After nearly 3 months, BBC finally corrects Manchester inaccuracy

Back in May an edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ was broadcast from Manchester following a terror attack in the city the previous day. As was noted here at the time, during a discussion about “tensions that have riven the city in the past”, listeners heard presenter Ritula Shah refer to “Jewish riots in the 1940s”.

Contrary to that claim, records show that in early August 1947, during a bank holiday, rioting against Jews took place over a number of days in Manchester, Salford and additional towns and cities.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint about that error, requesting that audiences be relieved of the inaccurate impression of a seventy year-old event in the history of their own country by means of an on-air clarification in the same programme. The response received was unsatisfactory.

“I understand you found presenter Ritula Shah made an inaccurate comments about Jewish riots in the 1940s in Manchester.

Firstly, I’m sorry about the delay in getting back to you. I know people appreciate a prompt response and unfortunately we’ve taken longer to reply than usual – please accept our apologies.

I appreciate your comments and this was a discussion about the tensions in cities across Britain that have occurred throughout recent history. Please be assured it is never our intention to mislead our listeners Ritula was trying to provide some context to this discussion and was discussing how different communities in Manchester have at one time been divided.”

A second complaint was submitted and in its reply, BBC Complaints acknowledged the error but declined to take any corrective action.

“It’s clear you remain unhappy with Ritula Shah’s reference to the riots in 1947. Ms Shah had intended to refer to anti-Jewish riots in reference to the events in Manchester and elsewhere that year. This was a live interview and we accept that she could have been clearer in making this reference.

However the general point was, that despite the earlier comments made by a contributor that Manchester is a ‘tolerant’ city, there is a history of tension towards ethnic minority communities.

We’ve noted your points but do not consider they have suggested a possible breach of the BBC’s standards to justify further investigation or a more detailed reply. Opinions can vary widely about the BBC’s output, but may not necessarily imply a breach of our standards or public service obligations.

For this reason we do not feel we can add more to our reply or answer further questions or points. We realise you may be disappointed but have explained why we are not able to take your complaint further.”

BBC Watch then submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the Executive Complaints Unit to which we have yet to receive a reply. However, eight days later the following communication was received from BBC Complaints:

“Thanks again for raising your concerns with us about ‘The World Tonight’ as broadcast on May 23.

As part of your complaint we referred the reference to the programme’s editor. As a result of this, we’ve now published a statement on the Corrections and Clarifications page below:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/helpandfeedback/corrections_clarifications

We hope this helps resolve the matter to your satisfaction. Should you have any remaining concerns, the ECU can consider these as part of any appeal you wish to pursue.”

The published statement reads as follows: 

While that statement is obviously welcome, the likelihood that the listeners who were misled by the original inaccurate claim almost three months ago will see it is of course minimal.

This should have been a very simple issue to resolve. A genuine error was made and listeners to ‘The World Tonight’ could and should have been informed of that fact shortly afterwards. Instead, it took nearly three months of repeated communication to extract a simple correction that most members of the BBC’s audience will not see.

Related Articles:

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

Have your say on the BBC complaints system

Earlier this year we noted the apparent intention of the new BBC Board to hold a public consultation concerning the corporation’s complaints system.

That public consultation is now underway and members of the public can make submissions until August 16th.

“The BBC aims to resolve complaints fairly, quickly and satisfactorily. We are required by the Charter to have a complaints framework that provides “transparent, accessible, effective, timely and proportionate methods” of making sure that the BBC is meeting its obligations and fixing problems.

Since April the BBC has operated with an interim Complaints Framework, published on the BBC’s complaints website. The Framework reflects the new governance and regulatory arrangements that came into effect in April 2017. Under these arrangements, the BBC Board has oversight of the complaints process and Ofcom is the independent regulator for most types of BBC complaints.

The Framework sets out the BBC’s approach and the procedures for handling different types of complaints, from editorial to regulatory, so that everyone who wants to make a complaint – whether as an individual or on behalf of an organisation – knows what to expect.

