I’ve been a fool. Jeremy Hayes, Complaints Director, at the BBC Executive Complaints Unit in London seemed to be taking my complaint about Reporting Scotland’s scare story on crime gangs on Scotland seriously. See my original complaint here:
Jeremy did say:
‘I have concluded that your complaint does in fact raise a substantive issue and merits a further response.’
Something clearly happened to the substantive issue once he investigated further. I have no right of reply but can take it to Ofcom. Here’s Jeremy’s letter with comments from me in red italics;
28 June 2018
Dear Professor Robertson
Reporting Scotland, BBC One, 4 June 2018
Thank you for your letter regarding a report in Reporting Scotland about organised crime gangs, which was received on 20 June. As you know, the BBC Complaints Team has informed you it does not intend to respond further to your complaint. It now falls to the Executive Complaints Unit to decide whether you were given a reasonable response to your original complaint and whether the BBC Complaints Team was correct in deciding that further investigation of your complaint wasn’t justified. This is in line with the BBC Complaints Framework and Procedures1 which sets out the process for handling complaints.
You complained that the report failed to refer to guidance in the research paper on which the item was based which advised against drawing conclusions on a generalised basis to cover all types of community in Scotland.
In addition, you drew attention to the fact that only 188 individuals participated in the study which was conducted for the Scottish Government.
It’s a minor point but I did not mention that the research was conducted for the Scottish Government as this is not relevant to my complaint. Is Jeremy trying to use this point to undermine my criticisms? It’s hard to see how this would matter to an intelligent critic rather than someone prone to nah-nah attacks.
The BBC’s approach to such matters is set out in the Editorial Guidelines on Accuracy and Impartiality. These refer to “due” accuracy and impartiality – that which is “adequate and appropriate” in the context of the output – cautioning that the BBC must not knowingly and materially mislead our audiences.
I think the report clearly ‘materially misleads’ the audience.
I have reviewed the report in Reporting Scotland and I note the following:
The report was introduced with these words:
‘A new focus is needed in the fight against organised crime in Scotland. An 18-month research study says crime gangs rely on vulnerable people to develop their businesses, so more resources should be offered to communities affected, to help them spot the dangers. The reporter described organised crime as insidious, affecting ordinary people across Scotland.’
In my judgment the introduction fairly summarises the conclusion of the report which covered organised crime throughout Scotland and describes it as having a significant impact on the wellbeing of Scottish communities.
Yes, but it does not suggest that it is widespread across all or even many such communities and the disclaimer on page 3 and again on page 25, in the methods section, which says: ‘While the case study areas had traits that were similar to other communities in Scotland, however, it should be noted that these findings should not be read as a generalised picture of SOC-community relations in Scotland.’
As the reply from the Complaints Team notes, the research paper concluded Serious organised crime has deep roots in Scotland and extends the corrosive reach into a wide range of communities, businesses and institutions.
You argue that the paper was described as qualitative and in the words of the authors should not be read as a generalised picture of SOC-community relations in Scotland. In fact, the paragraph in which this note of caution is given continues: Although these themes were evident across the various case study locations, it is notable that there were differences in intensity between urban, semi-urban, and rural contexts. The intensity was highest in the urban embedded context and least intense in the diffuse location. This makes it clear that the authors sought to differentiate between the nature of Serious Organised Crime in different types of communities in Scotland. They were not seeking to limit the scope of the report or to conclude that Serious Organised Crime is restricted to a few communities.
This is desperate. I don’t ‘argue’ that the paper was qualitative it was qualitative. The authors do not seek to suggest that their findings are applicable beyond their sample of communities to the wider community because they know they cannot. Really, this is either a very basic misunderstanding of research methods or an attempt to defend the indefensible because, to satisfy you masters, you must.
Therefore, the reporter’s comment that SOC affects ordinary people across Scotland is not contradicted by the report itself.
Correct, but the BBC report, in the key absence of the researchers’ disclaimer implies it affects most or all of Scotland’s communities.
In your second letter you maintain that the report was a scare story and point to reports of higher numbers of gangs in the rest of the UK than in Scotland. However, the research paper for the Scottish Government was specific to Scotland and I can see no breach of accuracy in Reporting Scotland covering the research paper on its own terms of reference. The fact that the paper relied on the participation of 188 individuals can be attributed to the fact that, in its words:
‘The research involved in-depth qualitative research, to understand both direct and indirect forms of harm which it described as an innovative approach to the study of the harms caused by organised crime, with prior studies adopting more quantitative methodologies.’
This would not imply, in my view, that its conclusions, to the extent that they were mentioned in Reporting Scotland, should be regarded as inaccurate or materially misleading.
To be accurate and not materially misleading, the BBC report needed to put the Scottish figures in the UK context, published by the BBC itself elsewhere, so that the audience might understand the scale of the problem. Must the audience make an assumption that BBC reports are commonly lacking such critical context and go looking for it themselves as well as pay their licence?
In conclusion, I think the response you received from the BBC Complaints Team was reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances and the decision not to engage in further correspondence with you was justified.
If this is so, why did you initially state ‘I have concluded that your complaint does in fact raise a substantive issue and merits a further response.’
There’s no provision for further appeal against this decision within the BBC. However, you can contact the broadcasting regulator, Ofcom, if you believe your complaint has identified a breach of the Ofcom Code though of course it would be for Ofcom itself to decide whether to consider your complaint. Information about lodging a complaint with Ofcom can be found here.
Jeremy Hayes Complaints Director
No right of appeal. That says it all.