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Here Lies BBC: Your BBC is not infallible, dear Media Sepoys

One must admit that despite everything, BBC has a sound system in place to acknowledge fake news and take corrective measures. This is one quality that the Sepoys who are blindly defending BBC should perhaps take a lesson from.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has published a rather interesting “research” paper on fake news and what motivates people to generate and/or share fake news. They attributed the cause to “Nationalism” based on extremely dubious methodology, questionable data collection and shoddy sources. They then removed The Better India from their list after their founder raised questions and demanded an explanation for their name being included.

Another stupendously questionable attribute of the “research” was that they had proclaimed that publications or handles even with a single instance of factually inaccurate news have been included in the list. If that were the case, every single publication in India and abroad should have been included and not just the ones which don’t suit the BBC ideologically, including BBC itself.

Once OpIndia debunked this ‘research’ threadbare, BBC staffers reached out to defend their research and said that their researchers would post a detailed response. That has not happened yet. The research paper has been pulled down and we wait for it to be published again with the explanation that the BBC functionaries say the researchers are preparing.

However, several media personalities and “liberals” from India trashed OpIndia. The standard template was “Now OpIndia will question BBC?”, implying that a desi portal should not have the temerity to question the white, infallible, colonial BBC.

We can’t blame them completely. Unfortunately, the media space functions based on a code. Like the Omerta. Where questioning each other is considered is frowned upon, and question the white master which is the mothership of entitlement is a cardinal sin.

OpIndia made two grave errors. We did not conform to their liberal bias and we questioned, with irrefutable facts, the infallible, pristine BBC.

However, BBC is not the winged messenger of Jesus as many in India would have us believe. BBC has had a controversial relationship with the truth in the past. Some slips and misses are usual for any publication that releases copious amounts of data every day. The chance of human error can absolutely never be eradicated.

However, when BBC takes the high moral ground and brands other publications as “fake news” without an iota of proof and a severely biased data set and analysis, it becomes imperative to remind them of their own legacy.

It is also imperative to convey to the Sepoys of the West that just because BBC is ‘phoren publication’ certainly doesn’t mean they are infallible. Certainly doesn’t mean that we have to accept the gibberish they throw at us as the insurmountable truth. And definitely doesn’t mean that they are beyond questioning.

To that end, here is a list of some instances where BBC missed sorely.

1. BBC tenders apology for reports about Ethiopia aid money

In 2010, BBC published a series of reports implying that millions of pounds in charity money raised by Live Aid to fight famine in Ethiopia was spent on weapons. They had reported that the aid had been diverted by the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front rebel group in the beleaguered African country to buy guns.

Following these reports, Bob Godolf, who is the founder of Live Aid and Band Aid Trust complained to Office of Communication of the United Kingdom.

The BBC initially announced that it was standing by its report and claimed to have evidence to back up its stance. Then, in November 2010, it conceded that it had no evidence to back its claims up and agreed to run a series of unreserved apologies. In fact, not only did they apologise for their reports, they even apologised to Gedolf because BBC had wrongly claimed that Gedolf had refused to respond to its series of lies about the aid money.

Reportedly, the apology that was broadcast by BBC read:

‘The BBC wishes to apologise unreservedly to the Band Aid Trust for this misleading and unfair impression. The BBC had no evidence for these statements, and they shouldn’t have been broadcast.’

2. Israel dog stoning hoax

On 18th June 2011, BBC published a story about a Jerusalem Court ordering a dog to be stoned to death. The story said that the dog walked into a Jerusalem court and supposedly “reminded a judge of a curse passed on a now deceased secular lawyer about 20 years ago when judges bid his spirit to enter the body of a dog”. Later, the dog was stoned to death per the Court’s orders.

This story turned out to be a hoax. The Jerusalem court summarily denied the story that was reported. On 22nd June, BBC unpublished the story and issued an apology in the form of a blog.

“We failed to make the right checks. We should have never written the article and apologise for any offence caused”, said the BBC retraction.

