British Broadcasting Corporation
Broadcasting House
Portland Place
London W1A 1AA
Telephone 020 7580 4468
Fax 020 7765 5176

BBC Programme Complaints Unit

30 November 2000

Dear Mr Hancock

John Lynch has drawn my attention to comments in your correspondence with him about my role in the recent Broadcasting Standards Commission proceedings. I hope I can clarify it.

It is not my role, or that of the Programme Complaints Unit, to be the advocate for the programme-makers, though I can see how you might have drawn a different conclusion in this case. Our primary role is to investigate the complaint as passed on by the Commission, on the same basis on which we investigate complaints put to us directly – that is, impartially and independently of the interests of the programme-makers – and to prepare the BBC’s submissions to the Commission. Where we find that the complaint has merit, that is the BBC’s view, and that is what we tell the Commission. Both in the written stages of the process and at hearings, we are advocates for the BBC’s view rather than that of the programme-makers. I think your contrary impression arises from the fact that in this case, those views coincided. I cannot prevent you from doubting the impartiality of the view I reached on your complaint, but I would note that it differed materially from that of the Commission on only one point.

Your impression has clearly been reinforced by my objection to the submission of new written material at the hearing, and by the issue of confidentiality which I have raised in relation to your website, but there is a different explanation – the Commission’s own rules and procedures, which apply to broadcaster and complainant alike. My objection to the papers you wished to introduce at the hearing was not on the basis of their content, which I was not in a position to assess, but on the basis that the Commission does not accept new written submissions at hearings other than in exceptional circumstances. That presumably, is why the Commissioners sustained my objection. Similarly, my concern about the appearance of transcript material on your website was nothing to do with its content, and everything to do with the Commission’s requirement of confidentiality, which I presumed had been explained to you. I certainly did not take “the extraordinary step of obliging the Commission’s Solicitor” to write to you, as I cannot oblige the Commission to do anything (and, on a point of fact, Mr Ferguson, though a qualified solicitor, is one of the Commissions’ Case Managers, not “the Commission’s Solicitor”). I could do no more than draw the Commission’s attention to what appeared to be a breach of its confidentiality requirement, as you did in the case of an e-mail sent by Mr Hale to a third party after the hearing. When I did so, I was not aware that you had drawn on recordings of your own, and I would of course acknowledge that material from that source would not be subject to the Commission’s requirement. However, I understand from Mr Hale that you recorded only the first of your two interviews, from which it would follow that the requirement applied to any material drawn from the transcript of the second, to which you would have had access only via the Commission’s processes.

I hope I have clarified matters. If you wish to add this letter to the material already on your website, please feel free to do so.

Yours sincerely,

Fraser Steel
Head of Programme Complaints