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« Some oddities in HadSST | Main | The silence of the wells »
Friday
Mar252016

BBC turns a blind eye

Do you remember when the Today programme had Jeremy Leggett on and described him as a renewable energy expert, accidentally failing to mention that he is the boss of a big solar energy company?

They did it again the other day, when they had Ed Davey on to talk about the new EDF nuclear power plant at Hinckley Point. He was introduced as a former Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, but BBC journalists strangely failed to have mentioned that Davey  now works for a PR firm that includes EDF among its clients. 

Ben Pile sent a complaint to the BBC:

Ed Davey was interviewed on the Today programme this morning. He was introduced as a former SoS for Energy and Climate Change, and was asked to defend the economics of the planned EDF nuclear power plant at Hinkley Point, which he was responsible for arranging while in office. The deal between the government and EDF is extraordinary on any analysis, and the project has consequently been called 'the most expensive power station in the world'. Your interviewer rightly brought up the fact of this expense being a burden that the bill payer and tax payer would have to shoulder for decades to come.

However, since being removed from office by the voting public, Davey has taken a position at MHP Communications -- EDF's PR firm -- as was revealed by The Times. Davey was given the opportunity to speak to your listeners to defend the deal he was responsible for, and his function as an interested party in EDF's business was not brought up in the discussion.

While it is conceivable that Davey's role at EDF's PR and public affairs firm is a coincidence, I believe the fact that Davey is engaged by the company which is in turn engaged by EDF to defend the very project Davey negotiated -- seemingly on the public's behalf -- would be of interest to most listeners, and would influence their understanding of the discussion on the programme. Davey now being a position to benefit financially from the decisions he made in office, one could reasonably argue that Davey's recent appointment may have been a reward for the deal that he secured for the benefit of EDF, at the public's expense. I believe therefore that the Today programme failed to introduce Davey properly, as an interested party, and has let the audience down.

The response from the BBC was rather extraordinary, even by their normal dismal standards:

From: bbc_complaints_website@bbc.co.uk <bbc_complaints_website@bbc.co.uk>
Date: 24 March 2016 at 13:26
Subject: BBC Complaints - Case number CAS-3742272-YHTBLK
To: Ben Pile 

Dear Mr Pile

Thanks for getting in touch. Apologies for the delay in replying. We do very much regret that we've not been able to get back to you as quickly as we, and you, would have liked.  We raised your concerns about the Ed Davey interview with the Today programme. They explained that the programme was aware that Sir Ed Davey is an employee of MHP but it took note of the agreement he reached with the Government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments which agreed that “…he would not have any involvement with EDF whatsoever in relation to their generating business prior to the announcement of a final investment decision in relation to Hinkley Point C.”

This deals with any issues of a potential conflict of interest in relation to MHP’s contract with EDF. It also means that questions about Sir Edward’s record regarding the commissioning process, for which he was responsible as the then Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, could be considered on the basis of his record in office not his current employment.

Accordingly, the programme did not refer to his employment with MHP.

Thanks for going to the trouble to let us know your thoughts on this. Your comments have been sent to the right people.

Kind regards

Lucia Fortucci

It's hard to avoid the impression that the BBC is giving its blessing to the revolving-door between politics and big business. It's very much part of the problem.

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Reader Comments (32)

Spruiking for EDF on BBC would seem to be in conflict with the Government’s Advisory Committee on Business Appointments agreement?

Would not have expected any better from the beeb though....sooner they are sold off to a commercial network the better.

Mar 25, 2016 at 10:16 AM | Unregistered CommenterNiff

The revolving door syndrome is not the point. The concern is the POTENTIAL conflict of interest not being aired. A commitment not to represent EDF's interests does not excuse what is tantamount to concealment of the link.

Mar 25, 2016 at 10:23 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

I'm coming to the conclusion that the only qualifications required for employment by the BBC are either a propensity to lie one's head off in a manner that Nixon would have envied or to have an IQ approaching single figures.
I really can see no third option at the present time.
This is pretty appalling stuff even by their standards.

Mar 25, 2016 at 10:24 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Does anyone actually understand the point made by the BBC?

AFAICS, they say that Davey:

1 - was responsible for initially arranging the contract
2 - left government to work in PR for EDF
3 - agreed not to talk about Hinkley until the Government had finalised the contract

therefore he is immune from being asked about his apparent conflict of interest.