Many publications often fall for such hoaxes and as long the publication employs a system of checks and balances, issues apology and retracts, all must be forgiven. However, there is a key element to this story. BBC had published this story AFTER their source, Maariv had already published a retraction and an apology on June 15th.

This is the popular, widely reported version. However, we found a different angle to BBC’s fake news altogether. In this article on the portal imediaethics.org, the entire saga is given a whole different context. Firstly, the story was based on one anonymous person’s claim, repeated throughout the international media without a fact check.

The other angle that presents itself is that the BBC story had reportedly failed to mention the Court’s denial in its original story.

The imediaethics.org story states:

The Christian Science Monitor‘s unpacking of the dog hoax spotted that the BBC failed to include one very relevant fact from its source, the YNet report on the dog stoning — the denial of the story from the head of the court, Levin.

Rabbi Avraham Dov Levin “denied that the judges had called for the dog’s stoning,” according to the AFP’s June 17 story.

AFP’s North America editor-in-chief David Milikin told iMediaEthics by e-mail that AFP “killed” its story on its “wires, with an explanation of the source of the erroneous report” June 20.

Even though the BBC failed to include the court’s denial of the stoning account, interestingly the BBC did report an anonymously sourced claim that the stoning had happened.

While the BBC’s story was taken down from its website, it was apparently re-published on RichardDawkins.net. The re-posting states that the BBC reported:

“A court manager told Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot [Ynet] the stoning had been ordered as ‘an appropriate way to ‘get back at’ the spirit which entered the poor dog,’ according to Ynet.”

We asked the BBC, which based its June 18 story on the dog stoning on both the AFP and YNet’s reports on the story, why their reporter excluded the head of the court’s denial of the dog stoning story.

The BBC’s Comms Coordinator Matt Hall responded:

“As we have said in the Editors’ blog we failed to make the right checks. Had we done so, we would not have written the story and we have apologised for any offence caused.”

We also asked why the BBC published its report in the first place since Ma’ariv retracted and apologized for its original report on the dog stoning June 15 — three days before the BBC’s first report.

Hall stated that the BBC “only became aware of the retraction published by the Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv on 20 June,” which is when the BBC reported that the dog stoning story was a hoax.

According to the website, there is another version that proves BBC had failed to report that the Court had denied any such order or the stoning.

The publication also reports that Douglas, a musician who lives and works in London, had email BBC the day the story went viral and had informed them that the story was debunked. Reportedly, BBC, in its response to Douglas had stood by their story.

3. Fake child labour footage from Bangalore

In 2011, BBC’s ‘On The Rack’ aired an investigative report into the fashion giant Primark. The subject of the report was whether Primark can manufacture cheap clothing without resorting to unethical practices. This show was a culmination of 6 months of investigative journalism and an undercover operation.

In the show, they had included footage of 3 children testing stitching in their workshop. The allegations of Primark using child labour damaged their reputation greatly and Primark didn’t take kindly to it. However, after extensive complaints, BBC admitted that the child labour footage was not genuine.

Chairman of the BBC Trust’s editorial standards committee Alison Hastings said (emphasis added):

”The BBC’s investigative journalism is rightly held in very high regard, and for more than 50 years Panorama has made a very significant contribution to that.

”But great investigative journalism must be based on the highest standards of accuracy, and this programme on Primark failed to meet those standards.

”While it’s important to recognise that the programme did find evidence elsewhere that Primark was contravening its own ethical guidelines, there were still serious failings in the making of the programme.

”The Trust would like to apologise on behalf of the BBC to Primark and to the audience at home for this rare lapse in quality.”

The report had said:

“Having carefully scrutinised all of the relevant evidence, the committee concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, it was more likely than not that the Bangalore footage was not authentic.”

The internal inquiry by the BBC took three long years to reach this conclusion.

