News at Six Complaint, Stage 3: BBC Response 20

Subject: RE: Request for Appeal
Date: Mon, 23 Feb 2015 16:39:31 +0000
From: Trust Editorial <TrustEditorial@bbc.co.uk>

Dear Mr McNulty,

Please find attached a letter from the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser in response to your appeal to the Trust.

Yours sincerely,

Kirsty

Kirsty Clarke
Complaints Adviser
___________________________________________________
BBC Trust
180 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QZ

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BBC-Trust-Letterhead

Mr Ian McNulty
By email:

Your Ref: 3122674
23 February 2015

Dear Mr McNulty

Reporting of economic stories, 22 and 24 July 2014, Six O’Clock News, BBC1 and the News Channel

Thank you for writing to the BBC Trust. I am responding to your appeal of 8 January 2015 about the BBC’s coverage of two economic stories on 22 and 24 July 2014. I am sorry that you were unhappy about these elements of BBC output and that you feel the BBC has not given you a proper response to your complaints.

The Trust is the last stage of the complaints process and everyone who works within the Trust Unit is outside the day-to-day operations of the BBC. We review the complaints that come to us to assess whether they should be put before the BBC’s Trustees for them to reach a final decision. If you want to find out more about how the complaints system works – and in particular about how the BBC Trust fits in – this is the web link:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/complaints_framework

In deciding which ones should be considered by the Trustees, we look at the merits of the complaint and only those which stand a reasonable chance of success are passed to Trustees. The Trust acts in the interests of all licence fee payers and it would not be proportionate to spend a good deal of time and money on cases that do not stand a realistic prospect of success. The link that I have given above gives more information about this.

I am sorry to send a disappointing response, but I do not believe your appeal should be put in front of Trustees. The BBC’s journalists and programme-makers are expected to work to a high standard; those standards are set out in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines 1 which underpin all BBC output. I have looked at your appeal in relation to those Guidelines. This means I have assessed if the points you have raised can be judged against the standards set down in the Guidelines. I have attached with this letter a summary of your appeal as well as the reasons behind my decision. As this Annex may be published, the writing style is formal: your name does not appear, and you are described as the complainant. While I regret the impersonal feel of this, I hope you will appreciate that it protects your own privacy as well as helping the Trust to work efficiently.

If you disagree with my decision, you can ask the Trustees to review it by contacting the Complaints Advisor, at trust.editorial@bbc.co.uk or at the above address, by 10 March 2015. Please send your reasons by this deadline in one document if possible.

We may not consider any correspondence received after that, so if, exceptionally, you need more time please write giving your reasons as soon as possible.

If you do ask the Trustees to review this decision, I will place that letter as well as your original letter of appeal and this letter before Trustees. Your previous correspondence will also be available to them. They will look at that request in their March or April meeting. Their decision is likely to be finalised at the following meeting and will be given to you shortly afterwards.

If the Trustees agree that your case has no reasonable prospect of success then it will close. If the Trustees disagree with my decision, then your complaint will be passed to an Independent Editorial Adviser to prepare appeal paperwork and we will notify you of the updated timeline.

Yours sincerely

Leanne Buckle
Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/guidelines/

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Annex – Reporting of economic stories, 22 and 24 July 2014, Six O’Clock News, BBC1 and the News Channel

The Trust’s Editorial Appeals procedure states that:

The Trust will only consider an appeal if it raises “a matter of substance”.2 This will ordinarily mean that in the opinion of the Trust there is a reasonable prospect that the appeal will be upheld as amounting to a breach of the Editorial Guidelines. In deciding whether an appeal raises a matter of substance, the Trust may consider (in fairness to the interests of all licence fee payers in general) whether it is appropriate, proportionate and cost-effective to consider the appeal.3

Complaint

The complainant contacted the BBC on 25 July regarding coverage of two economic stories on 22 and 24 July. He considered the BBC had given too much coverage to figures released by the IMF – which had raised its estimate of the UK’s growth rate and, in comparison, too little coverage of figures released by the ONS which showed that government borrowing in June 2014 had risen considerably compared to the previous year. He considered the ONS figures were more significant and more accurate as they were not predictions. He considered the output was in breach of the Editorial Guidelines relating to Accuracy, Impartiality and due prominence. He also called for the two stories to be considered by focus groups to assess how they would judge their relative prominence and he called for transcripts and output from previous news bulletins to be made available as part of an ongoing archive.

Audience Services noted that the BBC1 6 pm news had not covered the ONS figures on the date given by the complainant. The complainant renewed his complaint. Audience Services closed down at 1b his complaint about making news transcripts available and that decision was not appealed to the Trust. In terms of the relative coverage of the different stories, Audience Services stated:

We very often cover ONS figures, and IMF ones, and whether they get on on a particular day will be down to a range of factors including the news agenda that day. Over time, we take care to report trends in both the deficit and in growth.

