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BBC Board: Complaints Procedure

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

The Secretary of State and I meet with the BBC’s leadership regularly to discuss a range of issues. The BBC’s processes for handling audience complaints about its editorial content are an area of focus of the mid-term review and, as required by the terms of reference, the DCMS has been consulting the BBC on the review’s findings. We are seeking to conclude the review at pace and to report on its findings by 2024.

I look forward to the conclusions of the review. The Minister will know my views: the complaints process within the BBC is utterly inadequate, and I think he agrees with me on that. There is no genuine independence in that process and therefore there is a lack of confidence in how that process is working. I hope he will factor those views into making sure that the outcome of the review takes on board the need to have a genuinely independent complaints mechanism, so that the public can have confidence in the broadcasts.

We are aware that research from Ofcom bears out what the hon. Gentleman has said, in that there is considerable dissatisfaction with the existing complaints procedure. That is something about which the BBC is also aware, and we are keen to address it in the mid-term review. So far, we are making good progress in reaching agreement with the BBC on how it can be strengthened in the future.

Over the last 10 days, we have seen the BBC embroiled in a lengthy bout of self-analysis over accusations made about Huw Edwards. For days, the story led every bulletin and I refused all requests for comment; I felt I did not know enough detail. I am glad I took that stance. The BBC has announced an investigation, but the police have now said there was no criminality, as originally claimed by The Sun. What does the Secretary of State think the lessons might be? Perhaps politicians should exercise more caution before issuing condemnations about developing stories; maybe we should remember to treat any story in The Sun with extreme caution. Given this further example of intrusive prurience, we could all remind ourselves of why there was once widespread agreement about having an independent press regulator with teeth, something the Conservatives once supported, before getting frightened off by powerful press barons.

I say to the hon. Gentleman that, first, this was a matter for the BBC. Although the Secretary of State and I did ask to be kept informed by the BBC, it was a matter for the organisation itself and, as he has suggested, it has established an internal inquiry to find out whether there are any lessons to be learned. With regard to The Sun, it is of course a member of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which has a code, and if there have been breaches of the code, then that is a matter for IPSO to adjudicate on.