European Scrutiny CommitteeSupplementary written evidence from the BBC (ESI 12)

Broadcasting Decisions: ESC and European Committees

1. Q 191 (see also Qs 198, 204, 205 and 217): Ric Bailey, as respects public purposes you state that there is nothing specific in the Charter or the Guidelines, but what is clear is that “major matters” under the Guidelines are usually matters of public policy or industrial controversy that are of national/international importance (see point 4.49). It being clearly the case that matters relating to the European Union ie under our Standing Orders, or European legislation, clearly fall within this category and given that this falls within the remit of the Chief Adviser Politics, why do you not give more attention to the European Union dimension ie as Peter Knowles indicated, a mere four times for hearings of the European Scrutiny Committee within the last two years, when as you know, we have issued over 90 reports and held a significant number of hearings?

BBC Response

Both in the Agreement (section 44) and in the Editorial Guidelines (4.49), it is required that when the BBC covers “major matters”, it must do so with due impartiality. The question of what constitutes “major matters” is not defined and is a matter for editorial judgement, as is the amount of coverage which is given to “major matters”. Similarly, the level of coverage given to the European Scrutiny Committee is a matter of editorial judgement. There is nothing in the Charter, the Agreement, or the Editorial Guidelines which obliges individual BBC programmes—or the BBC as a whole—to cover particular subjects (with the sole exception of a daily report of the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament). Indeed, the Charter states, specifically (section 6):

“The BBC shall be independent in all matters concerning the content of its output, the times and manner in which this is supplied, and in the management of its affairs.”

2. As a user of the online content produced by the Committee in our Reports and on our website, and the Government’s Explanatory Memoranda on EU documents, is there a BBC view on the timeliness and availability of this information? To what extent does it feature on the BBC website and in particular the Democracy Live portal?

BBC Response

Information is provided on the work of the Committee in a way which does not give a clear indication of the Committee’s priorities and concerns but rather provides a timeline of the progress of an enquiry without further interpretation. Preview items on the website give little or no sense of why the committee has called a particular witness and there is no follow-up on the site to highlight what has been said, other than links to the whole event via Hansard/parliamentTV.

The BBC News website exists to report stories and does not attempt to replicate the work already being done by information providers such as the website of Parliament or that of the Government.

Democracy Live is a forum for hearings and debates, it does not relay written communications of this kind.

3. Qs 210–214—you noted that you have never broadcast a European Standing Committee. See Gisela Stuart’s evidence on her experience of these when she was a Minister—“They are really good Committees—potentially, I think, a real nuclear weapon—because you are so exposed as a Minister; you really cannot hide anywhere.” (Q 254). Will you consider broadcasting these Committees in future and what information/notification would facilitate this?

BBC Response

Committees are considered for their editorial merit and if Parliament wished to place the debates of the General Committees in the list before the broadcasters then they could be considered for coverage. As explained at the hearing, constraints of airtime mean that around seven or eight8 hearings per week are televised out of an average weekly total of 40 Select Committees, plus General Committees.

Where the Committee was of the view that exceptionally important issues were being considered at a General Committee debate that had not been previously noted (the example of intervention in Mali was given by the Chair) then advice to this effect from the Committee press office to newsdesks and programmes such as Today in Parliament would be especially welcome.

Complexity and explanation

d. Q 206–209—on reflection do you maintain that all matters relating to the European Union fall into the category that “There is no chance of a viewer at first hearing grasping that. That is a real problem. Most of the time, in terms of what the Public Accounts do, you get it first time.” See also question 207 from Michael Connarty in the same context raising the question, “If that is part of your remit, how do you do it?” Mary Hockaday commented “about lack of understanding among audiences. It is something we all share responsibility for. We take seriously our responsibility to try to help people understand politics at whatever level-local, national, European-and to understand why it matters to them.” Do you not think you have an obligation to improve your coverage, broadcasting and reporting of European scrutiny matters within the framework of the Charter’s obligations relating to public purposes? It is simply not sustainable to suggest that the British elector/licence payer would find these matters too difficult to understand or that they are so complex that you would not find it possible to broadcast them?

BBC Response

As suggested in our oral evidence, it is very hard for viewers to understand proceedings where legal language and technical terms are used abundantly and without explanation. Where we can identify news stories in the work of this committee, the audience is best served by analytical reporting such as that we provide in the Friday edition of Today in Parliament.

