BBC ECU publishes ‘Alternativity’ complaint finding

In July the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) informed BBC Watch that it had upheld one of the three points made in a complaint concerning a BBC Two Christmas 2017 programme titled ‘Alternativity‘.

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

As noted at the time:

“According to further communication with the ECU, that finding “will be published in due course on the complaints pages of bbc.co.uk“. BBC Watch does not know what the BBC considers to be “due course” after it has taken over six months for a point rejected at stages 1a and 1b to be upheld by the ECU.”

Two months later – and over nine months after the complaint was originally submitted – that finding now appears on the BBC News website.

 

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BBC Complaints ‘runs out of time’

Included in the BBC’s revised complaints procedure that was finalised and published in October 2016 are clauses relating to time frameworks:

“The BBC aims to reply within 10 working days of receipt of your complaint though some complaints may take longer than others to investigate.”

And:

“Normally Ofcom will consider relevant complaints only if the complainant is dissatisfied with the outcome of the BBC process; if, in light of the outcome, the complainant considers that Ofcom should impose a sanction; or if the BBC has failed to reach a conclusion within the time period set in these procedures.” [emphasis added]

Visitors to the BBC Complaints website are told that:

“If you complain in writing we post or email over 90% of our replies within 2 weeks. […]

It can take longer to reply to other complaints, depending on the issue being investigated or how many others we have. Sometimes a delay may be due to practical reasons. For example a production team may already be working on another programme or have gone on location. […]

We aim to deal with your complaint fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by our Royal Charter to have a complaints framework which provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure we are meeting our obligations and fixing problems.”

In the past two months BBC Watch has seen three separate instances in which BBC Complaints has not addressed the issues raised within the time frame and has for all intents and purposes thereby effectively closed down the complaint.

Receipt of a complaint submitted on June 24th was acknowledged on the same day. On July 2nd BBC Complaints informed us that it was going to need more time to deal with the complaint.

On July 21st BBC Complaints stated that it had not managed to resolve the complaint within the designated time limit.

We have heard nothing further from BBC Complaints on that topic since.

The same pattern was subsequently repeated in relation to two additional complaints. 

We would be very interested to hear from any readers with similar experiences in the comments below.

 

 

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part two

As we saw in part one of this post, after over six months and three complaints, the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) finally acknowledged that a claim aired in the BBC Two commissioned programme ‘Alternativity’ in December 2017 was “materially misleading”.

However two additional points made in the same complaint by BBC Watch were rejected by the ECU. As readers may know, the first two stages of the BBC complaints procedure are outsourced to a private company and it is hence interesting to take a look at the responses received on those points.

The second point raised concerned a claim made by Danny Boyle while being filmed in Hebron. As was documented here at the time:

“Standing on Emek Hevron street, Boyle then (22:40) presents pure conjecture as ‘fact’.

Boyle: “And the Star of David on the doorways which is declaring that obviously the…that in these circumstances, declaring that this is…this will become a settlement home…is shockingly reminiscent of something we all…one of the worst horrors of the world. That’s a bit mind-boggling.”

BBC Watch contacted a resident of that area and was informed that the Stars of David painted on those buildings are actually graffiti painted by unknown parties. […]

The doorways mentioned by Boyle are in fact entrances to small Arab market shops that were closed during the second Intifada due to Palestinian violence. Not only are those shops unsuitable for conversion into “a settlement home” – they have never even been considered for that purpose.

As we see, therefore, Danny Boyle – who earlier on in the programme admitted that the nearest he had previously ever been to the region was Majorca – has (presumably with a bit of help from his ‘guides’) let his imagination run wild – and presented his own uninformed assumptions as fact.

Moreover, he appears to be making an oblique reference to Nazi confiscation of Jewish property – an analogy that would be considered antisemitic according to the IHRA working definition adopted by the British government.”

In our initial complaint BBC Watch pointed out that Boyle had presented pure conjecture as fact and that:

“Boyle’s claim that the graffiti ‘declares’ that ‘this will become a settlement home’ is unfounded and inaccurate.”

Although we did not raise the issue of Boyle’s apparent Nazi analogy in that complaint, in the reply received at Stage 1a we were informed by BBC Complaints that what appeared to be the case was in fact so.

