Rules tightened after World News breaches

BBC World News logo BBC World News: tighter controls

BBC World News is to stop buying cut price shows from independents and programmes sponsored by NGOs after serious editorial breaches that the BBC Trust warned had put the corporation's international reputation at risk.

Tighter rules around the commercial BBC channel have been introduced as the BBC Trust's editorial standards committee (ESC) rules that 15 independently acquired programmes were in breach of BBC editorial and/or sponsorship guidelines.

Eight of the programmes, broadcast on World News between February 2009 and July of this year, were produced by FBC Media (UK) Ltd, and dealt with Malaysia, the country's government and in particular, its palm oil industry, when - unknown to the BBC at the time, the Malaysian government was a client of FBC.

Favourable

While no one programme broke BBC rules on impartiality, conflict of interest guidelines had been breached, the ESC found. They voiced 'significant concerns' about a focus that appeared to be 'too favourable to certain Malaysian issues and government policies'.

Even before the FBC Media programmes were investigated, BBC Global News had alerted the ESC to its own concerns that a serious breach of sponsorship guidelines had occurred in the 2009 documentary Taking the Credit, about carbon trading, made by indie Rockhopper TV.

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Breaches went to the heart of the BBC's international reputation and risked undermining the editorial integrity of its output'.”

End Quote Editorial Standards Committee BBC Trust

The original allegation, made by a freelance journalist, was that the programme's funder, the African Carbon Liveliehood Trust, had a managing director who was also chief exec of Envirotrade, a company featured in the programme.

As a result, the ESC ordered an audit of funding arrangements for all World News documentary or feature programmes since February 2011 which, like Taking the Credit, had been acquired for 'low or nominal cost'.

Conflict of interest

Six programmes, made by either One Planet Pictures or TVE and funded by international organisations including United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) were current affairs shows and so breached BBC sponsorship rules and well as conflict of interest guidelines.

BBC Trustees judged that failings in the 15 programmes 'went to the heart of the BBC's international reputation and risked undermining the editorial integrity of its output'.

Trustee Richard Ayre said: 'International audiences must be able to rely on the same integrity and independence in the BBC's editorial decisions as audiences in the UK.

'We have found that several programmes shown on the BBC's World News channel had been inappropriately sponsored, and in the case of one of the independent producers, FBC Media (UK) Ltd, there was at least a suggestion that the company had a conflict of interest of which the BBC had been unaware.

'The Trust is deeply concerned at this and we very much regret that these programmes failed to live up to the editorial standards we set for the BBC. The Director General has already implemented a series of measures to prevent it happening again.'

A follow-up audit next year would report back to the Trust, Ayre confirmed.

While the ESC did not attribute the breaches to lack of funding on BBC World News, the committee 'strongly endorsed the director-general's decision to cease the practice of commissioning programmes at low or nominal cost'.

Actions

BBC managers believed there was a 'cultural issue', whereby some Global News staff did not recognise that conflicts could arise from non-commercial sponsorship, the ESC notes.

It adds: 'The BBC Executive should have been more alert to the potential for inappropriate sponsorship and should have probed further where there appeared to be confusion.'

Action taken by the BBC as a result of the breaches includes that BBC World News will:

• no longer commission or acquire programmes which are sponsored by non-commercial organisations (such as charitable foundations or non-aligned international bodies such as UN agencies);

• not commission or acquire programming at nominal cost from independent production companies for first broadcast;

• only commission or acquire sponsored programmes in non-news and current affairs genres including sport, culture, history, travel and lifestyle;

• tighten its supplier list and establish a panel of approved production companies;

• strengthen its due diligence processes, so that every programme or series proposed through the approved companies will be subject to a more detailed examination of any potential conflicts in advance of commissioning;

• tighten approval procedures for programming containing funding from third parties, including a two stage sign off process.

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We are determined to learn any lessons from this process .That is why we have set out a robust action plan ”

End Quote BBC World News

Accepting the Trust's findings, BBC World News said it was 'committed to the highest standards of broadcasting and our editorial independence must always remain protected'.

Stronger protection

'There were breaches of BBC guidelines though we note that the Trust report found no breaches of impartiality in any of the programmes,' a spokesperson said.

'We are determined to learn any lessons from this process .That is why we have set out a robust action plan which has been endorsed by the Trust's Editorial Standards Committee (ESC).

'We are now committed to bringing in a series of changes to tighten our systems and strengthen the protection of our editorial independence.'

On FBC, World News said it had immediately suspended broadcast of programming from the company when it became aware of these issues and that FBC had since admitted that it has worked for the Malaysian government.

'That information was not disclosed to the BBC as it should have been when the BBC contracted programming from FBC, and we have now terminated our relationship with the company,' World News said.

Interference

In its response, Rockhopper TV maintained that the BBC had approved editorial content in advance and was in editorial control throughout.

'We have apologised for what was an inadvertent mistake, relating to a pro-bono post, that had no editorial consequence. The Trust has found that we acted in good faith. There was no external editorial interference,' the company said.

All of its staff working on BBC programmes had completed the BBC's Safeguarding Trust courses, Rockhopper said, adding that the Trust's report added 'nothing significant to the facts already known and published by the BBC in early 2010'.

Read the full ruling on the Trust website

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