Examination of Witnesses (Questions 640
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005
Professor Fabian Monds, Ms Anna Carragher, Mr Pat
Loughrey and Reverend Rick Hill
Q640 Lord Peston:
Could you give usapart from Jerry Springer, which
I beg you not to take us intoan example or two of the sort
Professor Monds: A huge diversity from excessive
reference to Londonderry or `Derry, the way the city is referred
to. I think that Northern Ireland viewers and listeners are quite
alert that to perceived or real offence. We had an example at
the Broadcasting Council where a presenter referred to a Catholic
church as a chapel and this precipitated a complaint. Some of
them can range from the absolute trivial to very serious complaints.
Reverend Hill: Not from me!
Say it is a more serious complaint and one of your programmes
has done an injustice to one of the participants? Take us through
the process. What would then happen? You would attempt to reconcile
that at Northern Ireland level?
Professor Monds: Are you taking an example of
a political concern?
Professor Monds: It may be that a politician
would choose to write to me or to the Controller. Anna, you are
better equipped to explain what has happened in our experience
in that category.
Ms Carragher: Occasionally politicians will
ring or write to us and complain about their treatment on particular
programmes and obviously the first thing I will do in that case
is show them that I will investigate the complaint. I will then
talk to the programme's producers and find out the circumstances.
If we have made a factual inaccuracy, which has happened, but
I am happy to say has very rarely happened, we will apologise
and rectify it.
On the air?
Mr Loughrey: Yes.
Ms Carragher: Usually, yes. I say usually, because
occasionally the individual concerned may think it is too trivial
to then be recognised on air, so we will take a judgment in each
individual case. If, as is more often the case, it is a matter
of opinion we will consider it very, very carefully indeed and
look at it from all angles and come back to the individual again
either with an acceptance that we have made an error, in which
case we will apologise, or a robust defence of our position. The
individual then has the opportunity, if he or she so wishes, to
take that further, either to the Editorial Complaints Unit, or
the Governor's Programme Complaints Committee and in specified
circumstances to Ofcom. I think we have had only one instance
in the last year of a complaint being taken to Ofcom by a politician,
which was not upheld.
But you could not take a complaint to Ofcom in terms of accuracy,
could you, I do not think?
Mr Loughrey: Very often, Chairman, in my experience,
in those negotiations that Anna has described, there is a fair
opportunity to reply. It is very often the perception of an accusation
made without the right of reply, or at least not the right of
reply at the same time within the same programme. Very often we
can reconcile those concerns by providing time for that right
of reply. Fair enough, not always, and that is when it goes to
the formal complaints procedure.
Then what happens there?
Professor Monds: The Editorial Complaints Unit,
if it has not been reconciled informally, will deal with itif
it is a question of accuracy or impartiality or fairnesswill
attempt to have a dialogue with the complainant to try to reach
an understanding. And this may involve the producer of the programme
giving a view or the researcher on the programme who uncovered
the particular point giving a response. So there may be an exchange
of letters between the Editorial Complaints Unit and the individual.
If that fails to reach agreementand the majority of cases
are dealt with in that way, an explanation is given and an acceptance
of that explanation followsthe complainant is advised that
their next recourse is to the Governors' Programme Complaints
Committee, and we deal with probably four or five complaints which
have reached that level a month.
Four or five a month?
Professor Monds: Yes, it is a very, very small
proportion of the literally thousands of inputs that come in.
It is not just a Northern Ireland question.
Professor Monds: I am talking about the UK.
But you have to be pretty determined to get it up there, have
you not? You must almost be forgetting what the complaint is by
the time it has got to you.
Professor Monds: Not in my experience!
Okay, in your experience by the time that four or five complaints
a month have got up there, they are people who feel very strongly.
Professor Monds: Indeed they do.
Do they say, "That is great; this BBC Committee has looked
at these complaints against the BBC and has found against me as
the complainant, that is the end of the matter, I regard that
as an entirely fair and sensible process"?
Professor Monds: We uphold complaints from time
to time and we partially uphold complaints.
Chairman: From time to time?
Q651 Lord Maxton:
What is from time to time? Once a year, twice a year?
Professor Monds: There is a quarterly bulletin
published both by the Editorial Complaints Unit and by the Governors'
Programme Complaints Committee. The statistics are there and I
can give you the actual percentages, but it is not insignificant.
