How the BBC Erases Complaints


Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England  (actually the UK’s bank.) He went out of his way to emphasise the bank will make a shared pound work

On a BBC news programme a BBC journalist made this assertion:

“The Bank of England governor, Mark Carney, arrived in Scotland to tell the population categorically there will be no currency union.”

Carney said nothing of the sort. The BBC remark was made on a BBC post-Referendum round-up of Scotland. Carney did make a visit to Edinburgh, and he did make a statement about a currency union. Carney made plain a currency union was possible and the bank could facilitate it.

A Lie is a Lie is a Lie

What he said, at a carefully arranged press conference, was, “It is the Bank’s job to make work whatever politicians decide.” He went on to point out a currency union would mean a loss of sovereignty, but he was referring to both Scotland and England.

Both nations need to cede some sovereignty. When at the following question and answer session journalists tried to trip him up by reinterpreting his black and white remark Carney got visibly annoyed. He made clear a second time that the Bank of England would create the framework for a currency union if that was what politicians decided.

There was no mention of Scotland’s contribution to the UK Treasury justifying the proposal, no explanation or background information. In time, bald statements can carry a currency of their own. Repeated often they become truth.

Sloppy journalism? Deliberate disinformation? The effect is potentially poisonous to voter’s understanding of Scotland’s case for a new relationship with England.

I decided it was time to write to the BBC.


Rona Fairhead, chair of BBC trust. £110,000 annually for a few day’s work a year

Alerting the Boss

Rather than write direct to BBC Complaints where my letter would lie in a pile, I wrote personally, as a former executive producer, to the chair of the BBC Trust, Rona Fairhead.  I suggested she then pass it to Complaints for a formal response.

I did that knowing the BBC Trust is at the top of the tree. My reasoning was, if she is made aware the BBC is still undermining its own credibility for fairness and balance, there was a chance my complaint would not be side-lined or ignored. More fool I.

Rona Fairhead – Who She? 

Fairhead was the government’s surprise replacement for the painfully ineffectual Lord Patten as guardian of BBC’s honesty and ethical practice. The UK culture secretary, Sajid Javid, described Fairhead as an “exceptional individual with a highly impressive career history” and said: “I have no doubt she will provide the strong leadership the position demands and will prove to be a worthy champion of licence fee payers.”

Her core brief was to “Restore confidence in the BBC Trust as the corporation’s regulatory and governance body,” a near impossible task after its much criticised handling of the Jimmy Savile scandal, huge executive payoffs for incompetency, and the fiasco of the abandoned £100 million Digital Media Initiative IT project. Others felt Fairhead was appointed to soften the BBC for privatisation. A feeling she was appointed in a conspiracy to derail the result of the Scottish Referendum came later.

What the general public did not know, were not told about, was her other role as chair of HSBC’s Audit Committee, the body that supervises the bank’s ethics. She presided over HSBC when it was fined £1 billion for money laundering, a lot of it from South American drug cartels. (No doubt a few clandestine CIA approved projects used the same route to launder government money to their paid insurgents in foreign countries. But that is another story.) Why Fairhead was given chair of the BBC Trust is a mystery. Anybody else would be toast had they presided over a financial scandal that incurred huge fines.

For the record, the UK culture secretary, Savid Javid, is a former vice-president of Chase Manhattan Bank, and a former managing director at Deutsche Bank. Neither bank is free of dishonesty or wrong doing. From this we see how our corrupt system works. It elevates the shady to cover the nefarious, protected by the flaky.

Reasons Your Complaint is Redirected

My letter received a swift two page brush-off from Raj Chohan, correspondence assistant, Editorial Standards. [One supposes he is not writing from BBC Complaints out-sourced to Calcutta.] Chohan had intercepted my personal letter to Fairhead.

It was clear from his reply she had not seen its contents. Chohan’s letter was full of assurances of BBC impartiality in news gathering and dissemination but not respect of private correspondence. Paragraph four is interesting:

“I should explain that the role of the Chairman, [it’s a woman, idiot!] and that of the BBC Trust is distinct from that of the BBC’s management and it has no role in day to day [sic] editorial decisions.

The Trust’s role is to set the overall framework, the BBC’s Guidelines, which set out the values and standards that all BBC output should meet. The Trust does have a role in the complaints process, but only at the final stage, hearing complaints on appeal. The management must have an opportunity to respond.”

I repeat, my letter instructed that once Fairhead read it, or was informed of its contents, it should be passed to management for consideration. This was ignored.

