The BBC, 2018 ‘fake news’ and fact checking

Throughout 2018 the BBC continued to cover the topic of ‘fake news’, creating a dedicated webpage for items tagged under that topic and producing various guides to identifying fake news, including one aimed specifically at younger audiences.

“Fake news usually comes down to two things. Firstly, false news stories that aren’t true at all. They go online or are shared on social media even though the person writing them knows that they are made up. Number two: stories that may have some truth to them but the facts aren’t clear or checked properly or the writer has exaggerated some of it to mean what they want it to.” [emphasis in bold added]

This year too BBC Watch has documented numerous examples of misinformation promoted by the BBC and has submitted dozens of related complaints. Among the inaccurate claims made by the BBC to which we have managed to secure corrections in 2018 are the following: 

1) The claim that a sign in Arabic promoting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions related solely to “a boycott of Israeli products coming from Jewish settlements”.

BBC World Service amends inaccurate photo caption

2) The claim that the Israeli government “retroactively legalised an unauthorised settlement outpost” following a terror attack.

One month on BBC corrects inaccuracy regarding Israeli cabinet decision

3) The claim that Riyad Mansour is the “UN envoy for Palestine”.

BBC News website corrects Palestinian envoy’s title

4) The claim that the Argentinian football team’s cancellation of a friendly match against Israel was related to “Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza”.

BBC amends misleading Argentina match report after complaint

5) The claim that “Thousands [of Palestinians] have been imprisoned for refusing to leave their land”. 

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

6) The claim that the head of the PLO delegation to Washington is an ‘ambassador’.

BBC News website amends inaccurate Palestinian envoy title

7) The claim that a crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip had been closed.

BBC amends inaccurate photo caption two months on

8) The claim that UN forces were in control of the Golan Heights demilitarized zone.

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part two

9) The claim that “for the first time” a Palestinian candidate was running for a seat on the Jerusalem city council.

BBC issues correction to inaccurate Jerusalem elections claim

10) The claim that the next Israeli election “had to be held by November this year”.

BBC Watch prompts correction to error on Israeli elections

Given the above examples of some of the many cases in which the BBC promoted news that included information that had not been properly fact checked, one might well conclude that the BBC’s focus on ‘fake news’ should begin at home.

BBC Watch would like to thank all the many readers who contacted us during 2018 to bring problematic BBC content to our attention. Please continue to write in – your tips are an invaluable contribution to our mission of identifying content that breaches BBC editorial guidelines and trying to secure corrections to claims that mislead and misinform the general public in a manner no less pernicious than those stories that the BBC does tag as ‘fake news’.

Related Articles:

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

After three months BBC corrects inaccurate claim

BBC’s ECU upholds ‘Andrew Marr Show’ complaint

BBC News website amends delayed post article headline following complaint

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part one

BBC corrects inaccuracy in ‘Newsround’ article following complaints

BBC’s ECU acknowledges ‘international law’ inaccuracy

 

 

 

 

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BBC’s ECU acknowledges ‘international law’ inaccuracy

As readers may recall, on July 29th BBC audiences saw and heard several reports on various platforms by BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim relating to the release of Ahed Tamimi from prison.

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part one

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part two

One sided reports from BBC Arabic’s Nida Ibrahim – part three

In an additional item – a news bulletin aired on the BBC News Channel on the same day – viewers heard the following: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in the original]

Ben Brown: “A Palestinian teenager has been freed from an Israeli prison after serving an eight month sentence for slapping and kicking an Israeli soldier.  Ahed Tamimi was 16 at the time of the incident and the footage of it happening went viral around the world.  Her sentence was widely condemned, as children are protected by international law from imprisonment.  I’ve been talking about this to the BBC Arabic Service’s Nida Ibrahim, who saw the teenager being released.”

Nida Ibrahim: “As you know, children are not allowed to be tried under international law however children living under the Israeli occupation; Palestinian children living under the Israeli occupation, are facing trials under military courts in Israel.  This has caused many, this has caused an outcry, many human rights organisations have criticised that sentence by Israel and many say that this case is shedding light on the case of many Palestinian minors.”

Ben Brown also made a similar claim in another TV programme on the same day:

Brown: “This isn’t a one-off case, is it? Children are often tried in military courts and imprisoned in adult jails. It’s against international law. What is Israel’s explanation for that?”

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint concerning that highlighted claim (and other aspects of the report), pointing out that it is inaccurate to claim that it is against international law to try or imprison children under the age of 18.

Having received an unsatisfactory response to his first complaint, Mr Franklin filed a second and in the subsequent response BBC Complaints acknowledged that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) does not prohibit the trial or imprisonment of under-18s.

“We agree, however, that we should not have implied that children are protected from imprisonment itself by international law. We should have made it clear that the Convention says children should be arrested, detained or imprisoned only as a last resort and for the shortest time possible.”

