Northern Ireland

BBC 'hiding behind veil of secrecy' over complaints

Gregory Campbell said BBC NI had been asked for the number and breakdown of complaints about programmes
Image caption Gregory Campbell said BBC NI had been asked for the number and breakdown of complaints about programmes

An MP has accused the BBC of "hiding behind a veil of secrecy" in relation to complaints.

Gregory Campbell said BBC NI had been asked for the number and breakdown of complaints about programmes, under the Freedom of Information Act.

However, the DUP MP said the BBC had "refused to divulge this information".

The BBC said: "We are not obliged to provide information excluded from the Act when it is held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature."

Mr Campbell, the MP for East Londonderry, was speaking after he had been forwarded a BBC response to a Freedom of Information request on complaints made by a member of the public.

"The request asked for these to be broken down by a number of individual news and current affairs programmes and sub-divided by verbal and written complaints," he said.

"It does not ask for any details about the nature of complaints in terms of the subject matters or the reasons behind the criticism. It was purely a factual request about the numbers of people who have made complaints against a range of programmes.

"The BBC, however, has refused to divulge this information and instead hid behind a veil of secrecy because this information is allegedly held 'for the purposes of journalism, art or literature'.

'Suspicion'

"Quite what this means will obviously be for someone within the BBC to explain, but most people in Northern Ireland will be somewhat baffled as to what journalistic purposes these figures serve within the BBC and will certainly want to know what role they have in art or literature.

"Why does the BBC want to hide any measure of public response to their news and current affairs broadcasting? Indeed the withholding of such information only raises the suspicion that the numbers of complaints are significant."

He said there could be a case to argue that the exact nature of complaints could not be released because it would have an impact upon the content of programmes.

However, he added: "The only reason not to publish the number of complaints lodged seems to be an attempt to spare blushes within Broadcasting House."

The BBC responded by saying it was an "accountable organisation" and "makes available a wide range of information about our programmes and content".

"We also proactively publish information covered by the Act on our publication scheme," it added.

"We are not obliged to provide information which is excluded from the Act when it is held for the purposes of journalism, art or literature."