The BBC’s website offers an easy way for viewers to complain about any show, allowing them to send in criticism of the broadcaster’s coverage. In the wake of the controversial Andrew Marr interview of Boris Johnson, that page has been used by critics who say that the interview was unfair or misleading.
But the system is currently suggesting that viewers complain about Mr Marr’s performance as an interviewer, and potential “bias” from the BBC. The same systems does not address the widespread outrage about Mr Johnson’s repeated falsehoods during the interview or make any mention of his behaviour.
Anyone visiting the BBC’s complaints website to complain about any programme will see a special notification instructing them that a number of people have already complained about the Andrew Marr interview. “Some viewers have complained Boris Johnson was interrupted too much and the interview was biased against him,” a large notification reads, alongside a message encouraging people to sign up for updates on the BBC’s response to the complaint.
The message – which has appeared for other programmes too, and seems to be used whenever a substantial number of people complain about any given issue – appears intended to make it easier for the apparently significant number of people who are annoyed at the BBC’s interview to register their complaints. When a large enough number of people make the same complaint about a BBC programme, the complaints website allows people to sign up to receive updates about the broadcaster’s response without having to go through the entire process of complaining.
But that system now means that the BBC’s own website is now encouraging visitors to defend the prime minister and attack its own presenter. That has led to criticism that the notification could lead to one-sided responses to the interview, which has proven controversial to viewers across the political spectrum.
“This is next level trolling from the BBC,” wrote Labour activist Liam Young on Twitter, in a post that has been shared hundreds of times. “If you go to make a complaint about The Andrew Marr interview with Boris Johnson it prompts you to complain about their own presenter and to defend the Prime Minister… wtf?”
While it is possible to complain about any programme in any way through the BBC’s website, the system for doing that is positioned below the large message about registering a complaint against Andrew Marr and in support of Mr Johnson.
The BBC has confirmed that the message shows when there are a substantial number of complaints and that it had been introduced as a way of allowing all those complaints to be more easily handled, rather than to suggest specific complaints.
“If we are already receiving high volumes of complaints about a specific issue, using an automated registration system can be the most efficient way to handle further similar complaints and ensure complainants get an appropriate response – people are free to make other complaints in the usual ways,” a BBC spokesperson said.
The Andrew Marr interview with Boris Johnson had proven controversial even before it began. The BBC had initially said that it would not allow him on the programme unless he kept to a commitment to an interview with Andrew Neil as well – but the broadcaster later relented and allowed Mr Johnson to be interviewed by Mr Marr, in the wake of the London Bridge terror attack.
The actual interview then prompted criticism from both Boris Johnson’s opponents and his supporters. While many complained that Boris Johnson was able to promote a range of falsehoods during the interview, others said that Andrew Marr’s attempts to question him were “interrupting” and “biased”.
The complaints come as the BBC’s role in the election has come under sustained scrutiny and criticism. The broadcaster has been forced to apologise for a number of mistakes, including editing out the sound of an audience laughing at Boris Johnson during a debate.
The BBC has responded to complaints about its interviews with Boris Johnson in the past, using the same complaints website. Last week, it posted a specific response to complaints that the prime minister had been too strenuously questioned when he appeared on Radio 5live near the beginning of the election period.
“The BBC believes political figures and others in positions of responsibility should be given the opportunity both to explain their thinking on matters of public concern and answer criticisms of it,” it wrote in its response. “The job of BBC presenters is to put forward the questions likely to be in the minds of our audience, and to challenge our interviewees when a point needs to be clarified.”
On the same day, the BBC also posted a wide-ranging response to complaints about perceived bias in the broadcaster’s coverage of the election. “We’ve received a range of complaints about BBC News, suggesting elements of our General Election coverage display bias for or against a range of political parties,” it wrote in its summary of people’s complaints.
In its response, it said that “BBC News does not take any position in its reporting”, and that the corporation is “is independent of any political interests, and our news agenda would never be influenced by any outside organisation”.