Transparency and the Internet blog

Assistant Editor

The Internet blog was set up in 2007.

Its aim has always been simple: to provide a place where people from the BBC’s technical and editorial teams who work in BBC Future Media and BBC Online can talk about their work and get feedback from readers.

Over the years the subjects covered by this blog have changed a great deal. Andy Quested was a regular contributor about BBC HD at one point, at another Anthony Rose’s posts about the development of BBC iPlayer always caused great excitement and in 2011 the latest version of the BBC Home page was covered in detail.

Traffic to the Internet blog between July and September of 2012 – does publishing graphs like this one aid transparency?


From time to time myself and the content producer discuss with colleagues the performance and editorial direction of the blog. As Eliza explained the blog recently migrated to a new platform with a new look and feel. So this feels like a good time to pause and think about what we’re doing and what we could do.

As you can see from the above graph of traffic the blog did well in the summer of 2012, driven by the posts that we published about the Olympic Games. In fact the Olympic spike for the blog were the best numbers the blog has ever achieved to my memory.

So some people are reading what is published.

But I thought it might be useful to consider what we do on the blog in a different, more philosophical way.

'Transparency' is a word I’ve been hearing a lot recently.

The BBC Trust has a statement on its website saying:

"As a public body the BBC has a responsibility to operate as transparently as possible. The Trust takes this duty seriously and has tasked the BBC with setting new standards in openness and transparency."

Transparency has lots of different meanings in different contexts. Wikipedia has various definitions.

So to stimulate my thinking I’d like to ask you, the readers of the blog some questions:

What does 'transparency' mean to you?

Does the Internet blog help BBC Online be more 'transparent'?

Is there any new content or features that you feel would increase 'transparency'?

Please leave a comment and I will respond. Try and focus your comments on the Internet blog rather than the BBC as a whole as this will make for a better conversation and as always remember the house rules.

Nick Reynolds is public accountability executive, BBC Online.

Comments

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  • Comment number 22. Posted by Nick Reynolds

    on 25 Feb 2013 11:15

    Hi - just before this post is closed for comments I'd just like to thank you all for your contributions.

    They have been interesting and useful.

    While like _Ewan_ I would like the BBC to do more than the minimum I only have control over what happens on this blog. On the blog we will continue to try to increase transparency on the subjects that readers care about.

    Thanks again

  • Comment number 21. Posted by BBC Radio Forum

    on 20 Feb 2013 18:31

    The BBC would do well to note and act upon the comments of _Ewan_ and Eponymous Coward.

    I don’t wish to be cheeky (not that it’s going to stop me) but I’ve just looked up ‘public accountability’ (just to be sure) and rightly enough, this is the definition:

    ‘Obligations of public enterprises and agencies (who are entrusted with public resources) to be answerable for fiscal and social responsibilities, to those who have assigned such responsibilities to them.’

    Now whilst Feedback is a well-produced radio programme and does a great job, it’s described as ‘Radio 4's forum for comments, queries, criticisms and congratulations.’

    Distinctly two quite different things. Nice to have Feedback but if you’ve ever emailed them you’d know from their standard reply that they can’t even guarantee a personal reply, whereas public accountability is an ‘obligation’. I really shouldn’t have to be pointing these things out to a Public Accountability Executive should I?

    Hopefully you’ll understand that these criticisms are intended with respect, I certainly don’t wish to join the sections of the media which enjoy bashing the BBC, public service broadcasting is too important for that. It’s also too important for those in charge of it to be avoiding their obligations.

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  • Comment number 20. Posted by Eponymous Cowherd

    on 20 Feb 2013 16:27

    The problem with these exemptions to the FOI is that one can usually be found to justify a refusal, particularly 41 and 43(2). It is very easy to claim commercial confidence or that the requested information was provided in confidence.

    Also, as _Ewan_ rightly points out, Just because the BBC can refuse an FOI request on the basis of an Exemption doesn't mean it should or, indeed, would be right, to do so.

