Open Letter To The BBC

Dear BBC,

At the beginning of this year I submitted the Freedom of Information Act request to yourselves that is reproduced below together with your response.

I have to say that I was disappointed by your response, in saying that what I had requested was outside the scope of the Act, and that you have no record of the number of MPs that appear on your programmes. I was however interested in your Editorial Guidelines that state that the BBC should not be paying politicians for appearances where they express political views, and for a long time I took that at face value and assumed that you did not, therefore, pay politicians for their appearances on political programmes such as Question Time.

20 January 2014

Dear Mr Wright

Freedom of Information request – RFI 20140024

Thank you for your request to the BBC of 5th January 2014, seeking the following information under the Freedom of Information Act 2000:

“Could you please tell me for the 2012/2013 Financial Year

a) How many serving MPs have appeared in BBC TV programmes (with the exception of live News Broadcasts etc)

b) What was the total sum of money paid to serving MPs for their appearance/contribution to BBC scheduled TV and Radio programmes”

The information you have requested is out of scope of the Act. However, we are happy to explain that we do not keep a record of the numbers of MPs and so would in any case be unable to give you this information. With regard to payments to MPs, you may be interested to read the policy set out in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which set out the principles to which BBC employees should adhere: http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-politicspractices-interviews#payment-to-mps . These state:

10.4.7

We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political
parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are
speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. They can, where
appropriate, be paid a limited and realistic disturbance fee and/or any reimbursement for
genuine expenses.

10.4.8

They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views. (See Section 10 Politics, Public Policy and Polls: 10.4.4)

Active politicians should not normally be paid for an appearance on, or contribution to, BBC News output. The extent to which a contributor is considered an active politician may be influenced in each case by a combination of factors including, for example, the type of programme or other content, the nature of the contribution, the contributor’s political activity or the capacity in which they appear. Further advice should be sought from Chief Adviser Politics

We hope you find this helpful. Please note that the information you have requested is excluded from the Act because it is held for the purposes of ‘journalism, art or literature.’ Part VI of Schedule 1 to FOIA provides that information held by the BBC and the other public service broadcasters is only covered by the Act if it is held for ‘purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature” 1. The BBC is not required by the Act to supply information held for the purposes of creating the BBC’s output or information that supports and is closely associated with these creative activities; however, on this occasion we’re happy to provide the above information in response to your request.

Appeal Rights

The BBC does not offer an internal review when the information requested is not covered by the Act. If you disagree with our decision you can appeal to the Information Commissioner. Contact details are: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF telephone 01625 545 700. http://www.ico.gov.uk

Yours sincerely,

Stephanie Harris

Head of Accountability, BBC News

So, not only do you claim that you could not answer my question as you don’t record that information, but you give enquirers no Right of Appeal, but instead refer them direct to the Information Commissioner.  For your information the information Commissioner’s website (which is now located at https://ico.org.uk/) says this “You should first complain to the authority and ask it to conduct an internal review.” An Internal Review that you don’t offer.  The Information Commissioner won’t act unless one has asked you for an Internal Review, and you state that you don’t conduct Internal Reviews.  Brilliant!!

Getting back to my original request, you state “We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. “  and  “They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views. “

Personally I would regard This Week as a political programme, and includes political views from the participants. 

For your further information, Diane Abbott MP has declared to the  Register of Members’ Interests that she has been paid £700 by the BBC for every time that she has appeared on This Week.  In the most recent version of the 2014/15 Register (8th December 2014) she has declared that the BBC have paid her £700 on 17 separate occasions.  That equals £11,900 paid for by the BBC Trust for services the the Editorial Guidelines would indicate that she not be paid for.

Diane Abbott is not alone in this, other MPs have made similar declarations to the Register.

As I can clearly not rely on an Act of Parliament to obtain the information I require, maybe Ms Stephanie Harris, Head of Accountability, BBC News, could explain this anomaly to me or attempt to answer my original question.  I see no reason whatsoever why this issue should be protected by Journalistic Privilege, I am not requesting any names, not seeking to identify journalists sources, merely attempting to establish how the British Licence Payers’ money is being spent.  Is that too much to ask?

Yours

Alan Wright

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And The Melton Mowbray Award 2014/15 Goes To……..

Well, for me it’s a close-run thing between Diane Abbott and the BBC. I am indebted to Media Guido for the article below.