Bargain basement

I wrote back with a degree of anger. Here is one edited paragraph:

I am unhappy with your reply. You tell me what I already know. I wrote to Rona Fairhead to have her understand the BBC’s own standards are constantly undermined and ignored. The Trust can not be oblivious of the crowds that protest outside BBC Scotland’s headquarters over the lack of impartiality. My complaint arrives long after the BBC tarnished its reputation, its partisanship discussed extensively by the media, at home and internationally. The Trust ought to be hyper-sensitive to transgressions, demanding to know of repeated violations. I wrote to the Chair of the Trust personally. Please show her my letter.”

If A Put-down Does Not Work Try Another

The BBC replied as I expected. This time it came from Samantha McKay, BBC Complaints.

“We understand you are unhappy with comments made regarding the pound in light of the referendum debate. We would like to review the programme to address your concerns; however you do not give enough transmission information to enable us to do so. Should you wish to continue, please provide us with further information, such as a programme name and time.”

McKay makes a fair point, one that worried me. It was the classic BBC get out clause; I had not been exact in pinpointing the hour and minute. In one important regard there was no reason to because it only needed the head of BBC News to check Mark Carney’s recorded press conference to see the truth for himself, and send a memo to news journalists warning they should stop claiming Carney blocked Scotland’s currency union.

That is exactly what I directed and instructed BBC Management to do in the reply I gave to Samantha McKay. However, the BBC is not receptive to that form of complaint. It has engineered a strict laborious process designed to demoralise resolve.


If I was to reprint the entire two pages of closely typed waffle from Samantha McKay’s next letter readers would lose the will to live. It explained again in leaden detail why Fairhead was not the right person to receive a specific complaint of poor editorial standards. Instead I quote one paragraph as illustration of how to direct truth away from the guardian of truth. [My comments in parenthesis.]

To answer this question, I hope it will be helpful if I summarise the BBC Complaints procedure. [Groan! First comes the patronising bit.] Complaints about editorial or operational matters, such as the issues you originally raised, are answered at Stage 1 by BBC Audience Services. Where a complaint remains dissatisfied after a Stage 1 response, they can request a further response at Stage 1. If they are still dissatisfied they may be told to escalate  their complaint to Stage 2.

[‘Escalate’? Surely, resubmit or amplify?]

Complaints at Stage 2 are answered by the ECU, [Editorial Complaints Unit] which considers complaints that suggest a possible breach of BBC standards – or they are considered by a senior BBC manager within the BBC. [What? No junior assistant available?] The Trust represents a third and final stage in the complaints process. Complainants appeal to the Trust if they remain dissatisfied after their earlier correspondence with the BBC. The Trust is unable to consider a complaint unless it has been through this process.”

I emphasise to be precise: I did not ask the Trust to consider the complaint. I asked that the chairperson read it and then pass it down the line.

Here BBC proves it has established a labyrinth of Kafkaesque bureaucracy effectively neutering a complaint at an early stage. Granted, the BBC needs a process that separates the frivolous from the serious. Nevertheless, anybody determined to be heard because their complaint is just is bound to be put off by the one step-at-a-time regime the BBC uses to leach a complaint of substance.

The nail in the coffin

One further letter arrived reiterating much of what was in the previous three, and then came the letter that negated all the others, rendering them irrelevant. It ran for two pages. Here is the key paragraph, the one that flips the finger. It was written by Sean Lonergan, BBC Complaints.

We are sorry but we do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. [Poor grammar.] We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or question, made about this issue or our responses to it.”

Lies broadcast to the British nation, that malign the governor of the Bank of England, that alter the historical record, and that treat the people of Scotland as idiots, are not a significant issue of general importance. Are you surprised by this stupefying response?

The Zinger

Later, Fairhead, the intended recipient of my initial letter, appeared before Margaret Hodge, chair of the government’s committee investigating criminality at HSBC’s Swiss branch. Hodge castigates Fairhead for her role at HSBC on the bank’s ethics committee.

“Either you were incompetent, completely and utterly incompetent in your oversight, or you knew about it. This is tax avoidance on an industrial scale. I don’t believe you didn’t know. In the public sector, if things go wrong on your watch … you accept responsibility and resign. Nobody in the bank, either at this hearing, or at the hearing at the Treasury select committee, has deigned to accept responsibility for what was a massive, massive, illegal, terrible tax evasion.

I don’t think that the record you have shown in your performance here as a guardian of HSBC gives me the confidence that you should be the guardian of the BBC licence fee payers’ money. I really do think that you should consider your position and you should think about resigning and if not, I think the government should sack you.”

BBC claims to do its best to review all complaints within ten days. It often takes longer. But you must multiply those ten days many times if you demand a complaint is moved up the line. In my opinion, it is no longer reasonable, beneficial or valid for the BBC to investigate itself, beyond a common programme grumble.



