Letter to Jeremy Corbyn MP re: BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’

On 16 December 2015 I gave copies of the letter below, plus enclosures, to Jeremy Corbyn MP and Emily Thornberry MP. (I have embedded several links in the text to provide further information).


Contact details supplied

16 December 2015

Dear Mr Corbyn

BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ and associated BBC News reports  
(See: https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/)

I have been researching the above material since the BBC’s first report of an alleged incendiary bomb attack on an Aleppo school was broadcast on the BBC One Ten O’clock News of Thursday 29 August 2013, just as parliament was voting on possible military intervention in Syria. [1]

I believe there is compelling evidence which raises grave questions over the authenticity of some of the BBC’s footage. My work has been endorsed by former UK ambassador Craig Murray and by Middle East expert Dr Christopher Davidson, Reader in Middle East Politics in the School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University. The material was also discussed in a report by Russian broadcaster RT. [2]

Some points of note are:

  • The testimony of a former commander in the Free Syrian Army, based in Aleppo in August 2013, who avers that the events depicted in the BBC’s reports did not occur.
  • The identification of a 52 year old Netherlands resident who appears to have participated in scenes filmed on the day of the alleged attack in the guise of an incendiary bomb victim, alongside individuals also filmed by Darren Conway.
  • The connections between the charity featured centrally in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ (Hand in Hand for Syria) and the Syrian opposition, including the family relationship between Hand in Hand for Syria executive Dr. Rola Hallam and prominent Syrian National Council advocate Dr. Mousa al-Kurdi. [4]
  • The personal connection between Dr. Saleyha Ahsan, who is filmed volunteering with Hand in Hand for Syria in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, and a British army officer who runs large-scale medical simulation exercises which “mimic even the most severe of injuries” and which employ “professional casualty simulation (make-up) artists who normally work in the film industry.”
  • The selective blocking by BBC Worldwide of all YouTube copies of ‘Saving Syria’s Children’, over and above other editions of Panorama.

There is a great deal more, which I discuss in my blog https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/ which also contains my formal complaints correspondence with the BBC on this matter.

Seumas Milne has written:

There is no point in romanticizing a BBC golden age. The corporation was always an establishment institution, deeply embedded in the security state and subject to direct government control in an emergency…[with] around 40 percent of the staff… vetted by MI5. [5]

I believe a public investigation into ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ is needed.

Yours sincerely

Robert Stuart

Encl:

  1. Fabrication in BBC Panorama ‘Saving Syria’s Children’ – print out of blog home page https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/
  1. BBC Propaganda – Craig Murray, 16 October 2014 https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2014/10/bbc-propaganda/
  1. In the age of media manipulation how much can we afford to take on trust? – OffGuardian, 22 September 2015 http://off-guardian.org/2015/09/22/in-the-age-of-media-manipulation-how-much-can-we-afford-to-take-on-trust/
  1. More puzzles about BBC’s “Saving Syria’s Children” documentary – OffGuardian, 27 October 2015 http://off-guardian.org/2015/10/27/more-puzzles-about-bbcs-saving-syrias-children-documentary/

Notes

[1] The website OffGuardian observes:

As it happens the motion for intervention was unexpectedly defeated by a narrow majority. If this had not happened the BBC’s footage would unquestionably have served as very timely and useful PR in support of the coming war against Assad.

http://off-guardian.org/2015/10/27/more-puzzles-about-bbcs-saving-syrias-children-documentary/

[2] Ofcom’s recent finding against the RT report is discussed in a feature on the website OffGuardian (see 4th enclosure in this letter). I do not agree with the construction that both RT and OffGuardian put upon the editing of Dr. Rola Hallam’s words, however I endorse RT’s wider charge of fabrication in the BBC’s reports, a charge which the station stands resolutely by in the face of the Ofcom finding.

http://off-guardian.org/2015/09/22/in-the-age-of-media-manipulation-how-much-can-we-afford-to-take-on-trust/

[3] The event at which Conway appeared to contradict Pannell was hosted by the Frontline Club, London.  Video of the discussion is being withheld from the Frontline’s website, contrary to the organisation’s usual practice.