“In the course of making the film Danny Boyle spent some time in Hebron (visiting both Hebron 1 and Hebron 2) and saw for himself properties formerly owned by Palestinian residents which were now claimed by Israeli settlers, and he saw that the Star of David was used to mark these properties. His comments in this section of the film are a reflection on what he had seen throughout his visit and on his awareness, as someone who loathes anti-Semitism, of what the Nazis had done to Jewish owned property in Germany in the 1930s.” 

In our Stage 1b complaint submitted on January 22nd 2018 we noted that:

“The response provides no proof for the inaccurate claim that the shops on Emek Hevron street “were now claimed by Israeli settlers” – that allegation is simply untrue and unless the BBC can provide factual evidence must be withdrawn. Additionally the response states that Boyle was reflecting on “what the Nazis had done to Jewish owned property in Germany in the 1930s”. The BBC – and Mr Boyle – should be aware that such a Nazi analogy is considered anti-Semitic under the IHRA definition of antisemitism adopted by the UK government.”

The relevant part of the response we received to that complaint was as follows:

“As stated previously, on his trip Danny Boyle saw properties formerly owned by Palestinians that had been claimed by Israeli settlers and marked with the Star of David.  It is your contention that the buildings in this specific scene have never even been considered for the purpose of settlement homes. Nonetheless we believe it was appropriate for Danny to comment on a practise that he had seen throughout his visit.”

Needless to say, no details were provided to support the claim that Boyle had seen Star of David graffiti expressing a claim by “Israeli settlers” to “properties formerly owned by Palestinians” in any other location “throughout his visit”.

In our complaint submitted to the ECU on February 28th 2018 we noted that:

“With regard to the second point raised in my complaint, the BBC once again provides no evidence to support the claim that the Star of David graffiti painted by unknown parties on doors on  Emek Hevron Street ‘declares’ that ‘this will become a settlement home’. Moreover, it again justifies Boyle’s anti-Semitic Nazi analogy while ignoring the fact that other types of graffiti are in evidence on doorways on the same street.”

We included photographs of that additional graffiti, which includes (see here) Arabic writing and an anarchist symbol.

The reply received from the ECU four months after that Stage 2 complaint was submitted is as follows:

In other words, while admitting that Boyle’s remark was “conjecture” which may have been “mistaken as to the motive behind the particular graffito shown”, the BBC ECU still claims that audiences were not materially misled. The “evidence” cited by the ECU consists of three media reports: one from the Palestinian media outlet ‘Maan News’ dating from 2012, one from the New York Times dated 1997 and one from the Times of Israel dated 2014. While those articles may indeed support the ECU’s claim that graffiti can be a “declaration of…hostility to Palestinian residents”, that was not the claim put forward by Boyle in that part of the programme.

The third point raised in our Stage 1a complaint related to a statement made by the narrator at 33:11: [emphasis added]

Colman: “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads.”

BBC Watch pointed out that the claim is inaccurate and misleading, that even according to B’tselem just four Israeli communities are served by roads upon which vehicles with Palestinian plates cannot travel and that:

“Obviously “most” of the people the BBC chooses to call “Jewish settlers” do not live in those four communities.”

The response received at Stage 1a was as follows:

“Jewish settlements in the West Bank are increasingly connected and served by roads inaccessible to Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates. This is a result of the ongoing Israeli policy of expanding the settlements and their infrastructure.”

When we challenged that response – obviously irrelevant to the point made in the original complaint – at Stage 1b, this was the reply received:

“It is not disputed that the majority of West Bank settlers live in settlements. It is also the case that these settlements are accessible by the network of roads which place restrictions on Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates.”

In our Stage 2 complaint to the ECU we pointed out that:

“With regard to the third point made in my complaint, the claim that “Most Jewish settlers live in fortified settlements accessible by Israeli-only roads” is simply untrue and the BBC’s claim that “these settlements are accessible by the network of roads which place restrictions on Palestinians without Israeli citizenship and Israeli license plates” is only applicable to the entrance roads to a small number of communities – totaling at most less than 60 kms.”

Four months later the ECU replied with no small amount of ‘whataboutery‘, quoting a report from the politicised UN agency UNOCHA.

Readers can judge for themselves whether six months is an acceptable time-frame for the resolution of a complaint to the BBC and whether or not the practices of outsourcing complaints to a private company and basing responses to complaints on information supplied by political NGOs serves the interests of the public that funds the corporation. 

Related Articles:

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

 

 

BBC’s ECU upholds part of BBC Watch ‘Alternativity’ complaint – part one

Readers no doubt recall that in December 2017 the BBC’s Christmas season programming included a programme commissioned for BBC Two titled ‘Alternativity’.