The complainant escalated his complaint to stage two, while he was not able to give a time for the report, he noted that the News Channel had covered the ONS story – and that the presenter had described the figure as ‘rather boring’. He considered this was indicative of bias. He received a response from the Head of Editorial  Standards, BBC News, at stage two which gave a detailed response in terms of how the BBC reported economic news and also in terms of the other stories that were on the news agenda during the time in question. It did not uphold the complaint.

Appeal

The complainant appealed to the Trust on the substance of his complaint, that he considered the BBC had not met the required standard for due impartiality in terms of its coverage of these two economic stories. He referred to other stories that were in the news during this period (the Gaza conflict, the recovery of bodies from flight MH17 and a missing Air Algerie flight) and provided his own assessment of their relative newsworthiness.

Decision of the Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser

The Senior Editorial Complaints Adviser (the Adviser) carefully read the correspondence that had passed between the complainant and the BBC. She decided that the appeal did not have a reasonable prospect of success.

She noted that all BBC output was required to meet the standard of “due impartiality” which was defined as follows:

The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.

She noted that the complainant considered the BBC had not adequately covered the ONS figures compared to the coverage it had given to the IMF figures. She considered the report of the IMF figure that the complainant had referred to. It was a read from the newscaster that lasted for less than twenty seconds:

The UK’s on course to outpace the world’s major advanced economies this year after the International Monetary Fund raised its growth forecast for the UK for the fourth time in a row. The IMF forecast has been upgraded by almost half a percentage point to 3.2% – driven by consumer spending and a tentative boost in manufacturing. The forecast this year for the United States is 1.7% and Germany 1.9%.

She reviewed the coverage on the BBC News Channel of the ONS figures, in which the business reporter had referred to the figures as ‘boring’:

Business reporter, Ben Thompson: On the economic front, Britain’s public finances showed a bigger than expected deficit in June continuing a weak start to the tax year and that leaves the chancellor of course with a lot of catching up to do – more on that for you in a moment – but that’s why the footsie is where it is today. (On screen, FTSE 100 up 0.99% at 6795.34).

[Covers other subjects – impact on the market of the increased likelihood of sanctions against Russia and discussion about Royal Mail shares. He is joined in a down the line interview by Holly Cook, from investment website Morning Star]

BT: Now there’s a number that we always have to talk about and it frankly is a bit of a boring number but it’s our public finances and our public deficit – once again not good reading for the chancellor.

HC: Not good reading, I actually don’t find it boring I find it quite interesting and I’ll tell you why. So, public sector borrowing for June came in at £11.4 bn and that’s almost a 50% increase on the same month a year ago. And the reason I find that so interesting is because it’s almost ironic, one of the key causes of global economic crisis was so many of the western economies having high debt to GDP ratios and today’s number shows that the UK debt to GDP ratio is now above 77%. If you look back before 2008, before the crisis hit, it was consistently under 50%. So we know this is one of the causes of crisis and yet six or seven years later, we’re looking at the numbers and it’s actually a much bigger problem. So there’s perhaps a little bit of a head in the sand issue here and I think for future generations, we’re going to see that they’re really going to feel the pinch when the government – whichever government that may be – decides to start reining in on public spending.

BT: OK Holly, a very interesting number, I apologise, that’s me told.

The Adviser noted that at the end of the exchange, the business correspondent had concluded that in fact the number was not ‘boring’, but was actually ‘a very interesting number’ and had apologised. She considered this was a light hearted exchange in what was a detailed and considered response and would have been understood as such by the audience. She did not consider this was evidence of bias.

She noted that assessing impartiality was not a stop-watch exercise because there were many factors which could influence the length of any particular report, however in this instance, the report about the ONS figures was significantly longer than the report about the IMF figures.

The Adviser noted that the Royal Charter and the accompanying Agreement between the Secretary of State and the BBC drew a distinction between the role of the BBC Trust and that of the BBC Executive Board, led by the Director-General. “The direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output” was specifically defined in the Charter (article 38, (1) (b)) as a duty that was the responsibility of the Executive Board, and one in which the Trust did not get involved unless, for example, it related to a breach of the BBC’s editorial standards which did not apply in this case. It meant that decisions such as which stories to cover in news bulletins and how to cover them were editorial decisions which rested with the BBC.

She considered Trustees would be likely to conclude that the output met the standards set out in the Editorial Guidelines. It did not therefore have a reasonable prospect of success and she did not propose to put it before Trustees.
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2 Under the Charter and Agreement, the Trust has a role as final arbiter in appropriate cases, and must provide a right of appeal in cases that raise a matter of substance.
3 For example, if an appeal raises a relatively minor issue that would be complicated, time-consuming or expensive to resolve, the Trust may decide that the appeal does not raise a matter of substance,and decline to consider it.

*****

Chain of Correspondence:

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