I should’ve known better with an establishment poodle like that: BBC exonerate BBC on coverage of crime gangs in Scotland

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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:

Retired Professor fails BBC Reporting Scotland Editor on Organised Crime research

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.

Yours sincerely

Jeremy Hayes Complaints Director

No right of appeal. That says it all.

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13 thoughts on “I should’ve known better with an establishment poodle like that: BBC exonerate BBC on coverage of crime gangs in Scotland

  1. Alasdair Macdonald June 28, 2018 / 4:33 pm

    I do not think you need to be too despondent or reproach yourself as ‘a fool’.

    The outcome is not unexpected, given the ‘boundary maintenance’ that is so crucial to such organisations. However, the fact that you did not get an obvious ‘win’ does not mean that you have not had an impact. Continually pointing out BBC bias does, eventually, have an influence on how people perceive the organisation.

    Today, for example, a group of us were doing some voluntary work and, during our blether at tea break, we did, in fact, speak about the BBC and it’s reporting. Everyone present was sceptical about its claims about impartiality and balance. Several of those present are the kind of people who usually trust such institutions. They are not dupes or uninformed, but as most people in society have, they have a trust in the integrity of long established institutions. What had roused their scepticism was the persistent attacks by the BBC on NHS Scotland. The reports clearly did not accord with their personal experiences. Being fairly mature in years, all of those present have fairly regular contacts with different aspects of the NHS, including paediatrics, since most have grandchildren. They had simply ceased to give BBC reports on health any credence. This scepticism was being further extended to reports on Scotrail on the police, on education. Several had friends and acquaintances who worked in journalism who were indicating how difficult it is now to produce good journalism on such poor levels of staffing. Many were admitting that they were simply paraphrasing press releases. Of course, the unco righteous will demand, “Why don’t you resign?” But, with mortgages and grandchildren and grown children who cannot get good housing, people have to earn a crust.

    So, keep plugging at what you are doing. What the media presents is a very partial and wilfully jaundiced view of what the world is like. Their owners want to present a Nast dog eat dog world, because they know that social solidarity has the potential to defeat them. The middle classes and mammies can be a formidable force when roused!

    PS. You could appeal to Ofcom about the fact that the ‘substantive’ issue which they recognised was not made explicit.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. John June 28, 2018 / 5:35 pm

    You see John , that is what you are up against , there was no way he was ever going to say you were correct and issue a retraction , they stick together like glue at the BBC .
    The thing is you have now got his attention , he will know your name when he sees it on a complaint , he will know he is not dealing with Joe Bloggs , he will know he is dealing with a Proffessor who knows his stuff that just won’t go away , he won’t be used to that ! .
    Keep pushing his buttons on anything you feel is misrepresented , take it further if you have to , the BBC play a big part in how our country votes , telling half truths or downright lies can make a government lose an election (2014 ref. comes to mind ),they need someone to hold them to account on their reporting and political debates , one of these days you would hope your diligence would pay off ! .

    Liked by 1 person

      • Brian McGowan June 29, 2018 / 5:55 pm

        And they know that eventually they will wear you down. I’ve been in same position and given up. They rely on it.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Ardelle June 28, 2018 / 7:00 pm

    The upper echelons of the BBC know very well what their employer is up to in Scotland. They aren’t going to admit their game. The more valid the complaint, the more capable the complainant, the more effort is taken by them in dealing with it (brushing it off). The complaints are handled by their complaints department, time and energy isn’t required from production resources. At the end of the day John are you not better to focus your energy into “Talking Up Scotland” ? I’ve held this view for some time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. gavin June 28, 2018 / 7:16 pm

    Stick at it John. Try, try, try again.
    Think of yourself as a colony—say in 1947—and imagine the BBC as your colonial overlord.
    You KNOW you are correct to expect a fair deal, but the BEEB is still in thrall to its Empire up-bringing, where it KNOWS BEST on your behalf!

    But it will have to change.
    Many people in Scotland have already lost faith in it, doubt its impartiality, have concerns as to fair distribution of funding, the lack of Scots in its personnel, and the lack of Scottish content in its programming.
    So keep at it. Decolonisation is at hand. The world applauds your persistence, wit and courage.

    Have a wee goldie. Or better still, two!
    Tomorrow is another day. The sun will shine, and so will you!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Zander June 28, 2018 / 7:52 pm

    Have to agree with Ardele on this,just keep calling them out every time for I have used your information time and time again on the lie bbc hys to make fools of the unionists.
    If you have the spare time go for it but not at the expense of your web page for it is too valuable for us foot soldiers

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Ann Forbes June 28, 2018 / 9:03 pm

    Whatever you decide we’re all rootin’ for you but I hope you won’t give up !

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Contrary June 28, 2018 / 9:13 pm

    Ah well, looks like yer man Jeremy has now been fully informed of how BBC Scotland treat complaints & has acted accordingly.

    You are right, he is wrong.
    We know you are right, and he is wrong.

    I hope you are keeping paper copies carefully filed, in case they need to be used in evidence. Their wholehearted stubborn refusal to even consider they might be doing things badly is just unbelievable.

    But it does make you think of the future; people say we won’t have this toxic media in an independent Scotland – but we have to make sure that we don’t, without interfering with freedom of reporting. I know it’s not something we should or need to be discussing at this stage, it being details, but I keep getting little niggling fears that there will be so much interference while setting up our independent state that we end up as a little England – there is quite a lot of desire for ‘stability’, so how much of what we have now will be transferred over for easiness sake? A lot of that should be mitigated by a well thought out written constitution, but with broadcasting and the press – which have caused a fair amount of harm, and irritates everyone – what do you do? It can’t be under state control, and they should not have control over our state, so how DO you get the balance?

    Anyway, well done on getting a response from the head complaints honcho at all. It was optimistic to think they’d uphold any complaint, but proof of the negative is still a result – they definitely will not listen to reason, and BBC Scotland is fully backed on their crusade. So if you have been exhausted by this endeavour, maybe you could take time out to think of a different tack – complaining directly to the BBC is not necessarily ever going to go anywhere, but continual submission of complaints could set up a critical mass until someone reasonable takes notice, perhaps. Write an academic paper and submit it to a journal? Write a book? Study psychology to try and understand why people want to do harm to their fellow citizens? Or experiment!

    Experiments are fun, get 3 groups of people, one is your control, obviously. Choose a short BBC report and read it out to one group and ask how they feel and what they understand from it. Read out the actual news item with context and balance to the second group & get their reaction. Do that every day for a couple of weeks. Then you could have proof (or not, obviously, we don’t know the outcome) of the distress they cause. I’m not sure what you do with the control group though, just ask how they’re feeling? It could be a pilot for a bigger experiment.

    Just saying that there might be other ways, roundabout ways, to make them see reason. We need some cunning plans.

    Like

    • johnrobertson834 June 29, 2018 / 7:37 am

      Thanks, good ideas. Not sure I could the world of peer-reviewed academic journals any more.

      Like

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