Contrary to prior claims from the station’s controller Patrick Holland, the programme did not present “a challenging and provocative exploration” of the nativity story at all. Rather, most of the hour-long programme was devoted to context-lite, one-sided political messaging relating to Israel promoted from both its narrator (actress Olivia Colman) and its main character Danny Boyle.

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning ‘Alternativity’ which, because of the word-count restrictions on complaints, focused on just three aspects of the programme.

Over six months later the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (ECU) has upheld one of the points made by BBC Watch and rejected two additional points.  As readers may know, the first two stages of the BBC complaints procedure are outsourced to a private company and it is hence interesting to take a look at the responses received at those first two stages on a point that was eventually upheld.

The first point we raised in our initial complaint referred to a claim made by the narrator at 12:20 minutes into the programme.

Colman: “The separation barrier and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land have sliced through communities, separating neighbours. Thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land and although the exact boundaries are hotly disputed, many have been evicted and are now on black-lists banning them from entering Israel, meaning they are unable to travel for work. One of these is Amin. Imprisoned as a teenager, he now makes his living selling refreshments to the workers.” [emphasis added]

We argued that the highlighted claim is untrue. The response we received at stage 1a was as follows:

“Figures on the number of arrests, prosecutions or convictions directly related to the refusal of Palestinians to leave land which has been seized or confiscated by Israel are unavailable, but the claim that “thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is conservative given the scale of the confiscation, annexation and enclosure of Palestinian land, as well as the widespread and systemic scale of arrest and detention without charge or trial (known as administrative detention).”

We submitted a second complaint – Stage 1b – on January 22nd 2018:

“While admitting that the BBC does not have facts and figures, the response claims that the claim “thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is none the less accurate. Unless the BBC can produce concrete examples of people “imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” that claim cannot be considered accurate. The original claim related to land used for construction of the anti-terrorist fence and owners of such land are not only compensated but are entitled to appeal to the Israeli courts.”

Notably, the response we received to that point in our second complaint relied primarily on information sourced from the foreign-funded political NGO B’tselem and the PFLP linked group Addameer.

“The BBC has an obligation towards achieving “due accuracy”.  Our Editorial Guidelines say “Accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right.  If an issue is controversial, relevant opinions as well as facts may need to be considered.  When necessary, all the relevant facts and information should also be weighed to get at the truth.”  As we are sure you are aware, the Israeli government does not publish the numbers of individuals subject to what it calls “administrative detention”, nor the reasons why those individuals have been detained (as detailed here www.btselem.org/administrative_detention). But there is a significant amount of information – what the Guideline is referring to when it uses the terms “relevant opinions”, and “relevant facts and information” – that can be analysed to provide a reasonable estimate.  For example, it is reliably reported that around 100,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention over the years. 

You note that Palestinians whose land has been appropriated for construction of the barrier are compensated. But that has no bearing on the issue of how the Israeli authorities dealt with protests against the barrier’s construction.  There have been many such protests, with Addameer documenting at least 295 cases of Palestinians detained for protests against barrier construction and land annexation in 2011 alone. So it is quite clear that numerous Palestinians have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land. 

The next question is therefore whether “thousands” is a reasonable estimate for the numbers detained. As noted above, there is evidence that there were 295 in 2011 alone, by which time a great deal of the barrier in the West bank had already been completed. The correct shorthand expression for 2011 alone would be “hundreds”.  But Israel started construction in 2002, and it is not yet finished.  It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, over a fifteen year period, the total number detained is most likely to be in the thousands.”

Having exhausted stages 1a and 1b of the BBC complaints procedure, we continued with a complaint submitted on February 28th 2018 to the Executive Complaints Unit after having consulted the former IDF Chief Prosecutor in Judea & Samaria, Lt. Col. Maurice Hirsch (at the time senior military justice consultant for NGO Monitor) who, inter alia, pointed out that:

“To the best of my knowledge, as someone intimately involved in law enforcement in Judea and Samaria for 20 years, no Palestinian has been imprisoned for “refusing to leave their land”! That claim is simply a fiction. Firstly, most (approximately 95%) Palestinians resident in Judea and Samaria live in the large Palestinian towns and the surrounding villages. With the exception of one, none of these towns are affected by the security barrier. Secondly, “refusing to leave your land” is not an offence, and consequently no one has been arrested or imprisoned on this basis. Thirdly, Palestinians separated from their land by the security barrier are entitled to and are in practice given permits to access their land.” 

