BBC Complaint: Round 2

I took me a couple of weeks over the xmas period to respond to the BBC Complaints Team after they got back to me (with a significant delay past their two week target). I experienced some of the exhaustion familiar to people whose words consistently fall on deaf ears. The emails sat in my inbox for a couple of weeks while I enjoyed some time away (and worked on things more relevant to my thesis!)

Their response, while being both patronising and condescending, did nothing to address the original point I made: that the language the BBC uses to talk about gender-diverse people does not meet the standards that we expect of the broadcaster.


Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Moral Maze’ broadcast on 18 November.

I understand you believe it was offensive for Michael Buerk to say the word “transsexuals”.

This episode focused on the Church of England issuing schools with advice on transphobic bullying, suggesting that “boys should be free to dress up in tutus and tiaras, and girls allowed to wear tool-belts and superhero capes, in the spirit of exploring who they might be”.

Let us assure you that there was never any intention to cause offence by Michael making reference to the word that you found offensive.

We do value your feedback about the programme. All complaints are sent to senior management and in this case the ‘Moral Maze’ programme every morning, and I’ve included your points in our overnight report of audience reaction.

These reports are among the most widely read sources of feedback in the BBC and ensures that your concerns have been seen by the right people quickly. This helps inform their decisions about current and future programmes.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact us.

Kind regards

Neil Salt

BBC Complaints Team


"I understand you believe it was offensive"... I felt like I qualified why it could be reasonably well in my original complaint. I'm sure people are familiar with my position on othering; i.e. how it shouldn't be viewed as a political issue but rather one of being decent to people. Unfortunately, it seems that something as simple as not being an asshole is considered a political issue...

So, I went for a look through the BBC Editorial guidelines to see if there was any ammunition I could use:

Portrayal  5.4.38  We aim to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom's people and cultures in our services.  Content may reflect the prejudice and disadvantage which exist in societies worldwide but we should not perpetuate it.  In some instances, references to disability, age, sexual orientation, faith, race, etc.  may be relevant to portrayal.  However, we should avoid careless or offensive stereotypical assumptions and people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified.   5.4.39  When it is within audience expectations, we may feature a portrayal or stereotype that has been exaggerated for comic effect, but we must be aware that audiences may find casual or purposeless stereotypes to be offensive.

BBC Editorial Guidelines Section 5: Harm and Offence

Anyway, here's my (round two) reply:


I received a response to my complaint from Neil Salt at the BBC Complaints Team on 19th Dec. However, the response I received treated the complaint as an issue of individual offence, rather than addressing the concerns I raised about the editorial quality of BBC programming. I have therefore categorised this follow up (stage 1b.) in terms of editorial standards, rather than offence, as I believe this may have caused some confusion.

Your response states: "Let us assure you that there was never any intention to cause offence by Michael making reference to the word that you found offensive." Please be assured that no offence was taken. My complaint was intended to raise the issue that the BBC consistently fails to get this language right, and I suggested a solution in the introduction by the BBC of a style guide for trans-related language.

Section 5.4.38 of the BBC Editorial Guidelines states that the BBC aims "to reflect fully and fairly all of the United Kingdom's people and cultures in our services" and that "people should only be described in such terms when editorially justified". If you refer back to my original complaint, I have outlined why the BBC is failing in this regard through the use of othering and exclusionary language with reference to to gender diverse people.

If you could respond appropriately to this complaint, addressing the points I have raised both in my original complaint and in this clarification, I would be grateful. For reference, my request from this complaint at stage 1a. was for you to "address how the BBC will be updating its style guide and training presenters and journalists on the correct usage of this terminology". In addition, if you have any suggestions for actions which the BBC might take to improve reporting standards with regards to trans* issues, I am of course happy to hear them. Finally, if you are unable to address this at the complaints team level, then by all means please elevate the complaint to stage two.


We'll see if they have anything to say for themselves this time around, but I'm not holding my breath. On a wider note, I think it's important to publish complaints for transparency (where those complaints do not personally identify an individual or infringe on some other legislation), which as the Beeb don't publish the complaints they receive I'm using my own resources to put this one online. I would assume that data is available under Freedom of Information, so perhaps there's a project in this– I do know a researcher who is looking at automating FOI requests and can definitely see the application here.

There's a significant amount of energy which goes into writing complaints, and last time I wrote one I didn't have the time or energy to follow it up after the second round, despite being unsatisfied with the response. I suspect that most issues are left unresolved after the first complaint, as those affected are often the least able to sustain the emotional labor required in continually rebuffing an organisation set up to speak, rather than to listen.

BBC Complaint

People I've talked to over the last week will probably have heard me moaning about the farce that was the BBC's "The Moral Maze" episode on trans identities. Believe me, I have a hundred different problems with that program but I don't have all day and the Beeb only let you put 1500 words in a complaint. So I decided to tackle the use of language. Here's the full text of my complaint:


I previously complained to the BBC about its lack of a style guide for trans-related language (CAS-4356729-YR4CQ4), and listening to the Moral Maze last week I was dismayed to hear the presenter, Michael Buerk, use the word "transsexuals" to describe gender diverse people within the first 30 seconds of the program.

Not only has the problem not been addressed, but using the correct trans-related language is important and given the variety of misinformation currently being broadcast to the public the BBC has a responsibility to lead the way here by using the correct language when producing programmes.

The correct way to describe the group of people debated in "The Moral Maze" on Saturday 18th November is "trans people". Other acceptable forms are "transgender people" and "gender-diverse people". Note how the noun here is "people": "Trans" is an adjective. "Transsexual" is outdated terminology and should be avoided.

