BBC complaints system under the microscope at Leveson Inquiry

25 January 2012

The ongoing Leveson Inquiry has placed the culture and practices of the newspaper industry in the spotlight. As part of this, Full Fact has been working hard to ensure that accuracy is at the front of the Inquiry's collective mind.

One of the areas that Full Fact has urged the Inquiry to consider is the way in which complaints about the accuracy of newspaper articles are dealt with, both by the papers themselves and the Press Complaints Commission.

However the issue is not one that is limited to the print media, and we have also spotted areas for improvement when it comes to the way in which broadcast outlets handle complaints.

In fact, as we pointed when our Director spoke at the Inquiry's seminars last October, the BBC is in many ways the worst offender when it comes to complaints.

As we said at the time: "the PCC actually has a much more helpful complaints process than the BBC, even though its effectiveness leaves much to be desired."

So it was encouraging to hear the BBC's Director General Mark Thompson and Chairman of the BBC Trust Lord Patten discuss how this process could be improved when they each took to the stand at the Inquiry on Monday.

In particular we were pleased to hear Lord Patten raise the prospect of a dedicated head of complaints, which he hoped might help to make the system simpler and quicker.

He told the Inquiry:

"I think the problem has been that the system is very complicated for people to understand, so I wanted there to be greater clarity about how it should work and more simplicity in that sense, and I also thought that it was very important for us to be faster, if we could, and quicker, and I hoped that the appointment of - of an editorial - of a chief of editorial complaints, of corrections, will help to deal with that."

While we have spotted some signs of improvement in the BBC's complaints process over the past six months, these have been too few and far between for us to say that the organisation has turned a corner.

Certainly our experience doesn't accord with Mr Thompson's claim that:

"We have a target of responding in ten days.  I think we're currently at 93, 94 per cent of that target, and in, again, the overwhelming majority of cases, the complaint is satisfactorily dealt with at that stage."

So while we are pleased to hear that the BBC is taking our criticisms seriously, there is still much work to be done at Television Centre.

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