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This article outlines, in chronological order, the various scandals surrounding or involving the BBC that have occurred.
- 1 Early years
- 2 Post-war
- 3 1980–1990
- 4 1990–2000
- 5 2000–2010
- 5.1 2003: Death of Dr David Kelly
- 5.2 2004: Hutton Report
- 5.3 2004: Butler Report
- 5.4 2004–2007: Balen Report
- 5.5 2004–2011: Siemens outsourcing
- 5.6 March 2007: Blue Peter phone-in
- 5.7 March 2007: BBC Jam
- 5.8 July 2007: A Year with the Queen
- 5.9 September 2007: The Blue Peter cat
- 5.10 2008: The Russell Brand Show prank telephone calls row
- 5.11 2009: Gaza DEC Appeal
- 5.12 2009: BNP Question Time appearance
- 5.13 2008–2013: Digital Media Initiative
- 5.14 2009–2012: Denis Avey Claims
- 5.15 2009-2014: Women in panel shows
- 6 2010–present
- 6.1 2010: Weapons claims offend Bob Geldof, Ethiopia and Africa
- 6.2 2007–2011: Accusations of ageism and sexism
- 6.3 2010–2011: QI and Tsutomu Yamaguchi
- 6.4 2011: Top Gear comments on Mexico
- 6.5 Fake child labour footage in Bangalore
- 6.6 Fake "dog sentenced to stoning" story
- 6.7 The One Show Jordan Shelley dog training controversy
- 6.8 May 2012: Use of wrong photo to illustrate massacre
- 6.9 Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine
- 6.10 June 2012: Diamond Jubilee coverage
- 6.11 October 2012: Jimmy Savile abuse scandal
- 6.12 November 2012: Lord McAlpine falsely implicated in child abuse scandal
- 6.13 June 2013: Staff gagging orders
- 6.14 July 2013: Executive payoffs
- 6.15 November 2013: Generation War
- 6.16 August 2014: Coverage of Cliff Richard's property search
- 6.17 September 2014: Coverage of Scottish independence campaign
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
1926 General Strike
The BBC was established as the privately controlled British Broadcasting Company in 1922. In 1926 the unions called for a General Strike and the Conservative Government feared the outbreak of revolution, as had happened in Russia in 1917. Labour Party politicians such as Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden criticised the BBC for being pro-Government and anti-Unions; however, throughout the strike, Reith insisted that the news bulletins report all sides of the dispute without comment.
Reith's attempts to broadcast statements by the Labour Party and TUC leaders were blocked by the Government; in partial response, he personally vetoed a statement that Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, wished to make, in the belief that allowing such a statement would give Winston Churchill both motive and opportunity to take over the BBC—something which Churchill had continually advocated since the beginning of the Strike. Reith admitted to his staff that he would have preferred to allow the Labour and TUC leaders to broadcast directly. A post-strike analysis carried out by the BBC's Programme Correspondence Department reported that of those polled, 3,696 commended the BBC's coverage, whilst 176 were critical.
Between the wars
Since 1927, there have been arguments over impartiality at the BBC. Prior to World War II, Sir John Reith excluded Winston Churchill from the BBC airwaves due to his inflammatory statements and reputation for drunkenness. In 1927, under a Royal Charter, the BBC became a public entity for the first time – with requirements including the need for impartiality and for staff not to express opinions on controversial subject matters.
1930s to Cold War: MI5 vetting
From the late 1930s until the end of the Cold War, MI5 had an officer at the BBC vetting editorial applicants. During World War II 'subversives', particularly suspected communists such as the folk singer Ewan MacColl, were banned from the BBC. The personnel records of anyone suspicious were stamped with a distinctively shaped green tag, or "Christmas tree;" only a handful of BBC personnel staff knew what the 'Christmas trees' meant. See also Wikipedia entries for Ronnie Stonham and Michael Rosen.
1930s: Commercial radio controversy
Because the BBC had become both a monopoly and a non-commercial entity, it soon faced controversial competition from British subjects who were operating leased transmitters on the continent of Europe before World War II, to blast commercial radio programmes into the United Kingdom. John Reith who had been given powers to dictate the cultural output of the BBC retaliated by leading the opposition to these commercial stations. Controversy spilled over into the press when the British government attempted to censor the printing of their programme information. The pressure was created by the success of these stations. By 1938 on Sundays, it was reported that 80% of the British audience was tuning into commercial radio, rather than the non-commercial BBC.
1950s: Claimed involvement in Operation Ajax
A BBC Radio 4 documentary in 2005 claimed that it had evidence that a radio newsreader inserted the word "exactly" into a midnight timecheck one summer night in 1953, a code word to the Shah of Iran that Britain supported his plans for a coup. The shah had selected the word, the documentary said, and the BBC broadcast the word at the request of the government. Officially, the BBC has never acknowledged the code word plot. The BBC spokesman declined to comment on a possible connection.
1950s: Independent television controversy
In the 1950s Lord Moran (Sir Charles Watson), recorded that Winston Churchill denounced the BBC as a communist organisation and pressed for the introduction of commercial television out of spite in order to damage the BBC's viewing figures.
