Nice Try, BBC

[CONTENT WARNING: transphobia, sexual assault, the BBC]

The BBC Complaints Team got back to me! I apologize for dumping their response to my complaint on you, but there’s good reason to. It helps you decide who’s in the right in this situation; am I being too sensitive, or are the BBC out of line? There’s no personally-identifiable information, that I can find, so there’s no harm being done to them. Finally, there’s evidence the BBC is firing back form letters rather than crafting custom replies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, to be clear; there are a finite number of assertions made in any article, and only a handful are usually worth responding to, so the BBC is likely flooded with variations on a theme. A form response is only problematic to the extent that it fails to respond to the original complaint, and the same can be said of a personalized response.

Enough dithering, here’s the response itself:

Before addressing the detail of your complaint, we want to assure you that we recognise the strength of the response to this article and have listened closely to all of the comments we have received following publication.

A number of complainants have written to us to ask whether the BBC is always sufficiently sensitive and thoughtful when exploring issues that cut across different minority groups. Others have suggested we could provide greater context in our coverage so that audiences have a fuller understanding of the issues being reported on. We agree that in future we can do more to provide additional context.

It is vital that BBC programming is able to independently explore issues impartially – including viewpoints that some audiences will consider challenging. But, alongside this commitment, we will also reflect carefully on the feedback we have received and continue our discussions with a range of groups, representing a wide range of perspectives, to help inform future coverage in these areas.

In response, we would reiterate that there was a legitimate editorial justification in commissioning the article, and it arose in response to audience feedback about another story. This article, which includes a range of testimony, is one piece in a body of work across the BBC which reflects many different issues and perspectives on the trans community and others.

The testimonies included in the article were personal and impressionistic, and the research study that was featured had limitations which were properly explained to the audience. It was conducted on social media and is therefore self-selecting. In addition, the author of the survey, who was contextualised in the preceding paragraph, admitted it may not be a representative sample. Furthermore, there is a link to the detail of the findings which enables the reader to make up their own minds about the replies the sample generated and about the language used.

The BBC does not hold an opinion and the use of the survey was caveated to place it in proper context. The use of language within the piece itself was proportionate. Fair warning was also given to strong language contained in the article. The article also includes testimony, some of which is challenging, from across the spectrum and their contributions are appropriately contextualised.

I’ll admit that when I first read the response, I was fairly satisfied. That feeling only lasted a second, though; the more I pondered what the BBC’s Complaints Team was saying, the more that feeling evaporated. It was eventually replaced with anger at being ignored, so I crafted up a response to the response and fired it back.

Not only did this response fall short, it shows my complaint was never read. I brought up the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines as they provide an exception to “hearing all viewpoints,” yet the possibility of an exception was never considered. I appear to be more informed on BBC policies than the BBC complaints team, which itself is worthy of complaint.

To repeat, there are two ways to refute the BBC’s “incitement” exception. “All Hufflepuffs are rapists” is not hate speech because they’re fictional; likewise, if it is BBC policy that transgender people do not exist, “all transgender people are rapists” cannot be hate speech. Alternatively, true statements cannot be hate speech. I still desire clarity on why the BBC does not think “all transgender people are rapists” is incitement to violence.

Even ignoring that issue, the assertion that all viewpoints were “appropriately contextualised” is patently false. “Get The L Out”‘s view that all transgender people are rapists is relevant to an article on transgender people pressuring others into have sex with them, yet the article devotes no time to it. If the assertion is true, it provides further evidence for the article’s thesis. If it is not, the author could have used it to cool down the discourse and reduce the hate directed at a minority. By excluding this context, at worst the BBC is indirectly endorsing hate speech, and at best leaving out important context.

Given the long development time of that article, the omission was almost certainly deliberate. The odds of the BBC hiring a reporter so incompetent they never read what they linked to, and pairing them with editors and/or fact checkers that missed the oversight, are minuscule. Instead, the most charitable explanation is that “all transgender people are rapists” is compatible with the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines. If the BBC feels the need to inform the public of their policies on race, they should also clarify their policies on gender identity.

It’s a bit clipped, but the BBC only gives you 2,000 characters to work with. As per the rules, the BBC gets the option of replying back to me, but the conversation otherwise ends there. If I want to escalate this further, I’ve got to deal with Ofcom. Let’s see if the BBC can do better on their second attempt.