The BBC has a responsibility to deal openly and fairly with audiences. This means being able to show good reason for the decisions you make and being consistent with the BBC’s journalistic values and editorial guidelines. Senior editors offer advice.
The BBC serves a broad range of audiences with different interests, different cultures and backgrounds, and different levels of engagement with the big stories of the day. Their continuing trust in what the BBC says and does is a crucial part of its relationship with them.
The BBC maintains their trust by:
Reporting clearly and directly
Not talking down to audiences
Explaining what has happened and why it matters, in a way that informs and engages audiences
Expecting to account for editorial decisions and choices to audiences
Openly acknowledging mistakes and encouraging a culture which is willing to learn from them.
Being accountable to an audience doesn’t mean being led by it or just covering the stories the audiences want to see, hear or read. Nor does it mean ducking the difficult decisions.
It means that you need to be able to show you had good reasons for making the decision that you did and that those reasons are consistent with the BBC’s journalistic values and guidelines.
You should be prepared to explain why you’ve chosen that lead story, written that headline, included specific shots or interview clips and not used others.
In a complex and increasingly interdependent world, what happens in Pakistan or Iran can make a very real difference to life in the UK or vice versa. UK-based journalists have a responsibility to keep their audiences in touch with the world as it is.
A BBC journalist wants audiences to go on treating them as a trusted guide. That means sometimes surprising an audience with a story or information outside their normal daily experience.
"By far the most important accountability we have is towards the audience, and it’s when we lose sight of that that we get into trouble"
Accountability isn’t just about responding – or not responding - to complaints. You shouldn’t see complaints as a nuisance. Nor should you believe that it’s a sign of weakness if you’ve got something wrong.
If you receive a complaint it’s important to deal with it according to the complaints procedure that is in place.
As a BBC journalist you should be prepared to listen to your audience, understand why they might want you to explain what you’ve done and, if you have made a mistake, acknowledge it and be willing to learn from it.
Dealing with complaints properly and openly is an important part of building and maintaining trust.
However hard you strive to be accurate, fair and impartial, you will get things wrong from time to time. It might be a judgment made against the clock, a clip that doesn’t quite capture the essence of what was said or meant, or an inference made against a deadline. Or it might be plain ignorance.
If you make a mistake, you should correct it as soon as you become aware of it – particularly in live and continuous news or on a website.
Audiences understand that stories often emerge piece by piece and that sometimes the first accounts of a story may be imperfect.
Websites, digitally held content and interlinked stories mean that much journalism, including pages with mistakes on them, remains easily accessible forever - so mistakes must be acknowledged and fixed.
Journalists, like everyone else, learn from mistakes. If you fail to acknowledge and account for them, you won’t learn from them.
The BBC Academy offers face-to-face and online courses for BBC staff.