4. Housing estate documentary faked

In 2010, BBC ran a documentary on a particular housing estate in Lawrence Weston, Bristol, for the BBC1 show ‘The Estate We’re In’, where they showed how the estate was troubled with anti-social elements.

They showed that there were several hooded men who hurled abuses at officers. It was a 45-minute documentary that created quite the flutter when it was aired. However, after the documentary was aired, several residents of the housing estate flooded BBC with complaints.

The point of contention was that the visuals of hooded anti-social elements hurling abuses at officers were not from that housing society at all. It was from an area which was 3 miles away from society, a drive of 11 minutes.

Lawrence Weston beat officer PC Shaun Underwood, who took part in the programme, said the footage was deliberately used to cast the area in a bad light.

According to Dailymail, he said:

‘My main issue was the group of youths they kept cutting back to, which was about four or five times, with the hoods up, scarves over their faces, being abusive to some police officers, and being generally antisocial, was not Lawrence Weston.

‘I would be interested to see what the producers would say if they were to come and speak to residents because I don’t think they would be overly happy.

‘These shots were definitely not on my beat. I take quite a lot of pride in my area and I am proud of my area and I just think it’s sad they portrayed somewhere else as Lawrence Weston.’

The producer said that it was an inadvertent error. A BBC spokesman said: ‘We’re disappointed to learn that it appears this footage was not in fact filmed on Lawrence Weston estate.  We take this matter seriously and are looking into it further.’

5. BBC faked polar bear birth

This row hit BBC’s popular television series ‘Frozen Earth’. When viewers thought that one of their scenes that showed the birth of polar bears was shot in the Arctic, they got a rude shock when it was revealed that it was actually shot in a man-made den in Germany.

The accompanying voiceover from Sir David Attenborough referred to cubs being born “beneath the snow” and the footage was intercut with scenes of polar bears in the wild.

The BBC had asserted that their script was “carefully worded” and it didn’t mislead its viewers. The popular opinion did not support this explanation.

6. House of Terror

BBC had in 2016 published a report that claimed that a boy was being questioned by the police in connection with terrorism because of a spelling error. the BBC reported that a boy who attends a Lancashire primary school was interviewed by police after he had written that he lived in a “terrorist house”. His family claimed this was a spelling mistake and he meant to say he lived in a “terraced house”.

This was severely criticised by the police which asserted that it wasn’t a spelling error that led to his questioning but there were several other factors. The police also said that BBC’s report would end up ruining relations between the police and the people.

7. Faked dramatic nature scenes in two shows

In 2016, BBC came under fire for faking dramatic scenes in two of their nature shows.

According to governing body The BBC Trust’s report, staff working in the broadcaster’s flagship Natural History Unit were banned from working on future shows until they complete a new anti-fakery course.

To quote a mirror.co.uk report:

According to the Trust’s report, Patagonia – which was broadcast in September 2015 – showed a scene with a huge volcanic eruption, featuring lightning breaking in the ash cloud – and it was later shared 500,000 times on Facebook with viewers believing it was the one eruption.

But it turned out filmmakers have added in footage from a separate eruption years before, with the lightning making it more dramatic.

The BBC Trust described the sequence as “potentially misleading”, and added: “The Committee bore in mind the very high regard in which output from the BBC’s Natural History Unit is held. They considered this was a serious breach of the editorial guidelines for accuracy.”

Both of the shows were made by the same producer, Tuppence Stone, who wrote about the editing process in a blog, admitting eruptions could be difficult to capture, so “it requires special techniques to reveal and portray their true extraordinary nature”.

8. Misled students and jeopardised their life in North Korea

A shocking incident came to light in 2013, where BBC was said to have put the lives of students in danger, that too in a dictatorial state like North Korea. Several students claimed that they were told by BBC that they were travelling with a History professor to North Korea, who actually turned out to be an undercover journalist, thereby endangering their lives.

The student told MailOnline: ‘[Panorama journalist] John Sweeney was presented to use as a history professor from a university in Beijing.