Wilson Report

4. Will you please reconsider your answer to Qs 227–230, relating to the follow-up to the Wilson report—“What urgent action was taken?” “Where is the evidence that this was done?” “What did the report on progress state in the summer of 2005?” “What is the evidence of the completion of the implementation of those new measures and the proposals for monitoring the progress by May 2006?” Please supply any relevant BBC internal papers which were clearly produced at the time.

BBC Response

As we explained, a number of measures were implemented in response to the Wilson report. A Europe editor was appointed. New training resources were provided and all journalists were required to take a course on Reporting Europe. Coverage of Europe is reviewed regularly at BBC News’s Editorial board. Coverage of European issues was widened to look beyond the Westminster prism and all output ensured a wide range of interviewees.

5. Given the fact that the European Scrutiny Committee reported extensively following its Inquiry into the European Union Act 2011 on the issue of referendums and the sovereignty/primacy of the United Kingdom Parliament, will you provide the Committee with the papers compiled by the BBC in relation to (a) the Wilson report as to the manner in which the then proposed referendum would be handled by the BBC and (b) any papers which have been prepared by the BBC in relation to the question of sovereignty/primacy of the United Kingdom Parliament?

BBC Response

(a) The BBC did not compile papers for the proposed referendum because it did not take place.

(b) There are no such papers.

Prebble Review

6. Qs 199–200 and Qs 221–222. Will you please supply a detailed answer to this Question (or refer it to the BBC Trust). Mr Heaton-Harris was referring to the speech by Lord Patten at the Broadcasting Press Guild in October 2012, when Lord Patten is reported to have said with reference to the three subjects covered by the Prebble Review (immigration, religion and the EU), “It’s an acceptance that these are areas where people are particularly concerned that we should get it right. We’ve been criticised in those areas and we think it’s very important to listen to that criticism, not necessarily because it’s right but because it reflects real and interesting concerns.” Could you also provide us with the expected date of publication of the Prebble Review?

Answer provided by the BBC Trust

The BBC Trust hopes to publish the Impartiality Review on Breadth of Opinion in July this year. The Review will be authored by Stuart Prebble and, as the Committee is aware, will focus particularly, but not exclusively, on three topics: religion, Europe and immigration.

Those subjects were chosen largely because they represent a good range and mix of political, social and ethical issues. As the Trust chairman, Lord Patten, said at the Press Guild, they are also areas where people are particularly concerned, “that we should get it right. We’ve been criticised in those areas and we think it’s very important to listen to that criticism, not necessarily because it’s right but because it reflects real and interesting concerns.”

As part of his work on the Review, Stuart Prebble has been meeting interested parties in all three subjects, some of whom have strong views on the BBC’s performance in those areas. There will be also content analysis and audience research in the final report. This Review is the fifth impartiality review commissioned by the Trust—previous reviews have covered the events known as the Arab Spring, science, coverage of the nations and business.

General Requests for Further Information

7. Questions 202 and 203. Why do you say that the ECJ is not an EU institution? In relation to the issues you state you are relentlessly reporting on, how do you decide whom to interview and how to achieve the impartiality which you are obliged to deliver?

BBC Response

To clarify Mary Hockaday meant to say we cover decisions by EU institutions such as the ECJ, for example the ECJ ruling about Ryanair, and that we cover other European institutions that affect the UK too , not all of them specifically EU, such as the ECHR.

Regarding whom we decide to interview, these are matters of editorial judgement for which the BBC Executive is answerable to licence fee payers through the BBC Trust.

8. Will you reconsider your answer to Mr Clappison’s question 226 (relating to BBC coverage around the time of the Lisbon Treaty).

BBC Response

TV and Radio

In the main TV and Radio bulletins, there is not time to run parliamentary debate coverage at length. Our key vehicles for reporting the parliamentary process are—and were for these debates- BBC Parliament on TV, and on radio Today in Parliament and Yesterday in Parliament. Yesterday in Parliament is included in the Today programme in the 0630—0700 slot every day with further coverage available on long wave from 0830. It covered the debates on all the key days and reported them both on the day in Today in Parliament and the following day in Yesterday in Parliament. Both programmes have healthy audiences. As you will see below, the Today programme also had its own coverage of the debate’s issues including a round-up package of three of the consecutive days of debate in late February and a report on the debate over the time given to scrutinise the bill.