[4] Hand in Hand for Syria co-founder and chairman Faddy Sahloul has expressed the following bloodthirsty sentiment in an image posted on Facebook:

WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES

The image was “liked” on Facebook by Hand in Hand for Syria co-founder, executive team member and trustee, Fadi Al-Dairi.

Photographs available on the internet depict a Hand in Hand for Syria nurse ostensibly treating the wounds of a child “rebel” fighter in an approving propaganda piece. The same nurse was filmed by Darren Conway in ‘Saving Syria’s Children’.

[5] http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/27/seumas-milne-on-pinkoes-and-traitors-by-jean-seaton-review-my-father-the-bbc-and-a-very-british-coup

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Potential Geneva Convention breach by BBC presenter: final appeal to BBC Trust

The BBC’s Trust has rejected this review request – see here (received 7 March 2016)


Your ref: 3467532

Dear Sir / Madam

Complaint about Dr Saleyha Ahsan

I am writing to request that the Trustees review the Senior Editorial Adviser’s decision not to put my complaint [1] regarding Dr Saleyha Ahsan before the Trust.

The decision states:

The Trust Adviser noted that the photographs that were the subject of complaint were no longer publicly available on the presenter’s Facebook page.

The images in question were published on Dr Ahsan’s Facebook account on 30 October 2011. Screenshots made on 27 April 2015, referenced in my appeal to the Trust, demonstrate that the photographs were publicly viewable for at least three and a half years. (In fact they remained public until shortly prior to 10 September 2015 when they were removed, it would seem reasonable to presume, as a result of my complaint).

The decision continues:

She also noted that the presenter had not been charged, prosecuted or convicted in connection with the publication of any of those photographs. In the Trust Adviser’s view, unless and until the question of the legality of their publication had been determined by a court of law, the complainant’s allegation that the presenter had committed breaches of international humanitarian law was unproven.

Despite asserting that the illegality of the publication of Dr Ahsan’s photographs is unproven, three paragraphs later the Adviser takes the clear view that their publication is in fact legal (my emphasis):

The Adviser believed that Trustees would be likely to conclude that the presenter’s lawful personal activities (including her Facebook postings, her charitable work and her political affiliations) had no significant bearing on the public’s perception of the BBC and did not give rise to any potential breach of the Editorial Guidelines.

The Adviser appears to require that I provide a reference to a court judgment in support of my complaint about Dr Ahsan’s Facebook postings, while herself making an uncorroborated assertion about the legality of the same.

The Adviser’s nonchalance with regard to the law is further demonstrated by the fact that she has not viewed the Memorandum of Law provided by international human rights lawyer Dr Curtis Doebbler, included in my submission[2]

This is despite the fact that, in an email of 11 September 2015, the Trust had granted my request for an extension of 15 working days in which to submit my appeal, wherein I had explicitly cited as my reason my wish to procure a legal opinion.

Bearing in mind the gravity of the matters which I am bringing to the Trust’s attention, I believe that the Adviser is negligent in ignoring Dr Doebbler’s expert opinion. Her remissness also does not persuade me that my appeal has been taken seriously.

The decision states:

Similarly, the Trust Adviser noted that the first charity had not been charged, prosecuted or convicted in connection with any alleged illegal activity, and that there was no evidence that, when working as a doctor for the first charity, the presenter had engaged in any illegal activity.