1965: The War Game
The War Game is a drama documentary recounting the fictional dropping of Soviet nuclear weapons on Britain, centring on projected events in Kent. Using then current scientific knowledge of the effects of such a development, the film was directed by Peter Watkins. Intended for the twentieth anniversary on 6 August 1965 of the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, The War Game was dropped from the BBC programme schedule before transmission on the grounds that it was too horrifying to be shown. Although given a limited cinema release by the BFI, and awarded an Oscar as Best Documentary, it was not screened by the BBC until 1985.
John Pilger has argued that the BBC's power to prevent "the truth" being broadcast, as represented by Peter Watkins's film, has made "the state broadcaster [into] a cornerstone of Britain’s ruling elite".
1960s and beyond: Taste and decency
Mary Whitehouse launched her 'Clean Up TV campaign' in April 1964. In her view Hugh Greene as BBC Director General was "more than anybody else ... responsible for the moral collapse in this country." The campaign of Whitehouse and her supporters soon became the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association; Mrs Whitehouse was opposed to the policies of liberalisation pursued by Greene and largely sustained by his successors at the Corporation. Whitehouse's campaign focused much more on the BBC than on ITV, and she had a high public profile for several decades. The tabloid press also criticised the BBC for what it perceived to lapses in programming quality.
1971: Yesterday's Men
Yesterday's Men is a BBC documentary first broadcast in June 1971 about the former ministers of Harold Wilson's Labour government who were now experiencing opposition. The approach of the programme makers, who included reporter David Dimbleby, angered Wilson and the Labour Party who saw it as displaying explicit Conservative bias. According to the official History of the BBC web page on the incident, the Labour politicians were "effectively tricked into taking part in a programme that would ridicule them". During his own interview Wilson was asked by Dimbleby, in an untransmitted section of their encounter, about the money he had made from his memoirs, a question which led to a furious exchange between them. Wilson wanted the programme shelved, but it was broadcast with minor changes.
1984: "Maggie's Militant Tendency" controversy
The BBC programme Panorama on 30 January 1984 broadcast "Maggie's Militant Tendency" which claimed that several Conservative MPs had links to far-right organisations both in Britain and on the Continent. Two of the MPs named, Neil Hamilton and Gerald Howarth, sued the BBC for slander. In 1986 after the BBC withdrew from the case, Hamilton was awarded £20,000 damages.
1986: Libyan raid controversy
The Conservative Party Chairman Norman Tebbit, with the help of an academic lawyer, assembled a dossier of the BBC's coverage of the American bombing raid on Libya in which he claimed that the reporting was heavily biased against the Americans. The BBC rejected these findings.
1986: Censorship controversy
In 1986 BBC journalists went on strike to protest against police raids in search of evidence that a BBC television series in production, Secret Society, had endangered national security. The police searched the BBC studios in Glasgow, Scotland, the London home of investigative journalist Duncan Campbell, and the New Statesman offices.
On 12 June 1985, the Controller of BBC2 Graeme MacDonald, was offered a series of documentaries by the BBC studios in Scotland in conjunction with an offer to them by Duncan Campbell whose work had previously appeared in the New Statesman magazine. The programmes were six half-hour films by Duncan Campbell (researched and presented by Campbell and produced according to BBC standards), which illuminated "hidden truths of major public concern". The six programmes were:
- One: The Secret Constitution about a small, secret Cabinet committee that was in reality the Establishment that ruled the United Kingdom.
- Two: In Time of Crisis about secret preparations for war that began in 1982 within every NATO country. This programme revealed what Britain would do.
- Three: A Gap In Our Defences about bungling defence manufacturers and incompetent military planners who have botched every new radar system that Britain has installed since World War II.
- Four: We're All Data Now about the Data Protection Act 1984.
- Five: Still in production about the Association of Chief Police Officers and how Government policy and actions are determined in the fields of law and order.
- Six: Still in production about communications with particular reference to satellites.
Work began on the series. In April 1986 Alan Protheroe, acting on behalf of BBC Director General Alasdair Milne was asked for permission to bug a private detective who said he could access a Criminal Records Office computer. Permission was granted and filming took place. The police were informed and the man was subsequently charged under Section 2 of the Official Secrets Act 1911.
The sixth programme would have revealed details of a top secret spy satellite and Alisdair Milne had already decided to cut it from the line-up when the Observer newspaper broke the story on 18 January 1987 with the headline: "BBC GAG on £500M DEFENCE SECRET". Combined with this story was a report that the Home Office intended to restrict the broadcast receiver licence fee, the implication being that the Government had decided to censor BBC investigative journalism.
Soon afterwards, a series of programmes on BBC Radio Four called My Country Right or Wrong was banned by the Government because it might have revealed sensitive secrets. The series was censored only a few hours before it was due to start because it dealt with similar issues to the television series concerning the British "secret state". However, it was eventually broadcast uncut, after the Government decided that it did not breach any laws or interfere with national security.