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  • Comment number 19. Posted by _Ewan_

    on 20 Feb 2013 14:05

    I think the fact that your approach to Freedom of Information is to link to two lists of exceptions says it all about your, and the BBC generally's attitudes to transparency. If you actually want to be transparent, you'd just tell us stuff voluntarily - what the law does or does not force you to do would be neither here nor there.

    The FOIA requirements are a minimum standard, not a limit. Don't you want to do better than the bare legal minimum?

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  • Comment number 18. Posted by Nick Reynolds

    on 20 Feb 2013 10:38

    Hi to everyone and thanks for your useful comments.

    If you want to know more about the BBC's approach to FOI you may find these links on the BBC's FOI website useful:

    General exemptions from FOI

    Information that is excluded from the Act for the BBC and other public service broadcasters

    BBC Radio Forum - I actually think it makes sense to use a radio programme to drive accountability for BBC radio programmes and a blog for the BBC's internet activities.

    davey_alama - these figures are correct to the best of my knowledge and are consistent over the long term. Do you think they are too big or too small?

  • Comment number 17. Posted by davey_alama

    on 19 Feb 2013 22:48

    Just the Internet Blog gets around 30k UNIQUE visits a WEEK? Are you sure these figures are correct?

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  • Comment number 16. Posted by BBC Radio Forum

    on 19 Feb 2013 21:01

    Thanks for the reply Nick. I know they say God moves in mysterious ways but having an Executive for Accountability in one part of the BBC and the use of a TV or radio programme in another seems to move beyond the realm of mysterious into bonkers.

    I am very appreciative of your time and your encouraging answer to my initial question. I think they could do with a more open approach over in the Mustardland debates. Having lurked over there those guys are raising perfectly valid questions about costs and policy and being met by a brick wall. That kind of behaviour on the BBC's part will only engender resentment. It may not change the outcome but it would serve as true and open engagement. The BBC is after all, a public service and as part of your public they should be being treated with far more respect. Who knows, when they have all the facts they may be able to put forward a good case for keeping that particular part of the BBC's service, by behaving as they do the BBC makes it look as though that is what it is frightened of.

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  • Comment number 15. Posted by Eponymous Cowherd

    on 19 Feb 2013 19:06

    @14 "_Ewan_":

    I'm not really expecting an answer (though it would be nice). Nick asked why kurren and I thought that DRM / Copy protection at the BBC was a transparency issue and my reply accomplished that.

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  • Comment number 14. Posted by _Ewan_

    on 19 Feb 2013 17:09

    "What does 'transparency' mean to you?"

    It means telling the public things that you don't particularly want to (that's 'PR') and that you aren't forced to by FOIA (that's 'not breaking the law').

    Answering Eponymous Cowherd's questions would be an example of transparency, not answering them would (and I suspect, will) be an example of a lack of transparency.

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  • Comment number 13. Posted by Eponymous Cowherd

    on 19 Feb 2013 08:25

    I think the issue between DRM and "transparency" at the BBC is related to the drivers behind this requirement for DRM/Copy protection.

    We hear a lot about it being required by "rights holders" and, indeed, the requirements of these "rights holders" is one of the primary reasons for the (disastrous, IMHO) approach taken by the BBC in its development of iPlayer for Android.

    But who are these "rights holders"? Yes, I know they are the people / production companies responsible for the content shown, but that doesn't show much "transparency". DRM and copy protection can (and does in the case of the Android iPlayer) have a major detrimental impact on the enjoyment of BBC content by licence payers and I feel we should be told who, definitively and exactly, are responsible for this insistence on copy-protecting that which has already been broadcast "in the clear" on digital terrestrial and "Freesat"?

    Is it one or two people, is it some kind of organisation? Who can we write to or lobby amongst these "rights holders" to protest against these restrictive measures? Is there some kind of "super injunction" against the BBC which prohibits these "rights holders" from being named?

    Hopefully this has made it clear why I believe that the BBC's use of DRM and/or copy protection is, very much a "transparency" issue.

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