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Handling Audience Complaints

Editorial complaints

The BBC's programme complaints process is designed to be open, responsive and accountable to our audiences. The website bbc.co.uk/complaints makes it easier for people to send complaints direct to the BBC and the overwhelming majority are dealt with in this way.

Independent producers who receive complaints from viewers on programmes made for the BBC need to be aware of the process. How we handle complaints demonstrates how open we are.

If somebody complains to the BBC (eg via the website), normal practice is for the commissioning department to respond to the complainant. They'll let you know that a complaint has been received, and will typically consult you about the response.

When someone complains directly to the independent producer the producer should inform their commissioning contact about the complaint and provide a copy.

The BBC should be informed of all complaints (rather than simply comments or suggestions).

You'll also need to take a view on whether to 'red-flag' the case based on the seriousness of the complaint and whether it might affect the transmission or future transmission of the show

If in doubt, ask! In most cases it will make sense for the commissioning department to respond, since this ensures the complaint is dealt with consistently. This will include offering the option of taking the complaint further in the process.

If you do respond, the complaint should be handled by a senior figure involved in the production within 10 days of receipt, in consultation with the commissioning executive, and forwarded on to BBC Information for logging. Keeping track of a complaint is vital to us - we want to make sure that we learn from complaints and feed through any lessons into our editorial processes.

Stages for handling editorial complaints

There are three levels of handling editorial complaints:

  • Stage One: Handling at point of initial contact - a complaint sent to a production company, BBC Information, or the BBC commissioning contact.
  • Stage Two: The complainant can appeal to the Editorial Complaints Unit, which is independent of the commissioning/programme making areas.
  • Stage Three: The complainant can appeal to the BBC Trust Editorial Standards Committee.

We should always try to resolve the complaint at Stage One. However, after two exchanges of correspondence you should take advice from the commissioning department about whether to offer the next stage in the process - the appeal to the ECU. In that instance, you can use this form of words to advise the complainant about the process:

The BBC's complaints system allows for complainants to take their comments further, should they wish, to the Editorial Complaints Unit, which is independent of the programme making areas. You can contact the ECU at the following address, who will decide whether to undertake an independent investigation of the programme.

BBC Editorial Complaints Unit, Media Centre, Media Village, 201 Wood Lane, London W12 7TQ

Fairness and Privacy complaints

In Fairness & Privacy cases where individuals complain direct to the BBC (or to an independent production company commissioned by them), we are now required to retain all supporting material and documentation (including rushes etc) for at least 90 days after responding to the initial enquiry. The reason for this is that, should the complainant subsequently take their case to OFCOM, the regulator can request all relevant recordings and other supporting material from the broadcaster to assist their own investigations.

NB: 'Fairness' covers any alleged unfair treatment of, or to, contributors in programmes. 'Infringement of privacy' covers the 'obtaining of material included in programmes' and can extend to when the relevant material is re-used in further programmes, in addition to the one for which it was originally obtained.

Fairness or privacy complaints can be made by any person or organisation affected by the programme, or by a third party authorised to make the complaint on behalf of the person or organisation affected.

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