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37 Responses to How the BBC Erases Complaints

  1. jimnarlene says:

    What a tangled web, they weave…

  2. Graham MacQueen says:

    Very well said!!! The more people come to realise the shambles we perceive as reality the better. Shared for others to see!!!!

  3. Black Joan says:

    I hope you will be sending chapter and verse on this to Margaret Hodge?

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    It did cross my mind. 🙂

  5. mogabee says:

    Felt my blood pressure rising reading this exchange! That’s why most just give u……. ;D

  6. Same as it ever was.

    Can you think of one ordinary complaint of bias that has ever seen the State Broadcaster (a) recognise the charge and (b) apologise?

    Please show some pity for Ms Fairhead, remember the Government reduced the chairpersons remuneration from £143,000 in 2010 to its current £110,000. We should hold a benefit for her.

  7. Pam McMahon says:

    BBC complaints department must have swollen to alarming levels, as almost everybody in Scotland appears to have had at least one letter from them in recent times, in a similar vein, about their many different examples of biased reporting.
    Thank you for your excellent article.

  8. Grouse Beater says:

    Thank you for your goodwill.

  9. BRL says:

    What a scathing article. What mind-bogglingly cynical responses. BBC TV Licence cancelled.

  10. Grouse Beater says:

    Essay duly forwarded to Margaret Hodge’s office.

  11. Casper1066 says:

    I believe we need more people like yourself who can take the time to explain to people the reality of these huge companies. BBC is public funds I think it gets around 4 Billion. This is wrong and it needs to stop…..thank you for your time and effort at clearing this up. I am going to use some of these facts to keep informing others…..

  12. Chris Murray says:

    Reblogged this on The Ego Factor.

  13. Lollysmum says:

    GB-you clearly haven’t looked at your local council’s Complaints Policy, NHS or any other public agency then. They are all practically identical in content & the intention is the same in every one. The intention is to wear the complainant down with meaningless waffle so that you give up trying to get anywhere with it. Then they claim very few complaints in their annual performance assessment so their service must be pretty good!

    Congratulations on ploughing on with it but I would caution-don’t expect anything from Lady Margaret Hodge. What she says & what she does are two different things as the constituents of Barking, East London would attest.

  14. Grouse Beater says:

    Hodge: Aye that’s as maybe. But there’s nothing like stirring up controversy and waiting to see who comes out the winner.

  15. Aye GB yer a star . I kinda like M Hodge and it would be nice to think she would reply in some capacity .
    I wish I had you time and patience , well done , I admire your “Grit”

    Well done.

  16. seanair says:

    The BBC is a giant blob answering to no-one, least of all the people who pay their (huge) wages. Since Westminster won’t do anything about it, cancelling your licence fee is about the only way to show your disgust, but not enough people will do this to make any difference so the BBC is safe in its well-padded ivory tower.
    There is talk of the BBC being privatised, and I would welcome that (no like, no pay) , but I’m not holding my breath. Thanks anyway GB for trying to get through the well-oiled barriers.

  17. Grouse Beater says:

    I tried to outflank the minions but their system of rejection is fool proof! 🙂

  18. Stoker says:

    Hi Grouse.

    Good read, i was getting a lot of deja vu or was it groundhog day, either way a very familiar story.
    Keep up the good fight.

  19. Grouse Beater says:

    The BBC could have avoided a ton of staff time and administration costs writing letters full of squirrel pics and simply replied, “Bugger off!” if the last letter is to be the standard of concern.

  20. Grouse Beater says:

    Margaret Hodge replied – now reading essay.

  21. Black Joan says:

    Excellent news — thank you!

  22. Graham Macqueen says:

    Once again, apologies for going off topic. Manipulation by the media isn’t just rife in the UK. For anyone unaware of ongoing negotiations and tensions between Greece and the EU, relations between Greece and Germany were tested even further after German media outlet doctored a video clip of Yanis Varoufakis allegedly giving the finger to Germany and telling them to ‘deal with the problem [the euro] themselves!
    Varoufakis himself has posted a comment on his personal blog which makes for good reading

  23. Grouse Beater says:

    Updates on the Greek situation are welcome, Graham, although I may move them to the essay I’ll post soon so they are topical and easily referenced.

  24. Graham Macqueen says:

    In the meantime, allow me to post an article relating to actions by the new Greek govn regarding the formation of an Audit Committee of Public Debt co-chaired by Eric Toussaint, internationally renowned expert on illegal debt, which will focus on previous governments mismanagement of money both pre-2010 and post-2010. Very interesting move by Syriza. They are certainly exceeding the expectations of many!

