BBC trust

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Previously on 'Another Damn Blog': I wrote to the BBC to complain about a minor matter??of them getting telephone numbers deliberately wrong on-screen.

I know this is a petty point, but it's one that annoys me. And, as I said at the time, "[i]f the BBC can get its own telephone number wrong, can they be trusted to make a documentary without cutting such basic corners?"

The reply came from BBC Complaints and seemed to be deliberately trying to prove my point. It said that they put numbers up on screen incorrectly because they were easier to remember that way. Bollocks. What a load of cobblers. I wrote back, saying that I didn't mind the brush-off, but did mind them actually lying to me. If they weren't lying, then they would produce the research that the BBC had done that showed people could remember telephone numbers more easily when they were wrong than when they were right. After all, they must've have done that??research??to come up with that answer.

But, I warned darkly, if they'd done no??research??and this reply was just a lie, it was time for them to 'fess up or I would prove the lie by requesting a copy of the research myself. BBC Complaints never replied. So I had to carry through with my threat and I made a formal Freedom of Information Act request to see the research — warning the FoI department that they wouldn't find any but that two could play at the timewasting game.

BBC FoI came back to me: they could find no evidence whatsoever that the BBC had commissioned or received any research on the formatting of telephone numbers on screen or elsewhere. In other words, the guy at BBC Complaints had lied his little socks off to make me go away. As I say, I wouldn't mind a brush-off, but this default that now exists in the UK of telling a lie, no matter how implausible, rather than just telling the truth has to stop.

I first had an organisation tell me an obvious and implausible lie a few years ago. After being very ill and having the NHS strangely reluctant to treat me (indeed, receiving open hostility from some staff) I sought a copy of my hospital notes. Lovely: as correspondance was passed between departments, I was referred to on multiple occasions as "this homosexual". As in "this homosexual first presented to me on…" and "I would like to refer this homosexual to you for further tests" and the like. This, clearly, would not do. So I complained to the chief executive of the hospital. Here comes the whopping great porker: he wrote back and said this was normal practice for all patients and they were all referred to that way in notes. Yeah, right. Do you even believe for a moment that your notes, assuming you're straight, say anywhere, anywhere at all, "this heterosexual presented to me on…"? Uh huh.

I went to the then-Healthcare Commission about this and they gave the hospital a mighty slapping down because of it. The chief executive had to write to apologise to me personally, the writers of "this homosexual" had to attend special courses in not writing "this homosexual" in notes, and the Trust had to employ a 'Diversity Officer' (no, me neither) to make sure this never happened again. But nobody had to apologise for the great fat lie the chief exec told me in his first reply. It was seen as entirely acceptable to try to make me go away by lying to me. It isn't.

A similar, if less outrageous in its detail, thing happened last month when a WHSmith employee told me a barefaced lie to my face rather than admit a mistake had been made. As I say, it seems to have become the default in British society, at least in larger organisations, to tell lies rather than deal with consequences.

For the BBC, this initial lie isn't going to go away. Today I've written to the BBC Trust, what was the governors, to ask them if they agree with me that trust in the BBC is important and lying to stakeholders undermines that trust. I'm expecting the BBC Trust to give me the brush-off and I won't mind that. I just hope they don't take the opportunity to lie to me at the same time.
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One comment

  1. Interestingly before I left the BBC we basically had a very similar style of FOI request of someone basically accusing us of lying in very similar circumstances. I was asked if we had any evidence to prove the assertion that was being made by the correspondence team on our behalf. It was an answer that we must have been putting out for ten years or so but blow me, unbeknowst to me we not only had evidence that proved what we said, but it was recent evidence too!I was stunned. Not because I thought we were, as an organisation, lying, but mainly because I thought that whilst we did have evidence a long time ago, it would have been long lost in the great shared directory in the sky. But it’s an easy thing to do – you come up with an assertion that meats your theories and beliefs, and come to believe it’s true regardless. If you repeat a lie enough, etc etc etc.That said, I was secretly hoping that in this case no evidence would be found in your case as incorrectly formatted phone numbers annoy the hell out of me. Every time I see 0207… well I can’t be polite about my response.

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