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. 

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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

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

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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.