BBC boss to personally run complaints unit in huge shake-up - 'Marking their own homework'

BBC office and Tim Davie

BBC boss to personally run complaints unit in huge shake-up - 'Marking their own homework'

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Oliver Trapnell

By Oliver Trapnell

Published: 29/10/2023

- 09:05

The shake-up comes just days after the BBC admitted its Newsnight attack on GB News breached editorial standards

The BBC’s director general will be taking on personal responsibility for the overseeing of the company’s complaints unit, the broadcaster has announced.

In a huge shake-up to strengthen its complaints system, Tim Davie is set to take over the unit personally as ministers have expressed concern over how the corporation handles allegations of bias.

According to a mid-term review of the BBC’s governance conducted by ministers, just 25 complaints of bias were formally upheld by the executive complaints unit (ECU) since the broadcaster’s 10-year Royal Charter was renewed in 2017.

In their review, Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer found the ECU was overseen by David Jordan, the same executive who is responsible for ensuring programmes and articles comply with BBC rules in the first place.

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Ministers have reportedly expressed concern that the current structure creates a conflict of interest in what they have described as executives “marking their own homework”.

They continued to say that this system may have resulted in a disincentive to uphold complaints.

In a bid to shake up the current system, director of editorial complaints and current head of the ECU Peter Johnston will now directly report to Davie rather than Jordan.

Johnston was previously the lead on BBC reviews into Martin Bashir’s 1995 Princess Diana interview and Russell Brand’s time at the company.


Tim Davie

Tim Davie quizzed by ministers


According to the Telegraph, the BBC has rejected claims is failing to address complaints properly with many being addressed before they reach the ECU - the highest recourse for complaints at the BBC.

“We have been engaged constructively with the Government throughout the mid-term review process, which is explicitly focused on governance and regulation as set out in the BBC Charter, and we await publication of the findings,” a BBC spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Department for Culture confirmed: “No final decisions have been made.”

The shake-up comes just days after the BBC confirmed it did breach editorial standards after airing a “biased” attack against GB News during Newsnight.

Shipley MP Philip Davies told GB News that many of his constituents had come to him about the show, leading him to file an official complaint to the BBC.

After one month of waiting, the BBC finally responded to the MP with an admittance that they breached impartiality rules but stopped short of an apology.

According to Davies, Ofcom is yet to confirm they have launched an investigation.

BBC NewsnightNo pro-GB News voice was offered during Newsnight's debate BBC

“The BBC Newsnight programme about GB News was totally biased and completely unacceptable,” Davies told GB News.

“A number of my constituents contacted me to complain.

“I complained on their behalf to the BBC and it has taken precisely one month to get their final response with a mealy-mouthed, grudging acceptance that the programme was indeed in breach of rules of impartiality, although it is disappointing that their final decision spent more time seeking to justify their actions than apologising.”

“I have therefore referred the matter to Ofcom and asked them to investigate this clear breach in their rules on due impartiality.

“I await their confirmation that they are launching an investigation.

“It is unacceptable that the BBC spend as long as possible dealing with these complaints - abusing the privileged position they have that anyone with a complaint about the BBC have to go to them first before being able to pursue the issue with Ofcom.

“By dragging out the process I suspect they hope people will be too weary to then pursue the matter with Ofcom.

“I am pleased Ofcom have acknowledged to me that the way the BBC have dealt with complaints leaves a great deal to be desired, and I very much hope Ofcom will ensure the BBC Newsnight programme about GB News is thoroughly investigated with a robust conclusion.”

In recent weeks, the BBC’s complaints process has been called into question as audience members have found the process “difficult to navigate”.

In an email seen by GB News, Ofcom wrote: “Since the new Charter and Agreement came into being, in June 2022, Ofcom published its review of BBC regulation How Ofcom Regulates the BBC.

“Here, we said it is vital that the BBC has an effective and easy to use complaints process, and that it is open about how it addresses audience concerns.

“In research we commissioned as part of our review, we asked audiences about their experiences and perceptions of the BBC’s complaints process.

“In general, they were not opposed to the current system. However, respondents were not clear about the BBC’s process and were concerned about the time taken to respond, as well as the tone and detail of the responses.

“Overall, our research indicated that the low number of complaints being escalated to Ofcom may be a result of frustration as opposed to satisfaction with how the BBC has dealt with audience concerns.

“We made clear that the BBC had to therefore urgently consider what changes are required to its processes to make them simpler and clearer for audiences to navigate.

“As a result of our June 2022 review, the BBC has introduced various changes to its complaints processes and we will be carrying out further work to monitor the effectiveness of those changes in due course.”

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