The BBC has finally responded to my complaint about a BBC report on the Julian Assange extradition case. The background and replies follow below.
The BBC claims to endeavour to reply within 30 days. In this case, it took very nearly a full month to notify me that I would need to explain why the complaint hadn’t been brief enough, and then a further 2 months (exactly) to receive the reply. The reply apologised “for the long and regrettable delay“, but offered no explanation for it.
Complaints typically focus on a single point. However I wanted to complain that the overall narrative of the report was biased, and went about that by challenging individual parts of the report. The reply said there are “no grounds for addressing each of the 19 points you’ve listed individually in the way you request” and proceeded to address not one of them – neither point by point as I requested, nor in any other way.
It then said that my points “seem to be informed less by the facts of the matter and more by [my] own views“, and then made no attempt to establish the truth of that statement. Even the simple fact that the report’s title was wrong went straight through this dragnet.
There then followed a breathtaking attempt to justify this wholesale rejection. The BBC’s reply implied very strongly that since the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines refer to due impartiality, my allegation of bias … must be biased! We are asked to accept the impartiality and accuracy of their report on the grounds that they are required by the Guidelines. In other words, the report must be right so the complaint must be wrong.
Please read the BBC’s response (and my reply to their response) below and share your comments.
On 27 October, 2021 the BBC published a video by their Home and Legal Correspondent Dominic Casciani, purporting to explain “how we arrived at this crunch moment”- the US’s appeal in the Julian Assange extradition case.
On November 24th, a list of criticisms of the video was sent to the BBC in the form of a complaint. The BBC’s reference # is CAS-7018479-S2B1R3, and full details were reported here.
On December 21st, a reply dated December 16th was received in the post. It rejected the complaint on the grounds that the email was too long (more than 1,000 words), and said it might be considered if a reason was given for the excessive length. That was done on the 21st, and the rejection and reply were reported here.
On 2 January, 2022 @mattberkley pointed out on Twitter that the BBC had altered the record; the title and some of the content of the video had changed. The court had decided in favour of the US, but the changes were not limited to a reflection of that, and there was no record of what the video had said. On 5 January, 2022 an update to the complaint was submitted regarding this.
BBC Response 21 February, 2022
On 21 February, 2022, after 2 calls to BBC Audience Services (who confirmed they’re actually just a Capita call logging service) requesting an update, the BBC finally replied to the original 24 November complaint, and to the 5 January update to the complaint:
Thank you for getting in touch about our video article Julian Assange: The background to the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition case and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.
I have reviewed the video and your letter but can see no grounds for addressing each of the 19 points you’ve listed individually in the way you request.
I appreciate that it is your belief that each one identifies a flaw with the article, but in many cases they seem to be informed less by the facts of the matter and more by your own views.
They have also all been raised in pursuance of the same point, which is that the article was biased.
However the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines refer to due impartiality, which is to say the impartiality “must be adequate and appropriate to the output”.
The context is that this is a short digital video which aims to explain the legal reasons why Julian Assange is stuck in a British prison fighting extradition to the United States.
It did not purport to offer an exhaustive account of the case or the reasons why Julian Assange’s supporters say he is innocent and amounts to a brief overview, initially published ahead of the two-day extradition hearing at the High Court.
In a follow-up complaint you also wrote:
I note that the title, date, length, and some of the content of the video in question (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av-embeds/59053803) changed on or after 26.11.2021. The new date is 10.12.2021, and the update i.e. the new conclusion that the lower court’s decision was overturned, is not the only change in the content. The record has therefore been changed (rather than re-versioned), even though section 13 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines says “we should only remove or amend online, including on-demand, content in exceptional circumstances”. Please explain why the changes were made and why there is no record of the changes.
I think you have addressed this question yourself in noting that the article’s headline and date stamp changed to reflect that the High Court had overturned the decision and section 13 of the Editorial Guidelines concerns the integrity of our archive, rather than updates to news stories.
Thank you once again for getting in touch.
BBC News website www.bbc.co.uk/complaints
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BBC Complaints Team
Reply to BBC March 7, 2022
The following reply was submitted on March 7th, 2022:
Thank you for your reply of 21 Feb 2022.
1.1 You said that you see no grounds for addressing each of the points I listed in the way I requested, and proceeded to not address any of them. I would be happy to request that they’re addressed in a different way if you can advise a way that would be acceptable. How should I do that?
You then said “in many cases [your beliefs] seem to be informed less by the facts of the matter and more by your own views”.
1.2 If “many cases” is not “all cases”, then in which case(s) was it not determined that my “belief” is informed less by the facts of the matter and more by [my] own views?
1.3. In cases where it was determined that my “beliefs” are not the facts of the matter, how was that done without presupposing that what I wrote isn’t correct?
With regard to the update, my point was that a reader / viewer who did not see the video before the update has no way of knowing that it had said something different. Clearly that practice can enable assumptions, mistakes and worse to be removed from the record, which is why some outlets update articles with explicit notes setting out what was said before the update. To put it another way, you said that the Guideline “concerns the integrity of our archive”, and I agree! – the information that the update updated is no longer in the archive, so the integrity of the archive is thus compromised. How, for example, can a reader now verify my claim that the headline used to erroneously refer to the “Wikileaks founder’s extradition appeal”?
Best wishes …