An overview of BBC Watch prompted corrections in 2019

Throughout 2019 BBC Watch prompted the following corrections to BBC content on various platforms:

January:

BBC Radio 4 corrected an inaccurate claim concerning Israel’s Christian population.

After second complaint, BBC clarifies inaccurate claim about Israel’s Christian population

BBC adds missing link following further complaint

February:

The BBC Sport website amended a misrepresentation of a statement from Israel’s foreign ministry.

BBC Watch prompts correction to BBC Sport report

The BBC News website amended claims concerning Lebanese casualties during the Second Lebanon War in three reports.

BBC News website amends Second Lebanon War claim

March:

The BBC News website corrected a report concerning the mixed prayer area at the Western Wall.

BBC News website corrects Western Wall report following complaints

April:

BBC Radio 4 apologised for breaching the corporation’s own style guide on the use of the term Palestine.

BBC apologises for ‘unfortunate oversight’

The BBC News website amended a misleading headline in a profile of Benny Gantz.

BBC News amends errors in election candidate profile

The BBC News website corrected three articles in which it was claimed that the Gaza Strip is under the control of the Palestinian Authority.

BBC News corrects inaccurate ‘Palestinian unity government’ claims

May:

The BBC News website removed a video in which a false Hamas claim concerning the death of a baby and a pregnant woman in the Gaza Strip was amplified.

Islamic Jihad unravels BBC amplification of Hamas claim

The BBC News website corrected a mistranslation in an article about vultures in the Golan Heights.

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate portrayal of the Jewish day of rest.

BBC Watch prompts two BBC News website corrections

The BBC Arabic website removed a Nazi analogy.

BBC Watch prompts removal of Nazi analogy from BBC Arabic website

June:

The BBC News website removed an inaccurate claim concerning water from a profile of the Golan Heights.

BBC News website removes inaccurate claim from online profile

The BBC News website belatedly amended a claim concerning women’s rights in Iran.

Over four months on BBC News amends claims about women’s rights in Iran

The BBC News website corrected a false claim concerning Israel’s extradition policy.

BBC Watch prompts correction to inaccurate extradition claim

July:

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate quote from the US Ambassador to Israel.

BBC Watch prompts correction of inaccurate US ambassador quote

September:

BBC World Service radio re-edited a programme in which it was claimed that there is a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip.

BBC WS radio corrects inaccurate claim of a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip

The BBC News website corrected a report in which Binyamin Netanyahu was described as Israel’s president.

BBC News website gives Israel’s prime minister an upgrade

October:

BBC Radio 4 corrected an inaccurate claim made by the BBC’s Middle East editor.

BBC clarifies inaccurate claim by Jeremy Bowen but fails to meet editorial guidelines

November:

The BBC News website corrected an inaccurate portrayal of an Israeli politician.

BBC News website corrects inaccurate description of Israeli MK

December:

The BBC News website corrected a misrepresentation of the IHRA working definition of antisemitism.

BBC Watch prompts correction to report on French antisemitism resolution

The BBC’s ‘Newsround’ amended a photo feature which breached the corporation’s style guide on the use of the term Palestine.

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

Once again this year we saw inconsistent use of footnotes to inform audiences of amendments to BBC News website reports and the continued absence of a corrections page on that platform means that those who read reports when they are first published – and are unlikely to revisit them at a later date – all too often remain unaware that information they were given was inaccurate.

Likewise, we saw at least one case this year in which the BBC failed to comply with its own editorial guidelines on “Correcting Mistakes”.

A significant proportion of the complaints submitted by BBC Watch in 2019 did not receive a response in the time frame set by the BBC itself and in some cases a response was not received at all. In August we received a communication from the BBC World Service which included:

“…apologies for evidently yet-to-come replies due to the volume of correspondence and (un)availability of relevant staff. I hope you will understand…”

As we have previously stated:

“Regrettably, in the two and a half years since OFCOM became the BBC’s external regulator BBC Watch has been unable to discern any meaningful improvement in the BBC’s handling of complaints which, in contrast to OFCOM’s opinion, we consider to be far too slow in comparison to other media outlets, cumbersome and lacking transparency.”

Related Articles:

OFCOM reports on the BBC complaints procedure

BBC amends ‘Newsround’ Christmas feature which breached style guide

Earlier this week we noted that a December 5th BBC ‘Newsround’ photo feature aimed at children aged 6 to 12 presented a photograph of a Christmas tree in Ramallah as having been taken “in Palestine”.

