BBC must improve its complaints procedure, Ofcom warns

·3-min read
The BBC has been warned by the watchdog that if it does not improve its complaints procedure it will be required to do so by law - mikeinlondon
The BBC has been warned by the watchdog that if it does not improve its complaints procedure it will be required to do so by law - mikeinlondon

The BBC must improve its complaints procedure or be required to do so by law, Ofcom has said, as it warned that impartiality concerns must be better addressed.

The watchdog has asked for greater oversight of the broadcaster’s complaints process after identifying a series of failings, including delays in response and a lack of transparency.

It found that some members of the public become so frustrated with the lengthy and complex process that they give up.

When complaints about impartiality are dismissed, the BBC does not publish the reasons for that decision.

BBC must address 'widespread perceptions about impartiality'

Ofcom said: “We are now directing the BBC to change its policy and publish sufficient reasoning in cases where it decides not to uphold impartiality and due accuracy complaints.

“We are also expecting the BBC to alert us at an early stage to potential serious editorial breaches. This will allow us to better scrutinise how the BBC’s complaints process is working in practice and, if necessary, to intervene early to protect audiences.

“If the BBC fails to do this, we will recommend that the Government makes this a legal requirement.”

Ofcom issued the new regulations after conducting a review into the corporation.

Dame Melanie Dawes, the chief executive of Ofcom, said: “Viewers and listeners tell us they aren’t happy with how the BBC handles their complaints, and it clearly needs to address widespread perceptions about its impartiality. So we’re directing it to respond to these concerns, by being much more transparent and open with its audiences.”

The watchdog surveyed 2,000 people, including those who had complained directly to the BBC in the past year.

It also conducted a “mystery shopper” exercise, instructing 50 people to submit a complaint and track its progress.

The “BBC First” system requires people to complain to the corporation in the first instance. The complaint passes through three stages, and only if they are dissatisfied with the final response can people then approach Ofcom.

Concern over 'tone and detail' of responses

But Ofcom’s review noted: “Respondents were not clear about the BBC’s process and were concerned about the time taken to respond as well as the tone and detail of the responses.

“Overall, our research indicates that the low number of complaints being escalated to Ofcom may be a result of frustration as opposed to satisfaction with how the BBC has dealt with audience concerns.

“The BBC must therefore urgently consider what changes are required to its processes to make them simpler and clearer for audiences to navigate.”

Seven in 10 participants in the survey were dissatisfied with the effort the BBC had made to address their complaint. Less than half said they received a substantive response within two weeks, which is the BBC’s target.

A BBC spokesperson said: “Like any organisation we work to make continuing improvements, which is why we published a 10-point plan on impartiality and editorial standards last year.

“Everyone knows this is an absolute priority for the BBC, and Ofcom rightly recognises impartiality is a complex area. Audiences hold us to a higher standard than other broadcasters and we have a good record of complying with broadcasting rules.

“In addition, the BBC has the most thorough and transparent complaints process in UK media and we are committed to being accessible and accountable to our audiences. We will work with Ofcom to make further improvements to this system.”

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