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BBC Investigating Complaints Against Tim Willcox

You may recall following the recent terror attacks in France, the BBC’s Tim Willcox tried to blame Jews for the attacks.

Here’s a reminder:

Needless to say, many, like Reader B, complained to the BBC. And I assume, like Reader B, received the following boilerplate response:

Thanks for contacting us.

Tim Willcox has apologised for what he accepts was a poorly phrased question during an in-depth live interview with two friends, one Jewish and of Israeli birth, the other of Algerian Muslim heritage, where they discussed a wide range of issues affecting both the Muslim and Jewish communities in France. He had no intention of causing offence.

Tim sent the following tweet on 12 January: “Really sorry for any offence caused by a poorly phrased question in a live interview in Paris yesterday – it was entirely unintentional”.

We hope this goes some way in addressing your concerns.

Thanks again for contacting us.

Kind Regards

BBC Complaints

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

Not impressed by the sheer lameness of this response, Reader B wrote back, letting the BBC know that this was inadequate. To her credit, she elicited the following response from them:

Dear Ms B,

Thank you for contacting us to escalate the complaint you made to the BBC about comments made by Tim Willcox on the BBC News Channel during coverage of the events in Paris on 11 January.

As at least part of your complaint falls within the Editorial Complaints Unit’s remit for cases where there may have been a serious breach of the standards expressed in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, we are happy to investigate it.

As you may be aware, however, we have received a very large number of complaints on this issue, and if we were to deal with them in the normal way, investigating each complaint separately, it would be many weeks before some complainants received a finding. In order to reach a speedy determination on the essential issues, as they are reflected in the totality of the complaints we have received, we propose to deal with them in a slightly different way.

In my view, the essential points of complaint, raising particular editorial issues, which emerge from the complaints we have received, can be summarised as follows:

  • That the question put by Tim Willcox to an interviewee was misleading in that it linked the Paris killings in a kosher supermarket with events in the middle east;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that all Jews were responsible for the actions of Israel;
  • That the question was offensive and anti-Semitic in that it suggested that Jews were responsible for the murder of other Jews;
  • That the question was offensive because it trivialised the holocaust;
  • That the question displayed bias against Israel;
  • That Tim Willcox’s comment “But you understand everything is seen from different perspectives” suggested there was a justification for the killings;
  • That the interviewee was not treated with appropriate respect;
  • That the terms of the apology from Tim Willcox were inadequate and failed to address what was inaccurate and offensive about his remarks;
  • That posting an apology on a private Twitter account was inadequate and that it should have been published by the BBC.

I believe that the relevant guidelines against which these should be considered are those concerning Accuracy, Impartiality and Harm and Offence (particularly relating to Portrayal)

The Accuracy guidelines say that:

“All BBC output, as appropriate to its subject and nature, must be well sourced, based on sound evidence, thoroughly tested and presented in clear, precise language. We should be honest and open about what we don’t know and avoid unfounded speculation. Claims, allegations, material facts and other content that cannot be corroborated should normally be attributed.”

The Impartiality guidelines say:

“Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences. It applies to all our output and services – television, radio, online, and in our international services and commercial magazines. We must be inclusive, considering the broad perspective and ensuring the existence of a range of views is appropriately reflected.

The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to do all we can to ensure controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in our news and other output dealing with matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy. But we go further than that, applying due impartiality to all subjects. However, its requirements will vary.

The term ‘due’ means that the impartiality must be adequate and appropriate to the output, taking account of the subject and nature of the content, the likely audience expectation and any signposting that may influence that expectation.

Due impartiality is often more than a simple matter of ‘balance’ between opposing viewpoints. Equally, it does not require absolute neutrality on every issue or detachment from fundamental democratic principles.”

The guidelines on Portrayal say that:

“We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom’s people and cultures in our services. Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in societies worldwide but we should not perpetuate it. In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal. However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.”

If you wish to consult them yourself, the relevant Editorial Guidelines can be seen in full at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/.

In order to expedite consideration of the many complaints we have received we propose to use the summary above as the basis of a streamlined process of investigation. I appreciate that it may not address in detail all of the points you raised in your communication to us, but I believe that it does represent the issues within the ECU’s remit raised by the complaints taken together.

We will aim to let you know the outcome of our investigation by 23 February.

Yours sincerely

Andrew Bell

Complaints Director

Editorial Complaints Unit

Now that’s more like it.

Although I do not pretend to expect any meaningful action to be taken against Willcox for this. The BBC is, after all, the BBC.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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