On 26 October 2015 the Charity Commission’s Investigations Monitoring and Enforcement Unit notified me that it would shortly make the trustees of Hand in Hand for Syria (“the first charity”) aware of the complaint I submitted to the Commission on 15 September 2015. [3]

Pending the outcome of the Commission’s investigation I draw the Trust’s attention to another image of Dr Ahsan’s Hand in Hand for Syria colleague (http://bit.ly/1lN2sc9):

saveatarebhospital_nurse_540 (1) As noted in my appeal, this woman (centre) worked alongside Dr Ahsan (right, checked shirt) at Atareb Hospital on 26 August 2013:

Nurse2Here (http://slnnews.co/?p=2578), wearing a Hand in Hand for Syria tunic, she is apparently tending to the battle wounds of a child combatant:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=331960330291532&set=pcb.331962803624618&type=1&theater The decision states:

The Trust Adviser also noted that the presenter did not have a high media profile, was not a well-known ‘personality’, and had parallel careers in medicine and drama, from which the Trust Adviser inferred that the presenter was unlikely to be closely associated with the BBC in the public mind. Furthermore, the Trust Adviser thought it likely that viewers of health programmes such as The Truth About Fat would be likely to associate the presenter primarily with her previous appearances on Trust Me, I’m A Doctor, and would be unlikely to be aware of, or concerned with in [sic], her interests outside work.

The Adviser believed that Trustees would be likely to conclude that the presenter’s lawful personal activities (including her Facebook postings, her charitable work and her political affiliations) had no significant bearing on the public’s perception of the BBC and did not give rise to any potential breach of the Editorial Guidelines.

These arguments seem beside the point. I have presented the Trust with evidence which strongly suggests that a BBC presenter may have committed a breach of international humanitarian law. If such an action does not threaten either to “undermine the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity or independence of BBC output” or to “bring the BBC into disrepute” (BBC Editorial Guidelines, Section 15.4.5) it is hard to imagine what may. What is the use of the Trust if it will not scrutinise to the fullest extent in its power such an alarming possibility?

Yours faithfully,

Robert Stuart

https://bbcpanoramasavingsyriaschildren.wordpress.com/

[1] My initial (stage 1a) complaint is here (29 April 2015); BBC Audience Service’s stage 1a response and my stage 1b complaint are here (6 July & 29 July 2015 respectively); BBC Audience Services’ stage 1b decision is here (27 August 2015); my appeal to the BBC Trust is here (15 October 2015).

[2] I infer this from my blog statistics which show that at 5:20pm on 26 November 2015, just over an hour after I had received the Adviser’s decision by email, Dr Doebbler’s Memorandum had been viewed only once, which instance was already accounted for by a correspondent who had downloaded the document and discussed it with me shortly after it was posted on 15 October 2015.

151126 BBC NOT LOOKED AT MEMO OF LAW DOC

[3] Footnote 6 of the Adviser’s decision claims I was mistaken to state in my initial complaint that Hand in Hand for Syria’s declared purpose on the Charity Commission website is “the advancement of health or saving lives”:

6 In fact, the first charity’s declared purposes are: “HELP THE REFUGEES IN LEBANON & TURKEY AS WELL AS PROVIDE FOOD SUPPLIES TO THOSE IN THE AFFECTED AREAS AROUND SYRIA. WE ALSO PROVIDE MEDICAL EQUIPMENT AND MEDICATION.” See:

http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/CharityWithPartB.aspx?Reg isteredCharityNumber=1145862&SubsidiaryNumber=0

The link provided by the Adviser is to Hand in Hand for Syria’s “Charity overview” page on the Commission’s website and the text she cites is a description of the organisation’s “Activities”. The text I cited can be found at the first bullet point in the column “Classification” on the “Charity framework” page, where Hand in Hand for Syria’s “Charitable objects” are also listed:

HAND IN HAND FOR SYRIA EXISTS TO: RELIEVE FINANCIAL HARDSHIP, PROVIDE FOOD AND SHELTER AND OTHER ESSENTIALS, RELIEVE SICKNESS AND PRESERVE HEALTH, AND ADVANCE EDUCATION FOR THE PUBLIC BENEFIT. HAND IN HAND FOR SYRIA FOCUSES ITS EFFORTS BOTH ON SYRIAN PEOPLE IN SYRIA AND THOSE DISPLACED FROM SYRIA

It would be difficult to argue that any of these texts are consistent with the sentiment expressed on Facebook by Hand in Hand for Syria co-founder and chairman Faddy Sahloul, and “liked” by Hand in Hand for Syria co-founder, executive team member and trustee, Fadi Al-Dairi:

“WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES”

Picture1

Potential Geneva Convention breaches by BBC presenter – BBC Trust rejects appeal

Below is the BBC Trust’s response to my appeal (15 October) against BBC Audience Services’ decision (27 August) not to respond further to my complaint* regarding potential breaches of the Geneva Convention by BBC presenter Dr Saleyha Ahsan.

