Revision of BBC Editorial Policy - part 2
Taste, Standards and the BBC was commissioned following the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand debacle in October 2008. The Report is co-authored by Alan Yentob and Roly Keating, and sponsored by Jana Bennett and David Jordan. One of the recommendations in the Report deals with malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation:
BBC programmes must never condone malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation. While they are all aspects of human behaviour which may need to be depicted, described or discussed across the BBC’s factual and non-factual output, they must never be celebrated for the purposes of entertainment. New guidance is needed to ensure that everyone involved in programme making for the BBC understands that malicious intrusion, intimidation and humiliation are unacceptable.
Humiliation is already covered in current guidelines, here and here.
The Trust, however, wanted to make editorial controls even stricter. The Draft Editorial Guidelines in part based on Taste, Standards and the BBC are, as we'll see, in fact weaker than those nominally in force at present.
1) The Introduction to current Editorial Guidelines makes clear in unambiguous terms that Any proposal to step outside these guidelines must be discussed with Controller Editorial Policy. It is marked out in red, as being a mandatory referral to the Controller, who at present is David Jordan, one of the co-sponsors of Taste, Standards and the BBC.
In contrast, examine the replacement wording from the new draft guidelines (pdf). The comparable section (2.1) now states Any proposal to step outside the Editorial Guidelines must be editorially justified. The change appears to cede to programme makers rather than the Controller/Director of Editorial Policy the initial decision as to whether or not output can breach guidelines. This "democratisation" of the decision-making process weakens the authority of the guidelines beyond measure.
The Draft continues: It must be discussed and agreed in advance with a senior editorial figure or, for independents, with the commissioning editor. This change confirms a nebulous and unaccountable line of authority.
The Director Editorial Policy and Standards must also be consulted does not imply that he has the authority to refuse permission. In fact the words "also" and "consulted" imply that he now is to have a subsidiary role. Perhaps this explains why David Jordan's job title seems to have changed from "Controller of Editorial Policy" to "Director of Editorial Policy and Standards."
2) Next, compare the following from current guidelines:
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 our society but we should not perpetuate it. We should avoid offensive or stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in terms of their disability, age, sexual orientation and so on when clearly editorially justified.
with the change made in the new draft (5.4.37):-
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 exists in our society 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.
The BBC has added "In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc. may be relevant to portrayal." There's nothing unreasonable about explicitly clarifying a point. But another subtle change has been made - the need to be "clearly editorially justified" has now been downgraded to "editorially justified."
The portrayal guideline is further compromised by the addition of 5.4.38:
When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.
I have been trying to clarify certain aspects of the BBC's Editorial Guidelines as they apply at present. Both Alan Yentob and David Jordan have been contacted, but so far with little success. It seems that nominal protections for minorities will be further eroded away if the proposed changes are adopted by the BBC Trust.