiming with the version of the story put out by the anti-war brigade.

Likewise they agreed with the BBC that the ‘BLiar’ placards backdrop to Laura Kuenssberg’s observations had simply been included for “newsworthiness” reasons, notwithstanding the complainants argument that this background subliminally biased the viewing public against what Blair was reported to have said, and that the protest could have been covered in another part of the programme, with balancing interviews.

However, as I have noted elsewhere, Ms Kuenssberg was much more circumspect in her reporting of what Tony Blair said this time round and conducted her interview against the background of the Conference Centre with not a protester in sight.

Which goes to show that complaints to the BBC can be effective even if they and their watchdog are so reluctant to admit their bias on this issue.

UPDATE: That last sentence was written before my attention was drawn to the BBC’s summing up of Blair’s appearance at the Inquiry just before he left the scene. Apparently this contained five brief interviews, the first with an angry bereaved woman who had yelled “too late” after Mr Blair expressed his regrets, the second with BBC commentator James Lansdale who dwelt on the emotional reaction to what Blair had said in the inquiry room, quoting exactly what had been shouted out, the third with Ming Campbell MP, one of the main critics of the war, picking the legal case for war to pieces, the fourth with the journalist John Kampfner, another passionate critic of the war demolishing Mr Blair’s testimony in general and finally with John McTernan, a former Blair adviser putting the other side of the story.

Four anti-Blair interviews to one pro-Blair interview. Such is the BBC’s idea of balanced coverage of the days events. That is why I have added “up to a point” at the end of the sub-title to this section.

Do not trust the BBC Trust

I set out here an exclusive insight into how the BBC Trust have concealed the illogical reasoning of their findings on this case from the public. The draft summary of the BBC Trust findings (which is the part that most visitors the BBC Trust’s findings web site turn to) was put to the person who informed me of this complaint for comment as follows:

_____

“The complainant alleged that a BBC News Channel report on evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry was inaccurate and that the inaccuracy had demonstrated bias against Tony Blair. The complainant also said that the piece was biased in the way it had filmed to include shots of anti-Blair protesters. The Editorial Complaints Unit (Stage 2 of the BBC’s complaints process) upheld the complaint of inaccuracy but did not uphold the complaint of bias. The complainant appealed to the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust regarding the alleged breach of impartiality and also complained about the response from BBC News to his complaint at Stage 1 of the complaints process, which he said was further evidence of bias.

.The Committee concluded:

• that the entire report and not just the offending sentence had to be taken into account when considering impartiality.

• that the report had covered Mr Blair’s own testimony, and Mr Blair’s position had been made very clear.

• that there was no evidence to suggest that the result of the inaccuracy was to promote the view of the “anti-war” faction.

• that the one inaccuracy had not led to a breach of the obligation for due impartiality.

• that the increased presence of protesters outside the hearing on the day of Mr Blair’s evidence was a news event and it was for the BBC to decide whether and how it covered this news event.

• that showing split-screen footage of anti-Blair protesters was not an endorsement of the anti-war view and was not a breach of the impartiality guidelines.

• that the BBC’s initial response to the complaint had been below the standard expected and the BBC should have acknowledged the mistake immediately.

• that the complainant had been justified in bringing the initial response to the attention of the BBC Trust but that the subsequent apology and explanation had resolved the matter.

• that there was no evidence to indicate a lack of due impartiality in the elements of the complaint taken either individually or in totality.

The complaint was not upheld with regard to impartiality and was resolved with regard to accountability.”

_____

My informant was dissatisfied with the way his complaint had been presented in this section of the findings because

1) he did not think the first sentence sufficiently represented this part of his complaint since it did not explain why he thought the inaccuracy could be interpreted as bias and suggested the following amended version

“The complainant alleged that a BBC News Channel report on evidence given to the Chilcot Inquiry was inaccurate and that since the inaccuracy chimed with the version of the story conveyed by the anti-war lobby the inaccuracy had also demonstrated bias.

2) he did not think that the second sentence describing his objections to how the interview had been transmitted, properly represented what he had said about this in his complaint. He was not objecting to shots of the protesters being included but to the fact that these were used as a constant backdrop to the interview when the protest could have been (and was in fact) covered elsewhere in the programme with balancing interviews. He therefore wanted this sentence to be amended along the following lines:

“The complainant also said that the piece was biased since it had been presented almost exclusively against a backdrop of anti-Blair protesters when a more neutral background could have been used , leaving coverage of the protest for another part of the programme with balancing interviews.”

3) he did not think the last sentence sufficiently represented his appeal to the Editorial Standards Committee since there was no mention of his response in that submission to the key counter-argument to his complaint, i.e. that Blair’s position was covered in the interview so the coverage was balanced. The complainant regarded his response to this counter-argument as important because the Committee had used it to justify their “not upheld” verdict. He thought this omission could be easily remedied by amending the first part of this sentence as follows (the amendment is in bold lettering):

“The complainant appealed to the Editorial Standards Committee of the BBC Trust regarding the alleged breach of impartiality, emphasising that the report’s coverage of Blair’s position did not nullify the bias charge since this was presented against the backdrop of those BLiar placards.”

_____

The amendments were rejected by the BBC Trust, except for a minor change to the second sentence, referring to “the way [the piece] had used shots of anti-Blair protesters” instead of “the way [the piece] had been filmed to include shots of anti-Blair protesters.”

It was my informant’s view that “this was because the amendments would clearly show how the reasoning of the Committee’s findings bore little relation to the precise nature of his complaint. The idea is to keep the description of complaints as vague as possible so visitors to the site will concentrate on the conclusions of the Committee whether or not they relate to the exact nature of the complaint, and will take their reading no further”.

And after reading about how the BBC Trust refused to accept these perfectly reasonable amendments who could disagree?



Link to this post: BBC apologises yet again but this time you won’t be hearing about it

RELATED  – BBC Political Bias

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3 Responses to “BBC apologises yet again, but this time you won’t be hearing about it”

  1. Peter Reynolds Says:

    Very well done for pursuing this through to the bitter end. I was conscious of and noticed a distinct change in Laura K’s presentation of ol’ Tone’s latest appearance at the inquiry. That is a victory.

    I am sure that the ramifications of the complaint are keenly felt by Ms K and her team.

    • keeptonyblairforpm Says:

      Thank you, Peter, though it was not my pursuit, but that of a fellow Blair supporter.

      Having read what he says on Last Friday’s news report I might dig it up and follow it up. All I need are 48 hours in every day.

      Not that they respond to e-mailed complaints. I’ve complained before and they try/tend to ignore complaints, knowing most of us have neither time nor inclination to doggedly persist. Thus they are not registered on the BBC’s list of numbers of complaints.

      That way their numbers look far better than they are.

      And this lot accuse politicians of being corrupt!

      Sharp little buggers, aren’t they?

      In the meantime this online humiliation will have to do.

  2. New Blog Launched: ‘The Feral Press’ « Tony Blair Says:

    […] BBC apologises yet again, but this time you won’t be hearing about it […]

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