BBC set to apologise over inaccessible complaints system


A disabled man looks set to win an apology from the BBC after it admitted failing to provide him with an accessible way of lodging a complaint.

John Cresswell-Plant was contacted by a local radio producer last year over a press release he and fellow disabled activists sent BBC Radio West Midlands.

But after Cresswell-Plant – who has autism – made it clear that he and his colleagues would need some adjustments made in order for a live radio interview to take place, he said the producer lost interest in the story.

He had asked the producer to allow him to finish answering questions without being interrupted, and not to ask any questions that might be open to misinterpretation.

But when he tried to complain about the interview being dropped, the BBC’s complaints department failed to make the “reasonable adjustments” he needed under discrimination laws.

Now the BBC Trust general appeals panel (GAP) – the BBC’s highest authority for complaints – has concluded in a draft ruling that the complaints department failed to make the necessary adjustments for Cresswell-Plant. It says it will apologise to him on behalf of the BBC.

Among Cresswell-Plant’s concerns, he said he was not given a direct contact to speak to in the complaints department, as the Equality and Human Rights Commission suggested he should ask for.

The panel’s draft findings note that, although Cresswell-Plant repeatedly asked to speak directly to the person handling his complaint, he was never allowed to do so.

And although he asked for written notes or transcripts of his conversations, this does not appear to have been provided by the BBC.

The panel notes that, although some adjustments were made by the complaints department, the specific adjustments Cresswell-Plant asked for were not carried out.

The draft findings point out that, although the BBC complaints department claimed there were proper procedures in place to deal with people with learning difficulties, the panel had not yet been shown a copy of them. It is now likely to ask to see the relevant policy.

But the panel’s draft findings also conclude that the live interview with Cresswell-Plant did not take place for “editorial reasons”, rather than because the producer did not want to make the necessary adjustments.

The BBC is also arguing that newsgathering is not seen as a “service” under equality laws and therefore there was no need for reasonable adjustments to be made for the interview.

Cresswell-Plant, who will continue to campaign for journalists to make reasonable adjustments for all disabled people, said: “They will make an adjustment for somebody who is in a wheelchair to be interviewed for the news, somebody who is deaf to be interviewed, why not somebody who has a learning difficulty? It is still accessibility.”

A BBC Trust spokeswoman said: “The trust would not comment on an appeal finding ahead of publication. The finding is still being finalised and will be published in due course.”

29 September 2011