MEDIA: Broadcasting body starts to focus on complainers

It’s an interesting sign of the times when a media watchdog decides to train its spotlight on the people who make complaints, rather than simply adjudicating on the programmes complained about.

It’s an interesting sign of the times when a media watchdog decides to

train its spotlight on the people who make complaints, rather than

simply adjudicating on the programmes complained about.



But the Broadcasting Standards Council, which this week published its

first profile of the protesters who write in about rape scenes in

Cracker and ‘violence and mayhem’ (yes, really) in Emmerdale, thinks it

is creating a more accountable system of gauging sentiment.



It is certainly sending out a very clear signal that consumers cannot be

treated like irritants to be fobbed off, very much the attitude which

the broadcasters adopted until quite recently.



While the 1980s was characterised by pressure from the public to make

the media more accountable - the 1990s Citizens Charter approach is

ushering in the use of sophisticated measuring techniques.



The key thing to emerge from the BSC’s report is how little pressure is

really exerted by professional lobbying groups. Almost all complaints,

some 98 per cent, came from private individuals.



The great liberal fear when the council was set up in 1988 was that it

would be captured by censors, and become Mary Whitehouse’s poodle. In

fact only 18 complaints (some 0.8 per cent) came from the National

Viewers and Listeners Association, the same percentage as those who

categorised themselves as ‘animal lover’.



Nor are batty old maids much in evidence: women and men complain in

almost equal numbers. But the one key group which does have a sense of

moral guardianship are clergymen, who make up seven per cent of

complaints. Also, men are increasingly complaining about sexism; just as

they object to seeing beefcake Gladiator types in ads, so they also

object to slapstick ‘comic’ violence against men (kicks in painful

places). They say they are victims of a female takeover in broadcasting.



When the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, which handles claims of

unfairness as well as invasion of privacy merges with the BSC the

balance in favour of the public may change a bit, since it bears the

brunt of complaints from public relations departments and lawyers. But

this will not alter the fact that the BSC survey raises questions about

its own efficiency. Those who complain are overwhelmingly concentrated

in the south of England. They may not all be ‘disgusted of Tunbridge

Wells’ but the population of Kent generates four times as many

complaints as Northern Ireland. It suggests that the London-based body

is not getting its message across properly.



Nor does the research touch on the key issue: age and leisure. The

complaints forms from which the data is drawn need more (optional) boxes

to provide this information. And what about telephone complaints and e-

mail? After all, being outraged takes time.



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