Try as I might, I cannot see the logic here.

Mar 25, 2016 at 10:27 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

There is no logic at the BBC and it is pointless complaining. I think we've all discovered that. Unless of course you were to complain about somebody like Piers Corbyn being allowed to talk about science. And of course Piers is a brilliant physicist, not something that the BBC likes. They prefer pop-physicists like Brian Cox.

Mar 25, 2016 at 10:31 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

At least you gat on answer.
My father (Richard S C) made a complaint to the BBC. He complained about the Climate Change by Numbers programme and argued it was in breach of the BBC Charter.
He had no reply.

This means that the BBC Trust can't review the response as there is none. They only deal with appeals and 'no answer' cannot be appealed.
A Catch 22 and blatant corruption.

At least you can go to the BBC Trust over this. For what that's worth.

Mar 25, 2016 at 10:48 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

This doesn't matter.

The Idiot Davey has about as much sway with the average bloke in the street as Call-me.

They are both past their sell-by-date.

Mar 25, 2016 at 10:51 AM | Unregistered CommenterNCC 1701E

I raised a complaint about the Jeremy Leggett interview. Here is their response:


Dear Mr S****

Reference CAS-3501003-9DS1L6

Thanks for contacting us regarding Radio 4’s ‘Today’ on 29 September.

We appreciated your comments regarding the interview with Jeremy Leggett and passed your complaint to the programme team who responded as follows:

‘We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy the interview with Dr Jeremy Leggett during the 29th September edition of the programme.

We’ve listened back to the interview and think the description we gave of Dr Leggett and where he was coming from was fair.

The discussion was about the oil industry’s reaction to low oil prices and Shell’s decision to pull out its plans to drill in the Artic for oil and gas.

He was talking about Shell’s decision as a chairman of “Carbon Tracker Initiative” which was described as a group that measures carbon output but Jim Naughtie also went on to say “a group of leaders who believe that economic growth and climate action can be achieved together”

We don’t agree that he was introduced as an impartial academic, in fact Jim specifically avoided that, he also let the audience know that Dr Leggett was coming from “broadly a green perspective”

We think it’s difficult to argue the audience was misled given the clear signposting of Dr Leggett’s views and that he was talking in his capacity as chair of the CTI.’

We hope this is helpful in addressing your concerns and thanks again for getting in touch.

Kind regards

Stuart Webb

BBC Complaints

www.bbc.co.uk/complaints

NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.

My complaint:


Jeremy Leggett was introduced as "Chairman of Carbon Tracker Initiative".
During the interview he pushed for more renewables (saying 50% isn't enough).
At no point did the interviewer make it clear that Leggett had a conflict of interest since he is also a "founding director of Solarcentury, the UK’s largest independent solar electric company". Since it was obvious that the interview would touch on energy it should have been made clear at the outset that he had a significant stake in the sector. Instead the audience was left with the impression that he was an academic member of a non-profit (Carbon Tracker) with no financial interests in the subject being discussed.

Mar 25, 2016 at 11:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

Like Dodgy Geezer I'm puzzled by the logic in that BBC statement. The most generous reading is that they expect that Ed Davey would manage his thought processes so perfectly that any statements he made about Hinkley Point C would be assiduously considered only from the point of view of his involvement in government without any consideration of any benefits to his new clients. IMO that would be quite a mental feat and the BBC show quite an amazing faith and endorsement of the ex-politician in expecting him to match that.

Obviously it depends on what he said, perhaps his statements were innocuous? Has anyone got a transcript of what he said or audio? I notice that the archive has that episode missing for some reason.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qj9z/episodes/player?page=2

FWIW Here's a link to the OFFICE OF THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON BUSINESS APPOINTMENTS "agreement" with Davey.

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/490706/Letter_to_ED_-_MHP.pdf

It strikes me the "agreement" should actually hamstring him from talking about his government involvement with Hinckley Point in interviews for the 2 year period, not act as excuse for him being able to reach a some magical zen state of separation. But hey what do I know I'm just joe public paying for the expensive electricity now ;)

Mar 25, 2016 at 11:24 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

One aspect of the problem with the BBC mindset is well shown in this reply to TerryS.

