Thursday, 6 December 2012

The BBC respond - inadequately, of course

Further to this post I have finally received a response from the BBC. It's a long response but it doesn't satisfy me.

Stephanie Harris
6 December 2012 15:27
Dear Sir/Madam,
Thank you for your emails to Helen Boaden which have beens passed to me, as it is my role as Head of Accountability for BBC News to investigate such matters on behalf of the Director of BBC News. You suggest that the BBC's Middle East Editor was biased when he held a Q&A session on September 17th, the date of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashonah, because you believe he was excluding “the vast majority of Jews” who would not have been able to take part. You also suggest that he “would not dream of scheduling such an event for a Friday during Ramadan. You have made clear that you contacted Jeremy Bowen about your concern and have had a tweeted response from him. I think his reply suggesting that in his experience the religious holiday didn’t preclude Jews from using social media was fair enough, but I’m sorry you weren’t convinced. I am sorry, too, that you remain dissatisfied by the subsequent emailed replies you have received to your complaint. the questions were sent in by Twitter and reported on the BBC News website. For reference a digest of the live session is available here:
Your questions to Jeremy Bowen

I think it important to explain that when it comes to news it is not usually a matter of “scheduling” coverage or choosing when to run a story or, in this case, an online Q&A. By its unplanned nature, news doesn’t tend to work like that. Choice is restricted further when a specific correspondent or editor is needed to author the programme or publication: his or her availability is obviously paramount and dependent on events. In this instance, Jeremy Bowen was in the middle of a reporting trip to Libya, Egypt and Lebanon and  September 17 was the only time available in his busy diary for this particular Q&A.  You acknowledge that he said in his tweet to you that the timing could have been better, and I agree that it was unfortunate that the session fell on the Jewish New Year holiday, but there is absolutely no evidence to support your suggestion of bias and of some sort of conspiracy deliberately to exclude Jews from participating. The timing was simply due to Jeremy Bowen’s availability and he and the online editorial team clearly felt it was better to run the session then than not run it at all.

After all, as has also been explained, this will not be the only Q&A of its kind.  I’m sorry that you find it offensive to have been informed that there will be other opportunities to take part for those who may consider they were excluded on September 17th. It is not a question of Jews “being allowed” to take part in the future, as you suggest, but pragmatism.  No single date will ever be suitable for everyone, which is why we strive to give viewers, listeners and readers a range of programmes, platforms, dates and times to accommodate them and reflect their range of perspectives within an appropriately proportionate timeframe. Additionally, you are also able at any time to follow his @BowenBBC twitter account and ask him questions, as you have done.  Access is not generally an issue for those who use social media, as you do.

To sum up, I am unable to uphold your complaint about bias because I donot believe the evidence is there to support your suggestion. Please be assured that news editors are committed to covering the Middle East conflict and the issues arising from it fairly, accurately and impartially, giving due weight to events and to the widest range of perspectives over an appropriate timeframe, so that audiences can form their own judgements about what is happening

You may be interested to know that for internal journalistic purposes, the BBC monitors its overall coverage of the Middles East. This is a matter of public record - as outlined in the BBC News management response to the Independent Panel Impartiality Report of April 2006 (the Thomas report) commissioned by the then BBC Governors:

I hope that I have addressed your concern but if you wish to pursue your complaint, it is open to you to ask the BBC Trust to review your complaint on appeal.  However, please note that the Trust does not consider every appeal brought to it. If a question arises as to whether an appeal ought to be taken, the Trust is the final arbiter.

Appeals must be received within 20 working days of the date of this email. The Trust may, exceptionally, take an appeal brought after this date if it considers there is a good reason for the delay.  The appeal should not exceed 1,000 words and should clearly state the points you raised at Stage 2 which you want the Trust to address, with your reasons.  The Trust will not normally consider new points. You can find full details of the complaints procedures here: Correspondence for the Trust should be addressed to the Complaints Adviser, BBC Trust Unit, 180 Great Portland Street, London W1W 5QZ or to

Yours sincerely,

Stephanie Harris
Head of Editorial Compliance & Accountability,
BBC News

I will be appealing to the BBC Trust, although since its Chairman is the anti-Israel Chris Patten, I am not sure how far I will get. I note that I am allowed 20 working days in which to appeal, how generous. If you have any ideas as to how to best write an appeal (in no more than 1,000 words) then do please let me know.

In the meantime, I have responded:
Dear Ms Harris,

I am in receipt of your email and I am not satisfied. I find your glib comment that 'I think his reply suggesting that in his experience the religious holiday didn’t preclude Jews from using social media was fair enough' to be insulting and possibly revealing of the BBC's attitude to Jews.

I am also intrigued by your reference to the BBC monitoring its Middle East output for bias. Since this monitoring is a matter of public record, maybe you could let me have a copy of the Balen Report that the BBC commissioned into this matter but have spent large amounts of money to keep secret from the people who paid for the report, the Licence Fee payers.

Rest assured that I will be appealing to the BBC Trust.


NotaSheep MaybeaGoat
I have just replied this Out Of Office reply from Ms Harris, something tells me she's not that good with technology...
Stephanie Harris
20:38 (4 minutes ago)

to me
I am on holiday until Monday 19th November 2012 and will respond to your query on my return
 12 days back from holiday and her Out Of Office is still turned on...

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