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 Monitoring claims to take on the ‘manipulation of messaging’

On November 1st the BBC put out the following Tweet:

The link leads to a blog post titled “BBC Monitoring: spotting fake news since the Second World War” written by the director of BBC Monitoring, Sara Beck.

“BBC Monitoring is a specialist part of BBC News, part of the World Service group. We have experienced journalists and linguists who follow and track international media in foreign languages, in over 150 countries and about 100 languages.

We monitor that information, we report and analyse it, and we work on a subscription website basis. All our content is available to the BBC and to the UK Government and we also have commercial customers. […]

BBC Monitoring was set up to counter propaganda from Nazi Germany in the war, explaining propaganda and spotting messaging in media. Verification – and then the reporting of stories where fake news is part of the media, is still part of what we do.

I’m pleased that the World Service is pulling together all its coverage of fake news. Monitoring is a central part of that, and we’re also developing a small team that is solely going to be dedicated to disinformation and the manipulation of messaging in the media in certain parts of the world.”

However, past stories produced by BBC Monitoring have themselves not always been free from “disinformation and the manipulation of messaging”.

BBC WS airbrushes terror out of a story about Palestinian prisoners

BBC Monitoring steers clear of key parts of the Jerusalem story

Dumbing down ME politics with BBC Monitoring

Inaccuracies in BBC backgrounder on Sinai terrorists

BBC Monitoring uses Sykes-Picot anniversary to promote conspiracy theory

BBC Monitoring digs up the dirt with cleaners non-story

BBC Monitoring euphemises terror, whitewashes antisemitism, claims Egyptian Jews ‘vanished’

BBC Monitoring plays down Saudi concerns over Iranian nuclear programme

BBC Monitoring amplifies Iranian Charlie Hebdo conspiracy theory

On BBC Monitoring’s fantasy ‘ban’ and short skirt syndrome

BBC Monitoring’s news: repetition of an anonymous BTL comment

No translation necessary, but BBC Monitoring embroiders

BBC Monitoring amplifies PA outlet’s propaganda

A service announcement for BBC Monitoring

BBC Monitoring puffs wind in the sails of professional anti-Israel campaigners

Let’s hope that the first of those “certain parts of the world” will be BBC Monitoring’s own new offices in Broadcasting House.

 

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

On December 31st the BBC News website published an article titled “How fake news plagued 2017” which provides readers with the following definition under the sub-heading “What is fake news?”.

  • Completely false information, photos or videos purposefully created and spread to confuse or misinform
  • Information, photos or videos manipulated to deceive – or old photographs shared as new
  • Satire or parody which means no harm but can fool people

Other proposed definitions of the phenomenon are wider. As Claire Wardle of First Draft (which is partnered by BBC News) has noted, it can also include misinformation promoted by journalists.

Unsurprisingly, the BBC’s article about ‘fake news’ in 2017 does not include any of its own content – which would not fall under the definition it has chosen to promote.

However, BBC Watch has recorded numerous examples of misinformation promoted by the BBC throughout the past year. Among the inaccurate claims made by the BBC to which we have managed to secure corrections are the following: 

1) The claim that most Gulf Arab countries “now accept the existence of the Jewish state”:

BBC partially corrects ‘The World Tonight’ inaccuracies

2) The claim that Jerusalem as a whole is “occupied”:

Following complaint, BBC Arabic corrects partisan terminology

3) The claim that nine people murdered in a terror attack in 2002 were “Jewish settlers”:

BBC Watch secures another correction to a BBC Arabic article

4) The claim that an attack in Syria was carried out by Israel:

BBC News website amends claim of Israeli strike in Syria

5) The claim that Tel Aviv is “the Israeli capital”:

BBC Watch prompts edit of BBC WS inaccurate location of Israel’s capital

6) The claim that Jews rioted in Manchester in the 1940s:

After nearly 3 months, BBC finally corrects Manchester inaccuracy

Error acknowledged, complaint upheld – yet BBC inaccuracy still remains online

7) The claim that Israel was “carved out of land which had belonged to the Palestinians”:

BBC WS acknowledges inaccurate claim in history show

8) The claim that Mt Scopus and the Hebrew University are “Israeli settlements”:

BBC Watch prompts amendment to inaccurate BBC map

9) The claim that the Battle of Beersheba “led to” the Balfour Declaration:

Inaccurate BBC Balfour Declaration claim misleads audiences

10) The claim that “most Jewish organisations” rejected the 1947 Partition Plan:

BBC Watch complaint on Partition Plan inaccuracy upheld

11) The claim that a convicted soldier held the rank of sergeant:

BBC News website twice reports convicted soldier’s rank inaccurately

12) The claim that attacks on Israeli communities were carried out using “mortars”:

Correction secured to inaccurate BBC News website claim about Gaza attacks

The BBC’s narrow definition of ‘fake news’ is of particular interest given that just last month the corporation announced that it was “launching a new scheme to help young people identify real news and filter out fake or false information”.

“James Harding, the director of BBC News, said: “This is an attempt to go into schools to speak to young people and give them the equipment they need to distinguish between what’s true and what’s false.” […]

“I think that people are getting the news all over the place – there’s more information than ever before,” said Harding.

“But, as we know, some of it is old news, some of it is half truths. Some of it is just downright lies. And it’s harder than ever when you look at those information feeds to discern what’s true and what’s not.”

Given the above examples (as well as countless others) of misinformation promoted by the BBC – along with its notoriously slow complaints procedure and inadequate corrections mechanism which does not even include a dedicated corrections page on the BBC News website – one might well conclude that the physician first needs to heal himself.

BBC Watch would like to thank all the many readers who contacted us during 2017 to bring problematic BBC content to our attention. Please continue to write in – your tips are an invaluable contribution to our work of identifying content that breaches BBC editorial guidelines and trying to secure corrections to claims that mislead and misinform BBC audiences in a manner no less pernicious than the type of ‘fake news’ that the BBC does recognise.