Last week, on 27th July to be precise, UKIP members received a notification from the outgoing Chairman Steve Crowther, which I’ll quote in full:
“Beware of bogus UKIP researchers
A member in Yorkshire has been in touch to say that he was approached in York on Tuesday by a man with a clipboard claiming to be a UKIP official. He was asked a series of questions about ‘proposed UKIP policies’, which were increasingly extreme. He called the police, who found that this was an actor with a film crew, commissioned by the BBC to make a film about UKIP members’ opinions. He has logged a complaint with the police for deception. Please watch out for this, and do the same.”
So, as one does, I wrote to the BBC asking for clarification. I wrote that I had received the communication I quoted above, copying it, and said that I’d like an explanation. Since one only gets to send 500 words, that was all there was room for on the BBC form.
I didn’t expect much, having learned over the years that any sort of ‘complaint’, answered eventually after many days, is brushed off by saying that the BBC did nothing wrong, expressed in suitable fashion with suitable text blocks. Those who complain regularly (not me, I hasten to add, having learned that it is a waste of time) recognise these text blocks at a glance.
You can imagine my surprise when I got an answer back from the BBC on 29th July, just two days later. That’s got to be a record! Even more astonishing was what the BBC man wrote. I shall give it full honours, doing something called ‘fisking’, which is a point-by-point refutation of a blog entry or (especially) news story. So, starting at the top, here we go:
“Many thanks for getting in touch via the BBC Contact Us webform about some recent television filming taking place in York. My name is Xxxxx Xxxxxx and I am a senior member of the BBC Audience Services department’s complaints investigation team with responsibility in this area, and so your complaint has been escalated for my personal attention. I was naturally very concerned to learn of your unhappiness, so I immediately set about investigating the background to this.”
Now wait a moment! A simple demand for an explanation by me, an ordinary person, has been ‘escalated’ to a senior BBC member? Within one day?
What is going on here? It couldn’t be, could it, that I was not the only one demanding an explanation from the BBC?
Furthermore, while it makes me feel quite fuzzy and ‘cared for’ to read that Mr XX was ‘concerned’, I did not ‘express’ any ‘unhappiness’. After all, one doesn’t. But perhaps others did? If so, then we have the very first text block, indicating that this answer went out to many complainants, not just to me.
“I understand that you also contacted the BBC Press Office on this matter and have since spoken to the team at Hat Trick who have explained that this was some filming by an independent production company for a future, and as yet untitled, BBC Two topical entertainment programme.”
No, I didn’t! Someone else must have done, or perhaps even a lot of someone elses … And look at the nicely obfuscating sentence about speaking to ‘the team at Hat Trick’: I certainly didn’t, nor did I write anything indicating that I had, but perhaps Mr XX meant he himself spoke to them? One suspects there was no template for a nice prefabricated text block, so poor Mr XX was on his own writing that.
Also note that the filming – which they don’t deny – was for a ‘future …topical entertainment programme’. We can surmise that the ‘entertainment’ was meant to show how thick, bigoted etc UKIP supporters really are: it’s for a laugh, innit …
“The Executive Producer directly responsible for the show clarifies that this wasn’t ‘hidden camera’ filming, as I am advised that the production company’s crew were on the street in public view.”
Oh really. So the thicko man-on-the-street just didn’t notice the camera. That’s all right then.
“As has been explained, the actor was approaching people to get ideas for new policies for UKIP, and after this interaction people were then asked if they would sign a release form to feature on TV. This type of filming is fairly commonplace, for example you may be familiar with the BAFTA award-winning BBC Three entertainment show “The Revolution Will Be Televised” which had a similar current affairs entertainment remit.”
Ah – this has happened before, for an ‘award-winning’ entertainment programme, so that makes it all right. After all, people simply love to be on telly, don’t they …
What this particular paragraph shows is that the nice MR XX hasn’t even bothered to read my submission. Else he’d know that this is not what happened: “… he was approached in York on Tuesday by a man with a clipboard claiming to be a UKIP official. He was asked a series of questions about ‘proposed UKIP policies’, which were increasingly extreme.”. No, nice Mr XX doesn’t want to touch that with a bargepole!
What this paragraph also shows is that the BBC thinks we’re all stupid and will calm down when given a patronising explanation which is only vaguely related to what happened. After all – are you going to believe an ordinary member of the public, in York even, or are you going to believe a member of the establishment elite, working in London at the BBC?
“You mention that North Yorkshire Police took an interest in the filming, and I can set your mind at rest in that they confirmed to the crew that it was all fine and that they could carry on. I understand that the Executive Producer has also been in touch personally with UKIP directly on the matter in the meantime.”
No, the police did not ‘take an interest in the filming’, they were called in by that member of the public who’d been approached. While I’m sure the police were kind to the telly crew, that member of the public has meanwhile raised a complaint with North Yorkshire Police about deception (see above).
Finally, I’ve been in contact with UKIP HQ, and they could not confirm that the Executive Producer ‘has been in touch personally with UKIP directly in the meantime’ – the ‘meantime’ being the time between my complaint and the answer.
This is how the BBC approaches UKIP policies, and this is how the BBC sees UKIP supporters: uneducated oiks who don’t know what’s good for them (‘being on telly, ooh-aah’) and who can be told in a patronising manner that there’s nothing to see here, calm down, and don’t be unhappy. After all, it’s for an award-winning laugh …
While I was writing this article, Mike Hookem MEP has been onto the BBC as well, going straight to the top – read the report here. I bet he’ll be getting the same answer as I did, but in a better, more stylishly written letter.