Another ‘stealth’ correction on the BBC News website

As was noted here last week, a BBC News website article from February 12th included the following statements:

“Israeli newspapers quoted the national water authority as saying the figures quoted by the European Parliament chief were “wrong”, with Israelis receiving 170,000 litres of water per person per year and Palestinians more than 110,000 litres.

However, the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said last month that per capita water use in Israeli towns – 242 litres – was three-and-a-half times higher than by Palestinians in the West Bank.”

Following a reader’s complaint which pointed out the BBC’s confusion of water consumption with allowances, that section of the article was amended and now reads as follows:

amendment Schulz article

BBC audiences are however not informed of the amendment to the report in a footnote and of course those who had already viewed the item during the two days which passed between its publication and the amendment would be highly unlikely to revisit it just to see if any sort of correction has been made, meaning that the initial misleading impression will remain.

The BBC’s ‘Corrections & Clarifications’ webpage specifically notes that:

“This page contains the BBC’s responses to editorial, technical and corporate issues. It includes apologies, significant corrections, statements and responses, and findings from the BBC Trust.

It does not include routine corrections to news stories, minor on-air apologies and schedule changes.” [emphasis added]

In other words, the BBC – an organization supposedly committed to standards of accuracy – apparently does not deem it necessary to relieve members of its audience of any misleading impressions they may have received from its online news output. 

It really would not be so difficult for the BBC News website to set up a dedicated corrections page along the lines of the one run by the NYT. As Craig Silverman wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review in 2011:

“The point of an online corrections page is to have a centralized place where readers can see the latest mistakes and corrections. It gives them the opportunity to discover if a recent article they read, or reporting they heard or saw, has been updated or corrected. It also provides a basic element of transparency. A dedicated page makes corrections more visible and accessible, and it increases the likelihood that people will receive the corrected information. After all, that’s the point of making correction in the first place.”

One would naturally expect that an organisation which aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism” would be enthusiastic about taking onboard such a simple method of increasing transparency and improving its reputation for accuracy.



Reader secures correction to inaccurate claim in BBC website report

h/t Funzarian

On February 10th we pointed out here that in an article from the same date titled “Palestinian refugees’ suffering in Syria’s Yarmouk camp” by Yolande Knell and Yousef Shomali it was claimed that: 

“The unofficial camp was set up as a home for refugees who left or were forced from their original homes because of the 1948 war that led to the creation of Israel.”

As was noted at the time:

“Obviously, the average reader would take that sentence to mean that Israel was created after – and as a result of – the 1948 war. Clearly, that claim is inaccurate and actively misleads audiences with regard to the fact that the 1948 war began on May 15th 1948 – the day after Israel declared independence – when the nascent state was attacked by five Arab countries and an assortment of irregulars and foreign volunteers.”

BBC Watch reader Funzarian also noticed that historical inaccuracy and contacted the BBC News website’s Middle East desk. The reply received stated:

“As you correctly point out, the war followed the creation of Israel, and we have changed the wording accordingly.”

The relevant passage of the BBC report now reads as follows:

Amended Yarmouk art

Although the correction is obviously welcome and necessary, no footnote informing readers that it has been made is appended to the article and of course audience members who had already read the article before the amendment was made will remain unaware that they were misled with regard to historical facts. This latest example once again underlines the need for a dedicated webpage informing readers of corrections and amendments made to articles appearing on the BBC News website.

Iran’s Press TV claims army of pro-Israel propagandists occupy BBC

If you have managed to simultaneously draw fire from the Iranian regime’s Press TV, Ali Abunimah’s ‘Electronic Intifada’, the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Hamas and David Icke, then some might say you were doing something right. 

A sensational headline at Press TV informs us that “An army of pro-Israeli propagandists occupy BBC“, with the same title being used by shape-shifting lizard aficionado David Icke. ‘Electronic Intifada’ goes with the slightly more subdued header “BBC editor urged colleagues to downplay Israel’s siege of Gaza” in an article written by the PSC’s Amena Saleem, as does Hamas’ ‘military wing’ on its website. Nureddin Sabir of ‘Redress‘ claims “BBC editor tells staff to be soft on Israel“. 

So why exactly are all of the above (and quite a few more) in such a tizzy? Well the former head of the BBC News website’s Middle East desk Tarik Kafala recently moved on to become head of the BBC Arabic Service (mabrouk!) and his replacement is Raffi Berg

Mr Berg has been working at the Middle East desk for some time and apparently during last November’s ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’ he tried to ensure that his colleagues adhered to BBC standards of accuracy by writing the following e-mails:

“Please remember, Israel doesn’t maintain a blockade around Gaza. Egypt controls the southern border. Israel maintains a blockade around its borders with Gaza, as well as a naval blockade. It also controls Gaza’s airspace. We’ve mistakenly said “around Gaza” in a number of recent stories, which has generated complaints.”