What we do in our bulletins and programmes is to provide context and explanation to important processes that are going on. And sometimes we will summarise them with clips in package form. As Mary Hockaday said to the committee, the Lisbon debates were a thread going through our coverage. As the EU (Amendment ) bill began its passage through parliament in late January 2008, we previewed it on the Sunday Teatime bulletin on BBC1 and the News Channel with a report from Ben Wright . On 21st January, the Today programme had a Gary O’Donoghue package looking back on history of Lisbon treaty and a 2-way from then Chief Political Correspondent Guto Harri setting up the start of proceedings and their significance. As you’d expect it was a main item on the Daily Politics which included a live interview with the then Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague. James Landale was live on the News at Ten that night discussing it too. On 22nd January on the Today programme, Carole Walker was interviewed on the parliamentary debate. The programme had an interview with Nick Clegg on the Liberal Democrats position on the treaty and there was a discussion between Bill Cash MP and Michael Connarty MP on the subject too.

The debate period ran across some 6 weeks. The Daily Politics looked throughout this period at all the parties’ positions and explored aspects of the debate, doing this in imaginative treatments as well as through interviews with the key Europe ministers and spokespeople—on 28th January for example the programme did a “big board” graphic presentation on the arguments for and against a referendum. The Sunday Politics also discussed the bill with key politicians and interviewed the then Foreign Secretary David Miliband on 20th January.

We also provided more reflective pieces where key issues such as a referendum were explored in depth. On the News at Ten on 27th February Political Editor Nick Robinson reported from Harlow where they’d had their own experimental referendum on Europe. On 2 March the Daily Politics ran a film about the local referendums which had been independently organised followed by a graphic and a studio discussion with Derek Scott from the I Want A Referendum campaign, and Bill Rammell (then a Government minister). Newsnight had reports in this period on EU energy policy, UKIP, EU fraud and immigration. On 7th February Today, PM and others covered the move by Stuart Wheeler to take Gordon Brown to court over the issue of a referendum. On the 19th February the Today programme ran a piece by Sean Curran on the complaints over the parliamentary time awarded for the scrutiny of the Treaty itself. This was followed by an MP’s discussion on the issue. After three consecutive days of debate on 25, 26 and 27 February, Mark D’Arcy reviewed all three in a long package on Today programme.

The issue of a referendum on the Treaty had substantial coverage. It came up at PMQS on 27th February and was covered across outlets including WATO and PM. It was substantially trailed on March 4th and on the day of the debate itself, March 5th, it dominated the output. It led the Today programme which had Interviews with David Miliband, William Hague and Nick Clegg plus 2-ways with correspondents throughout the programme. There was also a discussion on the referendum issue with David Clark, former advisor to Robin Cook MP and Neil O’Brien, Director of Open Europe.

On 5th March the News Channel had political correspondents’ analysis and guests from the debate across the day. The Shadow Foreign Secretary was live on the News Channel at 0900 and various politicians discussed the tensions within the political parties. We took the vote live on the News Channel. The story was the lead on most programmes including The Daily Politics, the World at One, PM the Six O Clock and Midnight News on Radio 4 and the News at Ten. Newsnight on 4th and 5th March also covered this with reports from David Grossman and Michael Crick. The Bill was approved on March 11th. And on March 14th, there was an interview on the Today programme with Lord Strathclyde regarding the upper house and the Treaty.

BBC Parliament covered the debates throughout. Once Westminster went on Spring break, BBC Parliament devoted substantial time to looking back over the debate. Across Easter week, from Monday 14–Friday 18 April, BBC Parliament showed again a range of the policy debates on Lisbon—crime, policing and immigration, energy, human rights, single market, foreign, security and defence, International Development, EU Institutions, Climate Change, a Referendum and other issues. A link to how we advertised that coverage is here. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/bbc_parliament/7326045.stm

Website coverage

The website covered the debate in great detail—see this tabbed page which takes you through options on the latest news from the debates, the voting, a Treaty Q+A, a timeline, quotes from the debate and analysis.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7277644.stm

This link takes you to the timeline which tracks the aspects of the debate on the key days—eg human rights, single market, foreign policy and you can click within those pages for further detail. It’s an excellent tool for anyone wanting to understand what happened in the debate and was constantly updated during the debate period.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7219286.stm

9. Question 233, regarding the training for journalists, and question 234 please supply further details.

BBC Response

The content on the BBC College of Journalism website about the European Union is created by both journalists working for the College and journalists working for other parts of BBC News.

The purpose of the content is to provide busy BBC journalists with a basic primer in key issues related to the European Union as well as signpost routes for them to discover more detailed and more specific information. We link prominently for example to the EU’s official website, the European Parliament in the UK website and the FCO’s website. We also link to substantial sources from elsewhere in the BBC including Democracy Live and in-depth reports on the EU on the BBC News website.

