Tuesday 31 March 2015

The BBC admits errors over 'Suffragettes Forever!'

In answer to my complaint to the BBC about an episode of BBC Two's 'Suffragettes Forever!', which (as we noted here) "maligned Margaret Thatcher", the BBC Complaints department has now replied.

This was the complaint: 
I would like to complain about Amanda Vickery's unfair and inaccurate comments about Margaret Thatcher. She said of the Falklands War that Mrs Thatcher "did not shrink from personally ordering the sinking of a troop carrier [the Belgrano] with the loss of over 300 lives’". Then, to make her seem heartless, the shot changed to Mrs Thatcher saying, "Just rejoice at that news, and congratulate our Forces and marines" as if she were saying that in response to the sinking of the Belgrano. This was totally misleading as Mrs Thatcher said those words after the liberation of South Georgia. Plus, the Belgrano was a cruiser not a troop carrier. The lack of factual accuracy and the misleading juxtaposition of that statement with that incident should be publicly corrected and, if the series is repeated, it also should be made explicit to viewers while they are watching.
And this was the BBC's reply:
Reference CAS-XXX
Thank for contacting us regarding BBC Two's 'Suffragettes Forever! The Story of Women and Power' broadcast 17th March 2015.
We understand you feel some of the content was inaccurate and misleading to audience members.
We forwarded your complaint to the programme's production team and who are now in a position to respond. They have provided the following:
"The section of the programme on Mrs Thatcher’s role in the Falklands war was meant to show her determination not to focus on “women’s issues” as Prime Minister and her resolve as a military leader and not to criticise her politically or personally.
Describing the Belgrano as a “troop carrier” was a factual error and the production team would like to thank you for pointing it out. We can assure you that the programme will not be repeated in its current form.
The iconic clip in which Mrs Thatcher invites a crowd of journalist to “just rejoice at that” was meant to be the full stop to the point that she was determined to be as dauntless as any male leader in the pursuit of a military campaign. However as it followed immediately on from the reported sinking of the Belgrano it could unfortunately have been interpreted as referring specifically to that sinking and the related Argentinian deaths. That apparent reference will be re-edited before the programme is repeated."
We hope this goes some way to addressing your concerns.
Thank you again for contacting us, we value your feedback. All complaints are sent to senior management every morning and we included your points in this overnight report.
These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your complaint has been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future programmes.
Kind regards
To their credit, the BBC has conceded both points and promised to re-edit the programme before it is repeated.
Update 18.40pm: And, true to their word, when you click on the BBC i-Player, this episode of Suffragettes Forever! now bears the caption, "This programme has been edited since broadcast. Why?".

And when you click on "Why?" it reads: "This programme has been edited to correct a factual inaccuracy."

And, on re-watching that section of the programme, the inaccurate section concerning the "troop carrier" has been removed, and Mrs Thatcher's "rejoice" statement is now captioned "Surrender of Argentine forces on South Georgia, 25th April 1982" with no misleading lead-in.


  1. Good result! When will it be shown again though?

    1. It will be shown next on BBC Two in the wee small hours on April 3rd (00:50 in England and Wales and at an even less friendly hour in Scotland).
      I'm volunteering you, Sue, to stay up and check it out!

    2. You did well to get the change the programme Craig.But the issue for them was they were not interested in the influence of the repeat programme as you can see by the fact they are putting it on in this time. (What the BBC did just before the ruling we won to edit the 2003 documentary " The Road to Armageddon " was to sell the programme to two satellite USA companies.)

  2. Congrats!

    One I do hope you will consider sharing once a certain forum is up and running.

    These little scores can add up to much more.

    For a start there are all those who are resigned to a complaint not achieving anything, and being a waste of time. These concessions are rarer than hen's teeth, true, but they can happen, and need to be dragged out. And need much more publicity when they are.

    So sharing also serves to 'spread the word', which the BBC truly, madly, deeply hates.

    I am unsure that such as this actual does go beyond you, them and the gatepost, so for them, even torn from the living flesh, such an admission really impacts their massive self-esteem not much. Only a successful BBC Trust appeal goes on (a very hard to locate, massively surrounded by waffle) public record.

    Public publication, elsewhere (and especially if a known venue to see such things) is a different kettle of fish.

    Credit them yes, but really... did they have any choice?

    This highlights the areas that stand most chance of getting the BBC on its toes and honest again: factual accuracy being one area they cannot semantically weasel out of.

    Also, practically the damage was and is done. Personally, those 'explanations' given.... I reckon a lot of tongues were in cheeks and lips being bitten as they wrote that.

    It was a blatant stitch-up attempt and you nailed 'em. And they knew it.