As we observed, the use of that terminology breaches the BBC Academy’s guide for journalists reporting on ‘Israel and the Palestinians’ and a complaint was submitted by BBC Watch on December 14th.

BBC’s ‘Newsround’ breaches BBC Academy style guide

On December 17th we received an email from BBC Complaints claiming that they were “unable to reply”.

“Thank you for contacting us about the BBC News website.

We regret that at present we’re unable to reply, unless we receive the URL to the article mentioned in your complaint.

Please contact us as you did before and include the above case reference number so we can pick up where we’ve left off.”

The relevant URL was in fact included in our complaint, as shown in the screenshot below:

However by the time that superfluous email from BBC Complaints was sent, the photo feature concerned had been amended and it now carries the date stamp December 16th.

Instead of the original seven photographs – three (42.8%) of which portrayed Christmas trees in areas ruled by either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas – the feature now carries eleven images: the original seven as well as additions from Belarus, Manchester, Moscow and El Salvador.

The caption to the photograph from Ramallah has been changed, with the word “Palestine” replaced by “the Middle East”.

However no footnote has been added to advise BBC audiences of the amendment.

BBC Watch prompts correction to report on French antisemitism resolution

Last week we noted the inaccurate portrayal of a resolution passed by the French parliament in an article which appeared on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page.

BBC News misrepresents French parliament resolution

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that report (including a link to the draft resolution passed by France’s National Assembly) and two days later we received a reply from the BBC News website:

“Thank you for getting in touch about our article France anti-Semitism: Jewish graves defaced with Nazi swastikas.

After considering your point further we have amended this section of the article and added a correction note at the bottom, advising readers of these changes.”

The original version of the report read as follows:

The amended version and the added footnote now read:

 

BBC News website corrects inaccurate description of Israeli MK

Earlier this week we noted that in an article published on the BBC News website on November 22nd, MK Gideon Sa’ar was inaccurately described as “the education minister”.

“Gideon Sa’ar has not been the Minister of Education for over six years. He held that post between March 31st 2009 and March 18th 2013 and since then there have been three other ministers.”

BBC Watch contacted the BBC News website to alert editors to that inaccuracy but over 24 hours later no reply had been received and no correction made. We therefore submitted a complaint on November 24th.

On November 25th we received a response from the BBC News website informing us that:

“This sentence was amended in the hours after publication, to now correctly refer to Gideon Saar as “The former education and interior minister…””

The amendment was in fact made at least two days after publication and no footnote has been added to inform audiences that they were previously given inaccurate information.

Before:

After:

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BBC News’ Plett Usher fails on fact checking

 

BBC clarifies inaccurate claim by Jeremy Bowen but fails to meet editorial guidelines

Earlier this month we documented an inaccurate claim made by the BBC’s Middle East editor during the September 26th edition of the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘From Our Own Correspondent’.

In an item relating to post-election Israeli politics Jeremy Bowen told listeners that:

“Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” [emphasis added]

As was noted here at the time:

“That, however, is not the case: “next month” – i.e. October 2019 – pre-indictment hearings before the attorney general will take place over four working days commencing on October 2nd. As the Times of Israel notes:

“The hearings, which will see Netanyahu’s lawyers argue his conduct was entirely proper and within the boundaries of the law, will stretch over four days and wrap up before the start of the Yom Kippur fast on Tuesday evening.

Prosecution officials told Channel 12 news on Tuesday they hoped to reach a final decision on whether to indict the premier by the end of the year.”

In other words, Bowen’s claim that allegations against Netanyahu will “come to court next month” is inaccurate and misleading to audiences both from the point of view of the time frame presented and with regard to the implication that indictments have already been made. Any potential indictment is dependent upon the outcome of the ongoing hearings and as we see above, that process will take time.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning Bowen’s inaccurate claim which BBC Complaints initially tried to dismiss with the following response:

“Thank you for contacting us regarding From Our Own Correspondent, broadcast on Thursday 26th September.

We have spoken with the programme team about your concerns. During his report Jeremy Bowen says, “Netanyahu has a compelling reason to stay in office. He faces serious allegations of corruption, which he denies. They’re due to come to court next month.” Although a verdict is due to be made by the end of the year we don’t believe it was inaccurate for Jeremy to say “they’re due to come to court next month”, as he was referring to the allegations that were due to be bought forward at this time. We hope this clarifies Jeremy’s statement.”