We’re sorry you didn’t enjoy the interview ...
Setting aside the calculated informality of "we're" rather than "we are", the idea that we somehow ought to have enjoyed the interview and getting pleasure from listening to it is all that mattered implies that all the BBC's output is purely for our enjoyment and that the 'educate' and 'inform' aspects of its Charter are just so much verbiage.
It says all you need to know about the modern BBC, I suppose.

Mar 25, 2016 at 11:36 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The directions from the advisory committee say, quite bluntly:

<I>...you should not involve yourself in work related to Hinkley Point C or any commercial deal in which DECC is currently involved...</I>

There is no time limit on this. Interviewing on the BBC is definitely 'work' for a PR specialist. How can this not be a breach of the directions?

Mar 25, 2016 at 11:46 AM | Unregistered CommenterDodgy Geezer

Re: Mike Jackson

One other thing of note is that they instantly shut down any chance of discussion by sending the response from an outgoing email address only. This means you would have to go through the tedious web submission process again.

Since the web form does not allow any formatting (it even removes newlines) it is impossible to properly quote text, list or emphasize points and many of the other tools available via an email. They are, in effect, limiting your ability to speak whilst having their response unrestrained.

Mar 25, 2016 at 11:49 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

On further reflection, the delay in responding (never explained) seems significant. Issue considered important enough to be booted upstairs to dizzying heights. Implies decision to bury issue with blandness taken by at least a HLT if not a HLTC (high level Tristan or high level Tristan committee) and demonstrates disdain for the original complainant's legitimate concern at the top BBC table.

BBC was known (is known?) internationally for its impartiality. This behaviour is a good way to erode it.

Mar 25, 2016 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

I've not paid for the BBC for about the last 15 years but surely they are on their way out fairly soon. People can see that they don't excel at anything anymore, where once I'm pretty sure they did quite a few decent programs. Maybe that is just me getting older though.

Mar 25, 2016 at 12:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob Burton

It took me forever but I complained about Lord Oxburgh being introduced as a Chairman of Shell, which he had been about ten years previously for 18 months, when in fact he's a representative of the CCS industry. Eventually the Trust said I was right he shouldn't have been so introduced, but dismissed my (non-existent) accusation of bias.

You have to stay very focussed if you complain about anything to the Metropolitan Elite Radio Station. The first letter I got back was exactly the same brush off, but they gave me the directors name. He wrote back and said that they didn't have time to check the background of everybody on the show.

So I went to the (batting away of) Complaints Department, who batted away my complaint but told me I could go to the Trust, from which, after around 4 months wait I was told I was right, but not about my (non-existent) accusation of bias.

No action was proposed by the Trust to correct these things in the future, and as far as I can tell, no action taken. Although I haven't seen Lord Oxburgh back since - maybe my explanation

I learned something, stick entirely to your complaint, don't make any comments at all about anything other than the complaint because they'll be seized upon and responded to with brio, while the actual complaint is ignored.

Mar 25, 2016 at 12:44 PM | Unregistered Commentergeronimo

@Mar 25, 2016 at 11:53 AM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

It's possible that the BBC is copying its kick-it-into-the-long-grass approach from the media in the US, which is just as shamelessly biased as the beebyanka is. If an important story arises, which CNN, NYT etc don't want to cover, then they don't. They find some completely different, utterly trivial story and cover that, instead, round the clock, for a week. If, eventually, they are obliged to acknowledge the original story, they stick it in the equivalent of the bottom-right hand corner of page 72 and justify that on the basis that it is "old news". It could be summed up as the "What difference, at this point, does it make?" strategy.

Incidentally, I think the beebyanka is recognised in the US, as much as here, for its relentless bias. I imagine aliens from planet Xzoxxl have probably seen through its supposed impartiality by now.

Mar 25, 2016 at 1:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterOwen Morgan

@ Terry S - 11:49

"One other thing of note is that they instantly shut down any chance of discussion by sending the response from an outgoing email address only. This means you would have to go through the tedious web submission process again." - designed to deter responses!

And that generates a new CAS number.

So a single-issue complaint ends up with multiple Beeb references.

Mar 25, 2016 at 1:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterJoe Public

SIR Ed Davey.....

Words fail me....

Mar 25, 2016 at 1:21 PM | Unregistered Commentersherlock1

Owen Morgan :
I agree.

Another trick of outfits like The Guardian and the BBC is, if they can get away with it, to completely ignore inconvenient news stories. Then if anyone raises them. say in CiF, all the links and evidence have to come from the likes of the Daily Mail or Breibart or skeptical blogs. That evidence is then instantly dismissed by the comment police as being untrustworthy and only believed by nasty right-wingers, even if the Mail etc are merely quoting a source usually considered credible.

