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Sponsored programmes on BBC World News

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Richard Porter | 15:23 UK time, Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Today the BBC Trust publishes its findings into an investigation of the funding arrangements for certain programmes broadcast on our international commercial television news channel, BBC World News.

The Trust has concluded that 15 programmes broadcast in our weekend schedule breached the BBC's editorial or sponsorship guidelines.

The programmes concerned were acquired by the channel at low or nominal cost, and around half of them were funded or partly funded by charities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or other similar groups.

The Trust found breaches of guidelines in seven programmes relating to conflict of interest; the promotion of a sponsor's activities; the prohibition of sponsorship for current affairs programming; and the way in which funding was credited to ensure transparency for viewers.

The remaining breaches concerned programmes made for the BBC by an independent production company, which failed to disclose to us that it had a financial relationship with the Malaysian government, while producing programmes with a "heavy focus" on Malaysia.

The Trust classifies this as "serious breaches" of its guidelines, and BBC World News fully accepts their findings. We share the Trust's view that the integrity and independence of the BBC's editorial decisions is of paramount importance. We welcome their conclusion that none of the programmes breached requirements for impartiality. But nevertheless, we are determined to learn the lessons from what has gone wrong.

So how did it happen? There is no single, or simple answer. The cases involving Malaysia were serious because we transmitted programmes without being made aware of a conflict of interest by the supplying production company. Eight programmes were broadcast between 2009 and July 2011, with references to Malaysia. Following reports in the Independent newspaper, the production company admitted to the BBC that it represented the Malaysian government through another division of its activities. We didn't know this at the time, and we have now terminated our relationship with this company.

A second conflict of interest arose in another programme about carbon trading, where an association was found between an organisation featured in the programme, and a company which funded the programme production. This conflict was not declared to us at the time of transmission - had we known, we would not have broadcast it.

In the remaining cases examined by the Trust, the issues were primarily related to how we interpreted editorial or sponsorship guidelines. This, again, is something we take very seriously, and today we are announcing new procedures which take full account of the findings.

The Trust did say that no BBC staff had intended to breach guidelines, but there seemed to be a lack of knowledge or genuine confusion about the relevant guidance. Clearly we need to tighten our procedures so that it doesn't happen again.

As a result, we are taking steps to tighten our list of supplying production companies, and to put in place a more rigorous process to approve programme commissions - including further checks on any potential conflicts of interest. We have also undertaken no longer to commission or acquire programmes sponsored by non-commercial organisations, and have stopped taking programmes at low nominal cost. We have re-affirmed that sponsored programming will only be allowed in non-news and current affairs genres, and we will act on the Trust's guidance to take a "strictly prudential view" of what amounts to sponsorship.

These are complex cases, but the principles underlying them are simple. We must not damage the audience's trust in what we broadcast. We know we have some hard work to do to make up for this, but we are determined to do so.

Richard Porter is controller of English at BBC Global News.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    '...no BBC staff had intended to breach guidelines, but there seemed to be a lack of knowledge or genuine confusion about the relevant guidance. Clearly we need to tighten our procedures so that it doesn't happen again.

    We must not damage the audience's trust in what we broadcast. We know we have some hard work to do to make up for this, but we are determined to do so.


    One wonders what the response would have been had this been a tack James Murdoch adopted?

  • Comment number 2.

    Conflict of interest is dangerous for any news outlet that values independence.

    It is just a shame that BBC World News is such an execrable beast in a market that is really dire in totality. News channels that vie for businessmen in hotel rooms seem to be nothing more than vehicles of advertising. How about that for conflict of interest?

    How BBC World News can be that bad when the domestic BBC News channel is so good (but still too variable) is a mystery.

  • Comment number 3.

    I stopped visiting the BBC or watching the BBC news channel some time ago because it's lousy, biased reporting. I just popped in to see if you'd cover this news.

    Frankly, it didn't occur to me you were taking money, I just thought you were incompetent. I hope this will be followed by a clear out and a return to standards.

  • Comment number 4.

    It's interesting to see the BBC taking sponsorship from green organisations. Given that we know that the BBC has also taken sponsorship from green groups to sponsor meetings looking at editorial policy, is the BBC's credibility shot?

    http://bishophill.squarespace.com/blog/2010/11/16/submission-to-the-bbc-science-review.html

  • Comment number 5.

    'is the BBC's credibility shot?'

    Oh, no.

    It's the world's most trusted national treasure with a genetic impartiality built-in.

    Mind you, that does get repeated a lot pretty much, well, here mainly.

    And Newswatch, where Editors can repeat they 'get it about right'. Apparently.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    BBC World News is so depressing to watch, that I deliberately avoid it. It has such a particular 'Weltanschauung' (that of some anglophone, supra-national, corporate elite bestraddling a fantastic globalized Utopia), that it is unwatchable by the average Brit abroad. I switched it on by mistake in a hotel room in Baden-Württemberg last week, and found it so execrable that most of the German TV channels seemed to offer better viewing. I heartily endorse comment 2 (by Kit Green). Are there really enough lonely business persons in lonely hotel rooms to justify BBC World News's existence? I understand the nature of the beast, but I hate it...