1987: Sacked director general controversy
On 29 January 1987 Alasdair Milne was sacked by the newly appointed Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors, Marmaduke Hussey. He was replaced by a senior BBC accountant, Michael Checkland. Milne later wrote his account of this affair in The Memoirs of a British Broadcaster.
1988–1994: Sinn Féin broadcast ban
On 19 October 1988, Tory Home Secretary Douglas Hurd under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher issued a notice under clause 13(4) of the BBC Licence and Agreement to the BBC and under section 29(3) of the Broadcasting Act 1981 to the Independent Broadcasting Authority prohibiting the broadcast of direct statements by representatives or supporters of eleven Irish political and military organisations. The ban lasted until 1994, and denied the UK news media the right to broadcast the voices, though not the words, of all Irish republican and Loyalist paramilitaries, while the ban was targeted primarily at Sinn Féin.
Government intimidation and laws before the ban had already resulted in forms of self-censorship. An INLA interview in July 1979 on BBC's Tonight caused a controversy involving Prime Minister Thatcher and was the last time such an interview was heard on British television. The 1980 Panorama film of the IRA on patrol in Carrickmore was seized by police under the Prevention of Terrorism Acts following an outcry in Parliament and the press. In 1985 an edition of BBC's Real Lives was pulled under government pressure.
Coverage of Sinn Féin by the BBC before the ban was minimal. In 1988 Sinn Féin was only heard or seen on television 93 times, had only 17 of the 633 formal BBC interviews as compared to 121 interviews with the Conservative Party and 172 with the Royal Ulster Constabulary and the Civil Service, and were never interviewed in the studio like many other participants. However, after the ban there was a steep decline in coverage of Sinn Féin and Republican viewpoints, with television appearances being reduced to 34 times in the following year, and the delays and uncertainties caused by ambiguities, voice-overs and subtitles often lead to coverage and films being dropped entirely.
To allow the continuation of news reporting on the subject, during a time when 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland were a matter of great importance and interest, the BBC used actors to speak Adams' words. The net effect of the ban was to increase publicity.
October 1998: Richard Bacon cocaine controversy
On 18 October 1998, a presenter of the children's television programme Blue Peter Richard Bacon was in the headlines when it emerged he had taken cocaine. He was released from his BBC contract immediately.
2003: Death of Dr David Kelly
In May 2003, the defence correspondent of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, Andrew Gilligan, quoted a government official who stated that the British Government had "sexed up" a dossier concerning weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, against the wishes of the intelligence services. A newspaper report claimed that Alastair Campbell (the Prime Minister's Director of Communications and Strategy), was responsible. The British Government strongly denied the claims and this prompted an investigation by Parliament.
A Ministry of Defence scientist, Dr David Kelly, was named as the alleged source of the news item, which led to official sources suggesting that Dr Kelly wasn't a credible source. The subsequent suicide of Dr Kelly resulted in an escalation of the conflict between the government and the BBC, during which both sides received severe criticism for their roles in the matter.
2004: Hutton Report
The publication in January 2004 of the Hutton Report into Dr Kelly's death was extremely critical of Andrew Gilligan, and of the Corporation's management processes and standards of journalism. In the aftermath, both the Chairman of the BBC Gavyn Davies and the Director-General Greg Dyke resigned, followed by Gilligan himself. Lord Hutton was accused of failing to take account of the imperfections inherent in journalism, while giving the Government the benefit of the doubt over its own conduct. Large parts of the media branded it a whitewash.
2004: Butler Report
A second inquiry by Lord Butler of Brockwell did review the intelligence on weapons of mass destruction and the production of the dossier. Amongst other things, the Butler Report concluded that:
... the fact that the reference [to the 45 minute claim] in the classified assessment was repeated in the dossier later led to suspicions that it had been included because of its eye-catching character.
Andrew Gilligan claims that the Butler Report vindicated his original story that the dossier had been "sexed up".
2004–2007: Balen Report
The BBC fought to overturn a ruling by the Information Tribunal that the BBC was wrong to refuse to release to a member of the public under the Freedom of Information Act of 2000 (FOI) the Balen report on its Middle East coverage. The report examines the BBC's coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The corporation was reported to have spent £200,000 on fighting the case and was accused by commentators of wasting licence fee payers' money. Critics called the BBC's blocking an FOI request "shameful hypocrisy" in light of the corporation's previous extensive use of FOI requests in its journalism.
On Friday 27 April 2007 the High Court rejected Mr Steven Sugar's challenge to the Information Commissioner's decision. However on 11 February 2009 the House of Lords (the UK's highest court) reinstated the Information Tribunal's decision to allow Mr Sugar's appeal against the Information Commissioner's decision. The matter goes back to the High Court for determination of the BBC's further appeal on a point of law against the Tribunal's decision.
The BBC's press release following the High Court judgement included the following statement:
"The BBC's action in this case had nothing to do with the fact that the Balen report was about the Middle East – the same approach would have been taken whatever area of news output was covered."