‘I was wondering why they were filming him so much. It was two days before the end of the trip that I realised he was an undercover journalist.’ A young student said how ten students only learned they were ‘cover’ for the BBC’s filming hours before entering North Korea.

They used the ‘History professor’ story as an elaborate drama to lie to North Korea in order to make a documentary. The students were not told what they are travelling to North Korea for. This was at a time when tensions were mounting between North and South Korea and also North Korea and the USA.

9. BBC and Travel channel show on Amazonian tribe ‘false, fabricated, staged’

In 2011, ‘Mark & Olly: Living with the Machigenga’ was shown on the Travel Channel in the US, and on the BBC in 2010. In the show, Mark Anstice and Olly Steeds lived in a Matsigenka Indian village for several months to show the ‘reality’ of life among the tribe.

This show was slammed by veteran anthropologists as fake and fabricated.

Here are some of the accusations as reported by survivalinternational.org.

Just some of Shepard’s accusations, published in the highly-respected journal Anthropology News, are:

• In order to present a ‘false and insulting’ portrayal of the tribe as sex-obsessed, mean and savage, many of the translations of what the Indians are saying are fabricated.
• Many events presented as real in the show must have been ‘staged’.
• A key scene in the show in which Olly is subjected to painful ant stings, since “according to Matsigenka tradition he must be cleansed” and “endure the ancient punishments” for buying deer meat is denounced by Shepard as ‘fabricated and [with] no basis in ethnography.’

The details can be read here.

10. BBC accused of skewing report on false rape cases

The false rape and/or domestic violence allegation report was conducted by the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service over 17 months. The report had then concluded that the cases of false rape are ‘very rare’.

However, women’s and rape victim support groups say a BBC Newsbeat story exaggerates the occurrence of false rape allegations and flies in the face of the CPS’ report.

The BBC article basically described findings in a new study into false rape allegations as “showing how common the problem is”, which was not the conclusion of the original report.

11. BBC retracts the story on the protest against the bombing of Syria gone violent

The BBC published a report saying that a protest march against the bombing in Syria had gone violent and attacked MP Stella Creasy’s house. This report turned out to be fake and the BBC issued the following retraction:

Two listeners complained that the programme had inaccurately reported that a peaceful vigil in Walthamstow, in protest against the decision to bomb targets in Syria, had targeted the home of the local MP, Stella Creasy, and had been part of a pattern of intimidation towards Labour MPs who had supported the decision. The claim that the demonstration had targeted Ms Creasy’s home, and the implication that it was intimidatory in nature, originated from a single Facebook posting which later proved to be misleading (the demonstration’s destination was Ms Creasy’s constituency office, which was unoccupied at the time, not her home, and it was peaceful).

12. False accusations of Israel targeting Palestinian journalists

This pertains to Israel’s Operation Pillar of Cloud back in 2012. As part of its operations, Israeli armed forces launched strikes against Hamas backed propaganda outlets which spew virulent anti-Jew hatred. The BBC was party to spinning this as an attack against the media. It was also revealed that certain media outlets were sharing premises with the Hamas backed propaganda outlets. And especially after Israel had warned a few days earlier of targeting Hamas infrastructure, sharing offices with their outlets wasn’t very smart.

Relation to the same operation, the BBC aired a video where apparently an injured Palestinian civilian was being carried away, presumably for treatment. However, pro-Israeli website honestreporting.com shared footage which showed the same man walking around after having recovered magically almost immediately. BBC responded by saying that as far as they were aware, the vision was not staged.

13. Jeremy Corbyn’s remarks on “Shoot to Kill”

In January 2017, the BBC Trust observed that coverage of its own network breached accuracy with its reportage of Corbyn’s interview. The BBC’s political editor Kuenssberg said, “Earlier today I asked the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn if he were the resident here at Number 10 whether or not he would be happy for British officers to pull the trigger in the event of a Paris-style attack.” Mr Corbyn apparent response to the question was, “I’m not happy with a shoot-to-kill policy in general. I think that is quite dangerous and I think can often be counter-productive.”

