Tenacity brings results in complaint about BBC Ward article

Readers no doubt remember that in January of this year the BBC published two articles on consecutive days on the UK Politics page of its website relating to remarks made by David Ward MP. The second article, dated January 27th, was headlined “David Ward MP ‘sorry’ over Israel criticism” and its opening paragraph read:

“A Liberal Democrat MP who accused “the Jews” in Israel of “inflicting atrocities on Palestinians… on a daily basis” has apologised for the “unintended offence”.”

Reader @Lsorang submitted a complaint to the BBC News website regarding the inaccuracy of the language used in that article, but that complaint was dismissed. The reader then took his complaint to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) which also refused to uphold it on the grounds that: 

“It would, we felt, be a stretch of the imagination to assume that he [Ward] was suggesting that Jews in other parts of the world had the capacity to inflict atrocities on the Palestinians “in the new State of Israel”. That being the case, we didn’t consider that in paraphrasing the comment in the way it did, the website article materially altered the intended meaning of Mr Ward’s words.”

The complainant next took the issue to the BBC Trust, and was recently informed that it has partially upheld his complaint, accepting that there was a breach of BBC guidelines on accuracy, but not on impartiality. 

One interesting part of the Trust’s response – which will be published here on July 30th at 11 a.m. GMT (see page 31 in the document titled “June”) – is the following.

“The Committee agreed with the ECU and BBC News that David Ward’s words might not necessarily be interpreted to mean what the complainant said they meant, i.e. that it was a collective criticism of Jews worldwide. The Committee concluded, however, that this was not a relevant consideration in this context. It noted the purpose of the article was to report the ongoing row over David Ward’s comments and the fact that they had been interpreted in some quarters as criticism of Jews as a whole rather than confined to Jews living in Israel.

The Committee therefore agreed with the complainant that an accurate conveyance of what the MP actually said, and the nature of the row his comments had provoked, was required in order for the article to achieve due accuracy, as required by the Editorial Guidelines. In the Committee’s view the formulation in the headline and opening sentence of the article did not do this.”

Another particularly notable observation by the BBC Trust is that:

“The Committee noted the requirements for due accuracy set out in the Editorial Guidelines. The Committee noted too that due accuracy is not simply a matter of getting facts right. Given the sensitivities, the Committee considered the article concerned a controversial issue and it was incumbent on the BBC to consider all relevant facts, information and opinions to achieve due accuracy. Whilst the Committee acknowledged there are constraints in writing a headline, it considered that in this instance the headline had summarised the nature of the apology incorrectly and the inaccuracy was reinforced by the inaccurate paraphrasing of what Mr Ward said in the opening sentence of the article itself. The Committee agreed with the complainant that it would have been straightforward to correct the errors when they were first brought to the BBC’s attention, and that this could have been done without necessarily increasing the length of the headline. The Committee agreed the effect of the inaccuracy in the headline and opening sentence would have been to mislead the audience on the nature of the row the MP’s comments had provoked. While the Committee accepted that the precise wording of Mr Ward’s website posting and his apology were reported verbatim later in the article, this was not in the Committee’s view sufficient to mitigate the inaccuracies in the headline and opening sentence.” [emphasis added]

Despite the complaint made by @Lsorang having been partially upheld by the BBC Trust, sadly, at the time of writing, no amendment has been made to the still available online article to reflect that fact. 

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