As the Charter requires the BBC to publicly consult on the Framework before it is finalised, we have opened a consultation which will run until mid-August.”

The interim Complaints Framework is available here.

Guidance for those wishing to make a submission is available here and includes the following:

“Specifically we are seeking views on whether they [the draft framework and procedures]:

  • Seem readily available, easy to understand and accessible.
  • Make clear and give sufficient information to those who complain what they can expect from the BBC and how to appeal, including whether they are clear on timeframes.
  • Make clear the roles and responsibilities of the BBC and Ofcom and the circumstances under which complaints can be referred to Ofcom (or to other relevant bodies) by complainants.
  • Seem fair to those who might wish to make a complaint.
  • Seem proportionate, balancing the cost to licence fee payers of handling complaints with the need to give people who complain a proper hearing.”

Those wishing to make a submission should send it by email to:

bbc.complaintsframework2017@bbc.co.uk

or by post to:

BBC Corporate Affairs, Room 5045, BBC Broadcasting House, Portland Place, London W1A 1AA.

Related Articles:

BBC to review its complaints system again

OFCOM begins new role as BBC’s external regulator

How to complain to OFCOM about BBC programmes 

BBC’s ‘rationale’ for its double standards on terror crumbles again

As readers may recall, in April (following a complaint from a member of the public) the BBC Complaints department supplied a new ‘explanation’ for the double standards seen in its reporting of terror attacks in different locations.

The complainant pointed out that while the corporation’s reporting on the attack in London on March 22nd rightly included use of the term ‘terror’ (as have subsequent reports on the more recent attacks in Manchester and London), BBC coverage of attacks by Palestinians in Israel does not describe those incidents as terrorism and the term is only seen in quotes – usually from Israeli officials.

The BBC’s response included the following ‘rationale’:

“Where there is an ongoing geopolitical conflict – as in the Middle East – to use the term “terror attack” or similar might be seen to be taking sides. There are those who might consider the actions of the Israeli government to be considered as terrorist acts.

In a situation where a country that is not involved in a direct physical combat comes under attack, it may be reasonable to construe that as a terrorist incident.

The use of such terminology is never an exact science but where a continuing conflict exists, it is reasonable that the BBC would not wish to appear to be taking sides.”

That argument is of course rendered ridiculous by the fact that the UK is part of the international coalition involved in the “continuing conflict” against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and another demonstration of the vacuous nature of that response from BBC Complaints recently came to light.

Like many other media organisations, over the last three years the BBC has on several occasions reported on Iranian involvement in “direct physical combat” with ISIS – for example:

‘Iranian attack jets deployed’ to help Iraq fight Isis

Iran jets bomb Islamic State targets in Iraq – Pentagon

What is Iran’s role in Iraqi fight against IS?

Tikrit: Iran key in fight to wrest city from IS

Iran ‘sending troops’ to fight Islamic State in Iraq

One would therefore expect that – given the BBC’s declared rule of thumb quoted above – its reporting on the attacks in Tehran on June 7th would not have included the term ‘terrorist’. Not so:

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

A new BBC ‘explanation’ for its double standards on terror 

Following complaint, BBC corrects inaccuracy in Trump-Abbas meeting report

Earlier this month we noted that a BBC News website report concerning the Palestinian president’s visit to the White House informed readers that:

“On Wednesday, the US president stressed there would be no lasting peace unless both nations found a way to stop incitement of violence.”

However, the official transcript of the meeting showed that – in contrast to the BBC’s claim – the American president’s remarks did not refer to “both nations”:

“But there cannot be lasting peace unless the Palestinian leaders speak in a unified voice against incitement to violate – and violence and hate.  There’s such hatred.  But hopefully there won’t be such hatred for very long.  All children of God must be taught to value and respect human life, and condemn all of those who target the innocent.”

Mr Noru Tsalic submitted a complaint to the BBC on that topic (including a link to the transcript) and after two weeks, he received the following reply:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that US President Donald Trump has said there is “a very good chance” of a Middle East peace deal, during talks with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-39791715)

You’re right and we’ve since amended this line in the piece to now refer to how:

On Wednesday, the US president stressed there would be no lasting peace unless Palestinian leaders spoke out against incitement to violence.