With regard to the claim in the BBC’s response that ““thousands have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land” is conservative given the scale of the confiscation, annexation and enclosure of Palestinian land, as well as the widespread and systemic scale of arrest and detention without charge or trial (known as administrative detention)”, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“As regards Administrative detention the BBC intentionally combines two subjects that have no connection whatsoever. According to international law (art. 78 of the Fourth Geneva Convention) a person can only be placed in administrative detention, if it is necessary for “imperative reasons of security”. No Palestinian has been placed in administrative detention for “refusing to leave their land”. According to precedent set down by Israel’s Supreme Court, a person can only be placed in administrative detention if the state proves that he poses an imminent, severe danger to the security of the public. It should be noted, that while the judicial review process of Administrative detention orders carried out by the military courts far extends the requirements of international law, Palestinians also have the right to challenge their administrative detention before Israel’s supreme court.”

With regard to the claim in the BBC’s response that “For example, it is reliably reported that around 100,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention over the years…as detailed here www.btselem.org/administrative_detention“, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“There is nothing ‘reliable’ about the report that 100,000 Palestinians have been held in Administrative detention. The occurrence of administrative detention between the years 1967 – 1987 was very limited. In response to the Palestinian terrorism that started in 1987 the use of administrative detention increased. With the onset of the Oslo Accords, Israel’s use of administrative detention waned. Only in 2001, as a response to the wide scale Palestinian terrorist attacks, did Israel revert to the use of administrative detention. Since then, the number of Palestinians arrested in administrative detention has fluctuated considerably. According to publicly available documents, that organisations like B’tselem chose to ignore, in the 20 year period, between 1995 and 2015, 16,041. In that period, in one year (2000) only 17 new administrative detention orders were issued. In another year (2002) 2,578 new orders were issued. In other words, if one were to use the 20 years between 1995 and 2015 as a basis, it would indicate that Israel placed 800 Palestinians a year in administrative detention. Assuming that these figures are automatically reflective of the statistics since 1967, the result would be that 40,000 Palestinians have been held in administrative detention. Having said that, noting the tremendous fluctuation in the use of administrative detention, any statistic given, that is not based on official numbers for every year, is inherently unreliable.”

In response to the claim in the BBC’s reply “…with Addameer documenting at least 295 cases of Palestinians detained for protests against barrier construction and land annexation in 2011 alone. So it is quite clear that numerous Palestinians have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land”, Lt. Col Hirsch noted that:

“There is no logical connection between these two statements. Palestinians “detained for protests against the barrier… and land annexation” include those who threw stones, molotov cocktails and committed other related offences. The arrest of these people had nothing to do with “refusing to leave their land”, but rather the fact that they committed violent offences. Moreover, considering the fact that demonstrations against the construction of the security barrier were organized by the Palestinian Authority and called for widespread participation, it is also factually inaccurate to assume that all those arrested were necessarily the owners of the land on which they were arrested.”

In response to the claim in the BBC’s reply “there is evidence that there were 295 in 2011 alone, by which time a great deal of the barrier in the West bank had already been completed. The correct shorthand expression for 2011 alone would be “hundreds”.  But Israel started construction in 2002, and it is not yet finished.  It therefore seems reasonable to conclude that, over a fifteen year period, the total number detained is most likely to be in the thousands”, Lt. Col. Hirsch noted that:

“…there is no logical or statistical basis to use a statistic for the prevalence of law enforcement in one year alone in order to ‘calculate’ a larger figure for multiple years. For example in 2006, a total of 1120 Palestinians were prosecuted for offences categorized as “Disturbances of the peace” (as opposed to Terrorism; Regular criminal offences; and Illegal entry into Israel). That number decreased in 2008 to only 593. This category included, among other offences, stone throwing. Accordingly, this simplistic statistical approach adopted by the BBC ignores the tremendous fluctuation in law enforcement every year.”

Four months after that complaint to the ECU had been submitted, we received a reply which includes the following:

According to further communication with the ECU, that finding “will be published in due course on the complaints pages of bbc.co.uk“. BBC Watch does not know what the BBC considers to be “due course” after it has taken over six months for a point rejected at stages 1a and 1b to be upheld by the ECU.

In part two of this post we will look at some of the interesting responses received from BBC Complaints in relation to the other two points raised in this complaint.