When the longer version of the interview was aired, there was a discrepancy between Kuenssberg’s version of events and what actually transpired. The BBC’s political editor had asked, “If we saw the kinds of horror in Paris, here, if you were Prime Minister, would you order security services on to the street to stop people being killed?” Corbyn’s response was, “Of course, you’d bring people on to the streets to prevent and ensure there is safety within our society.” Corbyn had actually stated, “I’m not happy with a shoot-to-kill policy in general” when he was asked the question “if you were Prime Minister, would you be happy to order people – police or military – to shoot to kill on Britain’s streets?”

14. #OurBad

In September, BBC tweeted that POTUS Trump had told the UN General Assembly that “war will follow” his decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran. President Trump had actually said “more will follow”. The BBC was forced to admit its mistake after it was bombarded by people accusing the organization of spreading Fake News. The BBC claimed that the reporter had misheard the President and it tweeted a clarification with the hashtag #OurBad.

15. BBC’s revisionism in a documentary about Genocide in Rwanda

In October 2014, the BBC was accused of incitement, hatred, revisionism and genocide denial over its documentary about the Rwandan genocide that led to the slaughter of at least 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The Rwandan government had suspended BBC broadcasts in the Kinyarwanda language because of the content of the documentary. Scholars across the globe had registered a strong protest against the narrative BBC peddled in the documentary and demanded that an apology be issued for distorting the reality of the genocide.

They stated, “Three of the untenable claims made in the programme are of the utmost concern: the first is a lie about the true nature of the Hutu Power militia. The second is an attempt to minimize the number of Tutsi murdered in the genocide, and the third is an effort to place the blame for shooting down President Habyarimana’s plane on April 6, 1994, on the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF)”.

16. Nigeria’s Cannibal Restaurant

In May 2015, the BBC shared a fake story about a hotel in Nigeria serving human flesh. In reality, human skulls were discovered at the place and there was no evidence whatsoever to back the claims that human flesh was being served although it does appear human skulls were indeed discovered by the Police. The BBC did issue an apology over the story stating, “The story about the Nigerian restaurant which we published here frame a mistake and we apologise. It was incorrect and BBC published without the proper checks. We have removed the story and have launched an urgent investigation into how this happened.”

17. Euro 2012: “Stadiums of Hate”

BBC faced severe backlash over its documentary where it was accused to have sensationalized racism in Poland and Ukraine, the hosts of the football tournament.

Jonathan Ornstein, the executive director of the Jewish community centre in Krakow claimed that he was “exploited” by the BBC as a source. He said in a statement to The Economist, “I am furious at the way the BBC has exploited me as a source. The organization used me and others to manipulate the serious subject of anti-Semitism for its own sensationalist agenda; in doing so, the BBC has insulted all Polish people and done a disservice to the growing, thriving Jewish community of Poland. I have reason to believe the BBC similarly misrepresented the black African football players it used as sources in the same programme. Moreover, the BBC knowingly cheated its own audience – the British people – by concocting a false horror story about Poland. In doing so, the BBC has spread fear, ignorance, prejudice and hatred.”

Yuri Bender, a journalist who follows Ukrainian football closely, told the Guardian, “My wife, who is of Afro-Caribbean origin and our two mixed-race children, have accompanied me to Ukraine on several occasions, to Lviv in the West, Kiev in the centre and the Donbass region in the east, of which Donetsk is the capital. There has certainly been no abuse directed against them and in fact quite the opposite. The locals have gone out of their way to make them feel welcome in Ukraine, with people on the street and on public transport often stopping to chat with them.”

The verdict was that although there were racist elements in both countries, it was nothing like the apocalyptic scenario the BBC had projected in its documentary.

