Back in March BBC One London aired Promises, Promises: the Olympic Legacy, a documentary which examined whether the much-promised Olympic legacies would really be delivered.
This is am issue of real concern to Londoners who have stumped up the cash for the Games but are unsure exactly how – or if – they’ll benefit so it’s great to see a London-specific issue like this get coverage outside the news or Politics Show regional opt-outs.
Ever since the Olympic bid was won, the London Assembly has been busy scrutinising the legacy on behalf of ordinary Londoners so it was great to see the production team invite Assembly Members Andrew Boff and Darren Johnson to take part.
It would have been even more impressive had they bothered to get right the name of the body Darren and Andrew sit on and to correctly label them onscreen.
Does it matter that the voiceover referred to the ‘Greater London Assembly’ and the onscreen graphics to Darren and Andrew as ‘GLA’? I think it does when the errors are made in a BBC documentary produced specifically for the London region.
Not only are Licence Fee payers entitled to expect accurate coverage of their region, but a production which includes such avoidable errors risks undermining the audience’s faith in the BBC’s factual output.
This isn’t the first time the BBC has taken it on itself to elevate the Assembly to greatness so I fired off a complaint and after a torturously long time the BBC complaints team sent the following response:
“Thank you for contacting us regarding ‘Promises, Promises: the Olympic Legacy’ broadcast on 25 March 2011.
I understand you felt a voice over incorrectly referred to the ‘Greater London Assembly’ as you believe it is called the Greater London Authority which comprises two legally distinct components – the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
I should start by apologising for the delay in responding to you and assure you that your concersns were raised with the programme’s Editor who would like to thank you for bringing this to their attention.
The programme added that they recognise your correct assertions about the composition of the GLA. In light of this, the programme will amend the reference to the ‘Greater London Assembly’ before any repeats are aired.
In addition to this the programme makers also acknowledge that whilst the captioned individuals are presumably GLA representatives, even if they are more specifically Assembly Members, it would have been better if the captions had read ‘London Assembly Member’ to differentiate them from the Mayor’s Office. This will also be amended for any subsequent transmissions.
We are always striving to maintain our high journalistic standards, and again, are grateful to you for bringing the error to our attention.”
Obviously it’s great the documentary will be corrected before it gets repeated but I’m especially bemused by the “you believe it is called…” line and the reference to my “assertions” and what I “felt”.
The name of the London Assembly isn’t an issue of debate or opinion, it’s enshrined in primary legislation. It’s an established, indisputable fact.
Outside the regular BBC London team there seems little interest or understanding about the Assembly within the BBC. Even BBC Parliament has in the past managed to get the name of the Assembly and AMs wrong.
Even more bizarrely last May it flashed up a caption card wrongly informing viewers that the HCA AMs were questioning the Mayor about was the Home Counties Association. It was in fact the Homes and Communities Agency.
I suspect the cause of the disinterest and errors is that the Assembly’s cross-party, scrutiny, non-law making nature doesn’t fit into the BBC’s usual political coverage templates of plotting, schisms and backbench rebellion.
There are no ‘knife-edge’ votes at City Hall, the Mayor’s not the leader of the Tory group on the Assembly so it’s not a ‘gaffe’ when they disagree with him. Shorn of these usual jumping on points for political stories it seems parts of the BBC just doesn’t know how to present the Assembly to its audiences.
Whatever the reason, getting the Assembly’s name wrong 11 years after devolution is just pitiful. ‘Could do better’ as they say, but is there any evidence the BBC actually wants to?