My request for a review of the below decision is here (11 December 2015). The Trust’s rejection of this request is here (received 7 March 2016).

* My initial (stage 1a) complaint is here (29 April). BBC Audience Service’s stage 1a response and my stage 1b complaint are here (6 July & 29 July).


Our ref: 3467532

26 November 2015

Dear Mr Stuart

Decision of BBC Audience Services not to respond further to your complaint about The Truth About Fat, BBC One, 2 April 2015

Thank you for writing to the BBC Trust. I am responding to your appeal of 15 October 2015. The BBC has informed you that it does not wish to respond further to your complaint, and the point I have considered is whether you have been given a reasonable response to your original complaint.

I am sorry to send a disappointing response, but I have assessed your complaint and do not intend to put it before Trustees. The detailed reasons for my decision are in the following annex. In the second annex are relevant sections of the BBC’s complaints procedures and the Charter and Agreements, which you may find helpful.

If you disagree with my decision, you can ask the Trustees to review it by contacting the Complaints Adviser, at trusteditorial@bbc.co.uk or at the above address, by 11 December 2015. Your request must be in one document and in fewer than a thousand words. Trustees will only exceptionally give more time, so if you do need longer, please reply giving your reasons as soon as possible.

If you do ask the Trustees to review this decision, that request as well as your original appeal letter and this letter will be put before Trustees and your previous correspondence will also be available to them. They will consider it in their January meeting. Their decision is likely to be finalised the following month and will then be given to you.

If the Trustees agree that your case has no reasonable prospect of success then it will not be taken further as their decision is final. The decision will be published in the next complaints bulletin. If the Trustees disagree with my decision, then your complaint will be passed back to the BBC for a further response.

Yours sincerely

Leanne Buckle

Senior Editorial Adviser

 

Annex 1— Decision of BBC Audience Services not to respond further to complaint about The Truth About Fat, BBC One, 2 April 2015

The complaint concerned the external activities of the programme’s presenter, which the complainant believed had brought the BBC into disrepute. The complainant made the following points about the presenter:

  • Her external activities breached editorial guideline 15.4.5,1 in the following
  • She had committed breaches of international humanitarian law:
    • Photographs of a captive, taken in Libya in October 2011 and published on the presenter’s Facebook page, breached Articles 3 and 27 of the Geneva Convention.2
    • The presenter’s Facebook page contained images from Libya, of her posing with armed groups that included children. In all the photographs in which she appeared, the presenter’s pleasure was apparent.
    • These photographs had been removed from the presenter’s Facebook
  • Her “chilling attitude towards children and armed conflict” was further evidenced in her dramatisation of her Libyan experiences,3 which included the following passage:

“a 17-year-old boy who’s been separated from his brigade and is desperate to get back to them. You can tell he’s seen action, the way he holds himself, his eyes always focussing somewhere else — he needs his unit”.4

This passage indicated the author’s instinct was that the child’s most urgent need was to be reunited with a military unit rather than with his family or a counsellor.

