Radio 4 provides more evidence of BBC double standards when reporting terrorism

Further examples of the double standard evident in the BBC’s use of the term terrorism were recently supplied by a series of programmes broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

On August 29th the station’s consumer affairs programme ‘You & Yours’ – presented by Winifred Robinson – broadcast an edition titled “Terrorism vs Tourism” which discussed the impact of terrorism “on people flying to Mediterranean resorts”.You and Yours 1

“Terrorists are increasingly targeting tourist resorts and destination cities. In today’s You & Yours we report on the human impact of terror attacks and the long-term affect [sic] on the countries they target.

New research commissioned by You & Yours shows to what extent passenger numbers travelling to British holiday destinations, including France, Tunisia, Turkey, and Egypt have been affected by attacks over the last two years.”

Unsurprisingly, Israel – which has both past and recent experience of dealing with the effects of terrorism on its tourist industry – was not included among those “Mediterranean resorts”. 

The following day – August 30th – another programme on the same topic was aired under the title “Call You and Yours: how has terrorism at home or abroad affected your holiday plans?“.You and Yours 2

“Terrorism is at the top of the agenda at the moment, after high profile attacks in Paris, Nice and Tunisia. We’d like to know if it’s made a difference to how you live your life. Perhaps you’ve changed your destination – or had second thoughts about taking your family abroad. 
We’d also like to hear from you if you work in the tourism industry, tell us how has terrorism affected business.”

The September 5th edition of ‘You & Yours’ included an item on “Egypt tourism“.

“Exclusive research commissioned by You and Yours shows how visitor numbers to Egypt are dropping since political unrest and terror attacks – we report on how the tourism industry is suffering and how the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice is decided.”

Throughout all three of those programmes, the term terror was used frequently and appropriately. Obviously the programme makers did not feel uncomfortable making the kind of “value judgements” which the BBC editorial guidelines on language when reporting terrorism instruct them to avoid.

“Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements.  We try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution.  When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.” […]

“…we don’t change the word “terrorist” when quoting other people, but we try to avoid the word ourselves; not because we are morally neutral towards terrorism, nor because we have any sympathy for the perpetrators of the inhuman atrocities which all too often we have to report, but because terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones.”You and Yours 3

Last month we noted here that the BBC had found a ‘working definition’ of terrorism with which it is apparently comfortable – at least when reporting on incidents in Europe.

“Terrorist attacks are acts of violence by non-state actors to achieve a political, social, economic or religious goal through fear, coercion or intimidation.”

Once again this series of Radio 4 programmes demonstrates all too clearly that those editorial guidelines are not being applied in a uniform and consistent manner. When the BBC wants to use words such as ‘terror’, ‘terrorism’ or ‘terrorist’, it does. When it wants to make “value judgements”, it does and in fact what dictates the BBC’s choice of terminology is “a political position” of precisely the type it claims to try to avoid.

Absurdly, while evidence to the contrary accumulates, the corporation continues to claim that its coverage of terrorism is consistent, accurate and impartial.

Related Articles:

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

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

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BBC ESC: ‘lack of due accuracy’ on Davies Tweet from Operation Pillar of Cloud

As long-time readers of BBC Watch know, we have frequently highlighted the fact that BBC Editorial Guidelines apply to all BBC content – including social media. Twitter – being fast-moving ‘instant’ messaging and cutting out the editorial ‘middle-man’ between the journalist and the public – is of course particularly susceptible to breaches of those guidelines. 

Last November Mr Stephen Franklin submitted a complaint to the BBC regarding two Tweets sent during ‘Operation Pillar of Cloud’. One of those Tweets originated from the BBC World News account and the outcome of the complaint was documented here. The other Tweet originated from the account of the then BBC Jerusalem Bureau correspondent Wyre Davies and the BBC’s Editorial Standards Committee published its findings with regard to Mr Franklin’s complaint of inaccuracy on August 29th 2013 – on page 21 here

Although Mr Franklin’s complaint related only to the accuracy of the Tweet – not its impartiality – the committee nevertheless saw fit to publish the following finding:

“Finding: Partially upheld with regard to Accuracy. Not in breach with regard to Impartiality.”

