On 22nd January 2009 I emailed a complaint to the BBC Trust with the following brief covering note which ended:

I would be grateful if you would acknowledge receipt of this document
without delay.


As I had heard nothing from them a couple of days later, I thought that I had better just check up. Emailing messages with attachments can be a tricky business:

I emailed a complaint on Thursday 22nd Jan 2009 concerning Susan
Watts’ 20th Jan report on President Obama’s inaugural speech for
Newsnight. This was in the form of an MS Word attachment.

I specifically asked for confirmation that this message, and the
complaint attached, had been received. Will you now  please confirm
that it was received.


That produced the confirmation that I had originally asked for:

I can confirm that we have received your email, and will respond within
10 working days.


Rather than asking why it had taken two emails to obtain a one-sentence response, I thought that I had better be diplomatic, so I replied:

Many thanks for letting me know.


It would seem unkind to personalise the problems that followed, so lets call the person who I was dealing with Dave, with the genuine job title Correspondence Adviser, BBC Trust Unit.

On the 30th January, just eight days after I had sent in my complaint, I received the following email from Dave:

Thank you for your email of 22 January to the BBC Trust regarding a
Newsnight report by Susan Watts. I am responding on the Trust’s behalf;
I work in the Trust Unit which provides advice and support to the BBC

I have noted your comments for the information of the Trust. I should
explain however that the role of the BBC Trust as set out in the BBC’s
Royal Charter is distinct from that of the BBC’s management and it has
no role in day to day editorial matters. The Trust’s role is to set the
overall framework, the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which set out the
values and standards that all BBC output should meet. Responsibility for
the BBC’s editorial content within these Editorial Guidelines rests
ultimately with the Director-General, as Editor-in-Chief.

There is a BBC complaints process in place to deal with instances where
audiences feel that there has been a breach of these Guidelines. This
requires that complaints must be dealt with in the first instance by the
BBC’s management; the Trust’s role in this process is to consider
appeals from complainants should they be dissatisfied with the response
that they have received from the BBC’s management. Full details of the
complaints process can be found at  http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/

As the Trust cannot involve itself in your complaint at this stage, I am
forwarding your email to BBC Information for an initial response on
behalf of BBC management.

I hope this is helpful.


Well, I suppose it was quite helpful, in a way, but I did wonder why, as this was clearly a form letter with a minimally personalised first sentence, it had not been sent when Dave confirmed that the complaint had been received. I also noticed that it said, ‘I am forwarding your email to BBC Information’, using the present tense, rather than the more helpful, ‘I have forwarded ….’ So I thought that I should get things straight about that, just in case, you understand:

Thank you for your message.

You say that, ‘I am forwarding your email to BBC Information’ and I
would be grateful if you would confirm that this has now been done
and give me some indication of when I can expect to receive a
substantive response to my complaint.


Perhaps Dave sees the Adviser part of his job description as being a higher priority than Correspondence, because it was ten days later that I received the following reply:

Thank you for your further email of 30 January.

I can confirm that your email has been passed to BBC Information and you
will receive a response in due course – BBC Information aim to respond
within 10 working days.

I hope this is helpful.


Presumably this matter required a good deal of thought, or consultations and reference to documents before this deeply considered reply could be sent. But there was still a problem, because there was not much point in telling me that BBC Information aim to reply within 10 working days’ without mentioning when the complaint was forwarded to them. With a heavy heart, I sent off another email to Dave, who I felt that I was getting to know quite well by now.

Thank you for your message, which is in reply to a simple request for
confirmation that I sent you some ten days ago.

Unfortunately you have omitted to tell me when my complaint was
forwarded to BBC Information, so advising me that they aim to respond
within ten days is of little assistance. I would therefore be
grateful if you would now tell me when BBC Information received my
complaint, and do so without further delay.


Three days later, presumably after further careful consideration, I received this reply:

I can confirm that you complaint was passed to BBC Information on 9
February and I believe you should now have received a response.

I hope this is helpful.


So it would seem that my complaint had not been forwarded to anyone who might actually be able to respond to it until ten days after Dave had told me ‘I am forwarding your email to BBC Information’.  And by coincidence, that had happened on the same day that I asked when the complaint had been forwarded.

Apart from developing a new medical condition, which causes me to experience waves of nausea every time I read the words ‘I hope this is helpful’, what had been achieved so far?

An exchange of some nine emails had revealed that my complaint would initially have to be dealt with by BBC Management, and that it would be forwarded to them, probably by snail mail, with a second-class stamp and an illegible address, via their Timbuktu office.

Actually, the bit about Timbuktu is a joke, because on the day before I received the last email from Dave I did actually get a reply to my complaint from the BBC Complaints department, which I posted here.

This told me nothing that had not been included in a comment from Peter Rippon, Newsnight’s editor, on Susan Watts website 2 days after I posted on Susan Watts’ report. As Mr Graham’s message did not give a plausible explanation for what had happened, it obviously needed a reply. Simple you might think, but in fact this will be subject of my next post on the Anatomy of a complaint, because it seems that replying to a communication from BBC Complaints is an even bigger challenge than dealing with Dave.

In the meantime, just think of all the fun things that Dave and I could have done in our spare time if I had received an email within twenty-four hours of my sending in my complaint saying that it had been received and forwarded to BBC Management, who would attempt to respond within ten days.

One Response to “The BBC’s Complaints Procedure Revealed: Part 1”

  1. ‘Delay is the deadliest form of denial’
    C Northcote Parkinson

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