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« James Annan on climate sensitivity | Main | Gored awful »
Friday
Feb012013

The open, transparent (ho, ho) BBC

Earlier this week, The Register made some interesting revelations about the BBC's expenditure on legal fees regarding Tony Newbery's FOI case. While the costs, at around £22,000 are somewhat lower than we had thought, although it is worth pointing out that I had a related case go all the way to the Information Tribunal, so it is plausible that the real cost of the BBC hiding the 28gate seminar details is double this. And there are the internal costs to take into account as well.

But suffice it to say that the BBC is spending a lot of money to avoid being transparent.

Which is why I was particularly interested in this excerpt from a report entitled "Ender Analysis - Media & Telecoms: 2013 & Beyond, part 1". It features Tim Davie the Acting Director General, BBC.

Q. You came to the Director General’s job unexpectedly, at a time when the BBC, one of the most trusted brands globally, was in some difficulty. Given your background as a marketer, how do you restore faith in a brand? Where is the faith in the BBC at the moment?

A: The first thing you should do is not worry too much about your PR programme.
The temptation is to think ‘What is our line? What is our public line?’, but the actual first question is ‘What are we doing? What is the right thing to do?’ When this works you tend to know what you are talking about, and you feel comfortable in your position. CEOs are often strapped to the three lines they are supposed to say, and as a result they struggle. So the first question we asked ourselves was ‘Are we doing the right thing?’, and the obvious answer was that our role as the BBC is to deliver quality programmes. What we need to do is not screw up, and that was my first order in the job.

But it is not only what you do, but also how you do it. The degree of transparency we have at the BBC means we have to be comfortable with the truth, and to that extent I have written to 32,000 ex-employees asking if they have any uncomfortable truths about Jimmy Savile – if they do I genuinely want to know.

The BBC is in a privileged position with £3.6 billion guaranteed income every year, and we need to pursue the right tone. I think we will achieve this through transparency and listening to what the public wants.

It's funny, because the impression you get from the 28gate affair is that the BBC wants to remain very, very private and to listen very carefully to what environmentalists want.

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Reader Comments (23)

I had some brief involvement with the military a while back. And one of the things I learned was that the best way to ensure a document was widely read and pored over by many was to print 'Top Secret' in big scary red letters on the top of it.

The BBC do not seem to have learnt this lesson.

And I wonder which cause they think they are serving by spending our money to attempt to prevent us from seeing whose advice they took on a controversial and topical matter. It surely isn't 'transparency' or 'being comfortable with the truth'

The uncommitted might see them desperately trying to hide the attendee list and wonder just what was so shameful about it that it mustn't be published? While also reflecting that their actions show that they have a guilty conscience.

Feb 1, 2013 at 9:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterLatimer Alder

I have a complaint in with the BBC at the moment. It was about renewables and John Humphry's interview with Lord Oxburgh on 29/12/2012. Humphreys top and tailed the interview with the fact that Lord Oxburgh was an ex-Chairman of Shell, but failed to mention that Oxburgh had extensive interests in the renewable energy business, allowing the old "blinder played" to come across as a man of business who supported renewables for their own sake. It included a shameless attempt to rustle up support for CCS in which the good old Scouse has considerable interests.

I was at first ignored, then on objecting to being ignored I got a response from a Tanya KcKee (If the BBC is so inclusive why doesn't it ever employ anyone called Sharon?) telling me they were always disappointed when customers didn't enjoy their programmes, but the BBC always tried to do their best. Or words to that extent. I've written back asking if they could point me to anywhere in the Charter that says that the BBC can withhold information from their listeners so that they are not informed about the credentials of an interviewee.

Feb 1, 2013 at 9:37 AM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

The total cost to the BBC was more than that, since these figures do not include the time spent by the BBC's own lawyers

The BBC's reply to the FOI request included the following.


"The majority of Freedom of Information work is carried out in-house within the BBC. Lawyers within the Information Policy and Compliance team, which deals with many aspects of FOI, do not charge out for their work and therefore no records of the time that is spent on each case are kept.

(...)

However, I can inform you that the BBC Litigation department does log time against cases and in 'FOI Newbury (sic) V Information Commissioner' this was logged at 120 hours. We are withholding information relating to the cost of these hours (...) The individuals concerned would not expect their personal data, specifically information relating to their salary, to be disclosed to a third party."

