Reacting to reactions

Monday 26 October 2009, 09:36

Keith Jones Keith Jones Head of Communications & Complaints

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Hello, I'm Keith Jones, and I am Head of Communications and Complaints in BBC Audience Services, which doesn't describe very clearly what I, or my team, do. I'm responsible for managing a large chunk of the services we provide for our audiences.

We have felt for some time that we should explain more about what we do, so I plan to use this blog to do that and also explain some of the issues generating reaction from audiences.
One of our most popular services is providing tickets to our radio and TV shows or events, and for the award-winning tours of our studios and buildings. I'd urge you to come and visit: we promise you'll have a really good time visiting or coming to a BBC show.

But there's another important side to our work. It's through my teams that most people send in their comments, appreciations or complaints about BBC programmes, either online at the Contact Us site or by telephone (look up BBC in your phone directory). As a result of all this feedback we know a lot about how people react to our programmes.

The strongest demand is always for more information or help using our services. We provide this mostly online on the Help site and although we can't answer everything, we do our best to find answers and publish them online. And for some of the issues covered in programmes we provide access to further information and sources of advice on our Action Line site.

Every morning one of our services is to collate the reaction we've received and report it to programme makers and managers across the BBC. If you read the press you'd think the BBC only receives complaints but although newspapers are always more interested in complaints, they are a relatively small proportion of all the reactions we receive.

For example, many viewers were recently moved by the quality of our documentary Wounded and contacted us to say so. We've also had appreciations for Life, The Choice, The Choir and Strictly Come Dancing. We did have many complaints about the replacement of Arlene Philips by Alesha Dixon, but we've also had appreciations for Alesha now the series is up and running.

We had lots of reaction to a recent interview with Gordon Brown, and you'll be only too aware of the response to the inclusion of the British National Party in Question Time. We have editorial obligations and standards which we must keep to across all our coverage, so in such cases we try to explain why when we believe criticism is misplaced (a good example can be seen on Ric Bailey's blog or in Mark Thompson's response on this blog).

How do we react to all this reaction? The short answer is that it depends on what it is about. Sometimes we can change things, sometimes we can't. For example when thousands of viewers complained that they were unable to watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics because it was screened during working hours, we changed our schedules and were able to repeat it. We read every comment (yes, every comment) and make them available to producers and managers in our reports. But we are mindful to listen to what other audience research findings tell us as well as those who contact us.

If we get something wrong we should apologise and say so. But often we are unable to agree with those who complained and try to give our reasoning. So we provide a rigorous complaints service, and we publish regular summaries of the main issues we have considered and which people have raised.

We can't please everyone, and must often balance competing pressures. During Wimbledon this year, for example, many people were pleased that we kept some key matches on BBC One when they overran. But others were extremely unhappy about the disruption which inevitably followed to the rest of the schedule, especially to our news bulletins at 6.30pm. So, obviously, we must take this into account in planning our coverage next year.

The importance for us is to carry on listening to your reaction. We're grateful that our programmes matter so much to so many. We take everyone's reaction seriously and can sometimes act on it, but I hope this helps to explain why the BBC cannot always respond in the many ways different people would like us to.

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