  25. Graham MacQueen says:

    Would like to send you a link to a facebook post regarding the Postal Ballot at the Scottish Independence Referendum. Please advice via email the best way to do so. Much appreciated.

  26. Grouse Beater says:

    Out of genuine modesty – I thought essays would attract no more than a few drifters – I’m regrettably slow in setting up a grousebeater e-mail … but watch the home page over the next few days.

  27. Connor Mcewen says:

    The postal ballot numbers quoted by some people seem well out of line with normal behaviour.

  28. robert graham says:

    having seen some of the information regarding the postal vote we here in scotland now appear to hold the world record as yet unsurpassed for the percentage of returned votes under normal circumstances it is beyond belief these numbers could be achieved without some sort of manipulation a good reference would have been exit polls that for some reason were omitted this study is only being carried out in one area of the country but most areas seem to run to the same extremely high return rate will we have a real well funded impartial inquiry you bet we won’t carpet under swept comes to mind

  29. Black Joan says:

    Did you ever hear anything back from Margaret Hodge? I am reminded to ask because I have just read that La Fairhead is one of this year’s Bilderberg elite.
    From BBC news website: The event’s organisers describe its participants as “diverse”. Still, only 27 women are due to come, compared with 106 men. Among them are Santander chairman Ana Botin, BBC Trust chairman Rona Fairhead and Zanny Minton Beddoes, editor-in-chief of The Economist. The last two are among 18 people from the media

  30. Grouse Beater says:

    Yes I did, a pleasant letter saying she had read my essay and taken note of its relevant points in her assessment of HSBC’s conduct. She finished by asking to hold on to the piece for future reference. A reply was more than I got from the over-paid, useless Fairhead.

  31. donald says:

    That’s excellent news Graham . Very encouraging development . To often in the past ,people have caved in to debt collectors who have no legal grounds . The people should not be held responsible for public officers who refuse to take co responsibility with the lender to ensure the loans are legitimate and the funds being used appropriately . Fancy way of saying the people should not be held responsible for the corruption of banks and politicians.

  32. donald says:

    Lets just call it what it obviously was. Vote rigging. Spoiled votes I think they call them in OZ . Its crazy but here they issue voters with a pencil to tick boxes when it should be a permanent ink pen. No prizes for guessing why they would want pencils to be used .
    I reckon the electoral commision in Oz is totally infiltrated by ASIO. MI5 is notorious for dirty tricks too. Lets get real and call them out . Its the only way we will ever get justice.
    In the US they actually dont question the blatant electoral fraud from the obviously hackable electric vote counting thats often used. Talk about Denial.

  33. Black Joan says:

    Thanks. Good to hear that.

  34. Anne Galloway says:

    I have always been impressed with Margaret Hodge, but she’s needs power to punish these people. Shaming has no effect on them. Good work with the BBC.

  35. Grouse Beater says:

    I agree. Only putting their name ‘in the shop window’ isn’t enough. They carry on doing as before. They know they’re protected. Westminster has just voted down an inquiry into Panama tax dodging. A leopard never changes its spots.

  36. grizebard says:

    Yes, your article exactly mirrors my own experience of several complaints (some political, all factual) I have had occasion to make to the BBC. The initial response is from the producer (or a mouthpiece) telling you ever so politely that you’re quite wrong, accompanied by a transparently erroneous denial.

    When you persist, there’s a delay that seems to be proportional (one guesses, since the stats are kept hidden) to the number of complaints received (and which inevitably exceeds the promised response time) then when the response eventually arrives, it likewise dismisses the factual complaint out of hand with “reasoning” that likewise clearly ignores and/or contradicts self-evidently obvious points of fact.

    This faces the complainant with the next substantial hurdle, to re-frame the complaint into terms required to submit to the BBC Trust. For this you need to understand the BBC Editorial Guidelines and its supplementary Editorial Policy Guidance Notes, voluminous bureaucratic documents that require a lawyer to interpret and carry forward. It is truly a nightmarish Kafkaesque ordeal fronted by a thin veneer of well-intentioned concern.

    It needn’t be like that. It could easily be a whole lot simpler, if the will only existed. Most if not all quality newspapers these days have an independent ombudsman who fields readers’ complaints in a human way as a fair-minded intermediary, following whatever house rules apply but not using them ,erely as a means to deflect or deny a genuine issue.

    It’s not rocket science, it just requires common sense and a genuine will to be honest. Something the BBC, to its shame, self-evidently finds impossible to comprehend.

  37. Grouse Beater says:

    The system is corrupt: keep the complainant busy thinking there will be resolution, add delay to frustrate, suggest the complaint is somehow inadequate, add more delay in order to deflate the viewer’s resolve, then reject.

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