  • Her attitude towards the participation of children in armed fighting units demonstrated a lack of concern for their physical and psychological wellbeing.
  • In a 2013 edition of Panorama,5 she was shown volunteering with a charity (the first charity). Until July 2014, the Facebook banner of the first charity’s co-founder read: “WE WILL BRING ASSAD TO JUSTICE; NO MATTER WHAT LIVES IT TAKES, NO MATTER HOW MUCH CATASTROPHE IT MAKES.” These sentiments were in stark contrast to the first charity’s declared purpose of “the advancement of health or saving lives”.6
  • The complainant also noted that a nurse who appeared with the presenter in the 2013 edition of Panoramawas pictured online in the first charity’s tunic, apparently treating the battle wounds of child combatants.
  • He stated that research into the first charity had been submitted to the Police and the Charity Commission. This noted the partnership between the first charity and a second charity, whose founder and former Chief Executive was facing fraud charges. In an email of 19 December 2014 to an unidentified recipient, the second charity’s Operations Co-ordinator wrote: “… Special Branch have also been in contact with [the second charity], and we have no doubt that they will also have been making investigations with [the first charity].
  • In 2014, the presenter spoke at an event organised by Cage.8 Cage had been described as a “terrorism advocacy group” by The Daily Telegraph and as “extremist” by the Prime Minister.

The complainant also made allegations concerning the decision9 of the Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) not to proceed with a complaint about the 2013 edition of Panorama. As the ESC’s adjudication was fina1,10 these allegations are not considered further.

Audience Services made the following points:

  • The presenter was a practising accident and emergency doctor, and was already part of the presenting team for BBC Two health series Trust Me, I’m A Doctor.
  • The Truth About Fat was commissioned by BBC Science, alongside The Truth About Calories, for BBC One. It was felt appropriate for both programmes to have a presenter with medical expertise, and in both cases a presenter from Trust Me, I’m A Doctor was selected.
  • A primary consideration in selecting this presenter was that she had a particular interest in the subject, having previously presented related items for Trust Me, I’m A Doctor. Furthermore, the presenter was prepared to undergo medical tests on camera, the results of which would give the audience insights into how fat behaved within the body.
  • In the event, the presenter delivered the programme content with the mix of authority and personal engagement that was required to make the subject accessible to a non-specialist audience.
  • No criminal charges had been brought against the presenter in relation to the publication of photographs on Facebook, and no judgments had been issued against her. Any such proceedings would be taken into account when considering a presenter’s suitability for a role.
  • The presenter’s role as a presenter did not break any Editorial Guidelines on Impartiality or Conflicts of Interest, and there were no grounds to exclude her from presenting BBC programmes.

Audience Services said they had nothing further to add, and that they did not believe the complaint had raised an issue that justified further investigation.

 

Appeal

The complainant appealed to the BBC Trust on the substance of his complaint.

Decision of the Trust Adviser

The Trust Adviser read the correspondence that had passed between the BBC and the complainant. She understood that BBC Audience Services had decided not to correspond further with the complainant after Stage 1 and had not offered him the opportunity to seek a further, more detailed, response at stage 2. She decided that the point she should consider was whether the complainant’s appeal against the decision of Audience Services not to correspond further had a reasonable prospect of success —she decided it did not.

The Trust Adviser noted that the complainant had made no complaint of a breach of editorial standards arising from the content of the output in question. Instead, he had made allegations that were not directly related to the output. He had also sought to revive a complaint that had previously been considered by the ESC.

The Trust Adviser noted that the Royal Charter and the accompanying Agreement between the Secretary of State and the BBC draw a distinction between the respective roles of the Trust and the BBC’s Executive Board. Paragraph 38(1)(b) of the Royal Charter specifically defines the “the direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output” as a duty that is the responsibility of the Executive Board, while paragraph 9(3) states that “the Trust must not exercise or seek to exercise the functions of the Executive Board”. Therefore, the Trust will not involve itself in any matter concerning the direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output unless, for example, it gives rise to a potential breach of the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines.

In the Adviser’s view, decisions about the choice of presenter concerned the direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output, and were therefore not a matter for the Trust, unless they gave rise to a potential breach of the Editorial Guidelines.

The Trust Adviser noted the allegation that the presenter’s external activities had breached Editorial Guideline 15.4.5, which states:

“The external activities of BBC editorial staff, reporters and presenters should not undermine the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity or independence of BBC output. External activities should not bring the BBC into disrepute …”.