(Seems a dubious reason to me - the FOI request had asked for "The total number of hours of work by lawyers who are BBC employees in defending the BBC in this case and the total cost of their time in dealing with this matter." It had not asked for the names of individual lawyers nor the time spent by individual lawyers on the case.)


I have no idea what the salary of a BBC employed lawyer is. Perhaps £100/hour* if you include overheads? That would put the cost of BBC Litigation Department's 120 hours involvement at £12,000.

If you then assume at least an equal cost of BBC lawyers from the BBC's "Information Policy and Compliance team" that does not record the time that its lawyers work on particular cases, that would make the total BBC spend on internal lawyers £24,000.

Adding £24,000 to the £22,746 spent on external lawyers would give, as an estimate, a total figure of around £50,000 spent on lawyers to defend against Tony Newbery's appeal.

If you add in the cost to the BBC of defending against your related case as being about the same, that would mean a total cost of around £100,000 spent by the BBC on lawyers.

__________________________________________________________________________________________

* Could any reader please give a better estimate for the hourly cost of an in-house lawyer in a large organisation?

Feb 1, 2013 at 9:38 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

@geronimo

A patronising reply from 'an executive' called Tarquin or Petronella is all you're likely to get.

It's not called 'Auntie' for nothing,

Feb 1, 2013 at 9:40 AM | Registered CommenterLatimer Alder

Cheap lawyers at £100/hour!

Why do I get that same cold sweat running down the back of my neck when I read that the BBC are being "transparent", just as I do when I hear a Chief Constable make an announcement following the introduction of a new law that, "the ordinary man or woman in the street has nothing to fear!" It usually means the opposite the way much law has suffered "function creep", e.g. anti-terrorism laws being used for things other than anti-terrorism, but what the hell it got the desired result!!! Aljabeeba are doing everything they can to hide their NWO function, up to & including answering questions they think the public want to hear, not what the public want to ask or hear answers to!

Feb 1, 2013 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

Yes, I was thinking the same thing Alan...£100 an hour for a "top" lawyer is pretty damned cheap. And lets not kid ourselves, if you are the BBC you are NOT going to settle for a lawyer for a cheap run of the mill lawyer...you are going to use the best you can get your hands on.

Secondly, there is no way in hell the hourly cost of the lawyer is going to relate to their salary! No way in hell! The hourly charge will be padded out with everything from the cost of a desk to their pension so being given the hourly cost is NOT going to give anything away other than how bloated el beeb really is!

Mailman

Feb 1, 2013 at 10:26 AM | Unregistered Commentermailman

Is it me, or does the BBC seem to be back-peddling a bit on climate change/global warming?

Whereas, not too long ago, there were a preponderance of programmes (more news articles, really, but that does not alliterate quite so effectively) discussing how the recent “extremes” were all the fault of AGW, there no seems to be a rise in articles showing extreme events from the past, many of which were worse (i.e. more extreme) than the recent cases.

There does seem to be a definite couching of the wording of news weather reports, as if Auntie is having a change of mind, but doesn’t really want anyone to notice.

Feb 1, 2013 at 10:31 AM | Unregistered CommenterRadical Rodent

£100 an hour for a "top" lawyer is pretty damned cheap. And lets not kid ourselves, if you are the BBC you are NOT going to settle for a lawyer for a cheap run of the mill lawyer...you are going to use the best you can get your hands on.
(...)
Feb 1, 2013 at 10:26 AM mailman

Er, the £100/hr was just my guess at the cost of the Beeb's in-house lawyers. Presumably these are medium-grade legal staff used for mundane perusing of contracts etc - not front-line barristers. I had assumed it included overheads - cost of desk, support staff, benefits, etc etc.

What do you suggest as a more realistic figure? (Preferably with a reference to where the figure was obtained.) With a more realistic figure, I could re-do the calculation.

Feb 1, 2013 at 10:58 AM | Registered CommenterMartin A

Alan the Brit

... answering questions they think the public want to hear ...
It appears to be a modern corporate disease, Alan.
Have you tried accessing a Help file recently? Instead of the useful Contents/Index/Search headings that used to be fairly standard you now get sent to the On-line Help where you are faced with half-a-dozen questions that may or may not be relevant to your problem and have great difficulty in getting any further.
There is also the obligatory "Was this page helpful?" and sometimes, when you tick the 'no' box, a comment reminiscent of geronimo's reply from Tanya.
It took me several days and half-a-dozen searches to sort out a minor (but fairly important) difference between how Outlook Express and LiveMail handle emails on the server. Previously it would have taken about 30 seconds.

