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.
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.
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?
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.