BBC Watch submitted a second complaint, pointing out that the response received was unsatisfactory:

“What is “due to be made by the end of the year” – is a decision by the Attorney General’s office whether or not to indict Netanyahu on all or any of the three cases. Hence “the allegations” are not “due to come to court next month” as claimed by the BBC – i.e. October – because as yet no indictment has been made. Reasonable members of the audience would understand from Bowen’s words that a court case is due to commence in October and would necessarily conclude from that that an indictment has been made. That is not the case and so Bowen’s claim is both inaccurate and misleading.”

On October 28th we received a further response from BBC Complaints in which once again we see that the BBC takes the liberty of declaring a second response at Stage 1b of the procedure “your first reply”. [emphasis added]

“Thank you for taking the time to contact us again. We are sorry to learn that you were not satisfied with our earlier response.

We’re sorry you had to come back to us and we appreciate why. We always aim to address the specific points raised by our audience and regret any cases where we’ve failed to do this. Your [sic] previous reply didn’t tackle the exact issue you raised and we’d like to offer you a new response here. The following should now be considered your first reply.

We have spoken with the From Our Own Correspondent team about your concerns. They would like to respond with the following:

“Thanks for writing in again and I’m sorry you weren’t happy with the previous reply.

You are right to suggest that Jeremy was referring to the pre-trial hearing with the attorney-general, which took place behind closed doors at the Justice ministry.

Jeremy was using a turn of phrase, to indicate the legal process was reaching its crucial next stage, but in case listeners thought the case was actually coming to court next month we can clarify the point on our complaints website.

The Attorney-General has of course already indicated that charges are likely.”

Thank you again for getting in touch.”

On October 28th the following correction was posted on the BBC’s ‘Corrections and Clarifications’ page:

However, no notification of that correction has been added to the programme’s webpage, where the item is still available to audiences.

The new BBC editorial guidelines published in July state that:

“Where mistakes in our on-demand content, which is available online after broadcast, are unlikely to be a serious breach of editorial standards, a correction should be published on that platform, so that it is visible before the output is played. Such on-demand content does not then normally need to be changed or revoked.

Where mistakes to our on-demand content are likely to be considered a serious breach of editorial standards, the content must be corrected and the mistake acknowledged, or in exceptional cases removed. We need to be transparent about any changes made, unless there are editorial or legal reasons not to do so.”  [emphasis added]

Unfortunately, BBC audiences will continue to be misled by Jeremy Bowen’s inaccurate account because BBC Radio 4 has not complied with those editorial guidelines.

Related Articles:

BBC’s Middle East editor warns against premature claims yet makes one

BBC Complaints makes it up as it goes along

BBC publishes new Editorial Guidelines

CAMERA Arabic prompts correction of three inaccuracies in one BBC report

A BBC article published on September 24th on the network’s Arabic website was corrected last week (no earlier than October 1st, based on the date attributed to a cached copy of the inaccurate version) following a complaint made by CAMERA Arabic on the day of publication.

The article – which aimed to provide a detailed, informed introduction to Israel’s major Arab parties – contained three factual errors, one memorable typo and one major omission – all in one subsection.

Under the headline “What are the components of the Joint Arab List in the Israeli Knesset and [what are] their orientations?”, the article discussed the Joint List – a union of four Israeli parties, three of which self-identify as “Arab” while the fourth, Hadash, describes itself as “Arab-Jewish” (although the vast majority of its voters are estimated to be Arab). 

The inaccuracies appeared in the part of the article portraying one of the Joint List’s components: the nationalist Arab party of the National Democratic Alliance (Balad). The correction addressed all the issues raised by CAMERA Arabic. (all translations, emphasis and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified)

Inaccuracy 1: “Since the 2006 elections, the party maintained a representation of three members in the Knesset…”

That claim has not been accurate for over a year: between August 2018 and April 2019 (the last few months of the 20th Knesset), Balad had 4 MKs as a result of a deal within the Joint List. Until last week, it had 2MKs who were of the 21st Knesset (which was dissolved on Thursday, October 3rd, as the 22nd Knesset was sworn in)

The BBC’s corrected version reads: “Since the 2006 elections, the party maintained a representation of three members in the Knesset until 2018…”

Inaccuracy 2: “…among them is the first Arab female Knesset member, Haneen Zu’bi”

In fact Balad’s Haneen Zu’bi [Zoabi] – elected in 2009 – was the third MK who was an Arab woman. Prior to her were Meretz’s Hussniya Jabara (served as MK 1999-2003) and the late Nadia Hilou from the Labour party who served as MK between 2006-2009.

