11 September 2013

Trust, lies and su-Spence

by Gordon James | Guest Contributor

I am genuinely gob smacked by the Jim Spence saga.

My understanding is this. Two very persistent fans took a complaint all the way to the BBC Trust having had their complaint rejected at every level by the BBC up to that point. The Trust rejected any suggestion of bias by the BBC but did agree that BBC Scotland were wrong to make any reference to Rangers being a new club.

The findings are fascinating. It is an in-depth, considered, well structured and intelligent look at the new club question. The Trust used evidence gathered from; Duff and Phelps, Malcolm Cohen from BDO, Stewart Regan, Neil Doncaster, Lord Nimmo Smith and BBC Scotland (the much vaunted incorporation argument).

They came to the conclusion that: The Committee therefore concluded that where (as in the above cited reports) the BBC had made the distinction between an “old” and “new” Rangers in output referring to and related to football and the club as opposed to the “old” and “new” company, the BBC had not used clear, precise language and due accuracy had not been achieved such that the Guidelines on Accuracy had been breached.

So, The Trust had given their decision. Now bearing in mind that The Trust is "the final point of appeal within the BBC for complaints, including editorial, fair trading and TV licensing", that would seem crystal clear. No more talk from BBC employees or reports or official tweets about new clubs.

So why did Jim Spence feel the need to say what he did? It angered many fans and the BBC received over 400 complaints. There was a strong sense that Jim was not for the first time goading, having a dig. He has history. Stuart Cosgrove wrote about his and Spence’s "mutual distrust of the 'Old Firm' ". Spence had written a blog about Rangers that flew in the face of what he had written about Dundee in a similar position. He made a claim about season ticket sales on BBC Newsnight Scotland suggesting Aberdeen fans were not buying until they knew Rangers would not be admitted to the then SPL which was untrue.

The BBC offered an apology of sorts but felt Jim was simply airing "that there are some people who hold this particular view" that Rangers had died. The question is, given The Trust’s decision, why did Jim feel it was his job to air that view or BBC Scotland feel the need to defend it? As a BBC employee, on a BBC Radio Broadcast his employer has made clear what the BBC view is. Yes and the BBC were so confident of that view they deleted it from the podcast.

What happened next can only be described as bizarre. It was Spence who decided to start talking up losing his job. Have a look at these tweets;

@bbcjimspence 5 Sep Looks like I'll have to start covering Lochee Utd and the Harp.

@bbcjimspence 5 Sep @bomberbrowndfc if bomber doesn't break his vow of silence it'll be P45 time for me lol

@bbcjimspence 6 Sep @ForresDee shhhh don't mention the word fired to me after yesterday's carry on

@bbcjimspence 7 Sep @stevo2102 @wdt1967 don't joke about the alternative career, it might be closer than you think ha ha
@bbcjimspence 7 Sep @dave_1297 I'll be available shortly at cheap rates lol

@bbcjimspence 8 Sep Fine night in Ciao Sorrento & Trades Bar Dundee. Now a defining week which may shake some people's world to the core or mine. We shall see.

@bbcjimspence 9 Sep @Annie__McGuire Thank you Annie, I am sure that come what may I shall live long and prosper.

@bbcjimspence 9 Sep Day off today, so about to get on my bike and do what Norman Tebbit suggested.

@bbcjimspence 9 Sep @scotzine any vacancies

@bbcjimspence 10 Sep @Gallus__Pioneer @scotzine I'm more concerned with the axes

I never for one minute thought he would lose his job. I didn’t even think it was up for discussion. Going on the battle the fans had to get a fair hearing for the complaints and BBC Scotland’s smarting from the Trust rebuking, it was never likely but it seemed that Jim had become some sort of martyr for reasons which are not clear to me. I honestly didn’t think it was a sacking offence. I just wanted it addressed.

Of course the usual suspects started to rally around Jim in his time of no need whatsoever. Over the hill came our old friends the NUJ. With amazing timing, a "staffer" at the Drum called Paul Holleran and got the story. But what story?

The BBC are backing Jim Spence and so are the NUJ after Rangers fans abuse. Excuse me? The story was Jim and the BBC flying in the face of the Trust’s ruling. What happened to that? There was a lot of spin like "it had been rumoured that Spence has considered accepting voluntary redundancy as a result of the reaction over the last week". In other words, Jim would try for redundancy if the BBC took a disciplinary approach.

The Drum also told us (which could only have come from Paul as he confirmed no one at the BBC would speak to The Drum) "BBC Scotland will oppose a ruling by the BBC Trust that they breached accuracy guidelines in reporting the financial collapse of Rangers Football Club in 2012."

I am at a loss as to why the BBC would discuss that with Paul Holleran if they did, why it is of any interest to an NUJ official and why he decided he would tell The Drum. Paul was full of praise for the BBC a few short months after Angela Haggerty at The Drum ran a story where Paul called them "the worst group of employers I've ever dealt with."

It should be noted that BBC Scotland have not said anything about challenging the BBC Trust and it seems highly unlikely. I am not sure if there has even been a precedent set for it or a mechanism in place for it. Bearing in mind that it could lose some people some fantastically paid jobs, and that The Trust can impose sanctions on the BBC, I can’t see it.

And on the question of new club, I will leave you with some of the positions held or that have been held by The Trust members at the time of ruling that said BBC Scotland had breached guidelines on accuracy. Their educations are from the likes of Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge and they hold a collection of honours like MBEs and OBEs.

Although you may wish to believe the likes of those who have HNDs in journalism from Cardonald College, are occasional members of football phone-in panels, are ex-fanzine or current fanzine contributors or are multi-named hate filled bloggers. You decide!

Last Governor of Hong Kong, managing the handover to China.

Chairing the Independent Commission for Policing in Northern Ireland.

Economics editor for The Independent for eight years.

Non-executive board member at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

Head of BBC Westminster, Controller of Editorial Policy.

Deputy Chief Executive of BBC News.

Chair of the Broadcast Review Committee.

Role advising on the establishment of the National Lottery.

Head of UK operations, Lehman Brothers.

Chairman of the Premier League.

Newcastle Evening Chronicle Editor.

Appointed to the Press complaints Commission.

Television as Head of Entertainment BBC.

LWT's Director of Programmes.

Joined Kevin Spacey to set up a resident producing company at the historic Old Vic theatre in London.

Non-executive with the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Chief Executive of Fermanagh District Council.

Permanent Secretary at the Department for Employment.

Chief Executive of Ilex, working on the city's successful bid for "UK City of Culture 2013".

Founding member of the UK National Lotteries Charities Board.

Former chair of the BBC Northern Ireland Appeals Advisory Committee.

Chair of the Welsh language broadcaster S4C.

Head of Strategic Planning at The Independent newspaper.

Finance Director at The Independent newspaper.

Consultant at Saatchi & Saatchi.

Director of Strategy and Development at Pearson Plc.

Managing Director of FT Finance.

Managing Director of the British Museum.

Director of Operations at Imperial College, London.

Non-executive director at Nationwide Building Society.

United Nations, Deputy Director for Human Rights.

Adviser to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

United Nations Director, Office for Children and Armed Conflict .

Special Adviser to two Foreign Secretaries.

Under-Secretary General, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon.