Thursday, 22 December 2011

Case #3: Words Should Carry Meaning

The BBC website has changed recently, including the complaints section. Whilst re-submitting my complaint about the BBC2 programme The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys for what I think is the fourth time now, I was prompted for my complaint reference number. This generated a pre-written response I guess which was associated with that reference number: for some reason my complaint appears to be classed as 'new homepage is rubbish' because that is what the BBC's database associates my reference number with.

I have submitted yet another complaint and made an e-mail to the Editorial Complaints Unit at the BBC, they are as follows-

'My complaint about this programme was never about bias, even if I find the programme is filled with it, my original complaint was purely concerned with the way supposed facts were presented and the effort gone into researching them. No researchers are credited for this programme. I have had a very frustrating, ridiculous and slow exchange with BBC staff that handle complaints who it seems were consulting with the programme's makers. In this they compounded rather than remedied my concerns about how interested in accuracy they were whilst making a programme that appeared to deliberately mislead the audience all the way through. The first time I complained a received a template response about bias, different from many others only in that it included a response to my request for a transcript which was declined. My complaint was not about bias, I re-submitted my complaint and pointed this out. I also included some examples of parts of the programme which I believe to be outright untrue or mislead an uninformed audience. Twelve days later I submitted a complaint the third time as this was ten working days with no reply. I re-iterated my main point that every factual error in the programme is serious and that they were numerous enough to support an allegation that there was no attempt at factual rigour at all. I expected that this would mean my allegation would be refuted with evidence but instead I was sent joke replies and given the e-mail address of the editorial complaints.'

I have submitted this, my fourth complaint on the BBC website. I had believed that my complaint would be taken seriously enough that the evidence to support the factual claims made in the programme The Future State of Welfare With John Humphrys meant they would be passed on to the editorial complaints unit. It was only after a long period, on December 12th that I finally received a response to my second complaint made on November 6th which included examples of things that I think were clear factual inaccuracies or misleading half-truths. In the response I had eventually got, my concerns were either not properly read or understood and I was given no explanations for why the claims made in the programme were included. I was told that it's difficult for the makers of the programme to respond to criticism based on things which were not included in the programme. I find this to be utterly ridiculous and a deliberate feigned misunderstanding of the points I had made: no BBC news bulletin would dare present a story as 'youth attacks man' without including ' self defence' if it were true. To only present one very narrow picture of something can mislead; both the staff member who dealt with my complaint and the programme's makers side-stepped this point. I have included my complaint with the examples and their full response to it below. It is representative of how they regarded accuracy in 'The Future State of Welfare' they made for BB2. Only in that last response was I informed that I had to directly contact the editorial complaints unit myself and given the information required to mail or e-mail you.

I will continue to pursue this complaint because the factual inaccuracies were serious and numerous and it was broadcast at a time when the Welfare Reform Bill is nearing the end of its time in Parliament, when the print media regularly publish bogus and destructive claims about benefit claimants, particularly disabled ones and when the truth seems to carry very little weight in the national debate on the issue. The programme did a lot to reinforce a poisonous and repetitive message put out weekly by newspapers and little to challenge preconceptions as the programme makers laughably insisted it did. I daily live the consequences of what appears in the media, including newspapers and programmes like this; they drastically effect my ability to function even if I don't watch them, because the people I must interact with do.

I blog under the pseudonym of 'Mason Dixon, Autistic' and my focus is on the history and data concerning social security in Britain. I am an on-off recipient of Jobseekers Allowance and lifetime recipient of Disability Living Allowance. I was diagnosed on the Autistic spectrum in 1995 and have a strong interest and investment in the quality of debate in the national discourse on social security and disability. I will pursue my complaint until a satisfactory ruling is made either by the editorial complaints unit or BBC Trust; this will either include a retraction of the majority of claims made in the programme or the entire programme, or the very remote scenario where my allegations of inaccuracy and misleading presentation are refuted with evidence. I will not simply give up, which seems to be what those who have been handling my complaint so far have been trying to get me to do with excessive delays and a contemptuous eventual reply that provided no factual basis for the claims I was challenging. For the purpose of clarity and because a postal address is needed for a reply, I'm using my actual name.

My second complaint submitted on the BBC Complaints website on November 6th, after receiving a template response that didn't address my concerns about inaccuracy.

I did not receive any acknowledgement of this second complaint for ten working days, so then I wrote a third one reiterating my basic complaint and pointing out I had no response to my previous one. That same day on the 18th of November I received an automated response acknowledging my third complaint. Then on the 23rd I had an e-mail from a Leigh Mallon acknowledging they had received my complaint and it was just taking longer, with possible reasons why. On December 12th, which is 36 days after my second complaint, I received this unsatisfying response.

Either the editorial complaints unit is sure there is little or no factual inaccuracy or misleading claims in The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys and provide substantial reasons to support this, or they should find there is a cause for an investigation into how rigorously the programme was researched. Empty and vague reassurances that the BBC, John Humphrys and the makers of the programme stand by do not constitute supporting evidence for the serious and numerous claims made within it. I am working on a line-by-line rebuttal of the programme which will be dispersed widely among disability organisations and campaigners concerned with welfare reforms in Britain, none of whom I have yet found had anything good to say about the programme.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Adrian, I've noticed you've removed a lot of your recent posts. Is something up?

  3. Thought I was getting bit "annoying" that is all.

  4. I am also and have been in the process of replying to DWP correspondence/'phone calls reexamining/reviewing benefits/allowances requesting information/evidence some of which is related to some years ago(and which has been scrupiously already been given).It may well be coincidental that this interest has corresponded to my contributions to this and other blogs letters/e-mails etc but I cannot rule it out.I will continue to read with interest but as a precaution I will have to be more circumspect in my comments for a while.It is not only me who I have to think about.

  5. I understand. Don't compromise yourself with anything you post online, I've been in that position before and the only thing that kept me safe was that the people in question were not about to take on the Guardian's lawyers and resources. I unfortunately can't provide the same protection for people that post in the comments here.