Over the past couple weeks I’ve written a few posts about the lack of accountability that is created when someone like Dave Winer posts something to his weblog, and then goes back and edits it in a way that changes its meaning or simply deletes it. It makes it difficult to have any sort of coherent discussion about a topic if one of the major participant’s words are constantly shifting like quicksand.
What really surprises me, though, is that the BBC treats its news articles as being just as malleable as Winer’s weblog. I was reminded of this today when I posted an article here quoting this BBC story about a Korean War vet. Here’s the quote I used,
Park Jong-lin did not fight to repel communism like the others.
In fact, he did the opposite – he served in the North Korean army fighting against the imperialist American aggressors and their South Korean accomplices.
Somebody quickly responded saying I had misquoted the BBC and had forgot to put in quote marks. Well, I still had the printout of the story in front of me and no, I quoted it correctly. What happened was the BBC went back and, without any sort of notice or indication that it did so, rewrote the second paragraph there. The story now reads,
Seventy-year-old Park Jong-lin did not fight to repel communism like the others.
In fact, he did the opposite – he served in the North Korean army fighting against the “imperialist American aggressors” and their South Korean allies.
That rewrite completely changes the context of this sentence and the BBC is being irresponsible in not noting that a significant edit had been made to the change. I wonder if Tony Blair simply made a few edits now to his Iraq war speeches and said “okay, here’s the speech I gave, what’s the problem” if the BBC would accept this as reasonable behavior.
As I said about Winer’s weblog editing, this is the worst sort of behavior on the web whose main purpose seems to be to render it all but impossible to actually hold people and organization’s responsible for their words. I can’t imagine going back and making that sort of edit to my weblog without at least an indication at the end that the story had been edited.
But, as we’ve seen over the past few months, being the BBC means never having to say you’re sorry, much less admit you were wrong.