We’ve also added a correction note to the bottom of the article explaining this change.

Please accept our apologies for the inclusion of this error and thank you once again for taking the time and trouble to make us aware of it.”

The footnote appended to the report reads as follows:

The absence of a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that it is highly unlikely that those who read the original article with the inaccurate claim that remained in situ for two weeks would have seen that amendment and footnote.

One must again ponder the question of why an organisation committed by its charter to standards of accuracy continues to refrain from taking the very simple step of introducing a dedicated corrections page in order to relieve members of its audience of any misleading impressions they may have received from its online news output, prevent the waste of resources on unnecessary complaints and increase its transparency. 

BBC Watch secures another correction to a BBC Arabic article

Back in March we noted that a report on the BBC Arabic website included an inaccurate description of nine victims of a Hamas terror attack that took place nearly fifteen years ago.

“In paragraph 15 of that report the victims of the 2002 Meron Junction terror attack are described as “nine Jewish settlers”.

Four of the nine people murdered in the attack were not Jewish. None of them lived in what the BBC would term ‘settlements’.

This is not the first time that BBC Arabic has portrayed Israeli victims of terror attacks to its audiences as “Jewish settlers” regardless of their ethnicity and place of residence. Clearly that description is neither accurate nor impartial.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint to the BBC on that issue. Having failed to receive a reply during the designated time period, we sent a second complaint. The response received from BBC Complaints reads as follows:

As recently as February of this year BBC Watch had another complaint upheld concerning the use of partisan language in a report published on the BBC Arabic website. In his response to that complaint the editor of the BBC Arabic Service stated:

“We apologise for this editorial mistake which we take very seriously and will be addressing it formally with the journalist responsible for publishing the article.”

Whether or not the same journalist is responsible for both these articles is unclear but it is certainly obvious that BBC Arabic (which is of course part funded by British taxpayers through FCO grants) has yet to satisfactorily address the issue of the use of inaccurate and politically partisan language by its Arabic-speaking employees. 

Related Articles:

Following complaint, BBC Arabic corrects partisan terminology

Why is BBC Arabic feeding its audiences politicised terminology?

BBC Arabic inaccurately portrays 2002 terror attack victims

A new BBC ‘explanation’ for its double standards on terror

As readers no doubt recall, when a vehicular and stabbing attack took place in London last month, the BBC made appropriate use of the word terror in its reports on the story.

In contrast, the word terror is consistently absent from reports concerning similar acts of terrorism that take place in Israel.

A member of the corporation’s funding public, Mr Neil Turner, wrote to the BBC to ask them to explain that lack of consistency in the use of the term terror. The reply he received includes the following (emphasis added):

“Thank you for getting in touch about our report on the attack carried out on Westminster Bridge in London and please accept our apologies for the delay in our response.

The BBC sets out clear parameters on how terms such as “terrorist” might be used:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/editorialguidelines/guidance/terrorism-language/guidance-full

Where there is an ongoing geopolitical conflict – as in the Middle East – to use the term “terror attack” or similar might be seen to be taking sides. There are those who might consider the actions of the Israeli government to be considered as terrorist acts.

In a situation where a country that is not involved in a direct physical combat comes under attack, it may be reasonable to construe that as a terrorist incident.

The use of such terminology is never an exact science but where a continuing conflict exists, it is reasonable that the BBC would not wish to appear to be taking sides.

Thank you again for raising this matter.”

Once again we see that the BBC chooses to deliberately conflate means with ends, putting forward the obviously flawed argument that if a person commits an act of violence against civilians with the purpose of furthering a political or religious agenda in a country in which there is “an ongoing geopolitical conflict”, that is not terrorism but if he does the exact same in a country where there is no such ongoing conflict, it is.

The bottom falls out of that argument when we recall that the BBC did use the term ‘Jewish terrorists’ to describe the perpetrator/s of the arson attack in Duma, despite the existence of an “ongoing geopolitical conflict”.