The BBC’s corrected version reads: “…among them the first female member to enter the Knesset as a representative of an Arab party, Haneen Zu’bi, having been preceded by two female representatives of Arab roots who entered the Knesset inside Israeli parties

This new phrasing is problematic in itself: why was Zu’bi described as “Arab” in the previous version but her two predecessors are described as being “of Arab roots”? Moreover, why are Meretz and Labour described as “Israeli parties” but the Joint List and its components – which compete solely in Israeli elections – described as “Arab”?

Inaccuracy 3: “MK Jamal Zahalka heads the party nowadays”

In fact Zahalka is no longer an MK; he confirmed that he would not seek re-election in December 2018 and indeed was not nominated at all in the election rounds of April 2019 and September 2019. Although he currently retains the title of “Chairman of Balad”, it was political scientist Mtanes Shehadeh, Balad’s secretary general, who was elected head of the party’s list of Knesset nominees last February. Since the April 2019 elections, Shehadeh heads the party’s parliamentary bloc.

The BBC’s corrected version reads “M[K] Mtanes Shehadeh, the party’s secretary general, heads Balad’s parliamentary bloc in the Knesset. Jamal Zahalka, who is no longer a Knesset member, holds the party’s chairmanship.”

Significant typo: “the representatives of the Democratic Alliance in the Joint Arab List refused to recommend that Bibi Gantz would be prime minister.”

The Joint List (with the exception of the Balad members who abstained) recommended Benny Gantz to be the new prime minister. Bibi is the nickname of Gantz’s opponent and incumbent prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu.

Although the amended report’s portrayal of the Balad party includes the fact that its founder and first chairman – Azmi Bishara – fled Israel in 2007, no mention is made of the background to his departure: Bishara is suspected of supplying intelligence to Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group during its war against Israel in the summer of 2006.

 

BBC News website gives Israel’s prime minister an upgrade

On September 23rd the BBC News website published an article titled “What is the United Nations and what does it do?” on its ‘World’ page.

Apparently intended as a backgrounder ahead of the United Nations General Assembly annual conference, the article includes a section sub-headed “Who will and won’t be there?” in which readers were told that among those not attending is “Israel’s President Benjamin Netanahyu”.

Before

Considering the rate at which it produces reports concerning or referring to Netanyahu (who will not be attending the UN event due to coalition negotiations), one would of course expect the BBC to be able to provide audiences with an accurate description of his position and title.

BBC Watch wrote to the BBC News website to inform them that Netanyahu is Israel’s prime minister and its president is Reuven Rivlin and – although we did not receive a reply – the report was corrected several hours later but without any footnote informing audiences of the amendment.

After

 

BBC WS radio corrects inaccurate claim of a ‘siege’ on the Gaza Strip

At the beginning of August BBC World Service radio aired an edition of the programme ‘The Food Chain’ which was titled ‘Food under siege’.

“Emily Thomas meets people who have lived under siege in Aleppo, Syria, the Gaza strip, and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. They reveal the uncomfortable reality of eating behind siege lines.”

BBC WS food programme: inaccurate, lacks context and promotes Hamas propaganda

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that programme’s repeated inaccurate portrayal of the Gaza Strip as being “under siege”, noting that in the week that this programme was aired twice, 1,768 truckloads of goods entered the Gaza Strip from Israel, including 6,785 tons of food. We pointed out that the “intermittent power supply” portrayed in the programme has nothing to do with Israel and that as well as breaching BBC editorial guidelines on accuracy by leading listeners to wrongly believe that the Gaza strip is “under siege”, it also compromises the BBC’s impartiality seeing as that false claim is one of Hamas’ main talking points.

On August 31st we received a reply from the programme’s editor.

“Thank you for your email and your comments about the episode of The Food Chain titled ‘Food under siege’.

I’m sorry you were unhappy with the programme and I should say from the outset that I agree with some of the points you are making.

