Expedited BBC

BBCGeorge Orwell modelled the Ministry of Truth on the BBC

8 February 2012

Not exactly an answer from the BBC

Update to BBC Complaints Department

Way back on the 8th of November, 2011 I submitted a complaint about  Israel boards protest boats taking medical aid to Gaza. A boat supposedly carrying medical supplies to Gaza that when stopped by the IDF didn’t carry any. I felt, that if the BBC journalist didn’t know this at the time, four days was plenty of time to update the report.

The BBC has developed quite a reputation for a Byzantine complaints procedure almost as user unfriendly as its online search engine. Still, this time they did send a form letter, taking four months not the 10 working days of receiving them they promise for most complaints. 🙁 That in itself is a cause for complaint.

Dear Sir or Madam, 

Thank you for your comments regarding this report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15591860. I am sorry not to reply sooner.

It was widely reported at the time, by the main international news agencies, and claimed by the activists on the boats that they were carrying medical aid.

The video of the conversation between the Israeli Navy and the boats is indeed perplexing. This video suggests that the boat was carrying medical supplies http://www.tahrir.ca/content/video-showing-medical-aid-tahrir-labeled-food-stuff. It is not our video and we are not able to verify it independently.

Best regards,

Middle East desk

BBC News website

The report is now ‘history’ – the official BBC version, that is. It is no longer news and therefore will neither be edited, stealth or otherwise, nor will there be any update, such as noting,  ‘Israeli sources examining the boat found no medical supplies’.

Surely as journalists, that is an important story?

The following questions arise:

  1. Why did the Israelis not find anything? Was it incompetence, conspiracy or was the boat actually not carrying anything?
  2. Why did the spokesman feel doubts about the Turkish response required subterfuge? (About 1:08 into the AL-J video).
  3. Why did the Captain not know about the medical cargo – or was he lying? (About 0:48 into the IDF video).
  4. Why knowing that Israel would deliver the medicine anyway and would throw away food, didn’t the Tahrir protestors point this out at Ashdod? (About 0:23 into IDF video)
  5. Why if the BBC couldn’t verify the information wasn’t there a notice to that effect in the report. Why was there no notice that this ‘story’ was sourced from other agencies and the activists. Not even the famous BBC ‘scare quotes’ indicating this was a quote from an involved party?
  6. Why did no BBC journalist think it important enough to be in Ashdod for the inspection?
  7. Was the unacceptable delay (4 months!) in responding to the complaint a tactic to avoid changing the report?

Once again the supposedly responsible media simply presented an uncorroborated story from the Palestinian side as fact with the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from their organisation. The BBC simply accepted what Al Jazeera produced. Perhaps, that’s no real surprise. So many former Beeboids work there Al Jazeera English is practically a sister organisation to the BBC.

It is notable that their source (uncredited in the original article) was not even Al Jazeera but the Canadian Boat to Gaza site. No possibility of partiality that might need checking?

Not alone on this

I was not the only complainant on this issue.  I taken the liberty of copying a response from another complainant on the Biased BBC website. Look for the commenter My Site (click to edit) on page #7.

Just for fun, I think Aunty has hired Dr. Who to handle its archive complaints, through he does seem a hole digger in the mould of my Newsnight Producer chum…  

Dear Sir or Madam,  
It’s Sir.   
Might I take this opportunity to enquire how you did not know this, as the BBC complaints system makes considerable play of garnering such detail?  

Thank you for your comments regarding this report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-15591860. I am sorry not to reply sooner.  
If it was about an event in November of last year, that is quite a period.  
May I also ask why the complaint itself was not included in this reply, or a complaint log number, or anything to help find out what you are responding, after all this, time, to? It is tricky to respond otherwise.  

It was widely reported at the time, by the main international news agencies, and claimed by the activists on the boats that they were carrying medical aid.  
Until I see my original complaint it’s hard to be sure, but I’d think I was interested in how activist claims got translated into BBC headlines.  

The video of the conversation between the Israeli Navy and the boats is indeed perplexing. This video suggests that the boat was carrying medical supplies http://www.tahrir.ca/content/video-showing-medical-aid-tahrir-labeled-food-stuff. It is not our video and we are not able to verify it independently.  
I’d suggest therefore that rushing to broadcast news, and headlines such as:’Israel boards protest boats taking medical aid to Gaza’ … when the actual facts are in such doubt, is hardly optimal on the trust and integrity front, much less professionally sound.  
Would you agree? Or not?   

Best regards,  
Middle East desk
BBC News website 

Beyond the mystery of why complaints are being handled in so many different ways by so many different BBC departments, despite going into the system by the only means one has on offer, I have to love the ‘we didn’t know what was true, so went with our version of it anyway’ admission.   


A bit about the illustrations: If you hadn’t realised the gentleman in the top right corner is George Orwell It is believed his Ministry of Truth in 1984 was based on his experiences in the BBC. The picture of the fishing boats comes from the original BBC article. Not actually relevant to the story in typical BBC half-a-story fashion it doesn’t point out that the boats in the picture are in clear site of the Israeli city of Ashkelon. The smoke stacks are of the power station, a strategic target.

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
This entry was posted in 5MFI Blog and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.