Related Articles:

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part one

Political narrative and inaccuracy in BBC Two’s ‘Alternativity’ – part two

BBC amends misleading Argentina match report after complaint

Readers may recall that on June 6th the BBC News website published an article concerning the cancellation of a friendly football match between Israel and Argentina. The cancellation was inaccurately framed as being related to “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza” while assorted threats against the Argentinian team were downplayed or ignored.

Before

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that report and – almost a month later – has now received the following reply.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that Argentina cancelled a football World Cup warm-up match with Israel (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-44378669) and please accept our apologies for the delay in our response.

Our article does mention the threats but after investigating further we have amended the headline and added a paragraph to reflect the further background to the campaign.

We have also added a correction note at the bottom of the article which outlines these changes.

We hope you’ll find this satisfactory and thank you once again for getting in touch.”

The claim that “our article does mention the threats” does not reflect the fact that the “mention” was added eleven hours after the report’s initial publication and that it is composed of a quote from the Israel Football Association relating solely to statements made by the PA’s Jibril Rajoub. The threats against the team at their training site in Barcelona were not reported.

After

Nevertheless, the article’s headline has now been changed from “Argentina cancels Israel World Cup friendly after Gaza violence” to “Argentina scraps Israel World Cup friendly after campaign“.

The added paragraphs read:

“The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which campaigns for a complete boycott of Israel over its policies towards the Palestinians, had called on Argentina not to play against Israel, even before the venue moved from Haifa to Jerusalem.

The campaign escalated after Israel switched the venue to Jerusalem, which Israel regards as its capital and whose eastern part the Palestinians seek as the capital of a future Palestinian state.”

The footnote informs BBC audiences that:

However, the continuing absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that anyone who read this article during the four weeks since its initial publication will be unlikely to know that it promoted a misleading view of the story.

 

BBC’s ECU upholds ‘Andrew Marr Show’ complaint

Readers may recall that back in April the BBC’s Andrew Marr managed to shoehorn Israel into a discussion about the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons.

During the papers review in the April 8th edition of ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ show guest journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer spoke about a Guardian report on the previous evening’s chemical weapons attack on civilians in Douma in Syria, stating:

Hartley-Brewer: “We’ve got to stop the nonsense that they’re not using chemical weapons. They are using them. And of course I would say I do think we need to remember that it was our country that chose not to get involved even after chemical weapons attacks as a result of votes in Parliament led by former Labour leader Ed Miliband.”

The “light” Andrew Marr then chose to shine on the issue of international inaction despite repeated chemical weapons attacks in Syria was as follows:

Marr: “And the Middle East is aflame again. I mean there’s lots of Palestinian kids being killed further south as well by the Israeli forces.”

As the Daily Mail reports:

“Anti-semitism campaigner Jonathan Sacerdoti complained, writing: ‘When talking about a story on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, Andrew Marr for some reason decided to talk about Israel (which was unrelated anyway). He stated there’s a lot of Palestinian kids being killed further south by Israeli forces.

‘This is completely incorrect and is made up. This was irrelevant to the conversation on Syria… and also actually completely false.’

BBC producers initially tried to defend Marr’s comments by pointing to the fact that five ‘younger people’ had been killed between the beginning of the year and the date of the programme.

They also said several Palestinian children and younger people were killed in the week following the broadcast, but Mr Sacerdoti argued that later events could not be used to justify Mr Marr’s comments.

His complaint has been upheld.”

Mail on Sunday

The relevant part of the ECU’s response stated:

Note the BBC’s use of a WHO document (which is based on figures supplied by the same terror group that organised the violent rioting) as a source of information concerning “a large number of children injured” even though Marr’s comment referred to “Palestinian kids being killed”.

BBC News Channel apologises for HMD broadcast errors

In a report aired on January 25th on the BBC News Channel the BBC’s Religion editor Martin Bashir referred to Holocaust Memorial Day as about to be “celebrated” two days later and misquoted Britain’s Chief Rabbi, claiming that he said that “our silence would be to mourn the loss of those six thousand Jewish men, women and children…” [emphasis added]

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint to the BBC concerning those inaccuracies and received a reply including the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding the BBC News Channel’s ‘Afternoon Live’ on 25 January.

We understand you feel our Religion Editor Martin Bashir used insensitive language to describe Holocaust Memorial Day and misquoted the number of Jewish victims.