Mr Sugar was reported after his success in the House of Lords as saying:
"It is sad that the BBC felt it necessary to spend hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money fighting for three years to try to load the system against those requesting information from it. I am very pleased that the House of Lords has ruled that such obvious unfairness is not the result of the Act."
Steven Sugar died of cancer in January 2011, and it remains unclear what will happen with the legal battle. There is the possibility of someone picking up the case on Mr. Sugar's behalf. The Supreme Court says it has listed the case provisionally for another hearing in Autumn 2011.
2004–2011: Siemens outsourcing
In 2004 the BBC Governors approved a deal to outsource the BBC's IT, telephony and broadcast technology (which had previously been run by the corporation's internal BBC Technology division) to the German engineering and electronics company Siemens IT Solutions and Services (SIS). It was claimed that the sale of BBC Technology would deliver over £30 million of savings to the BBC. In June 2007 a report published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was critical of the deal, claiming that BBC management had omitted £60 million' worth of hidden costs in its application to the Board of Governors and that the profits to Siemens had not been taken into account. Recorded savings to the BBC had amounted to £22m, 38% lower than the BBC's original forecast.
The BBC's partnership with Siemens underwent some high-profile difficulties, including issues with the corporation-wide switchover to a IP telephony system in 2009; a major outage of the BBC website in 2011; and Siemens was the original technology partner in the Digital Media Initiative until its contract was terminated in 2009 (see below). In December 2010, SIS was acquired from Siemens by the French company Atos and BBC IT, broadcast and website systems are now managed by Atos.
March 2007: Blue Peter phone-in
A phone-in competition supporting Unicef, held by the children's programme Blue Peter in November 2006, was revealed to have been rigged. The winning caller in the competition was actually a visitor to the set who pretended to be calling from an outside line to select a prize. The competition was rigged because of a technical problem with receiving the calls. The controversy was the beginning of a wider controversy in which a number of other broadcasters were fined for faking telephone competitions.
March 2007: BBC Jam
In 2006 the BBC launched a free educational website for children, BBC Jam, which cost £150 million. Following complaints by a number of commercial suppliers of educational software that the BBC was engaging in anti-competitive practices by providing this service for free, the BBC Trust announced that the website would be suspended pending a review. The following year it was decided that the service would not be relaunched and it was closed permanently.
July 2007: A Year with the Queen
In early 2007 the BBC commissioned RDF Media to make a behind-the-scenes film about the monarchy, titled Monarchy: The Royal Family at Work, for BBC One. A sixty second trailer was shown at the BBC1 autumn launch in London on 11 July. The trailer showed two clips of Queen Elizabeth II; one in which she tells photographer Annie Leibovitz that she will not remove her crown to make the scene look "less dressy", and another in which The Queen says "I'm not changing anything. I've done enough dressing like this".
The shots in the trailer were edited out of order, making it appear as if The Queen had abruptly left the photoshoot, when in fact, the second shot showed her entering the shoot. BBC 1 Controller Peter Fincham told journalists at the launch that it showed the monarch "losing it a bit and walking out in a huff".
The next day national newspapers and other media sources broke headlines stating that The Queen had stormed out during the session. On 12 July, the BBC released a formal apology to both The Queen and Annie Leibovitz. On 16 July, RDF Media admitted it was "guilty of a serious error of judgement". Thereafter, both Peter Fincham, the BBC 1 Controller and chief creative officer of RDF Media, Stephen Lambert resigned.
On 10 October 2007 the BBC released its investigation into the incident.
September 2007: The Blue Peter cat
When the children's programme Blue Peter acquired a pet cat in January 2007, it held an internet vote to choose a name for the animal. In September of that year, it was revealed that viewers had selected the name Cookie, but producers changed the result to Socks instead, leading to accusations of breach of audience trust. A fulsome apology to viewers was subsequently made on the programme.
2008: The Russell Brand Show prank telephone calls row
In a show recorded on 16 October 2008 and broadcast two days later, Brand made several phone calls, along with guest Jonathan Ross, to the home of actor Andrew Sachs, claiming that Brand had sexual relations with his granddaughter Georgina Baillie, along with further apparently lewd suggestions. Later coverage in the Daily Mail newspaper led to number of complaints, and ultimately Ross left the broadcaster.
2009: Gaza DEC Appeal
On 22 January 2009, the BBC declined a request from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) to screen an aid appeal intended to raise money to aid the relief effort following the recent hostilities in the Gaza Strip. They explained that this was due to doubts about the possibility of delivering aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC's impartiality in the context of an ongoing news. Requests from DEC to broadcast appeals are usually considered in consultation with all other UK TV broadcasters, and require consensus to proceed.
Because of a lack of consensus to do so, the other TV channels in the UK initially decided not broadcast the appeal, however ITV, Channel 4 and Five eventually showed it on 26 January, while British Sky Broadcasting announced that it would not broadcast it. The BBC did broadcast substantial extracts from the appeal in its TV news programmes.
The BBC's decision came in for widespread criticism[quantify] from senior politicians such as Nick Clegg, Douglas Alexander and Hazel Blears and other public figures including the Archbishops of York and Canterbury. A public demonstration occurred outside Broadcasting House on 24 January. Former cabinet minister Tony Benn attacked the decision in an interview on BBC News 24 during which he read out the appeal address, and said that the Israeli government was preventing the appeal from being broadcast.
