Urgent. Trustees mislead in proposed publication.


Matt Berkley

25 January 2016 at 18:54

To: trust.editorial@bbc.co.uk, trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk

Dear Mr Towers,

Objections to misleading content in proposed Trust publication

The following is for the attention of Mr Ayre and the other Trustees as well as yourself. 

I object strongly to the Trust publishing the decision on case 1300394 as written.   I have in mind the risk of Trustees misleading BBC staff as well as the general public around the world.

I give a few examples out of a larger number. 

1. Perhaps most importantly, Trustees appear to say wrongly that they dealt with the major allegations about UN commitments in their June decision.   They limited that decision to the Woman's Hour wording in one context.  

In any case, the last ECU communication before the appeal stated that those complaints appeared to be outstanding - perhaps on the basis that they were at Stage 1a.
The Trustees omit that complaints to BBC World News, which are not yet the province of the ECU or as yet apparently the Trust, remain unanswered at Stage 1a. 
The complaints of worse errors about UN pledges than Woman's Hour had made - and about programmes and articles which have a more mortality- or accuracy-focused remit such as More or Less - have never been answered at Stage 1, 2 or 3.   All of these complaints therefore appear still to be outstanding. 

2. Trustees state there was a complaint that the "presenter [of More or Less] was biased".   
In fact there was a complaint of: "Economist and Bank/ex-Bank speaker imbalances, including presenter.  Links unbalanced."
That is quite different from the idea used by the Trustees as a reason to reject the application.

3. Trustees wrongly claim that I appealed a decision of the ECU on "Don't Panic".   There had been no such decision, and so it seems Trustees had no jurisdiction to assess it.  

4. The accuracy complaints about More or Less material of March 2012 were not limited, as the Trustees imply, to "terms in the programme".   For example, I informed the BBC that that edition gave the wrong statistics in the context of MDG1.  

5. Trustees do not accurately describe the point "Persistent error that World Bank estimate inflation for the poor: "basket of essential goods", etc. They use CPI."  
In reality, in light of the fact that economists use national CPI rates, More or Less' story of economists calculating what a dollar can buy collapses.
The editor accepted that the economists in fact use the national CPI for their claims on global poverty.
Clearly, if More or Less' story were true, economists would have used the poor people's prices.  
But they do not use poor people's prices.  So the More or Less story is implausible.
So it is factual claims, as well as "terms" which are wrong in the More or Less material.

The " "basket of essential goods" issue", as they put it, which Trustees say "was of relatively minor importance here" is not, in the context of the whole decision, adequately described as such outside the relevant context.
The complaint quoted above means More or Less wrongly claimed that economists have estimated inflation rates for the poorest since around 1990.  
In reality no-one has estimated such inflation rates over that long period.
Trustees in effect say they know this is "relatively minor".  
I do not here address the obvious question how they can know that. 
But clearly they have presented the issue in a way which misleads as to the actual complaint, and as elsewhere they give the impression that they have responded to the actual complaints when they have, to a material degree, not done so.

6. I had suggested that the ECU might have a conflict of interest because of a previous error in a published ruling related to the dollar a day.  That suggestion is not properly represented by the Trustees'  apparently untrue claims that the ECU had dealt with previous complaints from me.    This is part of a pattern of the Trustees understating the actual complaints and obscuring the evidence of BBC errors.  

7. Trustees' introduction, like their analysis, misleads by omitting the complainant's actual point about due accuracy:   that the BBC advertises More or Less of 3 March 2012 as "assessing" how poverty is measured.    This was clearly relevant to the question of due accuracy in the programme - as was the next week's edition stating that the edition of 3 March 2012 had "scrutinised the goal".    

8. The accounts of the further correspondence appear to be significantly misleading, since they omit pertinent details such as that the BBC is committed to reading complaints about older material to determine seriousness and to forwarding complaints to Audience Services.

9. Trustees' references to my "attempting to extend the complaints", and to "ostensibly related" programmes and "purported complaints"  and the references to the documentary series appear to misrepresent the situation in a significant way.  

The programme page for More or Less of 3 March 2012 linked to the documentary series of 2007-9 and urged readers to listen to it.   The complaint had begun, "Accuracy, including links".  The complaint accepted by the BBC as the Stage 1a complaint, the email of 1 November 2012 to the editor, contains a section titled "Other programmes" of which this is one, detailing the problems.  

In relation to other complaints submitted to the ECU, Trustees omit the relevant context, which is in the correspondence for complaint 1300394:  the BBC had repeatedly failed to respond to complaints submitted to Audience Services.  They did so again in respect of a new complaint about More or Less in 2014.  After the initial failures to respond, I submitted other complaints (about something More or Less got right but News then got wrong) to News Online.  Again, no reply.   In the circumstances, I hoped to get some reply if I notified the ECU.  The BBC is publicly committed to forwarding complaints to Audience Services where submitted to other parts of the BBC, as I mentioned in the handling complaint appealed to the Trust in the Woman's Hour case.  

Although Trustees might point out that I sent new complaints to the ECU rather than Audience Services, the BBC has failed yet again to respond to numerous complaints submitted to Audience Services from 9 June 2015 onwards. 

10. The references to the complaints being complex appear to misrepresent the situation.   They omit my clear statement that the BBC story about what economists did was far more complex than the simple truth:  They claim to know a poverty trend, but in fact do not look at inflation for the poor.   

11. The Trustees may be read as saying that the suggestion of "systematic bias" was based only on the factors mentioned by Trustees.  This is not the case.  The Stage 1a complaint clarifies in the section on possible systematic bias.

12. The various references to the complainant repeating the editorial complaints in subsequent correspondence are misleading, especially in the context of the Trustees' understating the scope of the complaints at Stage 1.  In reality I emphasised points not answered at earlier stages, made procedural points about BBC commitments, and provided further evidence  - which the Trustees largely ignored.  For example, I provided Trustees with ample evidence that experts thought it was important to note that the World Bank did not estimate prices for the poor.   I provided evidence that problems with the dollar a day presented by More or Less were to a significant extent those already identified by its author.  


13. Trustees mislead by omitting the context for due accuracy - the points reiterated in the statement to Trustees of 2 December 2015 that the BBC appears not to have covered these controversial issues of importance for public understanding of official statements, at all.

To be clear, I am not advocating censorship of the historical record   -  I am in favour of the Trust eventually publishing what it sent me, after proper fact-checking and consideration, with appropriate corrections.  

The remarks concern the proposed publication of misleading information, rather than the reasonableness of the Trust decision.    It will however be obvious that one is relevant to the other. 

The remarks should not be taken as a comprehensive statement of misleading content in the Trust decision, due to the short time between reading the decision on 21 January and the date of proposed publication on 28 January.  

They are submitted without prejudice to further comment.

Yours sincerely,

Matt Berkley