BBC Trust denies reports it is to pursue Jim Spence Rangers complaint


  By a Newsnet reporter
The BBC Trust is not investigating football pundit Jim Spence over comments made about Rangers despite newspaper reports claiming a probe is underway, Newsnet Scotland can reveal.
On 16 September, a report in the Herald by senior reporter Martin Williams stated that “BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee” was investigating hundreds of complaints made after BBC pundit Jim Spence made reference to “old club” Rangers during a broadcast.

However, Newsnet Scotland has learned that no such investigation is underway by the Trust and that the Herald was made aware of the inaccuracy but has failed to correct the article.

A spokeswoman for the BBC Trust said: “None of the complaints regarding Sportsound have reached Stage 3 of the complaints procedure and it is therefore not possible for the Editorial Standards Committee to investigate these complaints.

“I don’t know why the article has not been corrected but the Herald has certainly been made aware of it.”

The BBC Trust’s rebuttal of the story came on 17 September, the day after the Herald article was published, but the article has still not been updated.

Mr Williams, the story’s author, admitted to Newsnet Scotland that he had received an email from the Trust informing him the story was incorrect but “did not realise they wanted a clarification”.

“The BBC is investigating, just not the body I intimated,” he said.

Complaints against the BBC can be escalated to the Trust only if the BBC’s own internal complaints process has been exhausted.  The final stage of that internal process is carried out by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit.

Jim Spence became the centre of controversy after making the comments – a bone of contention for Rangers fans who insist the current Rangers is the same club and that only the club’s ‘holding company’ was liquidated – earlier this month and the broadcast prompted more than 400 complaints.

During a discussion on the BBC’s Sportsound, Mr Spence said: “John McClelland who was the chairman of the old club, some people will tell you the club, well, the club that died, possibly coming back in terms of the new chairman.”

The popular pundit then became victim to “vile” abuse and harassment by email, text and social media and was rumoured to be close to taking voluntary redundancy over the incident.

The story prompted other journalists to come forward with their stories about being intimidated by Rangers fans after covering the club’s financial collapse.

The NUJ strongly backed Mr Spence and revealed that following the escalation, BBC Scotland planned to challenge a ruling made by the BBC Trust in June that upheld two complaints claiming that the broadcaster had breached accuracy guidelines when using the terms “old club” and “new club” to describe Rangers.

The BBC Trust’s stance has caused much debate in Scottish football – and beyond, Guardian media blogger Roy Greenslade has called on the BBC Trust to accept it has made a mistake – and reports that the Trust itself had rapidly launched an investigation into Mr Spence’s conduct raised eyebrows. 

A spokesman for BBC Scotland, which had initially apologised in response to complaints about Mr Spence’s comments, explained that complainants had the option of referring the complaint to London if unhappy with BBC Scotland’s handling of complaints.

“Audience members who are not satisfied with the response they have received from BBC Scotland after making a complaint can go to the editorial complaints unit in London,” he said.  “If they do not accept the response from the editorial complaints unit they can then go to the Trust.  BBC Scotland does not pass complaints to the Trust.”

When liquidated in June of last year, Rangers FC owed tens of millions to 276 creditors.  Charles Green’s Sevco Scotland Limited acquired the assets of the club and the company was renamed as The Rangers Football Club Ltd.  The new entity entered Scottish football in the lowest tier Third Division.