The use of "transsexual", as a noun, is a practice known as "othering"- or positioning a minority group in such a way as to make listeners think that they are somehow "other", different, or removed from themselves, and it is well established that this breeds intolerance and prejudice. Calling a trans person "a transsexual" (noun) reduces them to an object.

Similar techniques have been used in propaganda throughout history in order to position minority groups as somehow lesser than the general public, so as to allow their systematic oppression to be tolerated (see also: homosexual people during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, followers of Judaism in 1930s Germany, and so on). Presumably the BBC would not call a black person "a Black" in 2017, for the same reason?

A further style guide is available here: https://radicalcopyeditor.com/2017/08/31/transgender-style-guide/

In responding to my complaint I would like you to address how the BBC will be updating its style guide and training presenters and journalists on the correct usage of this terminology.


I chose this point to labor as it was succinct to explain, and seemed the most understandable to the journalistic audience reading my complaint. If I had to go into the reasons that the arguments presented on the programme were the highest form of cattle excrement I'd be here all day and you'd get bored reading it. Perhaps another time.

I'll publish the Beeb's response and my analysis when it comes through (probably about 3 weeks). If you ever want to complain to the BBC about their content, the link to use is: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complain-online/ . If unsatisfied with their response, you can (and should) elevate the complaint to Ofcom at https://ofcomforms.secure.force.com/formentry/SitesFormBBCOnlineMaterial

RabbitMQ with SSL, STOMP, and Websockets

I had fun this weekend setting up RabbitMQ with STOMP, over Websocket, over SSL. By fun, I mean it took 2 days, 8 hours and a great deal of head-banging on the wall.

I wanted to configure SSL on the two services I mainly use RabbitMQ for: STOMP, and STOMP over Websocket. (I set it up with AMQP too, but that's by-the-by).

SSL Setup with RabbitMQ

By following the guides here and here I managed to get the server-side working. I don't need my clients to have certificates for client validation, so I turned the verify and fail peer cert options off in the config:

 

The rabbitmq_web_stomp config was pretty much the same, except for some reason it uses ssl_config instead of ssl_options. There were a couple of 'gotchas' too. The first was that my keys were not readable for rabbitmq's user, so I ran chown root:ssl-cert * on them and chmod 640 * to get the right permissions:

I'm not sure if Rabbit was already in the ssl-cert group, but you should check groups rabbitmq and add it if it's not by usermod -a -G ssl-cert rabbitmq`.
The second was that I missed out the cacertfile: the intermediate certificate of the certification authority in PEM format which I downloaded from my provider (I'd previously concatenated this onto my .cert file- as this works for my web browser). I decided to get a CA signed certificate (rather than self-signed) as this way other people using Websockets in the browser don't need to manually add my certificate & self-signed CA. Luckily, my DNS registrar, Gandi, offered the first year of SSL free for the domains I have with them.

Client Connections

Using the openssl client to connect now succeeds:

 

OK, cool. Using stomp.js I was able to connect to STOMP from the browser via SSL-secured Websocket. I just had to make sure that it tried the SSL port when the page was loaded over https:

 

Great. Websocket STOMP is now nicely SSL-ified.

stomp.py

Next I moved onto my Python clients, which use stomp.py to negotiate a pure STOMP connection (no websocket) to RabbitMQ on port 61614. You should use this library over the other STOMP python library still kicking about in pypi.

I cracked in a call to Connection.set_ssl() to set up the SSL config for the library, and then spent the next 6 hours trying to track down the following error:

 

In the end, Google pulled through with a mailing list from 2012 which gave me a hint:
http://erlang.org/pipermail/erlang-questions/2012-December/071099.html

Stomp.py wasn't setting up an SSL connection. Instead, it was spewing the STOMP "CONNECT" packet straight into the server socket expecting an SSL negotiation header. My code was at fault, though the library didn't help me track down the error much. While tailing the RabbitMQ log (tail -f /var/log/rabbitmq/rabbit@finnigan.log.1), I opened a Python3 terminal and tried negotiating an SSL connection:

 

Success. That worked: RabbitMQ's log shows a successful connection:

 

The plot thickens. Why wasn't STOMP.py negotiating an SSL connection? I was using the set_ssl method, but obviously it wasn't working. There doesn't seem to be any good code examples in the docs for this library for doing exactly this, so I dug down into stomp/transport.py inserting log statements to see what was going on- and traced it back to my parameter to set_ssl which was a python dict instead of a tuple inside a dict. Damn it. I therefore include below my final working test code as an example for those who might follow...

Hopefully this might be useful to someone trying to use SSL, STOMP, stomp.py and/or RabbitMQ together!

BuildAX

I was at a conference on Friday at the Institute for Sustainability, Newcastle University (who fund my PhD research). I gave a 2-minute talk on the project I have been working on for the past year: "BuildAX". I thought I should write a bit on how this evolved.

Building Monitoring

BuildAX is a fully open-source hardware and software platform for monitoring of environmental conditions in buildings- i.e. temperature, humidity, incident light and so on.

The project is part of the OpenMovement project, a range of hardware designed and developed at Culture Lab to assist various research projects (and distributed Axivity for other people who want to use them). Continue reading →

Ice Bucket Challenge

I think everyone's familiar by now with the "Ice Bucket Challenge", a charity campaign for ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), known in the UK as Motor Neurone Disease. The success of the campaign has been surprising- passing $70 million in donations at the start of this week. It's a very clever marketing strategy for a very horrible neurological degenerative disorder.

Continue reading →