On October 27th last year the BBC broadcast the programme The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys and I immediately sent a complaint concerning a lack of factual rigour throughout the programme. My initial assessments was that this programme had more factually incorrect or misleading claims in it than it did minutes. A second viewing and a read through a transcript I made reassured me of this assessment. When I received a reply from the BBC it was a template response which was sent to many others who complained, but it incorrectly referred to my complaint as being about bias. My complaint was not about bias but the extent of factual inaccuracy in the broadcast, to a degree that was unprecedented in a BBC programme as far as I'm aware. I made a second complaint pointing out my dissatisfaction at how my complaint had been handled and elaborated my view about the programme, including around eleven examples of what I saw as problems with the programme which were representative of the whole range of them from serious statistical claims that had clearly not been checked at all to statements of factual certainty where a complete and balanced look would reveal they are more complicated than they were presented as being in the programme.
I waited the required number of working days and got no response, so I made a third complaint. A few days later I received a short message acknowledging my complaint and stating that it was being looked into. When a full response eventually came I was not pleased and it did not reassure me that the programme had been thoroughly researched at all. Apparently the programme makers had been contacted to provide some responses to the examples I gave, but their sources and explanations confirmed to me that they had made no attempt at factual rigour. I complained again and was told it was now a matter for the Editorial Complaints Unit. I forwarded my complaint to the ECU with my correspondence history up to that point and some time later I got a response from the Complaints Director Andrew Bell. Mr Bell accurately summed up his understanding of the eleven examples I had given and wanted me to confirm his interpretation was correct. I mailed him back saying his interpretation of those specific points whilst being right, missed the point and did not reflect on my complaint: that the programme itself lagged factual rigour, containing so many errors that I don't believe it should have been broadcast. I further explained that if my original complaint was not going to be considered, then every error in the programme should be considered as I made clear from the beginning that they were numerous. Mr Bell replied that he could only investigate specific instances of breaches of the editorial guidelines in a programme and that the time limit for me to submit complaints about those specific instances had passed; I should have accounted for all of them within 20 days of the programme being broadcast and only in exceptional circumstances is this time limit disregarded. He said he did not see anything exceptional in this case. I profoundly disagreed and it is this decision which I am writing to you to appeal against on the following grounds.
I have estimated that the number of serious factual errors or misleading statements in the programme stretch beyond 60 occurrences. 20 days is insufficient time to account for all of them for any one person with just their own spare time. This is why my complaint originally and has always been that the entire programme lacked factual rigour which was unprecedented in a BBC programme and justified a thorough investigation of its entire contents.
I did not even receive a reply to my complaint, other than the inaccurate template response, until December 12th, 46 days after the programme had been aired and I made my first complaint and substantially long past the time limit I was retrospectively given.
I was not told nor was it indicated anywhere on the complaints website that complaints could only be about very specific occurrences within a programme and not about a programme itself until long after the time limit had passed. It was odd that Mr Bell was the only person to eventually state this rule existed, as it was plainly contradicted by the tone of the template responses received by myself and others who had complained. It does not make sense that a template response would address complaints about the generality of a programme, yet further stages would not.
I believe I have been deliberately stalled and inconvenienced so that I would be discouraged from continuing my complaint and that these unwritten rules could be later used against me. I would like the BBC Trust to comment on whether the service I have received can even remotely be considered to be adequate, let alone best practice.
I am not asking yet that the BBC Trust make a decision about the errors I allege are in the programme, I am asking that they over-turn Mr Bell's decision to apply retrospectively a specific rule I had no previous chance of being informed of and even then it would have prevented a programme with numerous serious problems from being properly investigated. It would actually mean that the more errors a programme has, the more protected it is from serious complaints. The problems with the programme are unprecedented and extraordinary, so unprecedented and extraordinary measures should apply to investigating it. I have told Mr Bell that I am writing a full rebuttal of the programme to share among other disability and welfare campaigners; he does not seem to think it is important and has not explained why in light of this why he believes the case is not exceptional. His reasons have so far seemed little more than bureaucratic and procedural.
I'm hoping for a swift but well-considered decision from the Trust.
Yours faithfully, ***** ************
Wednesday, 8 February 2012
Today I finally finished and sent off my appeal to the BBC Trust and I immediately received an automated response saying it had been received. My appeal is as follows and intends to overturn the decision made by Complaints Director Andrew Bell to not investigate the full range of problems with The Future State Of Welfare With John Humphrys, citing a previously unmentioned and unwritten rule about a time limit which expired long before I had first received a proper reply from the complaints department.