BBC Faulted for 2 Errors, But Not for Bias

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The BBC Trust found one of its programs to have contained two errors after complaints brought them to its attention. (Credit: BBC Trust)

The Guardian reported that the BBC has owned up to two inaccuracies in a TV segment on filesharing.  However, the BBC didn’t find that the program was “biased and prejudicial,” as the complainant, a UK music executive, claimed.

The segment in question was a “Culture Show” report, an arts review program hosted by political comedian Mark Thomas aired in February.  It “examined the digital economy bill which was then going through parliament and its attempt to crack down on illegal downloading,” according to the Guardian.

The two factual errors the BBC owned up to were Thomas’ account of “how perpetrators could have their internet accounts cut off” and “the Secretary of State’s powers to amend the law without proper scrutiny.”  The BBC labeled itself “censured” as a result of the ruling.

Feargal Sharkey, chief executive for music industry organization UK Music, filed the complaint – first with Thomas, and then with his editors, and then the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit.

He called for “an on-air retraction and apology.” While Sharkey had spoken on the show “in favour of the bill,” he labeled Thomas’ segment “grossly misleading,” “inaccurate” and as having “misinformed the audience” with bias.

In his initial complaint to Thomas, the BBC Trust committee’s report reveals, the program’s editor responded that because Thomas’s program was “authored” — subjective — and because Thomas offered both sides of the bill, no apology or retraction was necessary.

In April, Sharkey complained directly to the editorial complaints unit, but his complaint wasn’t upheld, so in July, he appealed to the BBC Trust.

The BBC’s Trust committee is “the governing body of the BBC” and editorially independent of the BBC, its website explains.  It looks into complaints about editorial content and makes sure the BBC follows its editorial standards.

However, the trust committee found that Thomas’ program was clearly “authored” and not a standard report of a BBC reporter or anchor.  “Authored content conventionally takes the form of an expression of subjective, sometimes highly partial, opinion by a single authorial voice (which might be that of an individual, group or organisation,” the BBC Trust’s report explains.

But, the BBC committee didn’t find that his segment violated the BBC’s impartiality guidelines. “While Mark Thomas had expressed strong personal opinions in his links to camera, this was permitted by the guidelines on authored programmes. All the main views, including those that contradicted Mark Thomas’s, were reflected,” the committee said.

Also, the Guardian noted that Thomas was criticized for devoting almost the entire program to sharing the bill’s opponents’ point of view.  The ten-minute segment spent 8 minutes 20 seconds on their perspective.

The complainant, Sharkey, is quoted as saying in the BBC “Although pleased to have our complaint upheld in part we feel that the Editorial Standards Committee should have gone further.”

See the ruling here.

iMediaEthics is writing Sharky for further comment.


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BBC Faulted for 2 Errors, But Not for Bias

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