The Countryside Alliance has raised concerns that the new BBC complaints framework and procedure significantly limits the role of Ofcom in assessing complaints, making editorial standards harder to enforce.

As part of the new Charter for the BBC, which came into force in April this year, Ofcom was given new powers to regulate the BBC after doubts were expressed about the ability of the corporation to regulate itself. However, the new complaints framework, published by the BBC last month, shows that anyone wishing to make a complaint will have to submit a complaint to the BBC three times before Ofcom can get involved.

Under a ‘BBC First’ procedure, it was agreed that initial complaints would be made to the BBC, but it now appears that a further two stages of complaint will be required before the external regulator can be contacted. Even then, editorial complaints can only be taken to Ofcom when they relate to news or public policy, and Ofcom can only enforce the limited requirements of the Broadcasting Code rather than the higher standards required in the new BBC Charter.

The Countryside Alliance welcomed the decision to appoint Ofcom as external regulator of the BBC following a number of unsuccessful complaints about the standards of rural broadcasting and the ability of prominent BBC presenters to engage in campaigning work against sections of the rural community. However, we are disappointed with how Ofcom’s role in regulating the BBC has developed and the new BBC complaints framework further illustrates how limited Ofcom’s role will be, leaving the BBC to continue to be self-regulating.

Countryside Alliance, Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, has written to the BBC as part of a consultation on the new complaints framework to suggest that those who make a complaint should be given the option to contact Ofcom after the initial complaint if they are unsatisfied with the response from the BBC. We have also called for greater clarity in the new complaints framework on the differences between the BBC and Ofcom in regulating BBC content.

Head of Policy, Sarah Lee, commented:

“Making a complaint is an essential part of upholding the BBC editorial guidelines. It is vital that those wishing to make a complaint, which must include people in rural areas, and those who represent them, have a complaints framework which is accessible and clearly sets out the procedure for making a complaint. We are disappointed that Ofcom has been side-lined in the new complaints framework, which will mean that self-regulation of the BBC will continue. The new Charter was an opportunity to introduce more effective, independent regulation of the BBC, but sadly that opportunity appears to have been missed.”

The letter to the BBC can be found here