18. Pakistani Political Party funded by India

In an outlandish June 2015 report, the BBC quoted a Pakistani source to claim that India was funding a the MQM in Pakistan. The report was heavily criticized by all sections for relying solely on the words of an unnamed Pakistani source to reach dubious conclusions.

The Indian government denied the claims outright. The report was also criticized by Barkha Dutt who tweeted, “Dear story on a claim of India MQM is disappointing journalism given the grave charge. What were the editorial checks do share”. The report’s dubious claims suffered further credibility after Pakistan approached authorities in the UK to provide it with evidence of Indian interference in its internal affairs. There were even suggestions by critics of Pakistan that the story might have been planted by ISI.

19. Trump’s comments on Christian Refugees

During an interview with Christian Broadcasting Network in January 2017, POTUS Trump told the interviewer, referring to the Obama administration, “They [Syrian Christians] have been horribly treated. Do you know if you were a Christian in Syria it was impossible, at least very, very tough to get into the United States? If you were a Muslim you could come in, but if you were a Christian it was almost impossible.”

The BBC’s New York correspondent, Nick Bryant reported on Trump’s comments, saying, “In an interview with an evangelical television network [President Trump] claimed without any factual basis the old Obama policy favoured Muslims over Christians”.

Barnabas Fund, which works with persecuted Christians in the Middle East, challenged the BBC’s assertions and demanded that they apologize. They said, “This sweeping assertion broadcast by the BBC was not only wholly untrue, but it was also potentially damaging to tens of thousands of Syrian Christian refugees.” They further stated, “Barnabas Aid has for many months been highlighting the massive institutional discrimination faced by Syrian Christian refugees – with only one half of one percent of Syrian refugees resettled in the USA last year being Christians. This is despite them constituting up to 10% of the pre-war population and US Secretary of State John Kerry declared in March that they were facing genocide.”

20. Misleading Paxman editing

In 2004, the BBC admitted that their editing of an interview conducted by Jeremy Paxman was misleading and showed the guest in a bad light.

The interview was of Police chief David Westwood and the misleading editing wrongly projected that Westwood had stormed off during difficult questioning.

A report in the Telegraph reads:

Mr Westwood welcomed the apology but said he had been the victim of a “serious injustice”. “The damage done by Newsnight’s manipulation of the original interview to create that which was broadcast was, in my view, calculated, serious and lasting,” he said.

“The editing contrived to produce the impression I was being evasive and defensive and walked off the Newsnight set rather than answer difficult questions. That was quite untrue.”

…the corporation’s programme complaints unit said Newsnight had been wrong to show Mr Westwood walking out of the interview without showing that he had answered the question the first time around.

The investigation found that Paxman asked the question a second time because he believed a technical fault had caused the first answer to be lost.

The BBC was at pains to point out yesterday that “there was no criticism of Jeremy Paxman in all of this”. It added that the Newsnight editor had briefed his team on “the lessons to be learned”.


One must admit that despite everything, BBC has a sound system in place to acknowledge fake news and take corrective measures. This is one quality that the Sepoys who are blindly defending BBC should perhaps take a lesson from.

Media organisations make mistakes. Some are inadvertent, and as we have seen, the mainstream media especially makes errors which are malicious.

However, defending the indefensible should ideally be unpardonable. What is also unpardonable is that BBC, in its latest debunked report, has asserted that even one instance of fake news would make a publication liable to be listed in its list of fake news purveyor, though they said that they are not labelling any source as a fake news source. Nonetheless, if that is the criterion being applied, in this first part we have traced 20 times when BBC erred. Would it be legitimate to expect BBC to add itself in the report?

One can only hope that BBC introspects and not gets taken for a ride by severely bias sources that insert a political agenda behind the garb of serious academic research.

Fake news is a problem that requires a larger, consolidated debate. A motivated report just tarnishes that cause, not serve it.

(This article has been co-authored by Nupur J Sharma and K Bhattacharjee)

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Nupur J Sharma
Nupur J Sharma
Editor-in-Chief, OpIndia.

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