Diane Abbott Pockets £110,000 of Licence Fee Payer Cash

Feel free to follow the link and you will be further directed to a schedule of payments, that Diane Abbott has properly declared, showing that every time she pops up on BBC’s This Week programme she pockets a cool £700.

In 2004, following a complaint made by Andrew Rosindell MP, Abbott was investigated by the Committee on Standards and Privileges regarding payment she had received from the BBC. They found she had failed to declare earnings of £17,300 on the Register of Members’ Interests which had been received for appearances on the television programme This Week, so, bearing that in mind she unfailingly declares her £700 per week courtesy of Auntie.

In August 2012 the BBC Trust ruled that payments to Abbott for her appearances on This Week were made in breach of BBC guidelines that banned payments to MPs who were representing their political parties. For her part, Abbott had correctly declared the payments in the Parliamentary Register of Members’ Interests. The Trust also said that Abbott had appeared on the show too often.

At the beginning of this year I wrote to the BBC and asked them this question;

“Could you please tell me for the 2012/2013 Financial Year;

a) How many serving MPs have appeared in BBC TV programmes (with the exception of live News Broadcasts etc)

b) What was the total sum of money paid to serving MPs for their appearance/contribution to BBC scheduled TV and Radio programmes”

Their reply included:-

With regard to payments to MPs, you may be interested to read the policy set out in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines, which set out the principles to which BBC employees should adhere: http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/page/guidelines-politicspractices-interviews#payment-to-mps . These state:

10.4.7

We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. They can, where appropriate, be paid a limited and realistic disturbance fee and/or any reimbursement for genuine expenses.

10.4.8

They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views.

So, it was 2012 when she was ruled in breach of the above Editorial Guidelines.

Fast Forward to May 2014, the most recent entries available in the MPs Register of Financial Interests, and there we find our Diane still registering £700 a go for appearing on This Week, just not as often.

Much as I don’t like Diane Abbott, I can’t imagine that she would register money that she had NOT been paid, so I must assume that she has.

Therefore, by a process of elimination, I must award the Melton Mowbray to the BBC, for claiming that they don’t pay politicians for appearing on programmes such as This Week, when it is evident that they do.

Shame on you BBC, that’s OUR money.

Just in case any of you thought I was picking on the unfortunate Ms Abbott, Mr Keith Vaz has also declared that he has accepted payment from the BBC for appearing on Any Questions, which is also a politically orientated programme I believe.

Stress and PTSD

Stress and PTSD, quite current.  Lots of talk about it and quite rightly so.  Do our Police Forces understand it?  Not sure, but they never used to, although I have to say that the differences across the country are immense.

Many, many years ago, in the days of Crystal Sets and Black and White square TV screens (well 1987 actually) I took part in a BBC documentary.  It was one of the Horizon series of documentaries entitled The John Wayne Syndrome.  The subject matter was Stress in the Police Force, “Horizon investigates the effect of stress on police officers and how their increasing job pressures affect their health and relationship with the public. “

When the Producer first sought volunteers to take part in this programme he wrote an open letter to (presumably) all Police Forces asking for examples of stress within the Police Force.  I was in the middle of a period of disenchantment with the Met at that particular time and thought to myself “Stress in the Police Force?  I’ll bloody tell him about stress in the Police Force” and replied to his letter.

Months went by and I’d heard nothing until one Friday, my wife got a message to me at work saying that the BBC had been on the on the phone and wanted to send a film crew round on the Monday morning to interview me for the programme.

It took about a nano-second for the penny to drop that in the middle of my angst, and convinced that the Beeb wouldn’t be interested in my story, I had spectacularly failed to ask the Met’s permission to take part in this programme.  I set about finding a guvnor, only to discover that there was a Service Funeral that day and the only senior officer I could find was a lonely Chief Inspector.

He was obviously a good, Bramshill-trained guvnor because his immediate reaction was “I can’t make a decision on this, I’ll have to find someone at Area”.

The end of my shift came, still no decision, Friday evening was looming and…….nothing.

Home I went still uncertain what I was supposed to do about Monday morning.

About 5 o’clock just as the missus was about to do dinner the phone rang. I answered the phone only to find a Deputy Assistant Commissioner on the other end.  Actually it was DAC Richard ‘Dickie’ Wells, a boss I actually had a lot of time for.  Having heard my side of the story he made an on-the-spot decision that I could not take part in the programme.