Feb 1, 2013 at 11:11 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Feb 1, 2013 at 11:11 AM | Mike Jackson

It appears to be a modern corporate disease,
[...]
you now get sent to the On-line Help where you are faced with half-a-dozen questions that may or may not be relevant to your problem and have great difficulty in getting any further.

And this "disease" is rampant! One of these days, I'm going to put together a blogpost on the Kafkaesque nightmare of the "correspondence" I had with WordPress (attempting to get them to acknowledge and fix problems that had not occurred prior to their circa Jan 9 roll-out of an "upgrade" to a more "responsive" user interface)

Feb 1, 2013 at 11:50 AM | Registered CommenterHilary Ostrov

"@geronimo
A patronising reply from 'an executive' called Tarquin or Petronella is all you're likely to get."

The FOI request was late and signed by James and it was for £22,756 as I reported on this blog some time ago.

Feb 1, 2013 at 12:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterDenier666

Is this a parody on the old joke:-

Which is the odd one out, cheap lawyer, transparent BBC and Santa Claus?

Feb 1, 2013 at 12:20 PM | Unregistered CommenterGreen Sand

Labourgraph now suggesting the collapsed wind turbine was sabotaged:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/environment/9841848/Sabotage-suspected-at-toppled-wind-turbine-as-second-is-brought-down.html

I'm sure other BH commenters are as sad I was to learn that the latest one to fall over was on land rented from a LibDem pol's family.

Feb 1, 2013 at 1:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterJustice4Rinka

I suspect that the real problem here is that any criticism of Global Warming is defined as 'Flat-Earther thinking' - amongst others, by no less a member of the establishment than the Prime Minister.

So the DG has an unenviable task - he needs to be 'open', but, of course, this doesn't mean running stories on aliens landing and other wacky ideas from assorted 'nutters'.

You might think that a quick read of some of the scientific papers would help here - but, alas, an arts-educated member of the establishment cannot tell the difference between a valid research paper and a Klingon vocab...

Feb 1, 2013 at 1:18 PM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Martin A,

I suggest you would be hard pressed to get any lawyer to do anything for you for a hundred quid and hour.

Mailman

Feb 1, 2013 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered CommenterMailman

Feb 1, 2013 at 2:48 PM Mailman

Mailman - as I said that was my guess. I asked if anyone could come up with a more definite figure.

But also, it was my guess at the BBC's internal cost of its lawyers - not what you'd have to pay a lawyer to act on your behalf.

In the 1980's I worked for a company that would charge customers well over £1000/day for my time. I can assure you that my take home pay, though reasonable, was nothing like that figure.

Feb 1, 2013 at 3:46 PM | Registered CommenterMartin A

'Humphreys top and tailed the interview with the fact that Lord Oxburgh was an ex-Chairman of Shell, but failed to mention that Oxburgh had extensive interests in the renewable energy business,'

---

Errors of omission (Or darn near deliberate selective commission) are becoming more and more prevalent, especially when it comes to framing context.... if the person being quoted as a source or expert is supporting a line the BBC favours, but whose provenance might somewhat undercut that if known. Think most 'think tanks' or research companies they wheel out... or even ordinary Mums who happen to have an interest in politics but be married to Graun editors.

---

(Seems a dubious reason to me - the FOI request had asked for "The total number of hours of work by lawyers who are BBC employees in defending the BBC in this case and the total cost of their time in dealing with this matter." It had not asked for the names of individual lawyers nor the time spent by individual lawyers on the case.)
---

The BBC complaints system is about as bent as it is made deliberately labyrinthine.

If they resorted to this it means the other avenues... claiming comfort in being about right, BBC Directors not seeing any prospect of the BBC finding merit, as grounds for rejection... were failing.

Hence, before bare-faced claiming black is white... and then closing the complaint... they will answer anything but what is being complained about.

And after all that, they'll try and expedite (ban) you for bad faith or wasting the licence fee payer's money by making them struggle to suppress their cock-ups.

It's what makes the BBC so unique.

