Transparency and the Internet blog

Wednesday 13 February 2013, 11:10

Nick Reynolds Nick Reynolds Editor Internet blog

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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.

blog-traffic-graph-1024.jpg 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.

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Comments

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    I think the combination of the news editor blogs, the reporter blogs and the BBC college of journalism blogs provide an excellent platform for debate on news content, coverage and reporting process. I have worked as a freelance journalist abroad and the level of transparency offered by the BBC is a cut above the rest. One need only look at articles like http://newsview.co.za/bbc-vs-sabc/ to see the difference. Other public broadcasters don't have such forums and the public there wants for it.

    No doubt there will be plenty of comments about the lack of transparency at BBC on this post (as there seem to be on many of the editor posts!) - it's always insightful to question though what that level of transparency is relative to. In my opinion the internet blog is essential to transparency.

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    Comment number 2.

    Transparency is a concept loved by focus groups.but diminished by PR spin.
    I consider transparency to equal honesty,
    Full and roper honesty requires openness.
    Transparency works both ways. Comments that are critical of you must always be tolerated and not moderated. (There is no problem currently but this should not be forgotten.)
    Two way transparency requires courtesy and informed debate.

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    Comment number 3.

    (Commenting in an entirely personal capacity!)

    To my mind, the most effective and useful posts are those which focus not on the “what” or performance stats, but on the “how” — particularly the problems faced along the way (because, as we all know, there are always problems along the way) and how they were overcome.

    I think this perhaps underscores a broader point, which is that transparency is only partly about how effectively we publish metrics, or deal with FOI requests, or consult about or plans for the future, but the nuts and bolts of how we do the stuff that people enjoy, and why (and I do mean really why) we can't do everything that everyone likes, and why we can't do some things at all.

    I realise that this isn't an easy challenge to meet. People are busy, and sometimes being honest without appearing to trash-talk friends and colleagues can be quite difficult, but I think it's what we (and that's the whole-BBC-collective-we, there) should be aiming to do.

    In this increasingly-converged world, I suspect there's room for expanding that “how we do stuff” scope a little beyond FM, and at least a little bit into production across all platforms.

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    Comment number 4.

    To answer this I have to ask a few questions. Given that you are the Public Accountability Executive for BBC Online, I'm left wondering who are the Public Accountability Executives for other areas of the BBC and where can I find information about them? I've looked at the Accountability page http://www.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/howwework/accountability/ but there appears to be no mention, is there a reason for this?

    Secondly another Online question. If I wished to understand the cost to the licence payer of an article, say this one http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-21425112 should I be able to find that out?

    Perhaps you could explain, when, as part of it's DQF strategy, the BBC has recently replaced all evening programmes on local radio with a national programme, in order to save money for itself, why the licence payer should not be at liberty to know how much money it is saving? And that with each local radio station having to find £150,000 savings per annum, why a detailed breakdown of how those savings have been achieved should not be available? These are not editorial considerations, or even ones of commercial confidence as the audience is not one served by the private sector.

    It's interesting to note that only some of the savings to be made under the DQF Strategy came about because of the 2010 Licence Fee settlement - conducted behind closed doors between Mark Thompson and Jeremy Hunt, for which no minutes exist and you ask about transparency - and yet publically it's always the Settlement that is blamed when DQF and it's forerunners were already well underway.

    I ask these questions because in times when local journalism is suffering, when local station budgets are so small, £150,000 goes a long way. Just ask George Entwistle.

    Every day the BBC holds others to account and it should not expect to be exempt from that.

    To quote Heather Brooke, 'transparency keeps those in power honest: more than any regulator, any bureaucracy or set of rules'.

    I hope you will be able to address my questions. Thank you.

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    Comment number 5.

    AmandaCh - thank you for your very kind comment.

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    Comment number 6.

    KitGreen - thanks for your comment - critical comments are always welcome on the Internet blog as long as they obey the house rules.

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    Comment number 7.

    Mo - thanks. Other than "people don't have enough time to write posts" are there any other bigger obstacles which could be tackled to make this easier?

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    Comment number 8.

    BBC Radio Forum - thanks for your comments. Let me try and answer them one by one.

    1. To the best of my knowledge, there are no other people at the BBC with the same job title as me. Different parts of the BBC tackle accountability in different ways. For example BBC News has the Newswatch TV programme and radio has the Feedback programme on Radio 4.

    2. "If I wished to understand the cost to the licence payer of an article, should I be able to find that out?"

    In my personal opinion, yes. However I'll admit this is not easy at the moment. You could try submitting an FOI request. It's also an interesting question which I will pass on to my colleagues in BBC News.

    3. I'm afraid questions about DQF and BBC local radio are outside the remit of this blog. I suggest you try contacting the Feedback programme I already mentioned. Here's a link to the contact form:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/features/feedback/contact/


    Thanks again for your comments

  • rate this
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    Comment number 9.

    Hi,

    Can you comment on this, please?

    BBC Attacks the Open Web, GNU/Linux in Danger

    tl;dr: "The BBC supports the publication of the first draft of the Encrypted Media Extensions Proposal."

    http://goo.gl/hS3YU

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    Comment number 10.

    .....................

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    Comment number 11.

    @9 kurren:

    I Have to say that I agree, wholeheartedly, with the sentiments of that article.

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    Comment number 12.

    Hi kurren and Eponymous Coward,

    Thanks for the useful link to the story in Computer World UK.

    The Internet blog has been home to a lively conversation about the BBC’s approach to DRM and content protection from its very start. The last time we published a blog post about this subject was some time ago (you can read it here), so it may be the right time for a new one. I’ll follow this up.

    The BBC’s submission about the Encrypted Media Extensions Proposal is linked to from the Computer World UK article. If you are interested in this subject it is worth reading in full. Here’s a link to the submission:

    http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-html-admin/2013Feb/0153.html

    However this conversation is about transparency, not encryption, and I don’t want it to turn into an off topic discussion about DRM. So could you please explain to me what you think is the link between the subject of transparency and the BBC’s approach to the Encrypted Media Extension Proposal?

    Thanks for your comments.

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    Comment number 13.

    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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    Comment number 14.

    "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 15.

    @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 16.

    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 17.

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

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    Comment number 18.

    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?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 19.

    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?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 20.

    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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