Plucking up as much bravado as I could muster on a Friday evening, I replied with “OK Sir, fair enough, but they also want to interview my wife and she’s not in the Job, she can say whatever the hell she likes”.   “I’ll call you back” responded Dickie.

About an hour later he called back and decided that he WOULD grant permission for me to take part in this documentary as long as I agreed for somebody from the Met’s Publicity Department to be present whilst it was filmed. To their eternal credit this lady did not interfere with as much as one single word.

The morning was spent interviewing me and Mrs Angry in our home and then I was whisked off to take part in a simulated counselling session in the afternoon.

Eventually the programme was aired and I got to see what other contributions had been made.  I was gobsmacked that SOME other Forces dealt with Stress far more proactively than the Mighty Met.

The one example that will always stay with me was the Bradford City Football Ground fire.  According to the officers interviewed for the programme the support shown to them by their Force  (West Yorkshire I believe) was First Class.

Four police officers, Police Constables David Britton and John Richard Ingham and Chief Inspectors Charles Frederick Mawson and Terence Michael Slocombe, and two spectators, Richard Gough and David Hustler, were awarded the Queen’s Gallantry Medal for their actions.  PCs Peter Donald Barrett and David Charles Midgley, along with spectators Michael William Bland and Timothy Peter Leigh received the Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct. In total, 28 police officers and 22 supporters, who were publicly documented as having saved at least one life, later received police commendations or bravery awards. Together, flanked by undocumented supporters, they managed to clear all but one person who made it to the front of the stand.

Not one single officer who took part in the programme was in any way critical of the support and counselling they had received from their Force in the aftermath of this tragedy.

The Met’s corporate reaction in those days is likely to have been something like “Right lad, see you for Early Turn tomorrow, but don’t worry if you ‘Do it in’ a bit”.

So what’s it like 25-30 years later?  I’m not awfully sure to be honest, but following on from a conversation with my reader I made a request of his/her home Force (difficult to tell who’s who with all these anon accounts).

I asked them two simple questions, the second of which was

Could you please inform me how many officers have been suffering
from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as above within the last two
years, and how many of those have been Medically Retired?

They refused to answer on the grounds that

this data is not recorded on our systems in a way that can be easily abstracted because all periods of sickness are recorded on each individual’s personal record. This will be inclusive of psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression etc. To extract the information in response to your request, we would therefore need to review each relevant employee’s sickness record with a view to establishing what the symptoms and circumstances were.

and it would be too expensive to extract that data for me.

So there you have it, 2014, and at least one of Her Majesty’s Constabularies don’t actually know how many of their officers are suffering from Stress or PTSD.  That’s encouraging isn’t it.

If my reader wants me to ‘Name That Force’ and embarrass them I’m happy to do so, but their decision not mine.

So Just How Much DO the Beeb Pay Politicians For Their Appearances?

I’m sorry, you’ll probably find that a boring question, but after seeing the same old faces time and time again on Newsnight, Question Time et al, I rather thought that I’d like to know.

So I took out my trusty quill and asked the BBC that very question;

Could you please tell me for the 2012/2013 Financial Year

a) How many serving MPs have appeared in BBC TV programmes (with the exception of live News Broadcasts etc)?

b) What was the total sum of money paid to serving MPs for their appearance/contribution to BBC scheduled TV and Radio programmes?

And today I got my answer;

“The information you have requested is out of scope of the Act. However, we are happy to explain that we do not keep a record of the numbers of MPs and so would in any case be unable to give you this information.”

They then referred me to the Beeb’s Editorial Guidelines for Payments to MPs.

What an interesting document that is, and it contained the following advice;

10.4.7

We should not normally pay MPs, or others clearly identified as representing political parties, for appearances or other contributions to any BBC output in which they are speaking as a member of their party or expressing political views. They can, where appropriate, be paid a limited and realistic disturbance fee and/or any reimbursement for
genuine expenses.

10.4.8

They may be paid for contributions to non-political output, where they are appearing on the basis of their expertise outside politics or of their celebrity, and are not taking part as a member of their party or expressing political views.
(See Section 10 Politics, Public Policy and Polls: 10.4.4)

Active politicians should not normally be paid for an appearance on, or contribution to, BBC News output. The extent to which a contributor is considered an active politician may be influenced in each case by a combination of factors including, for example, the type of programme or other content, the nature of the contribution, the contributor’s political activity or the capacity in which they appear. Further advice should be sought from Chief Adviser Politics.

So, there you are, MPs do it for free Plus Expenses.