The use of the word ‘siege’ in the programme was intended to be a colloquial reference to the difficulties of food provision in different parts of the world, with the programme focusing on the creative solutions that people have adopted in such circumstances.

As a food programme our aim was simply to examine how people cook under duress and we didn’t intend to imply there were exact political or military similarities between three different parts of the world.

But on reflection we can see that in the absence of providing more context about Gaza, the title of the programme and the reference to the historical notion of a siege might have led listeners to infer that we thought this was a precise description of the position in Gaza, which was not our intention.

So we agree that this episode would have benefited from more information about the blockade and I am sorry we did not provide this.

This is, as I say, a food programme rather than a detailed examination of the background to any of these conflicts so I do not think we needed to go into any great detail but even within these confines I think we should have provided more context, for the reasons I have suggested.

As a result, we have included more information about the blockade and re-worded the programme script in places where we accept the position in Gaza should have been made clearer.

We have also placed a note on our correction and clarifications page.

Best wishes,

Robb Stevenson, Editor”

We have not yet been able to locate that note on the BBC’s correction and clarifications page but the amended synopsis to the programme now reads:

“Emily Thomas meets people who have lived under siege in Aleppo, Syria, and Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. A journalist reveals how it feels to feast in a cafe in the middle of a city where most are struggling to eat, and an electrician explains why feeding cats in the middle of a war-zone felt like a message of compassion and resistance.

We also hear about the Palestinians living under the blockade of the Gaza strip. A cook explains how to run a catering company when electricity, water and some ingredients are scarce.

This programme was originally broadcast on August 1 but has since been re-edited to provide more context about the Gaza blockade and to distinguish this more clearly from conditions in Aleppo and Sarajevo.”

Several significant amendments have also been made to the programme itself.

Update: The following clarification has been published.

 

 

 

 

BBC Watch prompts correction of inaccurate US ambassador quote

As documented here last month, readers of a BBC News website report headlined “Golan Heights: Israel unveils ‘Trump Heights’ settlement” which was published on June 16th were told that:

“US Ambassador David Friedman, who attended the ceremony, called the settlement “well deserved, but much appreciated”.” [emphasis added]

In fact, Ambassador Friedman said:

“I want to thank you for the extraordinary gesture that you and the State of Israel are making to the president of the United States,” […] “It is well deserved, but it is much appreciated, and we look forward to work[ing] with you and with the government of Israel to continue to strengthen the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Israel.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning that inaccurate representation which included a link to the ambassador’s actual statement. A week later we were informed that “it may take a little longer before we can reply”. Two weeks after the complaint was originally submitted we received a reply which included the following:

“Thank you for writing in with your feedback about the BBC News story “Golan Heights: Israel unveils ‘Trump Heights’ settlement” (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48656431).

I note your concerns about how Ambassador Friedman’s quote was described […]

We have looked at the quote, and would agree that a change is required to make the meaning clearer. The line now reads: “Ambassador David Friedman, who attended the ceremony, called the move “well deserved, but much appreciated”.”

However, no footnote was added to the report to inform readers of that amendment.

The continued absence of a corrections page on the BBC News website of course means that those who read that article between June 16th and July 2nd, when that amendment was made, remain unaware of the fact that they were given inaccurate information.

Related Articles:

BBC misquotes US Ambassador in Golan Heights report

BBC Watch prompts correction to inaccurate extradition claim

Earlier this week we noted that readers of a report by Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield which was published on the BBC News website’s ‘Europe’ page on June 20th were inaccurately informed that Israel “refuses to extradite its nationals”.

BBC Watch submitted a complaint on that issue which included a link to the relevant legislation and examples of extradition cases from recent months. Two days later we received a response from the BBC News website.

“Thank you for getting in touch about our feature article entitled The fake French minister in a silicone mask who stole millions (https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48510027).

You raise a fair point and it was inaccurate to say that Israel “refuses” to extradite its nationals.

After further investigation it’s our understanding that Israel does extradite its citizens, but not often.

We have amended the article to make that clear and added a correction note at the bottom of the article outlining this change.”

The relevant paragraph now reads:

“In 2015, Chikli was found guilty of scamming money out of French corporations by pretending to be their chief executive. But by this time he was living in Israel, which doesn’t often extradite its nationals.”

The footnote reads:

Related Articles:

BBC’s Paris correspondent misleads on Israel and extradition