MP Richard Burden put forward an early day motion calling on the BBC to screen the appeal which received the support of 120 MPs. Meanwhile, another Labour MP, Gerald Kaufman, complained of about "nasty pressure" on the BBC from Israeli lobbyists. However, Mark Thompson, the Director-General of the BBC, denied that the decision was due to Israeli pressure. Complaints to the BBC about the decision were directed to Mark Thompson's blog. BBC's Newsnight programme reported that the BBC had received over 15,000 complaints as well as 200 letters of support.
The BBC Trust reported in its 'Decision of the BBC Trust' document on the appeal that, 'the BBC Executive had received about 40,000 complaints about the Director General's decision'. The Guardian reported that the BBC faced a revolt from its journalists over the issue, and that they had been threatened with dismissal if they spoke out. The BBC's chief operating officer, Caroline Thomson, affirmed the need to broadcast "without affecting and impinging on the audience's perception of our impartiality" and that in this case, it was a "real issue."
2009: BNP Question Time appearance
Following the improved performance of the British National Party in the 2009 European elections, the BBC controversially changed its stance on the appearance of the BNP on the flagship current affairs talk show, Question Time, and invited party leader Nick Griffin to appear on its 22 October 2009 edition. The BBC was also obliged to transmit party political broadcasts by the BNP.
2008–2013: Digital Media Initiative
In 2008 the BBC launched the Digital Media Initiative (DMI), a technology programme intended to streamline broadcast operations by moving to a fully digital, tapeless production workflow at a cost of £81.7 million. It was forecast to deliver cost savings to the BBC of around £18 million. DMI was contracted out to the technology services provider Siemens with consulting by Deloitte.
Costs of the project rose after a number of technical problems and delays, and in 2009 the BBC terminated the contract with Siemens. BBC losses were estimated to be £38.2m, partially offset by a £27.5m settlement paid by Siemens, leaving a loss of £10.7m to the BBC. The BBC was criticised by the UK National Audit Office in 2011 for its handling of the project.
In 2009 the BBC brought the DMI project in-house and started work on a digital system to be known as Fabric. Lord Hall, the BBC's Director General, announced in late May 2013 that the project was to be abandoned after costs reached £98 million.
2009–2012: Denis Avey Claims
On 29 November 2009 BBC News Channel broadcast claims by Denis Avey that he smuggled himself into Monowitz Concentration Camp in 1944. These claims were presented as fact on the BBC website and became the subject of the best-selling book The Man who Broke into Auschwitz co-authored by Avey and BBC journalist Rob Broomby. Avey's claims generated considerable controversy, and were questioned in a number of newspapers. The BBC came under criticism for having broadcast these and for promoting the book. The BBC subsequently acknowledged the controversy in a subsequent programme.
2009-2014: Women in panel shows
In February 2014 the television executive Danny Cohen said that would be no longer all male comedy panel shows on the BBC and all shows must contain a woman. The journalist Caitlin Moran referred to tokenism already existing on such shows. Dara O'Briain also referred to tokenism and "token woman" speaking against this idea-the word used was "blasted". Comedian Milton Jones called it "counterproductive". It seems to be going on a long time. This doesn't seem to apply to radio shows such as I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.
Journalist Deborah Orr, although she also considered it "tokenistic", wrote in favour of the plan: "The issue of gender representation on panel games is comparatively trivial. But the fact is this: if comparatively trivial contemporary manifestations of long-standing disadvantage cannot be seen for what they are, and dealt with, but instead become bemired in trenchant opposition, what hope is there in tackling the vast, brutal and comprehensive ones."
2010: Weapons claims offend Bob Geldof, Ethiopia and Africa
In March 2010 Bob Geldof confronted Andrew Marr on a BBC report claiming the Ethiopian government used money raised for the famine to pay for weapons. Geldof and the Band Aid Trust reported the BBC to Ofcom over the incident. Development agency Christian Aid announced it too would make a complaint to the BBC Trust. The Ethiopian ambassador to the UK Berhanu Kebede called it a "disgrace" and a "ridiculous report" and said the BBC had "destroyed its credibility in Africa" by making such claims. Geldof said it would be a "tragedy" if British people refused to donate money due to the BBC claims.
The BBC initially announced that it was standing by its report and claimed to have evidence to back up its stance. The BBC was forced to broadcast a series of apologies in November 2010 after realising that it did not have enough evidence that any money was spent on weapons, basing much of the unfounded claims on a CIA report it had failed to question. It also apologised to Geldof for claiming that he had refused to respond to its fabricated story, with Geldof saying that much damage had been caused by the BBC to charity campaigns. Mr. Geldof also said "appalling damage" had been caused to the Band Aid Trust by the BBC.