“The way we have been wording our paragraph on when the fighting started is causing endless complaints. It’s the specific reference in time which is upsetting people. We have been saying: The conflict began last Wednesday when Israel killed a Hamas military leader, saying it wanted an end to rocket attacks from Gaza. More than 110 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed. To a lot of people, the conflict was already raging, and they interpret that as blaming or putting undue emphasis on Israel. Can we please use the following form of words which gets round that: Israel launched its offensive, which it says is aimed at ending rocket fire from Gaza, with the killing on Wednesday of a Hamas military leader. More than 110 Palestinians and three Israelis have been killed since then.”

Of course any objective observer would applaud Mr Berg’s efforts to promote accuracy and impartiality in BBC reporting. BBC Watch trusts that he will continue to do so in his new position and wishes him all the best. 

Salafist quoted in BBC rejection of complaint supports Jihad in Syria

Readers will no doubt remember our recent publication of the reply from the BBC News website’s Middle East desk received by a reader in response to a complaint concerning Ahmed Maher’s article of May 1st 2013 in which he claimed that he could not find video evidence of Tunisian Islamists threatening Tunisian Jews.

The BBC reply based its dismissal of the complaint upon statements procured by BBC Arabic’s Ahmed Maher from one Sheikh Bashir bin Hassan. 

“I spoke to Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan, one of the most prominent Salafi, Wahabi sheikhs in post-revolution Tunisian, and asked him again about two things: the chants and the protest in front of the Tunis synagogue. He said: ‘The chants were not aimed at the Tunisian Jews; make no mistake. It was directed at Israel because Israel is a very sensitive issue in the Muslim world. Our Prophet Muhammad asked us to take good care and protect non-Muslims living in our countries like Christians and Jews.’

“Regarding the Tunis synagogue video, Sheikh Bashir Bin Hassan said it was ‘misleading because it was taken out of context. The protest was not against the Tunisian Jews but rather it was in support of Salafists and other Islamist forces in Egypt. The protesters were heading towards the Egyptian embassy in Tunis and they stopped for moments in front of the synagogue to express their anger at the Zionist entity’s policies’.”

As we remarked at the time:

“Get it? According to the BBC, if Tunisian Islamists (and presumably any elsewhere too) chant “Killing the Jews is a duty” or “Khaybar, Khaybar ya Yahud” or ”the army of Mohammed will return”, then local Jews have nothing whatsoever to worry about because in fact they are not referring to them – or indeed to Jews at all – but to Israel, which should apparently be perfectly understandable. And the BBC website’s Middle East desk is quite sure of that because a prominent Salafist – who obviously thinks it unremarkable to chant hate speech relating to “the Zionist entity’s policies” in front of a synagogue in Tunisia – told them so.”

In another recent report by Ahmed Maher (“Syria conflict: Why did my Tunisian son join the rebels?“, May 15th 2013, filmed version here) we learn that Maher’s reliance upon – and amplification of – the opinions of the Saudi Arabia-educated Sheikh was not a one-off event. We also gain further insight into the views of the man the BBC News website’s Middle East desk apparently considers a quotable authority. Ahmed Maher & Salafists 2

“Many imams, like Sheikh Bashir bin Hassan, endorse jihad in Syria openly and are proud of what they see as the “heroic acts of the young jihadists”.

“They are on a humanitarian mission. The West insists on associating jihad and Salafism to terrorism, which is not true,” Sheikh Bashir told me in an interview inside a mosque in the town of Masakin, 200km (124 miles) south of Tunis.

For Sheikh Bashir, it is justifiable for Sunni Muslims to take arms against the Assad forces, who belong to a Shia sect, to protect oppressed fellow Sunnis – a stance that reflects the sectarian overtone of the conflict.

And he accuses the West of double standards.

“Let’s imagine that the British government decided to attack a county with scud missiles to stamp out a peaceful rebellion. Europeans would be watching entire families being slaughtered day in day out. What would the young do? They would flock in droves to England to protect the oppressed.” “

BBC licence fee payers will no doubt be very interested to know that the BBC considers it acceptable to judge the merits of a complaint on the basis of the opinions of a man who not only subscribes to the inherently antisemitic Wahhabi ideology, but is also openly supportive of jihadist violence.