During this timeframe Martin described events leading up to Holocaust Memorial Day and the people involved in the commemorations.

Please be assured, we strive to present accurate and relevant information throughout our news service. Reporters closely follow these guidelines while providing distinctive descriptions. They often deliver items under pressure and time restrictions, particularly in a live ‘rolling’ news environment.

We regret any editorial oversights but mistakes of this nature can occasionally slip through, despite the best endeavours of our experienced reporters.”

In light of that unsatisfactory response, Mr Franklin submitted a second complaint, to which he received an apposite reply from the Executive Editor of the BBC News Channel.

“I wanted to let you know in person that I think you are quite right to point out the errors in this broadcast.

Regrettably, Martin Bashir misspoke when he said Holocaust Memorial Day was being ‘celebrated’ when he intended to say ‘commemorated.’

I am very sorry for this mistake.

Clearly, too, Martin meant to give the figure of six million victims, not six thousand, and again we are sorry for this mistake.

The correct figure of six million victims was used before the report, and within it by a Holocaust survivor herself, but you are right to say this should not have happened.

While mistakes do occur in live broadcasting, it was very unfortunate that they should have occurred on this subject above all others.

Yours sincerely,

Sam Taylor

Executive Editor BBC News Channel.”

The fact that a member of the public had to submit two complaints before obvious inaccuracies were appropriately acknowledged once again demonstrates the inefficiency of the BBC’s outsourced audience services.

Related Articles:

How the BBC outsources its complaints system

BBC News report on 2017 ‘fake news’ excludes its own

On December 31st the BBC News website published an article titled “How fake news plagued 2017” which provides readers with the following definition under the sub-heading “What is fake news?”.

  • Completely false information, photos or videos purposefully created and spread to confuse or misinform
  • Information, photos or videos manipulated to deceive – or old photographs shared as new
  • Satire or parody which means no harm but can fool people

Other proposed definitions of the phenomenon are wider. As Claire Wardle of First Draft (which is partnered by BBC News) has noted, it can also include misinformation promoted by journalists.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s article about ‘fake news’ in 2017 does not include any of its own content – which would not fall under the definition it has chosen to promote.

However, BBC Watch has recorded numerous examples of misinformation promoted by the BBC throughout the past year. Among the inaccurate claims made by the BBC to which we have managed to secure corrections are the following: 

1) The claim that most Gulf Arab countries “now accept the existence of the Jewish state”:

BBC partially corrects ‘The World Tonight’ inaccuracies

2) The claim that Jerusalem as a whole is “occupied”:

Following complaint, BBC Arabic corrects partisan terminology

3) The claim that nine people murdered in a terror attack in 2002 were “Jewish settlers”:

BBC Watch secures another correction to a BBC Arabic article

4) The claim that an attack in Syria was carried out by Israel:

BBC News website amends claim of Israeli strike in Syria

5) The claim that Tel Aviv is “the Israeli capital”:

BBC Watch prompts edit of BBC WS inaccurate location of Israel’s capital

6) The claim that Jews rioted in Manchester in the 1940s:

After nearly 3 months, BBC finally corrects Manchester inaccuracy

Error acknowledged, complaint upheld – yet BBC inaccuracy still remains online

7) The claim that Israel was “carved out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians”:

BBC WS acknowledges inaccurate claim in history show

8) The claim that Mt Scopus and the Hebrew University are “Israeli settlements”:

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

9) The claim that the Battle of Beersheba “led to” the Balfour Declaration:

Inaccurate BBC Balfour Declaration claim misleads audiences

10) The claim that “most Jewish organisations” rejected the 1947 Partition Plan:

BBC Watch complaint on Partition Plan inaccuracy upheld

11) The claim that a convicted soldier held the rank of sergeant:

BBC News website twice reports convicted soldier’s rank inaccurately

12) The claim that attacks on Israeli communities were carried out using “mortars”:

Correction secured to inaccurate BBC News website claim about Gaza attacks

The BBC’s narrow definition of ‘fake news’ is of particular interest given that just last month the corporation announced that it was “launching a new scheme to help young people identify real news and filter out fake or false information”.

“James Harding, the director of BBC News, said: “This is an attempt to go into schools to speak to young people and give them the equipment they need to distinguish between what’s true and what’s false.” […]

“I think that people are getting the news all over the place – there’s more information than ever before,” said Harding.

