BBC Apology - 1. Introduction

Tuesday, 30 December 2008 05:13

This is not a complaint about the BBC. It is a complaint about the way a recorded interview was edited by a producer working for the BBC Religion and Ethics Department. The result was that what was broadcast was the opposite of what I had actually said. Why this producer failed to maintain the high standards of the BBC I do not know.

I had been interviewed at considerable length by John McCarthy and later, more briefly, by the producer Dawn Bryan (see email 10). In the broadcast programme What I Believe on Radio 2 on October 21, 2008, I can be heard twice, once for 27 seconds when I said that I had no religious beliefs, and once for 67 seconds when my words were edited to make it sound that I held a favourable opinion of religion in that it gave a structure to a person’s life. What was not broadcast was what I had said about how such structures can be damaging to people. Being misquoted in this way concerned me greatly. When I write or lecture, I try to make what I say as clear and as consistent as possible. Having something in the public domain that did not represent my views could cause me considerable problems, particularly when the subject matter was religion.

I wrote to David Barber, then Head of Compliance, to ask him to look into the matter (see email 16). He replied within minutes to say that he had forwarded my email to Christine Morgan, Executive Producer at the Religious and Ethics Department (see email 17). Why he had dealt with my email on a Sunday afternoon became clear a few days later when he left the BBC, having been involved in the scandal concerning Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand. After listening to the recorded interview and the broadcast programme, Christine Morgan found that the producer of the programme had made a serious error, but she went on to apologise to me ‘for the distress this has caused you’. Saying to someone, ‘I’m sorry you’re upset’ is not an apology. We are all sorry for the distress the people of Darfur are suffering, but in saying we are sorry we are not taking responsibility for causing that suffering. To apologise we have to acknowledge both the exact injury itself that has been suffered and our own responsibility in causing that injury.

After discussions with colleagues, Christine Morgan wrote to me offering to put a specific apology on a page on the BBC website and to invite me to write an article for that page, which is now accessible via the BBC website. I thought this was an excellent resolution of the problem. What follows here are the emails in chronological order concerning the setting up of the first interview and what followed that event.

December 2010