Strictly fair play? The Lords report on the BBC

4 Jul 2011 10:44 AM

The convoluted and overly complicated complaints process at the BBC must be improved, say the Lords Communications Committee in a report published on Wednesday 29 June 2011. The Committee has conducted an inquiry into the governance and regulation of the BBC, and have identified a number of areas of governance that the BBC needs to upgrade.

Concerns over the mechanisms for complaining are raised by the Committee, which learned of the many different processes for varying types of complaint, making it very difficult for viewers, listeners and users of BBC content to know where to go to complain. This must be resolved. The BBC needs to provide a clear overview of how the complaints process works and publish this in one place on its website and there needs to be a clearing house to direct people through the complaints process.

The confusion is in part because the BBC Trust and Ofcom have ‘overlapping jurisdiction’ in several areas of content regulation, with the exception of issues of impartiality and accuracy and commercial references, which the BBC Trust regulates. In particular, because the BBC should not remain judge and jury in its own case, the Committee wants the BBC and Ofcom to consider granting Ofcom the right to regulate the BBC on matters of impartiality and accuracy.

In addition, the Committee say that:

  • Creativity must not be allowed to be stifled by overly bureaucratic ‘compliance culture’.
  • Best practice for programme making needs to be established to ease concerns that it isn’t always clear to viewers what is reality, reconstructed and constructed footage.
  • Greater clarity is needed on the governance role of the Non-Executives on the on the BBC Executive Board, and the Non-Executive Directors at the BBC to be recruited from a wider range of backgrounds than they are presently.
  • The Government, the BBC and the National Audit Office (NAO) should work together to agree on terms of access for the NAO to the BBC, ensuring that the NAO does not comment on any matters of broadcast content or journalistic integrity which should be entirely off limits.

Commenting on the report, Chairman of the Communications Committee, Lord Inglewood said:

“Ultimately the BBC needs to be accountable to those who use and pay for it, at the same time as having the independence of its journalism, broadcasting and creativity protected from outside political interference. There are a number of ways that its systems and processes need to be improved, some of which can be done relatively quickly. The new Chairman of the BBC, Lord Patten of Barnes, is set to review issues of BBC governance this summer and we urge him to consider our recommendations as part of his review.

In the longer term, the broadcasting world which is in a state of flux as convergence is starting to become a reality has an important few years ahead, with the new Communications Act in 2015, the next Charter review in 2016, and the licence renewals of Channel 3 and Channel 5 in 2014. We urge the Government to consider our recommendations as part of its policy development, so they can be a useful contribution to the industry as a whole in this period of regulatory change.”