The committee’s report states:

“BBC News correspondent Wyre Davies reported from Gaza during the operation. On 15 November 2012 at 7.25am Mr Davies sent the following tweet from his Twitter account:

In this “limited operation” at least 13 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have been killed – nearly all civilians. #Gaza.

This message was re-tweeted by @BBCWorld at 7.54am.”

Here is a screenshot of the Tweet with its local time time-stamp rather than the GMT time-frame cited by the committee.

Davies casualties tweet

Whilst accepting that the Tweet breached BBC Editorial Guidelines on accuracy (the Palestinians killed at that point were not “nearly all civilians” as we pointed out at the time), the committee makes much in its findings of the circumstances in which it was written.

“The Committee noted that Mr Davies was tweeting about the situation while working as a BBC correspondent in Gaza..”

“The Committee considered that the lack of due accuracy in the tweet which was the subject of this complaint likely arose from the particular, fast-paced and chaotic circumstances in which the correspondent was reporting.”

“The Committee did not regard this breach as reflecting anything other than the extreme pressure under which Mr Davies and other journalists in Gaza had been working, and it commended the overall quality and integrity of his reporting across various media during “Operation Pillar of Defence”.  “

“The Committee considered that readers would have been aware that Mr Davies was working in a conflict zone and would have understood that this was a chaotic, very fast-moving situation and that figures would be changing.”

However, at the time that Tweet was sent – some 18 hours or so after the beginning of the operation – Wyre Davies was not in Gaza, but in Israel – as one of his earlier Tweets shows and as documented at the time by BBC Watch.

Davies tweet israel border

According to his own Twitter timeline, Davies entered the Gaza Strip nearly an hour and a half after sending the Tweet concerned.

Davies no mans land tweet

The findings also state:

“In this case, the Committee noted that Mr Davies said his information had come from health officials in Gaza who had told him that “more than half” of the 13 Palestinian deaths were of civilians. This was clearly a source which it was appropriate for journalists to cite. However, there had been no attribution to the source in the tweet itself. The Committee noted the practical considerations specific to Twitter of including attributions within 140 characters.”

This is not the first time that the BBC’s reliance upon information obtained from “health officials in Gaza” has proved to be an issue and unfortunately, the BBC Trust does not appear to be sufficiently aware of the problematic aspects of that practice

The committee’s findings also include the following:

“The Committee recognised that, as in any fast-moving story of conflict, the true picture became apparent only over time with reports emerging piecemeal from different sources, and they noted Mr Davies’ comments that:

“It is not surprising that few agencies or broadcasters had exactly the same figures at exactly the same time, because the number of casualties rose quickly and some of us would have been aware of ‘new’ additions, simply because we either witnessed those deaths or were quickly on the scene. The ‘fog of war’ is also something that armchair critics at home rarely experience – we were not covering the State opening of Parliament but a brutal and confusing conflict at the end of which, by common consent, more civilians than combatants were killed on both sides.””

Of course Wyre Davies’ claim that “by common consent more civilians than combatants were killed on both sides” is also inaccurate and it is regrettable that the ESC chooses to repeat such an inaccuracy in an official document.  

Neither he nor the Editorial Standards Committee appears to have taken note of the fact that two of the Palestinian casualties included in the numbers Davies cited in his Tweet – one of them the son of a BBC employee – were later shown to have been killed by a short-falling terrorist rocket. In its uncalled-for ruling on the impartiality of that Tweet, the ESC has obviously not taken into consideration the fact that by the time it was sent, Davies’ colleagues had begun an extensive campaign of emotion-fuelled promotion of those deaths as having been caused by Israel – despite having no factual evidence for that claim – thus creating a climate of ‘group think’ which may well have influenced the composition of the Tweet, and with neither Davies nor any other members of the BBC team in Gaza at the time having shown any evidence of questioning that false narrative.  