Mar 25, 2016 at 1:28 PM | Unregistered Commenterartwest

Do take it to the ESC Ben, just for the fun of seeing them jumping through whatever hoops are necessary to avoid admitting a mistake in face of a complaint from a climate sceptic.

Mar 25, 2016 at 2:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterTonyN

A trivial comment but for accuracy:

The nuclear power station site near Bridgwater is HINKLEY POINT

The market town in southwest Leicestershire is HINCKLEY

Mar 25, 2016 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered Commenteralan bates

Owen Morgan,

your explanation crossed my mind as I typed my post. However, dismissed it out of hand in the belief that Auntie wouldn't have used the kick-ball-long grass gambit, so ensuring pissing off of disgruntled commentator, before determining "importance" (ie connections to Tristan mafia and select committee members) of said commentator - especially as the spectre of licence renewal grows ever larger.

It wouldn't do that would it?

Really?

Mar 25, 2016 at 2:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan Kendall

I think it is worth complaining sometimes. As I have said before I put in a complaint about the constant use of Guardianista warmist Lucie Siegle using The One Show to spout her globull warming propaganda twice. She hasn't been on the show for months & months, except to do a video piece about something completely unrelated! Of course I have no "proof" that my complaint had the desired effect, but they did remove her for a while, & as said she only returned to do the occasional video on general life issues!

Mar 25, 2016 at 3:29 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

'yer average BBC goon just doesn't perceive any negative consequences for anything they do or don't do - the list of transgressions is a long and diverse one....

Sometimes it's unconscious I reckon - but given that I spent several years in the late 90's "testing their filters " - my take on the output is that it is very deliberately contrived + skewed by a bunch of yahoos that feel utterly invulnerable to criticism and - actually - they enjoy thumbing their noses at the peons and patronising them.

A holy cow with attitude

Mar 25, 2016 at 3:56 PM | Registered Commentertomo

I'm sure, for reasons of balance and fairness, the BBC would not mention any potential conflicts of interest that a climate sceptic might have.
Perish the thought.

Mar 25, 2016 at 4:14 PM | Unregistered CommenterBitter&twisted

If Lucia is one of the "right" people, then who the hell are the "wrong" people?

Mar 26, 2016 at 1:22 PM | Unregistered Commentertoorightmate

Lucia Fortucci is leaving a wake in cyberspace :-)

Perhaps it's time to have a bit of fun with a spoof Twitter account.

Mar 26, 2016 at 6:32 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Lucia Fortucci? That's a very English working class name, I'll bet she stands out like a sore thumb in the very public school educated bbc.

Mar 27, 2016 at 10:10 AM | Unregistered CommenterJohn in cheshire

"Your comments have been sent to the right people"

With the possible exception of the listeners...

Owen Morgan

"beebyanka" :-)

Alan Kendall

I share your dismay at the Beeb (esp. R4), but it's the inevitable consequence of coming here, I'm afraid!

Mar 27, 2016 at 11:49 AM | Registered Commenterjamesp

I read Lucia Fortucci as Luigi Vercotti, I wonder why...

Mar 27, 2016 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered CommenterJohn Silver

Late thought, on re-reading the OP:

“…he would not have any involvement with EDF whatsoever in relation to their generating business prior to the announcement of a final investment decision in relation to Hinkley Point C.”

Has the government announced a final decision, then? I thought it was all still very much in the air, hence PotatoEd's interview...

Apr 2, 2016 at 4:09 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

Thee BBC isn't interested in accuracy. They admitted as much to me. Some time ago, John Humphrys introduced an item by saying that the words ‘priest’ and paedophile’ were almost synonymous. Now whatever you think about Catholic priests, or even about the Catholic Church, you have to admit that not only is that statement grossly offensive to the vast majority of Catholic priests in the UK but also that it is wildly inaccurate. When I complained to the BBC, the final defence of Humphrys’ comment which I received was that it would not have misled the average listener. So, a BBC presenter can be as inaccurate as they like. Accuracy is not important. All that matters is that the average listener is not misled. And who decides whether the average listener may have been misled? The BBC of course.

Apr 19, 2016 at 10:24 PM | Unregistered CommenterMike17

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