Today on the Fifth of November I received the provisional rulings regarding the initial 11 points of complaint considered by the Editorial Complaints Unit in regards to The Future State Of Welfare. It's a stinking pile of concentrated ruin, an aborted foetus of reason. Here's a summary of how it came to this.
It's been a point I've raised repeatedly with Andrew Bell. The more errors in a programme, the more the system protects it from complaints. The system works like this:
Stage 1: You make a complaint, a response is made by the complaints department completely denying there is a problem whilst giving a non-apology('we are sorry YOU feel this way'). This becomes the template for stock responses to all versions of that complaint sent in by other viewers. Most complaints were about bias- but there are no clear guidelines on what constitutes bias(the guidelines for impartiality are utterly meaningless and contradictory) meaning it's impossible for this complaint to ever have any hope of redress. Systematic failure to address overtly problematic programmes #1
Stage 1a: Procedure says that substantial complaints must get a response from the programme-makers, however even substantial complaints like mine were subjected to the stock template responses. Procedure as far as I can see was not followed, on the grounds that I had not given my complaint in full- something which would have been impossible because of the enormity of errors and mandatory time and word-limit for complainants. Systematic failure to address overtly problematic programmes #2
Stage 2: If the response from a programme's makers is unsatisfactory(even though as I have been informed, such responses all must be approved by the relevant BBC Exec, in this case it was the Current Affairs head Fiona Campbell) the complaint can now be referred to the Editorial Complaints Unit. Only then will a complainant be informed that complaints can only be considered if they take the form of 'specific points only'. The sheer volume of errors in the programme meant I had to summarise my complaint in it's entirety as 'a lack of factual rigour'. This complaint was not considered at all, instead 11 examples of errors which I had cited previously were considered. Systematic to address overtly problematic programmes #3
Despite this and despite Andrew Bell being quite aware of my difficulties, he said he could 'see no special reason' to deviate from the procedures the system demanded despite my requests. I made an appeal to the Trust...
Appeal: I write my reasons for appealing, highlight the parts of my correspondence so far which are relevant to my case, receive the BBC Trust's interpretation of it and make a comment about what is and isn't accurate. The ECU is allowed to see this, I am not told. They are allowed to make comment on it, I am not told. They are able to shape the Trust's understanding of the matter, I am not. I am given a single opportunity to give input after the decision has been made. It changes only the way in which the decision is presented when released to the public on the complaints website, not the decision itself. My protest about the unreasonableness of still requiring specific points of complaint rather than considering the programme's 'lack of factual rigour' which could easily be investigated by demanding Matchlight's record of research which the charter requires them to make during production. This is not addressed at all- the ECU actually managed to change the parameters of the appeal because they had secret input which I didn't.
This year the complaints website has been re-designed and a review into complaints procedure finish, including in it a desire for complainants and the BBC to be on an equal footing. I was precluded from an equal footing at all times. Systematic failure to address an overtly problematic programme #4
Obligations: I fulfilled my part of the deal under the terms of the Trust ruling and provided the ECU(and it was specified that it would be the ECU) with all the additional points of complaint I could think of. This required a request for more time, a transcript and copy of the programme, which was obliged- the first time that anyone at the BBC had made any accommodations for me as required by the Equality Act. The procedures however don't appear to require this to be followed- where procedures conflict with the Equality Act, the procedures take precedence. Systematic failure to address an overtly problematic programme #5 for anyone who requires reasonable adjustments on disability or sickness grounds.
But it wouldn't have been possible if I had not already been working on a full rebuttal of the programme as a separate project. I had to use vast chunks of text from that. I had also been reassured that I would not need to provide absolute debunkings with full citations of evidence because 'the ECU is very thorough' and can be trusted to do that.
Stage 1??: They did specify that I should send these to the ECU. However, the ECU had been allowed to lobby the Trust in secret to change the parameters that I had very carefully specified as being the basis of my complaint. I was making a protest about the 'specific points only' rule being..
1. Secretive and revealed only after the fact once a complaint advanced to stage 2, despite generally-worded complaints being responded to in stage 1.
2. The Complaints Director's decision that there 'was no special or exceptional case' to deviate from procedures, despite it being made plainly clear that no one person could ever list all the errors in the programme in the time limit following broadcast for complaints to be submitted.
The ECU changed this to being a request to supply further specific points of complaint outside of the time-limit and within a new one. So it was treated as an entirely separate matter. I'd only realised they'd done this when Andrew Bell contacted me to ask if I wanted the original 11 points to be investigated. I shat bricks and then went back to look at the Trust decision and spotted that the ECU had been making arguments which were being mentioned in the Trust's summing up. But they weren't just making arguments- they were making statements in relation to points that I had only made to the Trust, not to the ECU. They had been allowed to see my appeal and make contributions which re-interpreted it to the Trust. This was a strong deviation from the interpretation that I had authorised the Trust to consider.