2007–2011: Accusations of ageism and sexism
The BBC was accused of ageism and sexism when news presenter Moira Stuart (55) – the first black female television newsreader – was sacked in April 2007 after more than two decades of presenting, despite many male presenters in similar situations being allowed to continue in their jobs. In November 2008, four female Countryfile presenters (Michaela Strachan, Charlotte Smith, Miriam O'Reilly and Juliet Morris), all in their 40s and 50s, were dismissed from the show.
The issue returned in July 2009, when former theatre choreographer Arlene Phillips (66) was replaced on the Strictly Come Dancing panel by Alesha Dixon, a pop-star half her age. The males on the show were Len Goodman (65), Bruno Tonioli (53), Craig Revel Horwood (44), and Bruce Forsyth (81).
Former Countryfile presenter Miriam O'Reilly claimed she was "warned about wrinkles", and successfully won an employment tribunal against the Corporation on the grounds of ageism and victimisation – but not sexism. With other older women also dropped by the BBC, Joan Bakewell claimed the BBC's policy was "damaging the position of older women in society", whilst former Liberal Democrat leader Menzies Campbell said that the BBC was obsessed with youth culture and was shallow thinking.
2010–2011: QI and Tsutomu Yamaguchi
In December 2010, the BBC broadcast an episode of its TV quiz show QI in which panellists made jokes during a discussion about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who survived both atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Yamaguchi had died only earlier that year. The Japanese embassy in London wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC about the content of its quiz show after being alerted to the offensive content when viewers in Japan contacted diplomatic staff. Yamaguchi's daughter also made known how upset she was as a result of the comments broadcast on the BBC. She said that Britain, as a nuclear power, had no right to "look down" on her father.
In January 2011, the BBC issued an apology for "any offence caused" to Japan by the incident, recognising "the sensitivity of the subject matter for Japanese viewers". In February 2011, the BBC blamed a "strength of feeling" in Japan following its atomic bomb joke broadcast for the cancellation of the filming of part of its Planet Word documentary in Japan. The documentary was due to be presented by Stephen Fry, the host of QI.
2011: Top Gear comments on Mexico
On 30 January 2011, the BBC broadcast an episode of its motoring TV show Top Gear during which presenters referred to Mexicans as both "lazy" and "feckless" and Mexican food as "refried sick". The broadcast caused many complaints in Mexico, including in newspapers and websites, while a motion of censure was considered in the Mexican senate and the BBC Spanish-language website BBC Mundo received protests. Richard Hammond, one of the presenters, expressed doubt that there would be any complaints against them as, he alleged, the Mexican ambassador would be asleep.
British MPs described the comments as "ignorant, derogatory and racist" and called on the BBC to say it was sorry. Mexico's ambassador in London also requested that the BBC say it was sorry for the "offensive, xenophobic and humiliating" comments. The legal firm who previously pursued the media in the Shilpa Shetty case involving comments in Big Brother have engaged clients for the case.
The BBC then offered an apology, though it claimed there was no "vindictiveness" in the remarks and that they were just part of the stereotype-based comedy the organisation espoused, such as when it "make[s] jokes about the Italians being disorganised and over dramatic, the French being arrogant and the Germans being over-organised". Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, told The Sunday Times that he was "not going to get hot under the collar about schoolboy provocation which frankly is organised so that we can get into a ruck and sell more DVDs for Jeremy Clarkson – Jeremy is rich enough".
Fake child labour footage in Bangalore
The BBC's 50-year-old flagship weekly current affairs programme Panorama had aired a documentary claiming that Bangalore-based suppliers of Primark, a hugely successful retailer with 220 stores across Europe, were using child labour in their production in 2008. Primark could review its decision to cancel contracts. The claim has been found to be untrue and the BBC has apologised to Primark admitting mistake. Responding to Primark's protest, the BBC conceded in a 49-page report that footage of three boys engaged in completing garments for Primark was "more likely than not" to have been "not genuine" after a three-year internal inquiry.
Fake "dog sentenced to stoning" story
The BBC News website featured a story claiming that a dog had been sentenced to death by stoning by an Israeli court. It later transpired that the story was untrue. The story had been sourced from AFP and had originated from Israel's Maariv newspaper as a hoax story.
The One Show Jordan Shelley dog training controversy
On 15 September 2011 The One Show presenters introduced a "new member of the One Show family", the dog trainer Jordan Shelley. The following day, Jordan was shown treating a problem of food guarding in a Jack Russell Terrier called Roxy. Only confrontational methods were used, and at the end of the segment Alex Jones remarked that "some people out there might argue that some of your techniques were a little aggressive". According to an article in the Daily Mail, the BBC quickly received over 400 complaints about the methods used by Jordan Shelley.
The Daily Mail article was followed by an article on the Daily Telegraph website, saying "Jordan Shelley doesn't seem to have any formal training or qualifications, and I've been unable to track down any evidence of his experience. High profile television programmes have a responsibility to ensure that advice given out is consistent with current best practice: The One Show’s dog training segment certainly does not do this". The Kennel Club published a statement criticising the training methods used in the programme on its website, as did the Dogs Trust.
