An interesting post by the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, David Jordan, appeared on the BBC blog on June 17th. The post is titled “Should the BBC unpublish any of its online content?” and in it Mr Jordan announced the publication of new BBC Editorial Policy Guidance regarding the removal or amendment of BBC online content.
The new guidance appears to have been prompted by last month’s EU court ruling on what has been termed ‘the right to be forgotten’ and, like that case itself, the guidance relates mainly to the topic of requests for removal of content from individuals.
However, as Mr Jordan himself states in his post:
“Our online news is far more accessible today than the newspaper archives of libraries. But in principle there is no difference between them: both are historical records. Fundamentally it is in the public interest to retain them intact.”
That, of course, is true only so long as those “historical records” are correct. It is not, however, in the public interest to have historical records which are misleading, inaccurate or politically biased – especially from an organisation which enjoys the public’s trust – and funding.
We have previously highlighted on these pages some examples of the type of old – but available – BBC content which does not serve the public interest. One prominent example is that of the BBC’s perpetuation of the myth of a ‘Jenin massacre’ in 2002. Another is its unsatisfactory approach to content concerning the Al Dura case of 2000. Other problematic issues include the appearance of long out of date maps on the BBC website – such as the one purporting to show Israeli checkpoints – which are not labelled to inform BBC audiences that they are no longer relevant and the ongoing obstinate BBC promotion of the myth that Ariel Sharon started the second Intifada .
Some of the particularly interesting clauses appearing in the new guidance read as follows:
“However long ago our online content was first published, if it’s still available, editorial complaints may legitimately be made regarding it.”
“Claims that an item is inaccurate, biased or seriously misleading must be properly investigated by the originating content team where possible. Such complaints may, at the complainant’s discretion, be referred through the BBC’s published complaints procedure up to the BBC Trust.”
Obviously, the BBC’s recognition of the permanence of its online material on the one hand and on the other of the fact that no matter how old the material, it can still be the subject of legitimate complaint, poses a potentially overwhelming task for the BBC’s self-regulating complaints system.
That fact makes it all the more important for newly produced content to be truly accurate and impartial but, as we have seen only recently, the “historical records” of the none-too-distant future will inform the public that the 2013/14 round of negotiations between Israel and the PLO ended solely because ‘Israel broke off the talks’ and there will be no historical record whatsoever of Palestinian celebrations of the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers.
Clearly, greater adherence to standards of accuracy and impartiality in contemporary content should be a cause for concern for the BBC’s Director of Editorial Policy and Standards, as should another issue which has been frequently written about here.
In his blog post Mr Jordan announces:
“The Guidance Note also sets out the need for transparency and that we should normally explain what changes we have made to our online content for example, why programmes are no longer available on BBC iPlayer or have been changed since original broadcast. To this end, the BBC will be launching in July a new way of signalling this information. In future if a programme has been edited since broadcast in a way that significantly changes the editorial meaning, we will tell you at point of play. Also if there is a small editorial error in a programme we can let you know the correction before you watch it.”
That welcome improvement must also be extended to the BBC News website, where the lack of a dedicated corrections page, along with a slapdash ‘sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t’ policy concerning footnotes announcing corrections, severely compromise any supposed commitment to transparency.