Being told to send the work I had done to the ECU implied very strongly to me that it was still being treated as a stage 2 complaint. The ECU's manoeuvring allowed them to 'follow procedure' and send it back to stage 1 for a response from the programme-makers. Incidentally, despite me being just one person with complicated issue and them being a production company with it's own legal team, they were given A LOT more time to read and reply to the points than I had initially been granted to research and write it. They still went over their allotted time by one working week, blaming me for providing an e-mail address that they couldn't send their response to; an address I did not ever provide them with and which I had been corresponding with Andrew Bell and Fiona Campbell just fine.
So I instead received the response unexpectedly by post directly from Matchlight. At no point did I consent for anyone at the BBC to share my real name or home address with anyone else. The BBC had managed to give them everything Data Protection forbids, except information about my disability or need for reasonable accommodations because when I asked for an electronic copy I was sent an image-based PDF rather than text-based. If I were Blind, there would be no means for accessibility features to read-out image-based documents to me and I have a similar need for text-based document that I can copy-paste and reformat. Come to think of it, at no point in the complaints process is there any assumption that some will need to utilise accessibility functions. Systematic failure to address an overtly problematic programme #6, applying for anyone with special needs.
Stage 2a: I had repeatedly requested that my complaint be handled by someone other than Mr Bell on the grounds that I believed he was unfit by this time. This was not taken seriously- I made noises about wanting to have contact details about where to send complaints about handling of complaints as Mr Bell was completely unresponsive or dismissive about distress and his virtually transparent attempts to simply get the complaint dropped. Someone from the BBC Trust contacted me and made reassuring noises to drown out my bleating. I responded that Mr Bell had in fact refused flat-out any request to make reasonable accommodations. The response was to abruptly cease correspondence with me, a return to business-as-usual after BBC Trust staff had previously been the only ones to make any accommodations. In the meantime I had panicked about Mr Bell's request as to whether I would want his entirely contrived 11 points investigating.
I feared that Mr Bell was aware I would have difficulty multi-tasking and by splitting these 11 complaints from the 55 I slogged out following the Trust ruling would mean the confusion would finally make me just give up. If I said yes then it would cement his perverse manipulation of my appeal and overburden me with information all at once. If I said no, he might fudge the matter and intentionally 'misinterpret' this to also mean the larger 55 points. My opinion of him was as low as it was ever going to get, so I would put nothing past him. Saying yes meant I could still fight, saying no carried the risk of it all ending- the consequence either way being a bullet in the mouth before Christmas.
In any case, pursuing a proper complaint about Mr Bell and all others meant going back to the BBC Trust. Mr Bell had been able to unduly influence them before just as the programme-makers have been allowed to unduly influence the supposedly 'constitutionally independent' Editorial Complaints Unit now. I had already agreed to the ECU investigating the 11 points of complaint separately when this came up and determined that I would definitely not be able to juggle three separate branches of over-lapping complaints with the BBC and Andrew Bell knew it. Having previously stonewalled on complaints about him, he only referred it to someone at the BBC Trust when I already had too much on my plate.
During the investigation Mr Bell got back to me about the timescale and dropped that the programme-makers were being asked things about the points. I objected because obviously this rendered their stage 1 responses and thus my rejection of them redundant. I pointed out that the recent review into the complaints process had expressed a desire to make sure complainants and the BBC were on an equal footing throughout- I was not being given the same say in matters as the programme-makers who had already fluffed repeated opportunities to make their case. Mr Bell responded that the programme-makers have no avenue of appeal whilst I did. The irony hanged thick in the air. Every 'next step' I had taken in the process had disadvantaged me, it had drained me, my points were interpreted through the harshest and most dismissive lens whilst they(Matchlight) were given the benefit of the doubt and the broadest doors at every turn.
The ECU also don't get an avenue to appeal, it didn't stop them utterly distorting it so that even when I won, I still lost. Mr Bell has repeatedly cited procedure but there is nowhere a member of the public can actually see the procedure beforehand- you only know it's there and what it does after it's been slipped into your bum. Like an ice cream scoop. I would only get my say once the investigation was over. The decisions would be provisional but it didn't matter- the investigation at this point is over. One reason I had agreed to it was because I wanted an outlier, a canary to warn me what lies ahead when the investigation into the larger points of complaint is concluded.
The future's bright: it's a bonfire of the Truth.