Immediately after the show on 21 September, the BBC press office released a statement; "The One Show has thanked viewers for all their comments and criticisms which were taken very seriously. Last night the show featured various differing opinions plus advice from The One Show's vet on the subject of dog training and care. There are currently no plans for this feature to return."
May 2012: Use of wrong photo to illustrate massacre
On 27 May 2012 the BBC News website used a photograph taken in Iraq in 2003 to illustrate a massacre which was reported as having taken place in Syria in 2012.
Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine
The main cause of discussion about Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine was the BBC current affairs programme Panorama, called Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate. It included recent footage of supporters chanting various xenophobic slogans and displays of white power symbols and banners in Poland, and Nazi salutes and the beating of a few South Asians in Ukraine. The documentary was widely commented in the British press, but later criticised for being one-sided, sensationalist and unethical. The critics included other British media outlets, Polish anti-racism campaigners and black and Jewish community leaders in Poland, Polish and Ukrainian politicians and journalists, British fans visiting Poland and Ukraine and Gary Lineker.
The executive director of the Jewish Community Centre of Kraków, Jonathan Ornstein, a Jewish source used in the film said: "I am furious at the way the BBC has exploited me as a source. The organization used me and others to manipulate the serious subject of anti-Semitism for its own sensationalist agenda... the BBC knowingly cheated its own audience – the British people – by concocting a false horror story about Poland. In doing so, the BBC has spread fear, ignorance, prejudice and hatred. I am profoundly disturbed by this unethical form of journalism."
The Guardian reported: "Other sources have come forward to say that an interview with a Jewish Israeli player was also cut from the programme because he failed to confirm Panorama's "anti-semitism" thesis. The BBC interviewed midfielder Aviram Baruchian, who plays for the Polish team Polonia Warsaw. One source who was present said the Panorama journalists had complained afterwards that the interview was "useless". Panorama strongly denies this.
Despite the BBC warning, Poland and Ukraine fans were not exhibiting racist attitudes. By the end of the tournament, four other nations were fined by UEFA for racist activities of their fans: Germany, Spain, Croatia and Russia.
June 2012: Diamond Jubilee coverage
The BBC's live television coverage of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee River Thames Pageant on 3 June 2012 attracted some criticism in the media, and the corporation reportedly received over 4500 complaints from members of the public about the broadcast. Criticism centred on the "informal" style of presentation which was perceived by some commentators to be too lowbrow for a royal occasion. Some reviewers thought that the BBC presenters had concentrated too much on interviewing celebrities and that they were insufficiently prepared to add depth to the TV commentary.
The actor and writer Stephen Fry was of the opinion that the coverage was "mind-numbingly tedious", and BBC Radio presenter Sue MacGregor expressed disappointment that the coverage had failed to provide sufficient historical context to viewers. The arts commentator Norman Lebrecht, Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and composer Gavin Greenaway all publicly criticised the lack of television coverage given to the music which had been specially commissioned for the event. BBC creative director Alan Yentob defended the BBC's coverage, citing high audience approval ratings, and Director-General of the BBC Mark Thompson congratulated BBC staff for their work on the broadcast.
October 2012: Jimmy Savile abuse scandal
In early October 2012, it was found that a Newsnight investigation to allegations of sexual abuse by the late Jimmy Savile was shelved shortly before it was due to be broadcast. On 11 October George Entwistle, the Director-General of the BBC, directed the head of BBC Scotland, Ken MacQuarrie, to commence an investigation into why this program was cancelled, He also announced an investigation into the BBC's child protection policy, and another into the prevalent culture within the department, particularly at the time of Savile's employment.
On 23 October 2012, Entwistle appeared before the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to answer questions following revelations that Savile had abused children on BBC property while he worked for the BBC. When asked by Committee chairman John Whittingdale if the BBC's reputation for trust and integrity were in jeopardy, Entwistle stated that allegations of child abuse at the BBC were a "very, very grave matter". A Panorama investigation reported on what they consider to have been a paedophile ring that may have operated for at least twenty years and possibly as long as forty years, and BBC World Affairs editor John Simpson described it as the BBC's "biggest crisis for over 50 years".
On 12 November the BBC announced that their director of news Helen Boaden was "stepping aside" together with her deputy Steve Mitchell, prior to the outcome of an investigation into the Savile child abuse claims. Nick Pollard's report into the shelving of a Newsnight report on Savile in 2011 was published on 19 December 2012. It concluded that the decision to drop the original report was "flawed", but that it had not been done to protect programmes prepared as tributes to Savile. His report criticised George Entwistle for apparently failing to read emails warning him of Savile's "dark side", and stated that, after the allegations against Savile eventually became public, the BBC fell into a "level of chaos and confusion [that] was even greater than was apparent at the time". The BBC announced that Newsnight editor Peter Rippon and deputy editor Liz Gibbons would be replaced, and that deputy director of news Steve Mitchell had resigned, but that Helen Boaden would return to her role.
