Wednesday 25 March 2015

The BBC Scrutiny Committee

The Guardian and the Telegraph disagree about the House of Commons' European Scrutiny Committee's report on the European debate - especially over the committee's criticism of the BBC's coverage of Europe. 

As for the BBC's own online report on the MPs' findings, well, it chooses to make the report's general findings about "the lack of an EU debate" its focus. The section on the BBC begins a considerable way down the report, presents the BBC top managers' statements first, then gives the committee's view before ending with a statement from a BBC spokesman. It uses (without quotations marks) the sub-headline 'Independence'. 

For those who don't here are some extracts from it: 
78. We remain concerned following that session that Lord Hall did not seem, in our view, to appreciate fully the limitations on the BBC editorial independence imposed by Article of the Charter, the Framework Agreement and the general law. We were glad to note that Lord Hall stated that on “impartiality, I think that is just fundamental. I really do.” However, we were not satisfied with his responses as to the balance to be struck in delivering that impartiality in respect of different views on the EU issue, and we challenged him that few voices were heard from those with strong views criticising the EU among backbenchers, including from the Labour Party.
80. Overall, following our questioning, we were not satisfied that Lord Hall was sufficiently clear about the structure of the oversight he exercised over those who worked under him as Editor-in-Chief. We were also concerned that neither he nor James Harding sufficiently appreciated that the issue of the EU is not only a party-political, but a cross-party issue for backbenchers.
82. We are gravely concerned that despite our clear message in the session that we would have expected that the BBC would give full coverage to the proceedings attended by Lord Hall and James Harding, apart from a broadcast on BBC Parliament after the session and a short summary of the proceedings on the BBC website, there was to our knowledge no news commentary, analysis or interviews on any of the mainstream programmes of the BBC of the proceedings. We note in this context our continued concerns that there was similarly little coverage of our seminal report on European Scrutiny Reform of November 2013. We regard these failures as inexplicable, and in our view they could be construed as a breach of the BBC’s duties under its Charter and Framework Agreement, and particularly in respect of its public purposes. Furthermore, we find them difficult to understand given Lord Hall’s repeated statements of how seriously he took the issue of impartiality, and the steps he referred to in his oral evidence of how attention is paid to the “flow of information” and a “common response”, with many including daily) meetings between editors and senior managers.
86. We are not yet convinced that the BBC’s training adequately equips BBC editors, correspondents, producers and interviewers to devise the questions and coverage to reflect all sides of the EU equation, in accordance with the BBC Charter and its obligations. We were told by Lord Hall that the organisation is “very reflective. It thinks very hard about what it is doing … The culture, I think, is one of questioning”, and on the question of the complexity of the issues in question, we were told that “the challenge is to say ‘this is complex; it matters. Now we, as journalists, must try to get to grips with it”. In our view a good deal more analysis is required.
90. In summary, we still remain deeply concerned about the manner in which the BBC treats EU issues. Our witnesses seemed to be more intent on defending and asserting their own opinions, mindset and interpretation of the obligations under the Charter and Framework Agreement than in whether they had in fact discharged them or whether they had the mindset to carry through their post-Wilson aims. In the interest of the licence fee payers, and the public in general, and in the context of the approaching General Election and a prospective referendum on the EU, and given the fact that the BBC themselves state that 58% of the public look to the BBC for news they trust, we believe that the BBC has a duty under its Charter, Framework Agreement and the general law, and following the Wilson report in particular, to improve substantially the manner in which it treats EU issues.
93. We deeply regret the fact that Lord Hall’s repeated refusals to give oral evidence delayed the session to such an extent that it has not been possible to conduct further work on these issues before the dissolution of Parliament. Our central tenet, regarding the BBC’s coverage of the EU scrutiny process in the House, and EU issues more generally, is that the country’s public service broadcaster must command wide confidence in its coverage of such a sensitive and complex issue. We do not believe that this has been achieved.
Lord Hall doesn't seem to have gone down too well with them, does he?


  1. "Lord Hall doesn't seem to have gone down too well with them, does he?"

    And, by the looks of it, he couldn't give a toss. After all the committee - and its members - now "disappear" until after the election and who knows who will be the members of the new committee. Why should he care? Such criticism is water off a duck's back. The BBC is beyond this kind of thing. Had the committee reported a year/2 years ago maybe Hall would have responded with some meaningless bromide about "learning lessons" or just plain lied (eg when he said yesterday that he was a "huge fan" of Top Gear). The only weapon the politicians have is the ancient weapon of "supply". Stop the funding and suddenly the BBC will start listening to criticism: keep a telly tax and the BBC will continue the two-fingered salute to its non- Islington audience. Is that so difficult for a politician to understand?

    1. Sadly I think you may have the right of it.

      However, there is hope that some in Parliament are not just there for the cheques and chicks, and have actual notions of representing their constituents and making this a better country for future generations.

      Reading today's Guido coverage does not do much to reassure that the nest of vipers represented by The Speaker's Office is not simply complementing the sack of rats that is the BBC in this, but there you go.

      However, just as East Side gangs have their messy turf wars over 'respect', it is possible the BBC has overstepped a variety of lines a few times too often in basically telling elected Parliament that unelected BBC is in charge, in power, in perpetuity, and they better not forget it if they know what's good for them.

      Tory or Labour, UKIP or Green, if there is a glimmer of belief in democratic process at the ballot, such an attitude should be a rag redder to genuine public servants than the BBC's new corporate ID makeover.

    2. I envy you your (semi) optimism. However, I think it's misplaced. Talk to my (LibDem) MP and all you get is a "speak your weight" encomium to the BBC plus, for good measure, that envy of the world - the NHS. But, of course, the BBC is an echo chamber for LibDem pieties (and Labour ones of course) although in the BBC Narrative the LibDems betrayed the nation in 2010 by going into coalition with the devils incarnate.
      I fear that the BBC is now too powerful and influential for a lone MP or group of MPs to combat: it needs a party to take it on as a matter of policy. The obvious one is the Conservatives but seeing what's happened - or not happened - since 2010 it seems they have little stomach for having a serious go at the BBC even if they wanted to. Sure, there's some nibbling round the edges and the select committee's report is a sign that not everybody in Westminster has rolled over but danger for the BBC? I don't think so.


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