The content on the College website is journalism rather than academic. There are simple factual articles explaining, for example, how the EU institutions work, what the elements of the EU budget are and about the Eurozone. There are also background films made by leading BBC journalists including Allan Little, on the history of the EU and Rural Affairs correspondent Jeremy Cook, on why EU legislation matters.

There is also analysis from acknowledged BBC experts about some of these issues—for example from David Cowling, Head of Political Research, on what polling data reveals about what voters think about key EU issues, or from BBC Europe Editor Gavin Hewitt on reporting the Eurozone crisis.

The sources for this content are all publically available sources—many of which we link to, as well as information provided by the BBC’s own Analysis and Research team.

Finally the College runs regular briefings and seminars for BBC journalists on EU issues designed to help inform continuing coverage of big stories—on 6 March for example Gavin Hewitt spoke to an internal audience about how to report Europe beyond the “set-piece summitry” by looking into the range of stories coming out of the EU as a whole.

These events are live streamed on the BBC’s intranet so that BBC journalists can access them from wherever they are in the organisation and an edited version of the session is subsequently posted on the College website so that anyone inside or outside the BBC can benefit.

We continue to update and improve the quality and quantity of the content as resources allow.

Here is a link to the “EU Subject Guide” for your information:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/academy/collegeofjournalism/subject-guides/eu/eu-how-it-works

Charter Obligations

(k) Please reconsider your answers to questions Qs 243 to 246, and let us have your further thoughts, including improving your compliance with your obligations under the Charter.

BBC Response

As suggested in our oral evidence, debates on the floor of the house, attracting the wider interest of Members, offer the best opportunity to present such issues to the public. Where EU issues may be discussed in a discrete context—such as Oral Questions on Europe, which we have heard mooted—then these would receive separate billing on BBC Parliament and on iPlayer and be eligible for repeat as individual items. The attention of the audience would be focused on EU issues by these devices.

On the final question 246, we re-state our interest in the conclusions of this Inquiry in such areas as:

The impact that the Committee’s reasoned opinions can have on legislation process at this late, or “downstream”, stage in the process.

The role of this committee in relation to the six Lords EU sub-committees.

The language used in hearings and written communications.

The utility of the Standing Committee debates.

We do not accept (if that is implied) that our journalism is not compliant with our obligations under the Royal Charter.

ANSWERS PROVIDED BY THE BBC TRUST

General Note

In written evidence to Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry, the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, set out a general overview of the work of the Trust under the BBC’s Charter and Agreement, which members of the Committee might find useful at a high level:

http://www.levesoninquiry.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Witness-Statement-of-Lord-Patten1.pdf

10. Question 195 and 196 (duties under Article 3 of the Charter and their relationship to European legislation). Will you please confirm whether any internal papers have been issued to BBC employees and if not, why not?

BBC Trust Response

Articles 3 to 6 of the BBC’s Charter make it clear what the BBC’s Public Purposes are and how they should be promoted. It is also made clear that the BBC is independent in these matters. There are no specific duties under these Articles which relate to European legislation. However, the BBC issues its Editorial Guidelines to employees, and these are publicly available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines/. In addition, as discussed below in response to question (m), the BBC Trust also publishes “purpose remits” for each of the public purposes, to apply across the BBC, and a service licence for every BBC service.

11. Since 2005 have there been any investigations conducted under Article 24(2)(h) of the BBC Charter in relation to European matters?

BBC Trust Response

Since the present Royal Charter came into force on 1 January 2007, the Trust has not conducted any “standalone” investigations specifically in relation to European matters.

12. How under Article 22 and in particular paragraph (c) is the effective promotion of the Public Purposes achieved by the BBC Trust in relation to European scrutiny and EU legislation? Under Article 23 of the Charter (general duties), likewise.

BBC Trust Response

The Trust publishes “purpose remits” that explain how it expects the BBC to deliver each of its public purposes. We have just completed a consultation on some minor amendments to the purpose remits, which will continue to explain that the to deliver the purpose about “sustaining citizenship and civil society” the Trust expects the BBC to build greater public understanding of the parliamentary process and political institutions governing the UK, helping all its audiences understand how the UK is governed at a European, national, regional and local level.

Note that responsibility for the direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output rests with the Executive: Charter, Article 38(1)(b). Thus, generally, the Trust would not regard it as part of its strategic role under Articles 22 and 23 to make stipulations in relation to such specific areas of coverage. It might, though, have an appropriate role in the context of its strategic oversight of issues of impartiality (see clause 44 of the Agreement) or as final arbiter in appeals concerning compliance with the BBC’s editorial guidelines (Charter, article 24(2)(g)).

