BBC to Its Own Reporters: Shut Up Already

The BBC’s Greg Dyke has spent the last few weeks telling anyone who will listen just how much superior the BBC coverage of the invasion of Iraq was to that of American media (as long as you ignore minor problems like the Andrew Gilligan affair).

Apparently Dykes and the BBC have such faith in their correspondents that they are going to pay them not to wrote for British newspapers. According to the Telegraph,

Under new rules, which are being introduced by the BBC because of concerns raised during the Hutton Inquiry about its journalists’ activities, senior broadcasters including John Humphrys, the Today presenter, and Andrew Marr, the corporation’s political editor, will be prevented from writing columns, which can earn them as much as £100,000 a year.

. . .

The corporation hopes that these payments will avert the risk of senior journalists defecting to rival channels, where they would be free to resume newspaper work.

. . .

Andrew Gilligan, a reporter for the Today programme, who first raised the issue in a radio broadcast, further infuriated Downing Street when he expanded on his claims in The Mail on Sunday.

The subsequent death of Dr David Kelly, who was Mr Gilligan’s original source for the story, led the Government to establish a committee of inquiry under Lord Hutton. That inquiry is expected to be critical of the way the BBC and its board of governors, in particular, handled the affair.

So Gilligan’s reporting wasn’t fair and balanced? Who would have thunk it.

(Hint to the BBC: you might try actually hiring quality reporters rather than hiring flakes and then paying them extra not to write embarassing articles putting their biases and inadequacies on full display).

Source:

BBC pays £2m to key staff for not writing. Chris Hastings and Martin Baker, The Telegraph, November 11, 2003.

From My Blog to John Leo’s Column

Update:

After I wrote this, John Leo sent me a nice e-mail apologizing for not citing me. As I responded to him, this article was actually written semi-tongue-in-cheek. I realize that professional journalists don’t always have time to track down who was the first to point out this or that error.

Henry Hanks sent me an e-mail today alerting me that John Leo had picked up my report about the BBC’s convenient editing of stories at its web site.

Leo writes,

The BBC, probably the most relentlessly anti-American organization in Britain, recently altered a transcript of one of its own stories, thus misquoting itself. The story dealt with Park Jong-lin, a 70-year-old veteran of the Korean War who “served in the North Korean army fighting against the imperialist American aggressors and their South Korean accomplices.” In the altered version quote marks now surround “imperialist American aggressors” and the BBC’s reference to “accomplices” was changed to “allies.”

Prediction: Because Internet bloggers now watch the wayward BBC carefully, more touched-up transcripts will come to light. The BBC, by the way, falsely reported the Jessica Lynch rescue as a made-for-TV special faked with U.S. soldiers firing blanks for the cameras. (Change that transcript!)

This is the fourth or fifth time something I’ve blogged about here has wound its way into a national story which is kind of cool. But come John, if bloggers are doing such a good service how about throwing us a little love with a link or at least a mention when you incorporate our scoops into your column?

I’ll even make it a quid pro quo and promise to always link to your column when I incorporate parts of it into my blogging.

Source:

Mangled quotes take on a life of their own. John Leo, Universal Press Syndicate, July 27, 2003.

No Accountability at the BBC

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.

I wasn’t the only one who noticed this story. Both The Authentic Liberal and Damian Penny also picked up on this story before the BBC rewrote it.

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.

Is Conversant Too Complex?

Giles Turnbull evaluates three free web creation tools in a BBC article. Turnbull includes Conversant, which powers this web site. Basically Turnbull says Conversant is powerful, but complex.

Conversant sites, like Manila sites, are potentially very powerful, but there is some learning to be done, even for experienced web users… the process of creating the site of your dreams might be time-consuming.

Once you have got the hang of using Conversant, you will be able to do some really clever things with your website. Create new templates for whizzy designs, automatically send email to regular readers when new items are posted, even manage a collection of digital photos, or any other files.

How complex is Conversant? From my experience, Conversant is about as complex as desktop web authoring tools such as Dreamweaver. I am far from a Dreamweaver expert and many parts of the program overwhelm me (i.e. I have no clue what certain features are supposed to accomplish). I can use Dreamweaver well enough, however, to create and update a web site with thousands of pages.

The complexity of Conversant is comparable to the sort of complexity found in an application such as Dreamweaver. If all you want is a basic weblog, end of story, then Conversant might be overkill. On the other hand it is perfect for small to medium to large websites where a) applications such as Dreamweaver really start to break down as far as effectively managing a site structure, and b) every other product out there is either much more expensive and even more complex.

I’ve got about 4,000 web pages on several different domains and receive about 2.4 million page views a year — relatively small potatoes but not bad for just one person in his spare time. For me, although there was a bit of learning curve, Conversant is actually far less complicated than the alternatives and delivers a lot of features that frankly I haven’t seen in other content management systems.

Shame on the BBC

For the most part, I find the BBC’s news web site far superior to American fare such as CNN or any of the American news networks, especially for coverage of international news. Unfortunately with its coverage of the horrific shooting of 7 people in Massachussetts, the BBC seems more than willing to emulate the shoddy reporting so common to American media.

In, Terror in the Workplace, for example, the BBC claims,

The shooting of seven people at an Internet company in Wakefield Massachusetts is the latest reminder that workplace killings are depressingly common in the US.

The only problem is that the BBC doesn’t bother to back this claim up. It lists a grand total of 12 incidents involving violence in the work place dating back to 1997 as if a mere enumeration of anecdotes is more than enough to prove that “workplace killings are depressingly common in the US.”

Lets gets some facts in here, courtsey of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which visited this topic in 1998’s “Workplace Violence, 1992-96.”

  • There are approximately 2 million acts of violence or threats of violence against Americans in the workplace each year.
  • Almost all of those are directed against people who work with the public. Retail sales clerks, law enforcement personnel, teachers, medical personnel, transportation personnel (cab drivers, bus drivers, etc.), and private security forces bear the brunt of workplace violence.
  • Although the BBC is hitting the gun angle heavily, guns are used in workplace assaults only about 7.5 percent of the time, with knives, clubs, bottles, and other weapons being 12 percent of the time. Eighty percent of the deaths from workplace assaults, however, were caused by guns, with the other 20 percent being caused by knives and other weapons.
  • Based on 1992 to 1996 data, the killing in Massachussetts was atypical. From 1992 to 1996 about 1,000 people were murdered on the job. Of those, about 760 each year were murdered as part of a robbery attempt. Only about 11 percent of workplace murders were the result of assaults by co-workers and/or legitimate customers.
  • Workplace violence, like violence in general in the United States, is declining. Workplace homicides fell 13 percent from 1992 to 1996, and have almost certainly fell even further over the last four years. What hasn’t fallen is media hyperpublicity over such events.