Wyre Davies has since moved on to pastures new, leaving those whom he condescendingly belittles as “armchair critics at home” to continue living in the “fog of war” which is for some of us a permanent state of affairs rather than a mere temporary assignment.  He and his other colleagues who have likewise since relocated elsewhere also leave us to deal with the fall-out of unprofessional, inaccurate and partial reporting by correspondents who do not appear to appreciate the consequences of shoddy journalism. Unfortunately, the BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee’s appreciation of those consequences appears to be little better. 

 

Listener complaint partially upheld but BBC programme still available

The Jewish Chronicle informs us that:

“The BBC has partly upheld a complaint that a World Service programme misled listeners about the health of Palestinians in Gaza.

A segment on the Health Check show in October last year looked at the situation facing patients suffering from kidney failure.

It suggested that medical supplies and equipment had been blocked by Israeli authorities, hampering the treatment of the Palestinians.

Reporter Angela Robson focused on a six-year-old girl and said the “blockade of Gaza is having a devastating impact on her health”. The claim drew a complaint from a listener.”

According to the findings of the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit:

ECU

Of course, all commissioned output is supposed to comply with BBC editorial standards and so the failure to do so in this case can only be attributed to BBC staff, rather than to the freelance reporter who made the programme – especially as the sentence highlighted in the ECU decision above was actually said by the programme’s presenter Claudia Hammond. 

“2. Editorial Control

2.1 The BBC will have final editorial control over all BBC versions of programmes including all associated online and interactive elements commissioned from independent producers.

2.2 All programmes including online and interactive elements commissioned by the BBC from independent producers will be subject to all relevant BBC guidelines and published compliance procedures including without limitation the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and Fair Trading Guidelines.”

Mr Stephen Franklin – who made the complaint which brought about the eventual ECU ruling – notes that despite it, the programme concerned has not been removed. In fact it is still available for listening on the internet (here from around 12:20) with no indication to listeners that parts of the broadcast have been found to be in breach of BBC editorial guidelines. 

Health Check 3.10.12

Obviously, there is no point in the BBC wasting public resources to address audience complaints if, in cases in which those complaints are found to be valid, the output concerned is neither subsequently amended to reflect that fact, or removed. 

More evidence of BBC double standards on terrorism

In a ninety word article dated June 14th 2013, the BBC rightly used the word ‘terrorist’, or versions of it, no fewer than five times.

But no – this is not ‘man seen on white donkey in Jerusalem’ week, or even a sign that the BBC has at long last come to its senses and begun describing Hamas or Hizballah activity for what it is.

This article is about a subject much closer to BBC home – terrorism in Northern Ireland – and it shows once again that the BBC’s supposed aversion to “value judgements” as outlined in the editorial guidelines on terrorism is entirely relative – and politically motivated. 

NI terrorism

Related articles:

Where can terrorism be named as such by the BBC?

When did the BBC lose the plot on terrorism?

Stop press! BBC uses word ‘terrorist’!

BBC R4 breaches editorial guidelines in ‘Today’ interview with Jack Straw

The Friday June 14th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme included an item in which presenter John Humphrys spoke with Labour MP Jack Straw and Dr. Dore Gold about the election in Iran. 

Today prog 14 6

The relevant section of the programme can be heard here from 1:35:30 for a limited period of time.

Following remarks by Straw, including claims of demonisation and humiliation of Iran by the West along with doubts expressed with regard to the intentions of Iran’s nuclear programme, Humphrys says at 1:40:06:

“Let me put that to you Dr. Gold, because if anybody has demonised them, you could argue it has been Israel.”

After Dore Gold’s reply, at 1:41:30, Jack Straw says: [emphasis added]

“Well hang on a second. Israel has the most extensive nuclear weapons capability there [Middle East]. It has no territorial ambitions apart from stealing the land of the Palestinians and it’s not going to use nuclear weapons for that, but it has [a] very extensive nuclear weapons programme…”

Humphrys follows with:

“Right, well you can’t argue…let me put that to Dr. Gold. You can’t argue with that, can you Dr Gold?”