    1. Yes, I'll gladly share it, as and when you're ready.

      I have to say that I thought I had them banged to rights before and still they wriggled out of it, Houdini-like. So I'm both surprised and pleased that they 'fessed up here so handsomely and put things right so quickly.

      So much so that I filled in one of their post-complaints surveys where I again gave them credit, whilst pointed out how unexpected their response was - given past experience.

      I don't know if you've ever filled one of those BBC Complaints satisfaction surveys before but they end with a set of typical BBC questions about your age, gender, ethnicity, disabilities and sexual prefere'nces. I expressed my preference NOT to answer any of them.

  3. Awesome result, Craig! Well done. Your complaint was written calmly and succinctly, which we know goes a long way towards opening Beeboid minds. Each sentence had a purpose, each point made lean and clear. That's how you do it, and we can all learn from that example.

    There is no excuse whatsoever for the troop carrier myth. That's one of those "Known Facts" which gives away the groupthink. Nobody ever thought to question it. The juxtaposition of the Thatcher quote after the sinking bit is also revealing. They claim they didn't realize how it would frame the quote, but that simply isn't credible. The producers' response to you makes it quite clear that they think about exactly that during the editing process. In fact, it's evidence that they're so far up their own fundaments with the groupthink that it didn't occur to them that the impression given was wrong.

    Good for them for admitting it, of course, and for actually doing something about it. It can be done.

  4. Well done Craig ! But, of course, it was so blatant even the slimy BBC could not wriggle out of it. The question is how could it have got through in the first place ? However, the damage is already done and the lies will already be implanted in many minds.

  5. 'And, true to their word, when you click on the BBC i-Player, this episode of Suffragettes Forever! now bears the caption, "This programme has been edited since broadcast. Why?".'

    Subtle. Not sure I'd have found it if you hadn't pointed out how.

    "And when you click on "Why?" it reads: "This programme has been edited to correct a factual accuracy."

    I confess to being intrigued by the notion of correcting a factual accuracy. Being the BBC, I can see that as a possibility. Or was what is there now corrected later too?

    1. Whoops! Should have read, "This programme has been edited to correct a factual inaccuracy." Thanks for spotting that. The post has now been edited to correct my own bit of inaccuracy. (Is this a variant of Skitt’s Law in action?)

      Oddly, come to think of it now, the BBC didn't actually "correct" the factual inaccuracy over the "troop carrier" here. They simply cut out the entire passage.

    2. I didn't think of this at first, but now you point it out I realize that anyone who had watched the initial broadcast wouldn't know what that inaccuracy was. Newspaper correction announcements at least say what the error was. Not good enough, BBC, but very typical of you.

    3. Yes, there's absolutely nothing that tells iPlayer viewers what the error actually was. There surely should have been something, somewhere, on the iPlayer webpage stating what the factual inaccuracy was.

      It will be interesting to see if they ever spell that out on the 'Corrections and Clarifications' page of their Complaints website.


    4. "there's absolutely nothing that tells iPlayer viewers what the error actually was. There surely should have been something, somewhere, on the iPlayer webpage stating what the factual inaccuracy was."

      You'd think. Sadly, 'should' and ethical reality when it comes to the BBC are seldom on the same page. In this case it deserves much wider exposure. Let's see what can be done in due course.

      "It will be interesting to see if they ever spell that out on the 'Corrections and Clarifications' page of their Complaints website."

      And here was me thinking I may have coralled and bookmarked all the relevant backwater sites to have a wee nosey every few days. Tx for this new one!

      I see it's pretty up to date... if maybe with what BBC sees fit to confess to once the filter is applied. Given they can omit editorial on an industrial scale, it is hardly unlikely that editorial about complaints editorial will not see the same 'treatment'.

      Likewise the Complaints homepage.

      Seems Hi-Di-Hi being out of order (literally) was/is the sole source of dissatisfaction with the BBC's service.

      Passing this 'selected lowlights' section the past I have had reason to doubt this, making one think they may just cherry pick more than a little what to share and what does not make the cut.

      Maybe another FOI on what guides this is worth making?

  6. Well done Craig - on the principle that "all it takes for evil to tirumph is that good men do nothing", you did something and achieved a laudable victory for the truth.

  7. As a historian, I find the omissions in certain documentaries about the Suffragettes interesting. Its often just taken as a given, for example that all males had the vote.

    No, they didn't. Many adults males were not eligible to vote in the early part of the 20th century at all. Up to 40%, according to some estimates. Only men who held property or had a certain income could vote, which excluded the majority of the working classes.

    Suffragettes were also among the White Feather brigade, shaming young men into going off to fight and die in the First World War. That apparently wasn't above their noble ideals whilst they stayed safely at home.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.