BBC Action Line – ‘if you’ve been personally affected by issues in this programme ….’

Annika Howard
Keith Jones, Head of Editorial and Complaints at BBC Audience Services

Keith Jones, from BBC Action Line, was one of our panel expert speakers at this year’s Annual Conference. Keith gave us an insight in to how BBC Action Line has evolved and how demand for the service is growing.

The evolution of Action Lines

The Action Lines provide off-air support for issues in drama, news and documentaries.

Keith talked about the predecessor to the Action Lines, where people were invited to send in a stamped addressed envelope for a fact sheet about topics covered in TV and radio programmes. One of the biggest responses they had was to an episode of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘You and Yours’ which talked about Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

It was one of the first programmes to talk about IBS. Thousands of people got in touch because they felt the taboo had been broken and it was something that they could now talk openly about.

Today, there are 19 permanent Action Lines, lines are open 24 hours a day seven days a week. They offer recorded information, signposting people to organisations that can offer support, help and advice across the UK. Calling the Action Lines is free, and you can also access information online.

A window on the world

The BBC’s many TV and radio channels mean there can often be some 60 hours of output for each hour. Keith explained: “The BBC’s broadcasts give people a window on the world and life is difficult, so for some issues we need to be able to offer support for people.” In 2019, there have been more trails for the service but the number of people who have used the Action Lines has exceeded this and almost doubled compared to last year.

Supporting BBC output

The Action Lines offer information and support for issues covered in BBC programmes. In 2018 there were 400,000 calls and visits to the Action Lines.

  •  80,000 were seeking support or information about emotional distress
  • 40,000 were seeking support or information about sexual abuse
  • Holby City storylines prompted 7,000 people to contact the Action Lines
  • The Archers storylines resulted in 15,000 people making calls or going online

The Action Lines are automated, they provide recorded information, there are no agents answering the phones. People are choosing when they watch programmes rather than everyone watching a set schedule and seeing programmes at the same time.

It would be very difficult to manage capacity and predict which programmes, events and storylines are going to prompt calls and particularly with the growth in on demand as people watch iPlayer and listen to BBC Sounds.

BBC editorial guidelines

The Action Lines, like the BBC itself, are governed by strict editorial guidelines. The BBC’s Royal Charter specifies the BBC’s Mission, which is to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain.

Criteria for organisations who feature on the Action Lines is that they must have a helpline, not have a campaigning side and not be a commercial organisation.

BBC Action Lines

Keith thanked all the organisations that support the Action Lines and praised the valuable work that helplines do.

Thank you to Keith for speaking at the 2019 Helplines Partnership Conference. You can find out more about BBC Action Line on the BBC website.

If you think your helpline meets the BBC’s editorial guidelines and could be listed on BBC Action Line visit Contact the BBC and an enquiry will be routed to the correct department.

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