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 Arabic does stealth ‘clean-up’ after CAMERA Arabic complaint

A post by CAMERA Arabic.

In late October we posted a report by CAMERA Arabic concerning BBC Arabic’s promotion of an “educational” project by environmental engineer Omar Asi: an Israel-free, child-friendly map of “Palestine” from the river to the sea:

BBC Arabic radio promotes Israel-free map of ‘Palestine’ for children

During Asi’s interview with the BBC Arabic radio show “Dardasha Layliya”:

  1. He elaborated on several of the areas of “Palestine” featured on his map including Jaffa and the Negev, both of which are internationally recognised as Israeli territory.
  2. He spoke disapprovingly of the geographical education children from the “interior of Palestine” (i.e. Israeli Arabs) are getting, namely the fact they are being exposed to “maps of Israel” rather than “maps of Palestine”.
  3. He revealed that the map contains a reference to the autobiography of a Hamas mass-murderer Abdullah Barghouthi, currently imprisoned in Israel. Barghouthi is a bomb-maker who was given 67 consecutive life sentences for his part in the murder of 66 Israelis in numerous suicide bombings during the early 2000s.
  4. He expressed his conviction that the illustrations of places on the map would prompt children to find out more about stories behind them which relate to the Palestinian national struggle.
  5. He received full and complete support for his campaign from the show’s host Heba ‘Abd al-Baqi who wished him and his team the best of luck and stated he was calling “from Palestine”. At no point during the interview did Abd al-Baqi challenge, criticise or contextualise Asi’s ideas.

In conclusion, this BBC Arabic radio item normalised the negation of Israel’s right to exist within any borders and denied the right of Israeli Jews to live peacefully while exerting their right of self-determination in their homeland. Asi’s mention of Abdullah Barghouthi also mainstreamed implied support for terrorism against Israeli civilians.

All of the above is a breach of BBC’s editorial guidelines regarding impartiality and offensive speech, as well as a breach of BBC’s style guide regarding the use of the term “Palestine”.

In late November, not long after a CAMERA Arabic submitted a complaint about the item to the BBC, it was mysteriously removed from BBC Arabic’s Soundcloud channel and Facebook webpage. Notably, the other two items aired in the same programme on October 24th still appear on both the Soundcloud channel and the Facebook webpage (the first link leads to the opening item of the show which includes a short description of the map item – the second of the three – at 0:40). 

Although CAMERA Arabic has yet to receive any response to the complaint submitted in November, it would appear that somebody at BBC Arabic took action to hide evidence that this embarrassing item had existed in the first place.

 

BBC Complaints contradicts BBC News website article

Last month we noted that in a report by Aleem Maqbool which was aired on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘The World Tonight’ on November 18th listeners were told that the announcement made by the US Secretary of State concerning the US administration’s change of position regarding Israeli communities in areas that came under Israeli control during the Six Day War “breaks four decades of State Department policy”. [emphasis added]

Listeners also heard Maqbool say that:

“…the timing has surprised some people because, you know, many Palestinians will feel – even over those four decades during which the United States did consider the building of settlements inconsistent with international law, it never really stopped those settlements expanding at a rapid rate to the point now where some of them are as big as cities.”

And:

“One of them in particular – Ma’ale Adumim – cuts the West Bank in half.”

BBC Watch submitted a complaint concerning those two inaccurate claims which included a link to a BBC News website report from the same day in which it was explained that:

“In 1978, the Jimmy Carter administration concluded that the establishment of civilian settlements was inconsistent with international law. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan disagreed with that conclusion, saying he did not believe the settlements were inherently illegal.

Since then, the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations.

However one of the last acts of the Obama administration, at the end of 2016, was to break with US practice by not vetoing a UN resolution that urged an end to illegal Israeli settlements.”

On December 2nd we received a response telling us that BBC Complaints had “referred your complaint to the relevant people and regret that it may take a little longer before we can reply”. On December 21st BBC Complaints informed us that “we’ve not been able to reply to your complaint within the time period we aim for”.

On December 30th we received the following reply:

“Thank you for contacting us The World Tonight on November 18. Firstly, we apologise for the delay in replying here – it’s taken longer than normal and we’re sorry for the undue delay. Your concerns about accuracy and impartiality were raised at the time and the programme team respond here as follows:

‘We stand by the assertion that President Trump’s policy is a significant change of a decades-long approach by the State Department to the issue of the legality of settlements in the West Bank.

Successive US administrations have largely avoided the expression of a public opinion on the issue of legality, although in 1980 the US voted for UN Security Council resolution 465 and in 2016 the US did not veto a UN resolution that declared Israeli settlements had “no legal validity and constitute[s] a flagrant violation under international law”.

With regards to Ma’ele [sic] Adumim and the settlements around Jerusalem: it is clear that their expansion has made a significant change to the 1949 armistice line, significantly reducing the width of the remaining West Bank.’”

UN SC resolution 465 dates from the time of the Carter presidency and the 2016 resolution (2334) from the end of the Obama administration. In other words, the BBC has chosen to ignore the interim thirty-six years during which – according to the BBC itself – “the US adopted a position of describing the settlements as “illegitimate” – though not “illegal” – and sheltering Israel from condemnatory resolutions on the issue at the United Nations”.

Obviously Israeli construction in Ma’ale Adumim or other locations has not “made a significant change to the 1949 armistice line” at all. That line remains as it was when drawn and is specifically defined in that agreement as being “agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either Party relating thereto.”

However Aleem Maqbool did not claim that construction in Ma’ale Adumim had had the effect of “significantly reducing the width of the remaining West Bank” – he claimed that it “cuts the West Bank in half”. That statement of course remains inaccurate, as does the claim that the US Secretary of State’s announcement “breaks four decades of State Department policy”.