Feb 1, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterJunkkMale

Like Geronimo and others I have been complaining to the BBC for some time now.

They banned me from their blogs in 2011 for protesting about their biased coverage and their errors in dealing with climate issues. One of my claims since then has been that the BBC has no right to ban anyone while still demanding a licence fee from them.

Having exhausted the usual channels I have been writing to successive Director Generals and now also involving the BBC Trust. I have had lots of replies, but invariably as denier 666 suggests these were patronising and did not address or mostly even recognise my issues.

I am trying now through the "they work for you" site to make sympathetic Lords aware of the issues and hopefully to take them up with the indolent Lord Patten.

Feb 1, 2013 at 4:48 PM | Unregistered Commenterdave

So how does one convince the BBC that covering up biased programming is more damaging to their reputation than the original mistake that has been brought to their attention. After years of covering political scandals, why don't they recognize that this principle to themselves: The cover up is more damaging than the scandal itself.

Feb 1, 2013 at 8:30 PM | Unregistered CommenterFrank

This case was anything but straightforward with many stops and starts and hiccups. The BBC’s involvement lasted from April 2010, when it was joined as a party in the proceedings, until the hearing at the end of October last year. People who have not been involved in this kind of thing may not realise what a vast amount of correspondence, exchanging of submissions, negotiations, and bargaining goes on behind the scenes between the parties in order to get a case to court.

For most of that time I was dealing with someone with the job title ‘Employed Barrister’ in the BBC Litigation Department (Yes! within that £3.6bn budget they fund a department devoted to litigation, as opposed to the general legal services provided by a legal department.) Presumably the Employed Barrister was remunerated at a competitive rate that would reflect her elevated status within the legal profession. Barristers don’t come cheap under any circumstances.

I know that the Head of the BBC of Litigation Department was copied in on the correspondence, and I assume she is very highly paid indeed. How many other BBC managers, acting as the clients in the case, had oversight of the proceedings, and at what level, I don’t know, but once my appeal was accepted by the Information Tribunal, the Information Commissioner contacted BBC Director General, Mark Thompson, who no doubt would have passed it down the line. Helen Boaden, Head of News (£350k pa) gave evidence at the hearing and preparing her, and her witness statement, must also have been a costly exercise. How many meetings and memos might that have involved?

The reason the case took so long to come to a hearing was because of a number of actions brought by Steven Sugar, in his attempts to prise the Balen Report out of the BBC. Each of these in turn was expected to clarify the extremely arcane legal issues surrounding the application of the FOIA to the BBC. As it happened, at each stage the losing side appealed until the matter reached the Supreme Court.

So each time a judgement was handed down in the Sugar cases, it would have been necessary for the Litigation Department to consider it’s impact on my case, and others like it, as well as it’s direct impact on the Balen Case. This must have been very time consuming indeed.

Bear in mind that there was also another charge on the public purse. My appeal was against the Information Commissioner’s decision, and a similar workload was incurred by the ICO as a result. Had the BBC not persisted in trying to conceal what Christopher Booker, with characteristic restraint, described as it’s ‘grubby little secret’, those costs would not have been incurred either.

Feb 1, 2013 at 10:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

I had to engage the services of a contract solicitor, not a lawyer but a solicitor. His fee was £250 per hour plus VAT.
I doubt a lawyer would get out of bed for £100 per hour.
It galls me that whatever we think of the BBC and its bias, we are doubly shafted because we have to pay for it too!

Feb 2, 2013 at 9:54 AM | Unregistered CommenterSerge

"So how does one convince the BBC that covering up biased programming is more damaging to their reputation than the original mistake that has been brought to their attention."

--

Sadly (or, depending on your view on the BBC's right to survive in its current form, not), the BBC from top down has made it very clear they don't get asked much less told anything by anyone, and hence their internal conviction on all things is as absolute as it is inevitably about right.

So far they are uniquely vindicated in this. They are essentially unaccountable to any exterior challenge, and immune to any attempt to do something about this too easily bunker-bound security blanket. Their efforts of late across so many failures in service delivery or sensible oversight transparency is the stuff of a hundred 'Downfall' parodies.

However, this may yet change.

Feb 2, 2013 at 12:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterJunkkMale

In fact, this could make for a great 'Downfall' comedy scenario...anyone handy with the relevant tools? ;-)

Feb 2, 2013 at 4:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSunGCR

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