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Saturday, 7 October 2017

BBC in Ofcom Transparency Battle

The BBC is in a stand-off with Ofcom over the publication of programme complaint statistics.

The BBC's most recent Royal Charter commenced on 1st January 2017. One of the conditions of the Charter was that the BBC, which had (disasterously) always been trusted to keep its own house in order, would become subject to external scrutiny by broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

In the wake of the Savile scandal the newly appointed BBC Director General, George Entwistle, declared there would be a new era of transparent accountability at the Corporation. Nothing would be swept under the carpet; everything would be open to proper scrutiny. It's a sentiment that has been echoed by his successor, current Director General Tony Hall on several occasions.

Sadly, despite regularly talking the talk, the BBC has never quite mustered the humility to walk the walk when it comes to reflection and self-evaluation. If you've ever seen the BBC's Newswatch or Points Of View programmes, you'll know exactly what we mean! Prior to the current Charter, the BBC had always handled its own complaints and only ever published what it wanted to. The Corporation has thus far resisted requests for greater complaints transparency, but Ofcom is now sharpening its teeth ready to force the national broadcaster into compliance.

Ofcom has ordered the BBC to produce its first fortnightly complaints bulletin by 19th November 2017. Should the BBC fail to deliver, the regulator will take legal steps to force its hand.

Kevin Bakhurst, Ofcom Content Group Director, said: "The information we are requiring the BBC to publish mirrors the information Ofcom currently publishes on complaints we receive about other broadcasters. We consider this appropriate in order to achieve an equivalent level of transparency for the BBC."

For its part, the BBC maintains that its system of reporting complaints is more transparent than that of commercial rivals. The BBC willingly publishes some complaints data, whereas commercial stations only do so begrudgingly because of Ofcom. This stands the BBC ahead of the crowd, so it claims.

A BBC spokesman told the Daily Mail: "The BBC is already the most transparent broadcaster on complaints, including publishing data every month and responding on our website, and numbers are often influenced by orchestrated political campaigns but of course we are considering Ofcom's letter."

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