THE BBC RESPONSE
What good is a national broadcasting service which consistently refuses to engage honestly with criticism of its output? Anyone who has ever sent in a comment or a complaint to the BBC through their own system will know that they (in my case at least) never agree with any part of the criticism; rather it is rejected out of hand with no discussion of the particulars of the complaint or comment. By refusing to engage and respond to points of criticism the BBC gives a one-sided picture of current events which is impossible for the general public to challenge. I refuse to believe that in any of the dozens of complaints I have submitted to the BBC I have never made a valid point, yet to read the BBC responses that is the case.
If you go to https://www.bbc.com/about the bbc/governance/mission you will read that (The BBC’s) mission is “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.”
How does the BBC’s response to criticism of “The Trial of Alex Salmond” fit with this mission statement? After the programme was broadcast I wrote a comment on it and sent it to the BBC Audience Services in Darlington. You can read my comment in full in an earlier post. Here is the BBC reply in full.
Thank you for contacting us about the Trial of Alex Salmond and we are sorry to hear of your concerns. However we don’t agree that this programme was biased or unfair.
Alex Salmond has been a senior political figure for many years and his trial and subsequent acquittal was a major news story, which received extensive coverage at the time. The outcome was fairly reflected in the programme and would have been known to everyone watching. Within that context, the firm aimed to examine what impact the trial had had on the ‘me too’ movement and Scottish politics. A range of different views were heard, including authoritative contributors who made points in support of Alex Salmond, such as Jim Sillars and Kenny MacAskill. Mr Salmond himself was invited to take part but declined to do so, as the film made clear. The BBC Editorial Guidelines require us to be duly impartial and accurate in our reporting and we believe this was the case here.
We appreciate not everyone agrees with the decisions we take but we welcome feedback and have passed your comments to senior editors of the programme.
(I have omitted the name of the person who sent it)
BBC Complaints Team
In the meantime I became aware of numerous comments on the programme which agreed with my own impression. Interestingly, two letters were published in the Radio Times (not usually a hotbed of support for Scottish Independence or Alex Salmond). The BBC response to the two letters was exactly the same as they had sent to me from “Alex Salmond has been….” to “..was the case here.” seemingly regardless of the critical points being made.
I don’t think the BBC answered the criticism of the two Radio Times letters and it certainly did not address my criticism. The nearest they came to doing that is when they wrote, “However we don’t agree that this programme was biased or unfair.”
I agree with the BBC that my letter to them implied that the programme was biased and unfair, although I did not actually use these words. I used words such as ‘cheap piece of innuendo which would be more at home on the pages of the gutter press rather than in a programme made for the national broadcaster’, ‘cheap and nasty television’, ‘unjustified’, ‘the histrionics of the actors who spoke the words of the anonymous accusers was a transparent piece of theatre’, shabby and one sided’, ‘ignored the fact that Alex Salmond was found innocent by a Scottish Court of Law in favour of pushing the agenda of a group of people who lodged complaints but who were proved to be unreliable by evidence given to and accepted by the court.’ ‘The arrogance of Ms Wark in expecting (Alex Salmond) to take part in this programme is astounding.’, ‘This programme was a disgrace from start to finish.’
The BBC did not address any of these criticisms. They are obliged by Charter “to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.” The BBC is not fit for purpose.