The corporation’s complaints department also appears to have tried to find a way of dismissing the fact that UK forces are involved in the military campaign against jihadists in Iraq and Syria by means of use of the term “direct physical combat”. Notably, the BBC is apparently not inclined to promote the notion that those actions of a state fighting terrorism might be “considered as terrorist acts”.

While there appears to be no limit to the ‘creativity’ of BBC Complaints when challenged on the issue of the corporation’s double standards and lack of consistency when reporting acts of terror, audiences are of course likely to remain unimpressed by these repeatedly contorted excuses.

Related Articles:

BBC Complaints: terror attacks in Jerusalem and Tunisia are “very different”

BBC Complaints clarifies discrepancies in terminology when reporting terrorism

Radio 4 gives insight into BBC avoidance of the use of the term ‘terror’ in Israel

BBC News finds terror (without quotation marks) in Europe

BBC finds a ‘working definition’ for terrorism in Europe

  

 

BBC Complaints says editorial guidelines on live output cannot always be met

The January 24th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ included an interview by Mishal Husain with the Israeli MK Haneen Zoabi.

As was noted here at the time:

“None of Zoabi’s blatant propaganda and incitement concerning Israel was challenged by Husain – including her inaccurate claim that the entire city of Jerusalem is “occupied”, the lie that Israel “expelled 85% of the Palestinians in 1948”, the falsehood of “87 racist laws” (with Zoabi adding yet another one since she made a similar claim at the PSC AGM just three days earlier) or the unsourced allegation that 30 thousand ‘Palestinians’ are being ‘evacuated’ “from the Negev” (it was 13,000 at the PSC AGM) – which of course actually relates to the Umm al Hiran story and the generously compensated relocation close by of Bedouin squatters.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the misleading of listeners due to the interviewer’s failure to correct Zoabi’s inaccurate statements and false claims. The response received includes the following:

“First of all I’m sorry for the delay in coming back. I know people appreciate a prompt response, it’s taken us longer than usual to respond here – apologies. I understand you feel that Mishal Husain failed to challenge statements by Haneen Zoabi.

I have reviewed the piece – the aim here was to find out what Palestinians make of Donald Trump. Mishal began the interview by asking “What do you think Donald Trump means for the Palestinians?”

Mishal did take her up on the point about the American Embassy, explaining that the White House press secretary said that they were at the very first stage of even discussing the subject.

We always seek to ensure that the interviewer’s particular question is answered by the guest first and foremost. Ms Zoabi spoke at length and very quickly and passionately. The interviewer always seeks to interject when appropriate, balancing the need for a clear discussion with appropriate interaction. It’s an art form rather than a simple science, but we’re confident that in due course, a fair reflection of each side’s long-running stances was offered to listeners over the two days. Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy minister of foreign affairs, was interviewed the day before in order to provide a contrasting view.

It was clear that these comments were claims made from her established perspective – listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves. Mishal intervened, contrasting Hanin’s settlement claims with the position offered the previous day, where the Israeli view was that settlements are not the only issue. The area of questioning here was not ‘What exactly is happening now?’ but rather ‘How does the new US approach to the Middle East appear to Palestinians?’. 

In a fast-flowing interview situation, it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest, we’re sorry to hear this spoiled the interview for you. This issue could occur across a range of programmes, with a variety of guests and topics. There is no intention to treat any particular argument differently. We’d like to reassure you that there is no ulterior motive in either challenging or not challenging specific points on any occasion.” [emphasis added]

Quite how the BBC arrives at the conclusion that “listeners can judge the different arguments for themselves” if they are not provided with accurate information to counter false claims such as the ones made by Zoabi is unclear.

The statement “it may not always be possible for an interviewer to cross-check every statement and claim that is made by a guest” is clearly at odds with the BBC’s editorial guidelines on live output which state “we should take special care to minimise the risks involved” and go on to define those risks as including “broadcast of derogatory or libellous comments” and “misleading of audiences”.