Related Articles:

BBC Radio 4 promotes the ‘four decades of US policy’ myth – part one

Political advocacy journalism distorts coverage of US policy on settlements  (CAMERA)

 

 

 

 

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’s ‘Newsround’ breaches BBC Academy style guide

On December 5th the BBC’s ‘Newsround’ website – which is aimed at children aged 6 to 12 – published a photo feature titled “Christmas trees from around the world”:

“It’s December so that means it’s almost Christmas! And of course it also means festive firs are being put up all over the world. Here are some of the best ones from 2019 so far.”

The item features seven captioned photographs taken in various locations: Lithuania, New York, Gaza, Prague, Ramallah, California and Bethlehem. In other words, three out of the seven images (42.8%) portray Christmas trees in areas ruled by either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas.

Moreover, the caption to the fifth image reads:

“Another great display in Palestine! Fireworks lit up the sky as Ramallah switched on the lights for their giant Christmas tree.”

That wording obviously suggests to readers that both Gaza (referring to a previous photo) and Ramallah are located in a country called Palestine.

The BBC Academy’s guide for journalists reporting on ‘Israel and the Palestinians’ states:

“…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.”

BBC Watch has submitted a complaint concerning that use of terminology which misleads the BBC’s younger audiences.

Related Articles:

Breaches of the BBC Academy ‘style guide’ continue

The BBC can only find Christmas trees in ‘Palestine’  David Collier 

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:

Related Articles:

BBC News’ Plett Usher fails on fact checking

 

Changes made to BBC Complaints webform

The BBC has recently made changes to the online form which can be used by members of the public to submit a complaint.

Not only is the look of the form different but the order of some of the questions has been changed – for example the request to provide details of the programme/report concerned now appears after the actual complaint – which may cause some confusion to those familiar with the previous version.

As always we nevertheless recommend using the online form rather than the phone-in or postal options available and we strongly suggest taking a screenshot at the ‘review and submit’ stage for future reference.

Related Articles:

How to Complain to the BBC

 

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

OFCOM reports on the BBC complaints procedure

On October 24th OFCOM – which in April 2017 became the BBC’s external regulator – published its second annual report on the BBC.

“The Royal Charter requires Ofcom to publish a report each year that sets out how we have carried out our functions as the BBC’s independent regulator, and assesses the BBC’s compliance with the requirements of our Operating Framework and associated documents.

Separately, we are required to report at least annually on the BBC’s performance against the measures we set alongside the Operating Licence. This forms the evidence base for our assessment of the BBC’s performance against its public purposes.”

Given the nature of OFCOM, the report is predictably UK focused but it does include some notable insights into the communications regulator’s view of the BBC complaints procedure – especially for the many members of the public who hoped that external regulation would bring about much needed improvements in that system.

As readers may be aware, the first two stages of the BBC’s complaints system are outsourced to a private company and responses to complaints submitted are all too often not received within the designated time frame of 20 days. In fact in late August this year, BBC Watch received an e-mail from BBC Audience Services concerning three unanswered complaints which appeared to suggest an insufficiently staffed system:

“Many thanks for the complaints you have sent since the beginning of August (attached) with apologies for evidently yet-to-come replies due to the volume of correspondence and (un)availability of relevant staff. I hope you will understand…

More to the point, the complaints are all with the appropriate editorial staff and I hope to have responses to them in due course.”  

Replies received at Stage 1a not infrequently give the impression that they are intended to fob off the complainant.

The accessibility of the complaints procedure is in itself an issue: BBC Watch regularly receives e-mails to our ‘contact us’ address from members of the British public who have difficulty navigating the BBC’s complex and tedious online complaints form.

However on page 49 of its report we discover that OFCOM is of the opinion that the outsourced system is up to standard.

“When a BBC viewer or listener has a complaint, it is important that there is a fair and transparent process in place to hear their views. We believe the current BBC complaints system achieves this at the early stages of the complaints process, but we have some significant concerns […] about the later stages. […]

The BBC’s complaints statistics for 2018/19 indicate that ‘BBC First’ continues to work effectively and most complainants are satisfied with the BBC’s final response to their complaint.”

How OFCOM came to that conclusion regarding complainant satisfaction is not explained.

OFCOM does however have “significant concerns” about the later stage of the complaints procedure – the stage handled by the BBC itself.

Page 53: “However, […] we consider the BBC should provide more transparency on the reasons for its findings from the Executive Complaints Unit on compliance with the relevant requirements in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines which reflect the Ofcom Broadcasting Code. We will be addressing the BBC’s lack of transparency in this area as a matter of urgency.”

Page 21: “Transparency is important for public confidence in the operation and effectiveness of the BBC’s complaints process. While we consider, generally, that the BBC First process is working well […] a recent case has given us significant concerns that the way in which the BBC’s Executive Complaints Unit (‘ECU’) currently publishes its decisions does not give transparency to this part of its complaints process and the reasons for the decisions it reaches on compliance with relevant requirements in the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines which reflect the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.”

As for OFCOM’s own handling of complaints concerning BBC content (page 49):

“Between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, Ofcom received a total of 1,539 content standards complaints about the BBC. However, of these: 1,272 complaints were referred back to the BBC under ‘BBC First’. Although these complaints were about BBC programmes, after an initial assessment we found that these complainants had not completed the BBC’s complaints process before submitting their complaint to Ofcom; and 236 complaints had completed the BBC’s complaints process, but the complainant was not satisfied with the outcome. In all but two of these complaints we did not consider that the complaint raised a substantive issue under the Code which warranted further investigation.” [emphasis added]

OFCOM does not specify how many of those 1,272 complaints it referred back to the BBC reached it because BBC Audience Services regularly refers complainants to OFCOM:

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.