Mr Franklin submitted a Stage 2 complaint to the Executive Complaints Unit (ECU). In its reply the ECU acknowledged that there is a “question” regarding “the extent to which this [the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child] can be described as “international law”” and ruled that:

“…the reference to the CRC (what we understood was meant by “international law”) did not accurately describe its terms, in that the convention does not proscribe the trial or imprisonment of children. We are therefore upholding this part of your complaint.”

The ECU has now published its findings.

 

BBC Watch prompts correction to error on Israeli elections

On December 24th the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel sets date for elections“.

“Israel is to hold a general election in April, the ruling coalition has said.

The political partners decided to call the poll after failing to resolve a dispute over a draft conscription bill for ultra-Orthodox Jews. […]

The ruling coalition was recently reduced to holding a one-seat majority in the Knesset (Israeli parliament) after the then-defence minister resigned in protest over what he said was a weak approach towards dealing with attacks from Gaza, the Palestinian enclave bordering Israel.

By Sunday night it was clear the government faced collapse after ultra-Orthodox parties threatened to withdraw over the draft conscription bill.”

So far so good. However readers were then told that “[e]lections had to be held by November this year”. 

Coming in an article published in 2018, readers would obviously understand “November this year” to mean November 2018 – i.e. last month.

In fact the next elections were due to be held by November 2019.

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website to request a correction and although no acknowledgement was received, the article was amended several hours later.

Amended version

 

  

BBC corrects inaccuracy in ‘Newsround’ article following complaints

As documented here last week, an article titled “Everything you need to know about St Andrew’s Day” which appeared on CBBC’s ‘Newsround’ website on November 30th misled the BBC’s younger audiences on Middle East geography.

“We don’t actually know a lot about St Andrew.

It is believed that he was born between the years 5 AD and 10 AD in a place that’s now called Palestine, in the Middle East. […]

Andrew’s brother, Simon Peter, was also one of the disciples. They both lived in Galilee, where they were fishermen.”[emphasis added]

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that error on December 2nd and on December 10th received a reply stating that it “may take a little longer” to address the issue.

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint concerning the same error on December 3rd and on December 8th received a reply which reads as follows:

“Thanks for contacting us regarding the following Newsround article ‘Everything you need to know about St Andrew’s Day’:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/20556587

We note your comments and have reviewed the article, and please know that the sentence in question now reads:

“It is believed that he was born between the years 5 AD and 10 AD in a place that is now part of Israel.””

The article has indeed been amended but no footnote has been added to advise those who read it during the first week after its publication that it included inaccurate information.

Before

After

Related Articles:

BBC misleads young audiences on Middle East geography

BBC News website corrects error in Israel profile timeline

As noted here last week, an entry in the BBC News website’s Israel profile timeline that had been added on November 19th inaccurately named the former Israeli defence minister as “Avidgor Lieberman”.

BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website and while no acknowledgement was received, the entry – which had remained in situ for ten days – has since been amended to include the correct spelling of Mr Lieberman’s first name.

Before

After

Related Articles:

Amendments made to the BBC’s Israel profile

BBC issues correction to inaccurate Jerusalem elections claim

As documented here at the beginning of the month, an audio report concerning the municipal elections in Jerusalem that was aired on the BBC Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme and in two editions of the BBC World Service radio programme ‘Newshour’ on October 30th included the inaccurate claim that for the first time, a Palestinian candidate was running for a seat on the city council.

BBC erases crucial background from report on Jerusalem election

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that inaccurate claim, pointing out that even Palestinian sources acknowledge that this is far from the first time that an Arab resident of Jerusalem has been on the ballot paper.

The response we received includes the following:

“Thanks for getting in touch about our report on October 30.

We looked into this for you and appreciate you raising the matter with us. You’re correct about a precedent lying elsewhere, so we’ve published a correction in line with our complaints framework:

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

Many thanks once again for bringing this to our attention.”

The correction reads as follows:

 

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part two

As recently documented here:

“In late June we noted the appearance of an inaccurate and misleading map on the BBC News website.

“An article titled “Syria war: Air strikes knock out hospitals in Deraa” which appeared on the BBC News website on June 27th includes a map showing the areas under the control of different parties in south-west Syria.

[…] the UN Disengagement Observer Forces (UNDOF) are portrayed as being present in the demilitarised zone that came into existence under the terms of the 1974 Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria.

However, as noted in this report from May 31st, UNDOF vastly reduced its physical presence in the so-called demilitarised zone nearly four years ago when it redeployed to the Israeli side.”

Similar versions of the same map appeared in at least five additional BBC News website reports.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue and on July 30th we received a response informing us that more time would be needed to address the points raised. On August 18th we received a further communication informing us that the time frame for addressing the complaint had run out.”

However, on October 26th BBC Watch received a communication from the BBC News website.

“Thank you for getting in touch about the maps contained within several articles on the BBC News website and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

After considering your point further we have replaced the maps in question.