Regarding “offensive comments” and “factual errors” – which are defined in those guidelines as “a serious incident in a live broadcast” – the guidelines state:

BBC Complaints, however, informs us that an interviewer cannot always be expected to “cross-check” claims made by an interviewee.

BBC Watch wrote back pointing out that if that is indeed the case, it may be prudent to avoid live interviews with guests with an established reputation for dissemination of politically motivated falsehoods. We have not received a satisfactory reply. 

BBC Complaints: inaccurate portrayal of Palestinian leadership is not a ‘significant issue’

Last month we noted that an insert titled “What is the two-state solution?” had appeared in a number of BBC News website articles published since late December 2016. The same insert continues to appear in BBC content – most recently just last week.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on the grounds that the insert is inaccurate and misleading to audiences because:

a) it does not inform readers that an essential part of the two-state solution is the concept (repeatedly endorsed by the Quartet) of ‘two states for two peoples’ – a definition which would require Palestinian recognition of Israel as the Jewish state – and that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have repeatedly refused to do so.

b) the claim that the two-state solution is the “declared goal” of Palestinian leaders inaccurately suggests to readers that Palestinian leadership is one, uniform entity. It fails to inform readers that Hamas and additional Palestinian factions do not regard the two-state solution as their “goal” and in fact reject the concept.

The response received from BBC Complaints includes the following:

“The insert entitled “What is the two-state solution?” is meant to be an abbreviated guide to the concept in its broadest sense.  For reasons of space, it is not feasible to offer a more forensic examination of what is quite a complex issue, as you clearly understand.

It could be argued, for instance, that Hamas do not qualify as leaders on the same footing as the internationally recognised PA – it depends on how “leaders” is defined. The casual reader is likely to understand “leaders” in this context as those parties involved in the diplomatic process, of which Hamas is not one.

While Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that a pre-requisite for any final peace settlement is a Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, something the PA resists, it does not mean that a “two-state solution” in the general sense is not the declared goal of both sides. It is the detail and character of the two states which is up for discussion if/when peace talks resume.”

BBC Watch submitted a follow-up complaint, clarifying that while Hamas is indeed not part of the “diplomatic process” as it is not part of the Palestinian Authority or the PLO, it did receive more votes than any other party in the 2006 PLC election and hence is clearly a ‘leader’ as far as Palestinian public opinion is concerned. We also clarified that the requirement to recognise Israel as the Jewish state as part of the concept of two states for two peoples is not confined to the Israeli prime minister.

The response received reads:

“We appreciate that you felt strongly enough to write to us again. We have noted your points and are sorry to learn you were not satisfied with our earlier response. 

We are sorry to tell you that we have nothing to add to our previous reply. We do not believe your complaint has raised a significant issue of general importance that might justify further investigation. We will not therefore correspond further in response to additional points, or further comments or questions, made about this issue or our responses to it.”

As we see, the BBC does not think that leading audiences to believe that there is one, united Palestinian leadership which regards the two-state solution as its “goal” (while airbrushing from view a proscribed terror organisation that aims to wipe Israel off the map) is a “significant issue” which is liable to hamper understanding of this particular ‘international issue‘. 

 

BBC rejects complaint because interviewee ‘did not take issue’

As readers may recall, on January 23rd listeners to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Today’ heard presenter Sarah Montague interviewing the Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely.

The conversation included the following: [emphasis in the original]

Montague: “Of course, as I say, the majority of the rest of the world take a very different view but one thing that – clearly you think differently – but do you recognise that the building of these homes makes peace less likely?”