The Trust Adviser noted that the photographs that were the subject of complaint were no longer publicly available on the presenter’s Facebook page. She also noted that the presenter had not been charged, prosecuted or convicted in connection with the publication of any of those photographs. In the Trust Adviser’s view, unless and until the question of the legality of their publication had been determined by a court of law, the complainant’s allegation that the presenter had committed breaches of international humanitarian law was unproven.

Similarly, the Trust Adviser noted that the first charity had not been charged, prosecuted or convicted in connection with any alleged illegal activity, and that there was no evidence that, when working as a doctor for the first charity, the presenter had engaged in any illegal activity.

The Trust Adviser also noted that the presenter did not have a high media profile, was not a well-known ‘personality’, and had parallel careers in medicine and drama, from which the Trust Adviser inferred that the presenter was unlikely to be closely associated with the BBC in the public mind. Furthermore, the Trust Adviser thought it likely that viewers of health programmes such as The Truth About Fat would be likely to associate the presenter primarily with her previous appearances on Trust Me, I’m A Doctor, and would be unlikely to be aware of, or concerned with in [sic], her interests outside work.

The Adviser believed that Trustees would be likely to conclude that the presenter’s lawful personal activities (including her Facebook postings, her charitable work and her political affiliations) had no significant bearing on the public’s perception of the BBC and did not give rise to any potential breach of the Editorial Guidelines. The Adviser also believed that Trustees would be likely to conclude that the content of the fictional work written by the presenter was not relevant to this appeal, and that the complainant had not provided any credible evidence of the presenter’s alleged lack of concern for the physical and psychological wellbeing of minors.

In the Trust Adviser’s view, Trustees would be likely to decide that there was no evidence that the presenter had undermined the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity or independence of BBC output, or that her external activities had brought the BBC into disrepute.

Taking this into account the Adviser considered Trustees would be likely to conclude that BBC Audience Services had given a reasoned and reasonable response to the complaint and had acted appropriately in declining to enter into further correspondence. She therefore did not consider it was appropriate, proportionate or cost-effective to proceed with the appeal as it did not have a reasonable prospect of success. The Adviser did not propose to put it before Trustees.

 

Annex 2

The Trust is the last stage of the complaints process and everyone who works within the Trust Unit is outside the day-to-day operations of the BBC. We review the complaints that come to us to assess whether they should be put before the BBC’s Trustees for them to reach a final decision. We read the correspondence in each case and also review the relevant BBC content in order to make this assessment.

The Trust acts in the interests of all licence-fee payers and it would not be proportionate, appropriate or cost-effective to spend a good deal of time and money on cases that do not stand a realistic prospect of success.

For information about the complaints system — and in particular about how the BBC Trust fits in — this is the web link: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/governance/complaints framework/

All BBC output is required to meet the standards set out in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines. These are written by the BBC and are commissioned and approved by the BBC Trust. They are publicly available and can be found through this link: www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines. Where a complaint relates to a potential breach of the Editorial Guidelines, we will refer to the relevant Guidelines in our response.

The Trust’s Editorial Appeals procedure states that:

The Trust will only consider an appeal if it raises “a matter of substance”.11 This will ordinarily mean that in the opinion of the Trust there is a reasonable prospect that the appeal will be upheld as amounting to a breach of the Editorial Guidelines. In deciding whether an appeal raises a matter of substance, the Trust may consider (in fairness to the interests of all licence fee payers in general) whether it is appropriate, proportionate and cost-effective to consider the appeal.12

For non-editorial complaints, the relevant procedures can be found through the link given above. However, in general, the Trust only considers appeals which raise “a matter of substance”and for non-editorial complaints this means appeals will only be considered which relate to “…significant issues of general importance.

Again, the Trust operates in the interests of all licence-fee payers and will bear in mind whether it is appropriate, proportionate and cost-effective to consider the appeal.