Actually, one can – and indeed should – argue with such a gratuitous, dishonest and inaccurate cheap slur – and that is exactly what John Humphrys should have done as the representative of an organisation committed to accuracy and impartiality. The BBC’s Editorial Guidelines on live broadcasts state:

“If offensive comments are expressed during live interviews, the interviewer should normally intervene, challenge the comments where appropriate and/or distance the BBC from the comments. If this doesn’t happen we should make an on-air apology at the earliest opportunity. Potentially offensive comments include remarks that may be interpreted as, for example, racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against a religious group, or reflecting an unflattering national stereotype.”

And:

“If it is established during a live programme that a factual error has been made and we can accurately correct it then we should admit our mistake clearly and frankly. Saying what was wrong as well as putting it right can be an important element in making an effective correction. Where the inaccuracy is unfair, a timely correction may dissuade the aggrieved party from complaining. Any serious factual errors or potential defamation problems should be referred immediately to Programme Legal Advice.”

And:

“Due impartiality lies at the heart of the BBC’s standards. It is a core value and no area of programming is exempt from it. It is vital that any package or interview broadcast during a live event is impartial and fair. Care should be taken to ensure that there is no suggestion of bias. This can be achieved by careful casting and ensuring the presenter/interviewer is properly briefed to conduct a robust interview.”

But instead, we find that – apparently not content with the real time broadcast of that defamatory and libellous lie from Straw – the BBC actually amplified it further, despite the fact that those same Editorial Guidelines clearly state: [emphasis added]

“Live events are often repeated in highlights programmes and are increasingly available on various ‘On Demand’ platforms (for example on the Radio Player, Interactive Television, Video On Demand or the iPlayer). Programme Editors should ensure that any derogatory remarks which caused concern on transmission are edited from any repeat or online provision. Where a defamatory remark has been made, programme editors should ensure they comply with all legal advice given. It is also the responsibility of the programme editors to ensure that, where appropriate, programmes with unexpected legal issues are not repeated or made available ‘On Demand’.”

In addition to the programme being made available to listeners for a week on the programme’s webpage, on a separate  “live” webpage we find an invitation to readers to “listen to the discussion” with a link leading to another webpage on the BBC News site featuring a recording of the item. 

Today prog Straw

Straw 3

The ‘Today’ programme’s official Twitter account also promoted another audio version of the item.

twitter today straw

Today audioboo

So there we have it. Once again the BBC makes a laughing stock of its supposed standards of accuracy and impartiality by not only failing to challenge a deliberate inaccuracy spouted in a live interview, but by promoting it widely afterwards. 

When did the BBC lose the plot on terrorism?

h/t Tsipi Kuper-Blau

Readers are no doubt familiar with the tortuous wording of the BBC’s editorial guidelines on the subject of terrorism. 

“We must report acts of terror quickly, accurately, fully and responsibly.  Terrorism is a difficult and emotive subject with significant political overtones and care is required in the use of language that carries value judgements.  We try to avoid the use of the term “terrorist” without attribution.  When we do use the term we should strive to do so with consistency in the stories we report across all our services and in a way that does not undermine our reputation for objectivity and accuracy.

The word “terrorist” itself can be a barrier rather than an aid to understanding. We should convey to our audience the full consequences of the act by describing what happened.  We should use words which specifically describe the perpetrator such as “bomber”, “attacker”, “gunman”, “kidnapper”, “insurgent”, and “militant”.  We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments about who is doing what to whom.”

But if perhaps we were under the impression that “value judgements” were a product of the 21st century European fashion for political correctness, the document below shows that in fact the BBC has adopted an ambivalent attitude towards domestic and foreign terrorism for at least twenty-five years – with the resulting public impression concerning its bias and double standards having been recognised even then.  

Letter Prof Kuper

Twenty five years. That means that a whole generation – and more – of BBC audiences have been imbibed with the propaganda of whitewashed Middle East terrorism. And still it goes on. 

Related articles:

Where can terrorism be named as such by the BBC?

Stop press! BBC uses word ‘terrorist’!