I made my first application under the Freedom of Information Act recently and entered a labyrinth worthy of Theseus in his legendary search for the Minotaur.
It came about through taking an exception to a film segment on Channel 4’s Seven o’clock News involving the Tiger Woods’ “scandal.” The segment in question was an agency clip of Mr. Woods’ mother-in-law being taken from his house to the hospital, a clip I found prurient. Why, I enquired of Channel 4’s Viewers Enquiries Department, did the news editors find it necessary to use the footage given that Mr Woods mother-in-law was an innocent party in the Woods story? I said I found the footage to be an unnecessary intrusion into her privacy, lacked a sense of moral compass and that the editor on the night of the transmission should feel ashamed of his/her choice. I doubted that they would be.
Viewer’s Enquiries replied that they’d noted and logged my complaint for those responsible and thanked me for contacting them. In return, I thanked them for their standard, anodyne customer relations response and asked them for the names of those responsible for running the Woods piece. I also asked them for the number of other viewers complaints they’d had on the subject and the name of Channel 4’s Chairman.
The reply came back to the effect that Channel 4 do not make their own programs but buy or commission them from external production companies and that they didn’t have any information about the production team responsible for each news report. The Chairman of Channel 4 they informed me was Terry Burns.
I wrote back asking them if ITN provided their news content and suggested to them that they must know who the ITV editorial team were or does Channel 4 have no control over the contents of its output ? I also asked them how I could contact Chairman Terry Burns.
They replied that Viewer’s Enquiries do not hold contact details for anyone at Channel 4 and that they only existed to lodge comments and complaints which are in turn passed on the Chairman and downwards, daily, to all concerned. They pointed out that through the Freedom of Information Act I could ask for information about similar viewer’s complaints about the Woods item which I duly did but pointed out that they’d omitted to tell me how to contact Chairman, Terry Burns. They suggest I write to Viewer’s Enquiries and they would send the letter to him.
I noted at the foot of their reply that I could watch Celebrity chef “Heston’s Christmas Feast.”
I replied that I’m sure they could send my letter to Mr Burns but that I wanted to contact him directly and that he must have an office and a secretary for me to contact. They gave me an address for the Channel 4 offices in London but said that mail sent there is referred to Viewers Enquiries in Belfast so to save me time it would be better to write to Viewer’s Enquiries direct and that they didn’t have an e-mail address for Chairman Burns.
I suspect they’d begun to find my enquiries tiresome also I suggested to them that while I’m delighted to be told that, “Heston is putting a different spin on Christmas,” it hardly matched the spin I felt that Channel 4’s Viewer’s Enquiries Department were trying to put on me.
However, I had learnt that:
a) Channel 4 does not originate its own news.
b) Channel 4’s Viewer’s Enquiries seems to have no idea of the names of people responsible for its news output.
c) One cannot be guaranteed to contact the Chairman of Channel 4 directly without a letter being passed through Channel 4’s Viewer’s Enquiries Department.
d) The Channel’s Chairman doesn’t seem to have a directly contactable office, secretary or e-mail address.
I’d begun to wonder if Channel 4 existed at all.
Exactly 20 days later, I received my Freedom of Information Act reply from Admin. at Channel 4 about how many other viewers had complained about the Tiger Woods’/mother-in-law segment on Channel 4’s Seven o’clock News.
This sort of information, they informed me, is excluded from the requirement to disclose under the Freedom of Information Act pursuant to the Creative Purpose Exclusion ( set out in Schedule I, Part VI of the Act ) which excludes information held about their programs. Never-the-less, they conceded, they could confirm that Channel 4 received NO other complaints about the Tiger Woods’/mother-in-law segment and thanked me for my interest in Channel 4. I didn’t know whether to be proud of my efforts or profoundly depressed.
No mention of, “Heston’s Christmas Feast.”
Mind you, it was the 3oth of December by now and I’d never even caught a glimpse of a Minotaur.