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Venezuela: The BBC responds regarding “Chavez inside the coup”

By Aleksander Boyd

London 31 March 04 – This morning I received a letter from the Litigation Department of the BBC. In it solicitor J M Lewis responded to some of my queries with respect to the film “Chavez inside the coup” also known as “The revolution will not be televised.” For the sake of maintaining this problem as open and public as possible I deem necessary to reproduce the whole transcript of the letter, further stating the reasons why I still consider that the BBC has not dealt with this issue accordingly. Mr Lewis’ letter comes first and then my observations.

Dear Mr Boyd,

Thank you for your recent e-mails to the BBC’s Acting Director General, Mark Byford. As you letter contained reference to legal matters it has been passed to this department for reply.

I have seen copies of your correspondence with the BBC’s Programme Complaints Unit, and your two most recent e-mails to Mr Byford.

The BBC has received a number of letters relating to this programme dealing with issues similar to those that you have raised.

The BBC has also been threatened with legal proceedings in relation to the programme. There is a direct overlap between some of the issues that you have raised and the threatened proceedings. We are not, therefore, able to provide you with a substantive response to your complaint at the present time because some of the issues raised might need to be resolved through the judicial process.

The programme about which you have complained was made by an independent third party, and not by the BBC. BBC Television purchased the right to broadcast an edited version of the programme in the UK. The BBC is not responsible for the worldwide version of the programme.

I understand that the production company and BBC Television are both aware of the range of issues that have been raised by the programme. If you would like, I would be happy to pass on copies of your correspondence: I know that they take all feedback seriously and would consider what you have said with interest.

I note that you also claim a right of reply and allege that the programme was defamatory.

As you will appreciate, it is not possible for the BBC to give a “right of reply” to everybody who takes issue with one of our programmes. There is no legal obligation on us to provide a forum for on-air response, although we do provide viewers and listeners with an opportunity to air their views on programmes such as Points of View and Feedback.

In relation to what you say about libel, I do not accept that you have been defamed by the programme. If you feel that you were identified by the programme and have a claim for libel and would like us to consider this further, please would you let me have more information in compliance with the High Court’s Pre-action Protocol for Defamation Claims. A copy is enclosed.

Yours sincerely,

J M Lewis, Solicitor

BBC Litigation Department

My observations

I shall start with the fifth paragraph of Mr Lewis’ letter “The programme about which you have complained was made by an independent third party, and not by the BBC.” So we must assume that the BBC has got nothing to do with the producing of the film. However in one is to visit the official site of the said film (http://www.chavezthefilm.com) one finds the following information in the production credit section “Produced in Association with The Irish Film Board; NPS & COBO, RTE, BBC, ZDF/ARTE, YLE.” Furthermore in the same section one can see credit given to the BBC more explicitly “Executive Producer for the BBC, Nick Fraser.” Therefore Mr Lewis either you have been misinformed about the issue or that someone related to the production and posting of such information on the internet is utilising the credibility and name of the BBC and Mr Nick Fraser to enhance that of the film. It is rather difficult to believe such a preposterous line of reasoning Mr Lewis for the BBC Awards Unit entered said film in the International Documentary category in the prestigious Grierson Awards 2003, being Storyville’s Executive Producer Nick Fraser who in fact collected the award for Best International Documentary - Chavez, Inside the Coup (BBC FOUR, entered by BBC Awards Unit).

The programme has been marketed worldwide as a documentary co-produced with some of the most creditworthy news outlets among which the BBC. The recent award received in the Grierson 2003 is just one of very many that the film has produced. What interest has got the BBC in seeking promotion of a programme that has purportedly been produced by a third party? Said award contributed, together with others, to the saleability of the film. Film judges worldwide place great emphasis in the fact that the trustworthy BBC is one of the co-producers, ergo one does not have to be a genius to realise that the success of the programme is closely related to the relationship with the BBC. As such the BBC must produce a public statement to clarify this issue.

In regards to the sixth paragraph I should be most grateful if you could send all the correspondence I have sent to the Programme Complaints Unit and Mr Byford to those in charge to deal with it in the production company.

The Producer’s Guidelines of the BBC cite:

2.7 Right of reply

Where a programme reveals evidence of iniquity or incompetence, or where a strong, damaging critique of an individual or institution is laid out, there is a presumption that those criticised be given a fair opportunity to respond.

The programme contains a great deal of editions and manipulations which are irrefutable evidence of incompetence and iniquity. Moreover a strong and damaging critique is made of individuals and of the democratic opposition as such by Mr Fraser himself, to which group I belong. A quick review of the guidelines also reveals the principle of Due Impartiality within a programme, about which I will not elaborate for I believe it is your duty to know it by heart. Nonetheless I will comment on the following:

“Sometimes it may be appropriate, in order to achieve due impartiality, to link a programme or a series with a follow-up discussion programme which looks at the issues raised and allows other views to be put. Audiences should normally be informed of the follow-up programme when the first programme is broadcast.”

In sum that is the only thing we are requesting, i.e. to be able to show to the British public proof of the damaging content of the film. Quite simple if you think of it and certainly cheaper than litigation. Regarding the impossibility of the BBC to give “right of reply” to everybody who takes issue with one of your programmes, I remind you that no law of the land repeals my statutory human right to expect to be treated with dignity by another party, much less from a corporation such as the BBC. I have not been treated fairly; if you were to ask the British audience of said programme about their impressions they will most probably refer to us (members of the opposition) as a bunch of fascist, elitist, ruthless, upper class demons who are violently trying to oust a legitimately elected president, who in turn is bent on saving the downtrodden from years of exploitation. Let me assure you that there is ample evidence to prove our point. Therefore in relation to libel, which you stated that you do not accept, I will affirm in explicit terms that it is not up to you to decide if I feel defamed or libelled, since you are not the judge of this case but a solicitor trying to defend the interests of the BBC.

You mention in the letter that you have seen my correspondence with the Programme Complaints Unit and Mr Byford. In light of the aforesaid quite frankly I do not understand how can you ask for more information in compliance to the High Court’s Pre-action Protocol for Defamation Claims in which Lord Irvine stated:

“The protocol aims to improve pre-action communication between the parties by establishing a timetable for the exchange of information relevant to the dispute and by setting standards for the contents of correspondence. Compliance with the protocol will enable parties to make an informed judgement on the merits of their cases earlier than tends to happen today, because they will have earlier access to the information they need. This will provide every opportunity for improved communications between the parties designed to lead to an increase in the number of pre-action settlements.”

In my view pre-action communication between me and the BBC started on October 17th 2.003 when I sent the first letter to the Programme Complaints Unit, for having considered that I was being defamed by the programme and also due to manipulation of facts contained therein. If you have read my correspondence you must be aware of my stance for I have explained sufficiently clear my position in various instances. To this date I have not received a satisfactory answer from the BBC vis-à-vis my right of reply, which leads me to the belief that the BBC instead of trying to settle this issue amicably wants to exhaust my patience and force me to commence legal proceedings. Mr Kilroy-Silk was dismissed from the BBC, after a long career I must add, for making defamatory comments about the Arabs. Alas a programme allegedly co-produced by the BBC that contains (provable) false, libellous and defamatory allegations with respect to a considerable proportion of Venezuela’s citizenry; that has tarnished our reputation in Britain and worldwide does not merit your consideration. Can you provide a coherent explanation about that Mr Lewis?



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