BBC complaints process 'too complex', Lords says

BBC television centre The peers said the BBC had a "singular role in the life of the country"

The BBC's complaints process is "convoluted" and "overly complicated", a group of peers has said.

The Lords communications committee said it was hard for viewers, listeners and web users to know whom to contact. and proposed a complaints "one-stop shop".

Part of the problem was that the roles of the BBC Trust and watchdog Ofcom overlapped, the report added.

The BBC Trust said new chairman Lord Patten was looking at the issues as part of his review of BBC governance.

'Grisly'

The Lords committee said the BBC had a "singular role in the life of the country and... provides an extraordinary public benefit", but there were a number of areas in which it could be improved.

Peers said the BBC should set out a clear explanation of its complaints process on its website, so that licence fee payers knew what they could expect.

Start Quote

The BBC needs to be accountable to those who use and pay for it”

End Quote Lord Inglewood Lords communications committee

There should also be a single point of contact for all complaints, regardless of whether they applied to television, radio or online material, they said.

Giving evidence to the committee, former BBC chairman Lord Grade described his experience, since leaving his role, of complaining to the corporation as "grisly" due to a system he said was "absolutely hopeless".

Part of the problem, the peers said, was that there was an overlap in the jurisdiction of the BBC Trust - the BBC's governing body - and the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom.

And despite Ofcom having the final say in all other areas, the BBC Trust has responsibility for matters of impartiality and accuracy.

This situation - in which the BBC was "judge and jury in its own case" - was undesirable and should not continue, the peers said.

The committee called for all complaints to be made to the BBC in the first instance, followed by a right of appeal to the BBC Trust and a subsequent final appeal to Ofcom if the complainant was not happy with the trust's decision.

The media regulator should also have final responsibility for impartiality and accuracy, it added.

'Structured reality'

Committee chairman Lord Inglewood said: "Ultimately, the BBC needs to be accountable to those who use and pay for it, at the same time as having the independence of its journalism, broadcasting and creativity protected from outside political interference."

The committee also warned that BBC creativity must not be "stifled by overly bureaucratic compliance culture".

And it said the BBC - and other broadcasters - must make greater efforts to help viewers discern "what is reality, reconstructed and constructed footage".

Potential issues could arise because of the increased use of digital technology and the growth of "constructed reality" or "structured reality" programmes, it added.

A BBC Trust spokesman said: "We welcome the committee's report and we note their recommendations on the BBC complaints process.

"This, and a number of other issues the committee have raised, are being looked at as part of Lord Patten's governance review. The committee's recommendations will feed into the conclusions of the review."

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