The BBC’s complaints system has three stages. Complaints are answered at stage one by BBC Audience Services. Complainants who remain dissatisfied after this can request a further response at stage one. If they are still dissatisfied they may be able to escalate their complaint to stage two, where their complaint will either be answered by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit or by a senior manager within the relevant division. The third and final stage is an appeal to the Trust. Time frames are set throughout the complaints process and complaints that are made outside those limits will only exceptionally be considered.

Under the Complaints Framework, it is open to the BBC to decline to correspond further about a complaint. The BBC can do this at any stage if it considers the complaint is trivial, misconceived, hypothetical, repetitious or otherwise vexatious. It can also stop replying to an editorial complaint that does not raise an issue of a breach of the Editorial Guidelines. The complainant can appeal to the Trust if they consider the BBC is wrong to stop corresponding about their complaint.

Where a complainant appeals to the Trust in these circumstances, if Trustees agree that the BBC was wrong to close down correspondence, the complaint will be sent back to the BBC for a further response. It will remain open to the complainant to appeal again to the Trust once the BBC has finished responding.

The Royal Charter and accompanying Agreement between the Secretary of State and the BBC draw a distinction between the role of the BBC Trust and that of the BBC Executive Board, led by the Director-General. “The direction of the BBC’s editorial and creative output”and “The operational management of the BBC”are defined as duties that are the responsibility of the Executive Board under paragraph 38, (1)(b) and (1)(c).

These are important because they are intended to protect the BBC’s editorial freedom and independence. They mean that the BBC is entitled to make editorial decisions without the Trust’s intervention — and the Trust would only have a role if, for example, a complaint raised a matter that was a potential breach of the BBC’s editorial standards (as set out in the Editorial Guidelines).

Similarly, the BBC is entitled to make operational decisions without interference and the Trust would only have a role if the BBC was potentially in breach of any of its other commitments — for example, if one of the licence-fee funded services has not operated within the terms set out in its Service Licence.

A high proportion of complaints that reach the Trust are either about editorial and creative decisions or operational decisions. However, it is outside the remit of the Trust to consider those complaints. Examples of the kind of complaints that Trustees would not be able to consider are:

  • a particular programme should not have been made
  • a contributor was not a good guest for a programme
  • a complainant disagreed with the line of questioning taken by an interviewer
  • a complainant was upset that a scheduled programme was not broadcast

 

1 “The external activities of BBC editorial staff, reporters and presenters should not undermine the public’s perception of the impartiality, integrity or independence of BBC output. External activities should not bring the BBC into disrepute …”. See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidelines/conflicts-of-interest/other-output-areas

2 Article 3: “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely …”.

Article 27: “… [Protected persons] shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against insults and public curiosity …”.

3 The Road to Bani Wald, BBC Radio 4, 27 February 2015: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b053c3pg

4 Ibid at 24:30.

5 Saving Syria’s Children: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03c7m8s

6 In fact, the first charity’s declared purposes are: “HELP THE REFUGEES IN LEBANON & TURKEY AS WELL AS PROVIDE FOOD SUPPLIES TO THOSE IN THE AFFECTED AREAS AROUND SYRIA. WE ALSO PROVIDE MEDICAL EQUIPMENT AND MEDICATION.” See:

http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/CharityWithPartB.aspx?Reg isteredCharityNumber=1145862&SubsidiaryNumber=0

7 At 31:17.

8 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JN2IDVNGjZY

http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/appeals/esc_bulletins/2014/oct_nov.pdf pp 134-159.

10 Para 5.8 of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints and Appeals Procedures states: “The Trust is not obliged to consider every appeal brought to it, and is the final arbiter if any question arises as to whether an appeal is for the Trust to determine or not.” See: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/regulatory framework/protocols/2014/complaint  s fr work ed complaints.pdf

11 Under the Charter and Agreement, the Trust has a role as final arbiter in appropriate cases, and must provide a right of appeal in cases that raise a matter of substance.

12 For example, if an appeal raises a relatively minor issue that would be complicated, time-consuming or expensive to resolve, the Trust may decide that the appeal does not raise a matter of substance, and decline to consider it.