“But, as we know, some of it is old news, some of it is half truths. Some of it is just downright lies. And it’s harder than ever when you look at those information feeds to discern what’s true and what’s not.”

Given the above examples (as well as countless others) of misinformation promoted by the BBC – along with its notoriously slow complaints procedure and inadequate corrections mechanism which does not even include a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website – one might well conclude that the physician first needs to heal himself.

BBC Watch would like to thank all the many readers who contacted us during 2017 to bring problematic BBC content to our attention. Please continue to write in – your tips are an invaluable contribution to our work of identifying content that breaches BBC editorial guidelines and trying to secure corrections to claims that mislead and misinform BBC audiences in a manner no less pernicious than the type of ‘fake news’ that the BBC does recognise. 

Error acknowledged, complaint upheld – yet BBC inaccuracy still remains online

Back in August we noted that the BBC had published acknowledgement of an inaccuracy that had appeared in a BBC Radio 4 programme in May 2017 on its ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ page.

When notification of that correction was received, BBC Watch had already submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit. The ECU has now informed us that the complaint was upheld.  

However, the programme concerned is still available online and it has not been edited to correct the presenter’s inaccurate claim (from 38:10) of “Jewish riots in the 1940s” in Manchester. Neither has any footnote been added to the webpage informing audiences that the ECU upheld a complaint concerning that statement.

BBC Watch has written to the ECU once again, pointing out that such an absurd situation does not inspire public confidence in BBC handling of editorial complaints.

Update: 

The BBC’s ECU has responded to BBC Watch’s communication:

“The programmes which remain available online stand as a record of what was broadcast, and the BBC doesn’t rewrite the record by editing them unless there’s some overriding reason to do so.  The usual action, where an error has been acknowledged, is to flag the fact on the relevant programme page and add a link to the published summary of the finding.  This has now been done in the case of the 23 May edition of The World Tonight.  I’m sorry it wasn’t done in time to forestall your email of 4 December.”

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ inverts history in Manchester

After nearly 3 months, BBC finally corrects Manchester inaccuracy

BBC refuses to correct an error on a topic it previously reported accurately

As noted here last month, in a report for the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ the BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet inaccurately informed listeners that Hamas had made changes to its charter.

Doucet: “Well I remember the elections in 2006. Fatah – and indeed the outside world, including the United States – were shocked that Hamas had won these elections and so the talk was let them bring them in to the democratic process; let them show that they can be a legitimate governing force. By the next year, however, they had completely taken over the Gaza Strip and for the last decade there has been that rift. Now since that time, Hamas has constantly been under pressure to change its founding charter which still talks about the destruction of the State of Israel. The listeners may remember that they made some changes to that charter in the last year. It was seen as a huge breakthrough by Hamas but still it fell short for Israel.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“Doucet’s claim that Hamas “made some changes to that charter” is of course inaccurate. The policy document launched in May did not replace or change the existing charter at all – as the BBC News website reported at the time. Unfortunately for BBC World Service audiences, however, this is not the first time that they have heard the falsehood now promoted by Doucet.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue. The response received reads as follows:

BBC’s own photo caption: “Hamas officials say the new document does not replace the group’s 1988 charter”.

“Thank you for getting in touch and your complaint that there was a factual inaccuracy in Lyse Doucet’s report broadcast in Newshour on 12/10/2017. I forwarded your email to the editor and team at Newshour. Below is the reply…   

The programme was reporting on the emerging deal between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah that was unfolding as the programme went on air.

This was a significant story.  Lyse Doucet gave a brief historical context to the deal, ranging from the Palestinian elections in 2006 to the military takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and the current problems with electricity supply related to the political rift with the Fatah administration in Ramallah.

Lyse clearly pointed out that Hamas’s founding charter still talks about the destruction of the state of Israel, and that Hamas still sees itself as a resistance movement.

Lyse referred to changes in the Hamas charter last year, which represented a significant shift in the movement’s public stance and were important in that regard.

But Lyse stressed the point that Hamas showed no sign of accepting the legitimacy of Israel.

I hope the above allays the concerns you have raised.” [emphasis added]

As we see, despite one BBC department – the BBC News website – having accurately reported at the time that “Hamas says [the new document] does not replace the charter”, obviously neither the ‘Newshour’ team nor the BBC’s complaints department understands the significant difference between the Hamas charter and the policy document.

In contrast, media organisations that have corrected inaccuracies concerning the same issue include i24, CNN and Newsweek.  

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