Threat To Free Speech From BBC
Warped View Of Copyright Law Used To Stifle Criticism
The BBC refuses to respond in a forthright way to my accusation that it used gutter-press tactics to attack a local doctor, then tried to intimidate me into remaining silent by crude threats about copyright.
The BBC is attempting to use copyright as a means to shut down criticism of its editorial standards.
The copyright law is pretty clear. If I sent a letter to X, I retain that copyright, and X cannot publish it without my permission.
But if X is the nation’s biggest media outlet, financed by the taxpayer, and the letter contains a reaction to a report that is already in the public domain and published by X, to say that it is copyright and can only be published with the BBC’s permission is clearly ridiculous. Any jury in the land would see through the threat as an attempt to suppress information that should be public.
The BBC’s letter, this time from Mr Larner, appears below. I’ve asked Mr Larner to comment on the last paragraph, but so far he hasn’t responded. To reply to this email, you have to go through a tortuous process on the BBC’s complaints website. You can’t simply reply to the email. It’s all part of the BBC’s plan to deflect criticism, I suppose.
Dear Mr Winton
I write in response to your recent submission via the BBC Complaints website addressed to BBC Director-General Mark Thompson regarding BBC South Today.
My name is David Larner and I am the BBC Information Complaints Co-ordinator with responsibility for the BBC’s English Regions therefore this matter has been escalated for my personal attention. As I’m sure you’ll appreciate, the Director-General receives more correspondence than he can deal with personally, so correspondence is forwarded to us in BBC Information so we can respond on behalf of the BBC’s management.
Thank you for providing your further personal views on the matter of BBC South Today’s reporting of Dr Rodney Tate, which I note you have chosen to also publish on your website.
As the programme’s Producer has provided you with a full and detailed response explaining the context of the report in question which featured a former patient who did not wish to be identified, there is little I can add here other than to reiterate that Dr Tate was offered a full right of reply on the matter but declined to comment, as is his right.
I note that you make comment upon the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines whilst appearing to be unfamiliar with the detail contained therein, therefore I copy below the web address for this published document in order that you may familiarise yourself with them:www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines.
Noting that you have published Richard Spalding’s reply on your website, I would remind you that the copyright in written replies on behalf of the BBC
– including my own here – rests with the BBC. I would further remind you that publishing, reproduction or distribution of copyrighted material requires formal permission from the copyright holder. (my italics)
Neil Winton – August 19, 2009
(Here’s the rest of the saga)
Sunday, July 5, 2009 at 6:15PM
To: The Director General, BBC
From: Neil Winton
Can I insist that you change your editorial guidelines to outlaw the disgraceful reporting by BBC SOUTH TODAY on June 17, which smeared Dr Rodney Tate.
I’ve attached a copy of my email to The Editor, South Today, and the reply, in the form of a blog published on my website.
Apparently, your editorial guidelines now apparently state, as if you were the Sun/Mirror/Star – “Feel free to use an anonymous interviewee, back to camera, to say suggestive things about a person, as long as that person is in a weak position, and has a background that can be used to make them look guilty. It doesn’t matter that the content of the interview adds up to nothing, it is the impression that counts. It doesn’t matter what harm you do to this person, it is the story above all”
Can I suggest that you change your editorial guidelines to something like this.
“When you have an anonymous interviewee, because of the danger that innuendo can cause, the content of the interview must be compelling, and move the story on in an important way. For an anonymous interview to be used, the content of that interview must speak for itself, bringing important new information to public attention. You will never descend to “no smoke without fire” journalism.”
I’m sure you will agree that BBC South Today’s behaviour in this case was inexcusable and obnoxious. You should apologise to Dr Tate, reprimand BBC South Today, and lay down guidelines to make sure these tactics are left to the gutter press, which you sadly seem so keen to emulate.