Hotovely: “Absolutely not. What we saw throughout last year is that every time Israel went through a process of concessions and when Israel committed disengagement from the Gaza [in] 2005, what we saw was more extremists on the other side. We saw Hamas regime taking over; terror regime that the Palestinians chose on a democratic vote. So what we saw is actually the opposite. When settlements were not there, instead of having democratic flourish in the Palestinian side, we just saw extremist radicalism and radical Islam taking over. Unfortunately…”

Montague [interrupts]: “You’re talking about a flourish…yes…you’re talking about flourishing of a particular one [laughs]…the…the…Israeli Jews in settlements; they are flourishing. Of course the Palestinians are not. I wonder, do you think that the idea of a two-state solution – because this is of course land that would have been Palestinian under the two-state solution – is the idea of that now dead?”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning the breach of impartiality resulting from Montague’s insertion of her own subjective, unsubstantiated, politicised – and frankly irrelevant – view of who is – and is not – “flourishing”. The response received included the following:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ broadcast on 23 January.

I understand you believe Mishal Husain [sic] displayed bias when interviewing Tzipi Hotoveley.

Israeli’s deputy minister of foreign affairs was on the programme to discuss the consequences to Israel’s approval to the building of hundreds of new homes on land it has occupied in East Jerusalem.

Mishal’s [sic] interjection when referring to Palestine [sic] while discussing the “flourishing of Israeli Jews in settlements” was to put into context Palestine’s situation, and to provide the information which listeners may want to hear.

All BBC staff are expected to put any political views to one side when carrying out their work for the BBC, and they simply try to provide the information and context on the story or issue using their professional insight to allow our listeners to make up their own minds.

BBC News aims to show the political reality and provide a forum for discussion on issues, giving full opportunity for all sides of the debate to be heard and explored. Senior editorial staff within BBC News, the BBC’s Executive Board, and the BBC Trust keep a close watch on programmes to ensure that standards of impartiality are maintained.

The key point is that the BBC as an organisation has no view or position itself on anything we may report upon – our aim is to identify all significant views, and to test them rigorously and fairly on behalf of our audiences.”

As readers may recall, the BBC’s ‘style guide‘ tells journalists “in day-to-day coverage of the Middle East you should not affix the name ‘Palestine’ to Gaza or the West Bank – rather, it is still an aspiration or an historical entity”. Apparently the BBC complaints department does not follow that instruction. 

Given that the response received did not even correctly identify the interviewer, we were not confident that the complaint had been addressed seriously and so it was re-submitted. The second response received included the following:

“Thanks for contacting us again. We’re sorry you had to come back to us and appreciate why.

We always aim to accurately address the points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. We’ve raised the issues with your previous reply with the right people. We’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We’ve listened in full again to Sarah’s interview on Jan 23. It was introduced as follows: “Israel has just approved 566 new homes for building in East Jerusalem, saying “Now we can finally build”.

The flourishing discussed was in the light of new relations with the US, which is giving Israel new confidence to continue with settlement plans.

Q1″Are we going to see more settlement building, now that President Obama is gone?”

Q2 “Does the building of these homes make peace less likely?”

Tzipi [sic] explains that Israel disengaging has caused more extremism and that flourishing only happens when the settlements are occupied.

Sarah offers a counterpoint – that not everyone flourishes in these circumstances, which Tzipi doesn’t actually challenge or object to.

Q3 “Is the idea of a two state solution now dead?”

Q4 “The arrival of President Trump – is it a game-changer?”

With the above in mind, we can’t agree that the discussion was about democracy flourishing, but rather on the building of new settlements in the light of a new US administration.

Sarah’s interjections were justified, in ensuring that both sides of the story were heard by listeners. The ‘Today’ audience expect firm but fair holding to account, whoever is in the guest seat.

We would take the same approach with people on either side of a debate – we realise you beg to differ here, but we’re confident the inclusion of alternative angles improves the context of an interview, rather than taking away from it.

A challenge offers a guest the opportunity to clarify their position, or reject a point with evidence of their own.

Ms Hotoveley, however, did not take issue with the suggestion that Palestinians were not flourishing as a result of the settlements.”

Not for the first time we see that the BBC is apparently of the opinion that an Israeli giving an interview to the corporation (often in a second or third language) is responsible for refuting any content which might breach BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy and impartiality and that his or her failure to do so absolves the BBC from any responsibility to correct or qualify statements, slurs claims which may mislead audiences. 

Related Articles:

The bizarre basis for the BBC’s rejection of an appeal