Currently the Trust is undertaking a breadth of opinion impartiality review focusing on religion, immigration and the EU:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/news/press_releases/2012/breadth_of_opinion.html

This will not consider the BBC’s coverage of the EU in the round, but will rather look at how the BBC reflects a range of voices and viewpoints in its output as required by its Editorial Guidelines. The EU will be one of the case studies considered, specifically through content analysis being carried out by the independent Cardiff University School of journalism.

In a number of cases, the service licences that the Trust sets for individual BBC services (including BBC One, BBC Online and Radio 4) contain a requirement to cover international issues and events, in particular through news coverage.

There is a more specific requirement in the service licence for the BBC News channel that it should aim to explain EU institutions and their work through live coverage and reporting by specialist correspondents.

There are requirements that BBC Parliament should provide accurate, impartial and comprehensive coverage of the work the European Parliament (as well as the UK’s parliamentary chambers) and that the channel should broaden viewers’ knowledge and understanding of the way UK and EU political institutions work. BBC Parliament is required to broadcast at least 100 hours of programming from Brussels and Strasbourg (including repeats) each year.

When the Trust reviews the performance of these services (as it is required to do) it conducts an assessment of how well the service is meeting each of these requirements.

Full detail of service licences and the findings of service reviews can be found at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/tools_we_use/service_licences_reviews.html

The Trust’s general functions include (see Article 24(2)(f)) holding the Executive to account “for the BBC’s compliance with applicable regulatory requirements and the general law” and a duty to “have regard to the competitive impact of the BBC’s activities on the wider market” (Article 22(e)). It therefore has a role (which it performs in different ways, according to the subject-matter and circumstances) in holding the Executive to account for certain duties founded upon European law or legislation, for example:

(a)quotas for broadcasting programmes made by independent producers (Communications Act 2003, Schedule 12; and Agreement, clause 53);

(b)content standards reflecting those contained in the AVMS Directive, eg fairness (clause 45; AVMS article 28), avoiding harm to minors (clauses 43 and 46; AVMS articles 6 and 27);

(c)accessibility of services (clauses 59 and 60; AVMS article 7); and

(d)State aid and competition law generally (both UK and EU).

13. Under Article 24 (Functions of the Trust), to what extent is EU scrutiny and EU legislation taken into account when under (1)(a) setting the overall strategic direction for the BBC and under 2(d) approving Guidelines designed to secure appropriate standards?

BBC Trust Response

The Trust set the BBC’s current strategy in 2010 in a document entitled Putting Quality First, a copy of which can be found at:

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/review_report_research/strategic_review/final_conclusions.pdf

The Trust approved the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines which set the BBC’s editorial standards in 2010 following public consultation. Guidance is prepared by the Executive and significant guidance is approved by the Trust. Where appropriate, European legislation such as the Audio Visual Media Services Directive or the EU’s Market Abuse Directive, is taken into account.

The BBC Editorial Guidelines can be found at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines/

They are supported by guidance which can be found at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/guidance

The BBC’s Financial Journalism Guidelines can be found at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/page/guidance-financial-full

14. Have any directions relevant to EU scrutiny and EU legislation been given by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport or the Foreign Secretary under Article 45(5) of the BBC Charter? If so, has the Trust included such information in Annual Reports in accordance with Article 45(10)?

BBC Trust Response

We would expect such a direction to be addressed to the Executive, but so far as the Trust is aware the Secretary of State has made no such direction.

15. To what extent have the general corporate powers set out in Article 47 of the Charter been used in respect of EU scrutiny and EU legislation, and to what extent has EU scrutiny/EU legislation been included in the Framework Agreement dated July 2006?

BBC Trust Response

Article 47 of the Charter provides for the general powers of the BBC which are relevant to its status as a corporation. These provisions make it clear (for example) that the BBC has the power to make contracts (including deeds) and take and defend court action, and that the BBC would not cease to exist simply because the identity of the trustees changes. These are the kind of powers that underpin the business of the BBC generally rather than being exercised in relation to a specific subject-matter, so we would say that no use has been made of the BBC’s general corporate powers in respect of EU scrutiny or EU legislation. We have cited some examples of the way in which the BBC’s Framework Agreement interacts with EU legislation under our response to question (n) above.

Prepared 28th November 2013