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

The replacement map now appears as follows in five reports published on the BBC News website between June 27th and July 12th 2018: see here, here, here, here and here.

In another article dating from July 22nd, the inaccurate map has been replaced by a different one.

None of the six amended articles includes a footnote to advise visitors to the BBC News website who accessed those reports during the past three to four months that the map has been amended due to inaccuracy.

Related Articles:

BBC News website map misleads on UNDOF

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part one

 

 

Corrections secured to inaccurate BBC News website maps – part one

On February 8th 2017 the BBC News website published an article by Jonathan Marcus titled “Is a new Middle East war on Israel’s horizon?“ which was discussed here at the time.

The original version of that article included a map:

Several days later – sometime between February 12th and February 15th 2017 – changes were made to that map:

In July 2018 the BBC News website linked to Marcus’ 2017 article as ‘related reading’.  

Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint to the BBC concerning the inaccurate map in which he pointed out that:

Kibbutz Gadot

“In the map about half way down the page it shows a triangular area to the west of the River Jordan which is shown in yellow as “occupied by Israel”.  (It is the area just to the right of where it says “River Jordan”.)  This area has been internationally recognised as being a part of Israel since the 1949 armistice agreement.  It was a demilitarised zone (DMZ) from 1949 to 1967, but still a part of Israel.  In the middle of that zone was Kibbutz Gadot, which came under frequent bombardment by Syrian forces on the Golan Heights between 1949 and 1967.  The armistice agreement by which that area became a DMZ was superseded on May 31st 1974 by the Israel Syria disengagement agreement, which created a new DMZ, which is shown on your map as the UNDOF area.”

Mr Franklin’s initial complaint was rejected by the BBC and so he submitted a second one on July 27th, to which he received a reply on October 25th.

“Thank you for getting in touch again about our feature article entitled ‘Is a new Middle East war on Israel’s horizon?’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38891358) and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

After considering your point further we have amended this section of the map.

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

The amended map now appears as follows:

No footnote has been added to advise BBC audiences who read that article anytime during the last twenty and a half months that they had been presented with an inaccurate map.

CAMERA Arabic prompts BBC Arabic correction on US and Jerusalem

Last month the BBC Arabic website published a report about the relocation of the Paraguayan embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv (“Paraguay returns its embassy to Tel Aviv”, September 6th), which included the following phrase (translated):

 “the recognition of the United States in Jerusalem as Israel’s united capital”

original

However, the American administration has not in fact recognised Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel but rather considers the municipal borders of Jerusalem – as well as its permanent status – a matter dependent on the future results of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This was made clear in a statement issued by the State Department on its official website. Notably, no similar phrase appeared in the corresponding report that was published on the English language BBC News website.

CAMERA Arabic wrote to BBC Arabic in Arabic to point out the error but did not receive a reply. CAMERA Arabic then wrote a second letter in English – this time to the BBC World Service, which is responsible for the corporation’s foreign language content – informing them of the erroneous statement. This second attempt was successful: a quick response was received and the word “united” was deleted from the report.

However, no footnote has been added to advise audiences of the removal of that previously inaccurate and misleading statement.

BBC amends inaccurate photo caption two months on

As documented here in July, the BBC News website published a report titled “Israel suspends fuel deliveries to Gaza over arson attacks” on the 17th of that month in which readers were initially given an accurate portrayal of the story.

“Israel has tightened restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip, after Palestinians carried out fresh attacks with incendiary balloons.

No fuel will enter through Kerem Shalom until Sunday, but food and medicine deliveries will still be permitted.” [emphasis added]

However in contrast, the caption to a photograph featured later on in the report and a quote from a political NGO informed BBC audiences of “the closure of Kerem Shalom” and the “shutting down of Gaza’s main lifeline”.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those inaccurate representations of the situation, pointing out that – as the BBC obviously was aware – the Kerem Shalom crossing had not been closed or shut down.

On July 26th we received a response from BBC Complaints informing us that it would take more time to reply. On August 14th we received another response stating that BBC Complaints had not been able to reply within the accepted time-frame and referring us to OFCOM. On September 18th we received an additional response.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article reporting that Israel has tightened restrictions on its only cargo crossing with the Gaza Strip, after Palestinians carried out fresh attacks with incendiary balloons (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44858637) and please accept our apologies for the long and regrettable delay in our response.

To hopefully address your complaint now, after considering your points in more detail we have amended the caption of the third photo to now explain that:

An Israeli NGO said the measures could have disastrous implications for Gazans

However we do not consider that the paragraph which refers to a statement from Israeli non-governmental organisation Gisha needs changed for the reasons you’ve outlined.

In particular they do not say that the crossing has been “shut down” but refer to the “shutting down of Gaza’s main lifeline…” which implies ongoing activity in a story about the tightening of restrictions.”

Apparently BBC Complaints would have us believe that audiences would not understand the phrase “shutting down” as meaning closing or ceasing operations.