November 2012: Lord McAlpine falsely implicated in child abuse scandal
In the aftermath of the Jimmy Savile scandal, Newsnight investigated the North Wales child abuse scandal. On 2 November 2012, a former resident of the Bryn Estyn children's home was reported on Newsnight claiming that a prominent, but unnamed, former Conservative politician had sexually abused him during the 1970s. The rumour was spread by users of Twitter and other social media which identified the politician. After The Guardian reported a possible case of mistaken identity, he issued a strong denial that he was in any way involved, and stated that the allegations were wholly false and seriously defamatory. The accuser unreservedly apologised, stating that as soon as he saw a photograph of the individual he realised that he had been mistaken. The BBC also apologised.
However Lord McAlpine about whom the claims were made, has stated that he intends to sue those who made allegations about him. He duly did, settling for £185,000 from the BBC and £125,000 from ITV. Lawyers from Sally Bercow, wife of John Bercow, who is the Speaker of the House of Commons, have also been in touch.
The decision to broadcast the Newsnight report, without contacting the person first, led to further criticism of the BBC, and the resignation of its Director-General, George Entwistle on 10 November. It was later announced that Entwistle's severance package was in excess of £1.3 million. Harriet Harman, Labour's Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, declared that Entwistle had been rewarded for 'failure'.
June 2013: Staff gagging orders
In June 2013, it was reported that the BBC had spent a total of £28 million on silencing clauses at the end of staff's contracts.
July 2013: Executive payoffs
The large severance payments given to departing BBC executives came to widespread media attention in 2013 when the National Audit Office conducted an investigation into BBC senior management pay. The practice had been going on for a number of years. Senior executives whose payments were criticised included: chief operating officer Caroline Thomson, who received a total of £680,400 on her departure in 2011; Deputy Director-General Mark Byford who also left the BBC in 2011, taking £949,000; CEO of BBC Worldwide John Smith who was paid a total of £1,031,000 in 2011 (he later returned £205,000); George Entwistle who left the Director-General job after only 54 days following the Savile crisis, and received a payment of £511,500; and Roly Keating, the Head of BBC Archives, who received a £375,000 severance payment in 2012 (he later repaid the sum in full). Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, criticised the practice, calling it an "outrageous waste of licence fee payers' money." Following his appointment as Director General, Lord Hall introduced a £150,000 cap on severance payments. Mark Thompson stated to the PAC that the payments had been fully approved by the BBC Trust.
November 2013: Generation War
BBC plans to broadcast German ZDF film Generation War upset part of British residents of Polish origin as the film was already accused of slandering the Polish anti-Nazi underground Armia Krajowa as anti-Semites and building false stereotypes about Poles and Germans in the period of occupation. In Germany, after ambassador Jerzy Marganski sent a letter of complaint to ZDF, the broadcaster provided corrective actions producing and broadcasting film 'Kampf ums Überleben'.
August 2014: Coverage of Cliff Richard's property search
On 14 August 2014, Cliff Richard's apartment in Berkshire was searched by South Yorkshire Police in relation to an alleged historical sexual assault on a boy aged under 16. BBC reporters were on the scene as police arrived and a BBC helicopter covered the raid as it happened. Richard, who was in Portugal at the time, released a statement asserting that the allegation was "completely false" and complained that the press appeared to have been given advance notice of the search – whereas he had not been. The BBC's home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw stated that the media presence at Richard's home "was highly unusual – it appears to be a deliberate attempt by police to ensure maximum coverage", but added: "That's not illegal - but there are strict guidelines." South Yorkshire Police initially denied leaking details of the property search, but later confirmed that they had been "working with a media outlet" about the investigation.
By 19 August, the BBC claimed to have received up to 594 complaints regarding the coverage. Barrister and broadcaster Geoffrey Robertson questioned the legality of the search and called for an independent inquiry into the police operation and the prior leaking to media of the property search. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve accused the police of having a "collusive relationship" with the BBC, claiming that the decision to tip off the BBC "seems quite extraordinary." Officials from the BBC and South Yorkshire Police were called before the Home Affairs Select Committee on 2 September. There the chief constable of South Yorkshire Police accused the BBC of "extortion", however MPs dismissed this, with chairman Keith Vaz stating that the BBC had "acted perfectly properly" in its coverage of the raid.
September 2014: Coverage of Scottish independence campaign
Thousands of nationalist protesters demonstrated outside BBC Scotland's headquarters in Glasgow on 14 September 2014 accusing the corporation and Nick Robinson of broadcasting “lies” and of being “biased” against the Yes Scotland campaign. In their view, Nick Robinson should have been sacked. The Yes campaign was not itself involved in the demonstration.
Alex Salmond, Scotland's First Minister, agreed with the view that the BBC's bias is in favour of retaining the union, although in an interview given just after his clash with Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor on 10 September, he believed it was the fault of the BBC's London based staff rather than BBC Scotland itself.
Dr John Robertson and a team at the University of the West of Scotland carried out monitoring of news broadcasting from both BBC and ITV in the first year of the campaign (until September 2013). The report, Fairness in the First Year, asserted that in matters of airtime, sequencing of news items, prevalence of "bad news" items, and misleading presentation of sources as impartial, the BBC was clearly biased.
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