  • Comment number 8.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 9.

    BBC World News does offer a valuable service and presents Britain favourably in an international context. Sometimes the programmes are painfully politically correct, and I suppose this naivety has been reflected in the programmers lack of awareness.
    ("but there seemed to be a lack of knowledge or genuine confusion about the relevant guidance.")
    Of course programme makers have agendas. Of course programmes are made to promote, slant, mislead and obfuscate. The point is that it is not the BBC's own agenda that has been promoted and all that is required, surely, is that any programme sponsored, backed or made by, or with the assistance of any organisation other than the BBC should be clearly labeled so that we, the viewer, are aware of these affiliations.

  • Comment number 10.

    BBC World News is something that gives the world access to BBC News, If it funds itself keep it

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 14.

    ‎"You! Yes, you! Stand still KID and say NOOOOOO!

    We don't need no CERVARIX
    We dont need no GARDASIL
    No dark sarcasm FROM THE DOCTORS
    Hey Killers ! Leave our kids alone!
    All in all it's just more money in your pocket
    All in all we are just a number in the system.

    We don't need no CERVARIX
    We dont need no Gardasil
    No dark sarcasm from the doctors
    Hey you leave our kids alone
    Hey! LIARS! Leave our kids alone!
    All in all it's we are just a number in the system.
    All in all you're just a killer with no face.

    "Wrong, you know you wrong but Do it again!"
    "If you don't know the pain you caused , the suffering in our kids eyes, the deaths you caused, and the lives you token away, you can't have GOD power.
    How can you still look at yourself in the mirror, when you are killing innocent kids, someone’s child.
    Behind a mask with no name you keep on killing mode, against our, our children.

    "You! Yes, you behind the mask and false promises, stand still and face the truth!"

    I don't need no arms around me
    And I dont need no drugs to calm me.
    I have seen the writing on the wall.
    Don't think I need anything at all.
    No! Don't think I'll need anything at all.
    All in all it was all just bricks in the wall.
    All in all you were all just bricks in the wall.

    STOP GIVE ME MY LIFE BACK

  • Comment number 15.

    I don't think anybody would really mind some sponsorships provided the overall quality of the reporting at the BBC is not affected.. that for me would be the key. Economics around reporting are an unfortunate fact of life that media houses need to deal with.

    Craig

  • Comment number 16.

    I came to the bbc wondering if there would be any reporting on the 35 Ethiopian Christians in Saudi Arabia(Jedda) who were imprisoned by the security forces during a prayer meeting in a home on December 15th there but there was nothing on this story. I could only find this story reported by World Net Daily. After finding out the conflict of interests in the BBC wonder if the news reporters are seriously biased. If it were islamic followers I'm sure it would be front page these days.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    I am still amazed at the BBCs blatant censorship of comments to current affairs news articles. No, I am not sure if the Uk has a rights-of-free-speach Act. But i am sure the UK does not have a constitution in the sense that the US has; and possibly the BBC does not feel the need ot provide the possibility to coment on each news article published. However, this would relieve frustration.
    Moan over, I wanted to comment the article 'Latino exodus' but there is no direct blog available.
    I am the last to be rasist, but there are fundamental rights and securities that a nation needs to protect. A country needs to protect its borders and assure who is entitled to cross and live within those borders. Several countries do this vehrmently, dare I say canada and australia. Times move on, and circumstances change. An open arms welcome-all policy was fine for the US when it needed bodies, and had a prediminately agricultural come post industrial revolution economy. Anyone wanting to live there had to either work or starve. These days expectations and living standards are different, and the economic dynamic substantially so.
    The article says that a State Judge oppossed tightening immigration laws on constitutional grounds. Everyone has heard (rightly or wrongly) that judges in the US have their own local populartity to worry about, so it is not surprising that one convelutes justice promoting sensationalism. What is surpising for those of us from other jurisdictial/political systems is that when it comes to a matter of national security a mere state judge can get away with throwing a spanner in the works. This seems to be a major flaw in the US system.
    The tone of the BBC article defends the judge, neglecting the fact that had illegal immigration been tightly controlled from the outset, those communities disrupted economically by the departure of the hispanics would not have arrisen in the first place. The BBC article appears to purport that two wrongs do make a right, contrary to common acceptance.
    On the humane front it could be argued that stopping further illegal immigration is different to ejecting those with established lifestiles. Personally, I am glad i am not a law maker on that score, because that would be an extermely difficult line to draw. If as the article says over the last 10 year the US overall has experienced a 43% increase in the hispainc population that at Nation level the concern is to curb/stop immigration this is only understandable, and a state level judge should not be able to oppose it.

  • Comment number 19.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 20.

    I just watched an incredible program prepared by Jonathan Dimbleby. It was very well done, very informative = "African Journey With Jonathan Dimbleby" 'Jonathan travels through Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, discovering people who are self reliant'. Please let me know when you will next air programs by Jonathan Dimbleby - as they are excellent!

 

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