But you would not feel that it was better from the point of view
of the complainant and the public generally if the end result
could be an appeal to someone who was not the BBC, like Ofcom?
Professor Monds: In certain categories of complaints
that is the case.
But not in impartiality and not in accuracy.
Professor Monds: I think there are real benefits
in the Board of Governors being aware of the standards that are
being achieved by the BBC in that area, and I think it is an appropriate
exercise of responsibilities of the Governors to deal with such
I was not really asking that. I agree with that, but for someone
who is still dissatisfied, should he have a right of independent
appeal where in other walks of life, not to mention other parts
of television, he does?
Professor Monds: My position would be that the
rigour of the present process does address in a fair way that
Mr Loughrey: With external expert advice as
Professor Monds: Yes. I should say that the
new arrangements for complaints do include the opportunity for
a hearing, if that seems appropriate. But as Pat reminded me,
we do take external expert advice as well.
Q655 Lord Peston:
That is very interesting; thank you. Could I take us on to another
rather important matter, which is the question of languages and
the Irish language? I am never very clear, is Erse the Irish language?
Erse is only the answer to a crossword clue regularly in The
Times. What is the Irish language?
Mr Loughrey: Gaelic.
Q656 Lord Peston:
So Erse is Scots then maybe?
Mr Loughrey: Gaelic for Scots, Gaelic for Irish.
Q657 Lord Peston:
My serious question isand it takes us back to Anna's opening
statement, where she sometimes used the words "needs"
and sometimes used the word "wishes", and the two of
them, wearing my economics hat, are not quite the samedo
you get pressureand it is not all that far removed from
the complaints business as wellfor you to act as promoters
of Gaelic? Secondly, that there should be always the option of
having Gaelic as an available language?
Professor Monds: Are you thinking in terms of
the role of the Broadcasting Council in this?
Q658 Lord Peston:
No, I am thinking more of the role of the BBC more generally in
this. I felt that the Broadcasting Council might be one of the
paths into it, but I think the main BBC view is the one I would
like to know.
Mr Loughrey: I guess with the responsibility
for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland one is constantly doing
an endless balancing act between the needs and indeed the demands
of minority languages bodies and the majority monoglot audience.
Issues of parity, fairness, equityI discussed these with
you when I gave evidence in Cardiffthe relative spend per
head of the population, those kinds of equations are constantly
a factor in our decision-making. However, I think it is right
to say that the reason the BBC provides dedicated services for
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a product of the distinctive
heritage, culture and linguistics of a diverse United Kingdom.
If it were not for the uniqueness of the heritage then the case
for distinctive services would be less. A very large part of our
brief is educational; it is cultural. We celebrate and nurture
the distinctive cultural voice and identity of the different territories
we represent. They provide for us a colour and texture of the
United Kingdom that the digital world, for example, will never
provide, the kind of pervading mid-Atlanticism of multi-channel
television where there is such a lack of British-made content
of any description. I think the BBC has nurtured from its inception
the unique and distinctive linguistic heritage of these islands,
and that is something of which we should be proud, while constantly
being mindful of the equation of parity and fairness for the English
speaking majority. I guess it is fair to say that in the midst
of all of the debate the single most popular BBC programme in
all three nations is EastEnders, which is a fact of life alongside
the unique heritage, culture and identity of those countries.
Q659 Lord Maxton:
Why do you not do Urdu in Scotland? There are more Urdu speakers
in Scotland than there are Gaelic speakers.
Mr Loughrey: We provide in the Asian network
a dedicated service across the United Kingdom with nations-related
input for the Asian community in its entirety. We have a language
learning strand called Colin and Cumberland online, on
radio and on television across all three nations, because I believe
that one of the particular roles of the BBC is to provide access
to the minority language community for those who feel excluded
from it; and, as we do from Lord Reith's vision of the BBC, allowing
access for people to the broad cannon of culture, people who never
go to a theatre or a recital but who, thanks to the licence fee,
have access, we can provide access, learning resources for indigenous
languages. We are about to provide that same resource for non-indigenous
languages, for the languages you described, Lord Maxton. It is
an important part of cultural awareness and a celebration of diversity
to provide learning opportunities.