BBC Complaint Upheld

A service of PlugSafe

socket_bbcOn May 31st 2012 the BBC Radio 4 programme From Our Own Correspondent included a report from Peter Day, Global business correspondent, BBC News.  Mr Day had been impressed by universal sockets he came across while staying in hotels in China.  Unfortunately Mr Day did not take any technical advice before praising this concept, and he also used his broadcast to promote his theory that “plugs became a national peculiarity, as cartels of national manufacturers drew up proposals for plug designs that met the safety standards of the day - and kept overseas competition at bay”.  This theory does not fit with the facts (see Historical Background).

The BBC also published a transcript of the broadcast on its website, illustrated by the picture of a universal socket shown left.  An archived copy of that transcript is available here.

Following the broadcast, several complaints were made to the BBC and to Mr Day directly.  These explained that universal sockets are dangerous, illegal in the UK, and that Mr Day’s ideas on the origin of differences in plugs were not accurate.   There was no response.  A further complaint in February 2014 did receive an anonymous reply from ”BBC News website”, the only action taken was to remove the photograph of the socket!  Three follow-up emails in rely to the BBC response were ignored.  During the period that the BBC were being urged to look at this matter there were independent reports published by both Electrical Safety First and BEAMA which emphasized the dangers associated with universal sockets, these reports were drawn to the attention of the BBC. 

On 5th September 2014 the electrical industry news website, Voltimum,  published a story entitled BBC and 'Fatally Flawed' in dispute over Chinese made ‘universal sockets’ (FatallyFlawed is PlugSafe’s sister organisation).  Also last September, Ian Murray MP (Edinburgh South) took an interest in the issue and raised it directly with the BBC management.  That approach was passed on to BBC Audience Services and Mr Murray received a response from BBC Complaints.  It was clear from the letter that the BBC was still not taking the issue with any seriousness, however it did provide a route for further escalation via an independent investigation by the Editorial Complaints Unit of the BBC. 

A request for investigation was made to the Editorial Complaints Unit on 18th November 2014, and it became obvious that, for the first time, the issue was receiving proper and serious attention.  In late March 2015 the programme transcript was deleted from the BBC magazine news item and a few weeks later the iPlayer version of the programme was made unavailable.  On 3rd June 2015 the Editorial Complaints Unit published its findings announcing that the complaint had been upheld as follows:

A universal plug last?, Finding by the Editorial Complaints Unit Complaint

This article, which originated as an item in Radio 4’s From Our Own Correspondent, arose from the correspondent’s discovery of a “universal” plug socket in his hotel room on a visit to China.  A representative of the PlugSafe electrical safety campaign complained that this tended to promote a product which was intrinsically dangerous, and that the article’s account of the origins of diverse national standards for sockets and plugs was misleading.


The complainant’s account of the intrinsic danger of the product was well-founded, as was his concern that, although illegal in the UK, it was readily available online.  The article also gave a misleading impression of how diverse standards in this area had arisen.


Further action

The article was replaced by a note explaining that it had given rise to safety concerns, and the original broadcast was removed from iPlayer.

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