Scotland Live, Radio Scotland, May 2 2007
I have been asked to look into your complaint about the eve of poll election feature on Scotland Live on 2 May. I’m sorry that you have been unhappy with the earlier response that you have received from the BBC, and I hope I can deal with your concerns here.
We have now had an opportunity to listen to the item in question and we have been in contact with the programme makers in Scotland. We have also reviewed the previous correspondence between you and the BBC.
You may be aware that it is the role of the ECU to investigate complaints to determine if there has been a serious breach of the standards set out in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines. You can find these at www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines.
The item in question was a programme made up of series of reports about the campaigning activities of the various parties contesting the Dundee West constituency in the elections to the Scottish Parliament. You complained that the BBC failed to include the Liberal Democrats in the piece and that this was clear bias, whether intentional or not.
As you know, the intention was to carry pieces from each of the main parties which would feature activists on the ground in the final run-up to polling day. The BBC had told the parties that parliamentary election candidates would not be interviewed for the piece. The parties were not told, however, that council candidates would not be interviewed either. In the event, the Liberal Democrat interviewees, including yourself, were both council candidates and the BBC decided at a very late stage that these could not be used. You are quite right, and Phil Wells has already conceded, that this led to serious imbalance in the item. This was compounded by the fact that a Conservative interviewee who was included turned out to have been a council candidate as well, though this was not realised by anyone at the BBC until the item had been broadcast.
There is no dispute that to broadcast the item in this form was a serious mistake and a serious breach of the standards set out in the BBC guidelines on broadcasting during elections. These say:
We should make, and be able to defend, our editorial decisions on the basis that they are reasonable and carefully and impartially reached. To achieve this we must ensure that:
…news judgements at election time are made within a framework of democratic debate which ensures that due weight is given to hearing the views and examining and challenging the policies of all parties.
Phil Wells, the editor of Scotland Live, has already written to you to apologise. He said that “It is our responsibility to check and in this we failed”. Had this apology not been made prior to you complaint being looked into by the ECU, this part of your complaint would certainly have been upheld. However, in the light of Phil Wells’s admission, I have to say that I consider that it has now been resolved.
You have also complained, however, that you have been given “absolutely no reassurances as to how this sort of error will be avoided in future”. We put this to the programme team, and this is the reply we received:
The programme editor spoke to everyone involved in the piece - radio reporters, the producer and the senior broadcast journalist with responsibility for planning. He reiterated the absolute importance of checking the credentials of people appearing on the programme, both when setting people up ahead of time and when meeting them on the day. This is particularly true during election time. He also spoke to the whole programme team at its weekly team meeting to drive the message home. In the future, as editor of the programme, he will monitor any e-mail or interview request which goes to a political party. This should prevent something like this happening again.
This, it seems to me, is the proper response to the errors which were made and should be sufficient to ensure that this or similar errors are not repeated. In the circumstances, I feel that the actions already taken mean that this aspect of your complaint has also been resolved. It would, plainly, have been better to have notified you at the time of what had been done, and I’m sorry that this did not happen, but I’m afraid that a procedural lapse such as this does not fall within the remit of the ECU to address as a complaint.
As your complaints would have been upheld had an apology not already been made and the actions taken not satisfied me that it was resolved, a summary of my decision will be posted on the BBC Complaints website. I will notify you when this has happened. Meanwhile, I hope you will accept my further apologies on behalf of the BBC, and my thanks for giving us the opportunity to look into it.
Head of Editorial Complaints