Monday 10 November 2014

That BBC Trust ruling against 'Newsbeat'

Some of you will perhaps have read about the BBC Trust and Ofcom's rulings against Radio 1's Newsbeat over that programme's interview with an Islamic State jihadi from Britain. 

There have been quite a few interviews with such people on the BBC, most prominently on Newsnight. Whether any of those are being investigated or not I cannot say. Maybe none of them breached the BBC's editorial standards so egregiously. 

All I can say is this one must have been really bad. The BBC Trust very rarely makes such a damning verdict on the BBC.

The BBC's own online report today isn't very forthcoming. They reported it, but in noticeably less detail than other media organisations.

The BBC online report is especially coy about the BBC Trust's ruling. It doesn't even link to it. 

So, doing what the BBC News website failed to do, here is the short version of the BBC Trust's ruling (complete with a link to the full thing):

13 June 2014
Finding of 10 November 2014 


Newsbeat is Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra’s news service provided by BBC News. It is specifically targeted at younger audiences and has a long track-record of reporting newsin a way that is likely to inform and engage Radio 1 and Radio 1Xtra’s audience. 

On 13 June 2014, Newsbeat broadcast a report which included a recording with a British man who had travelled to Syria to fight with ISIS. In a video which had been posted online called “The ISIS Show Podcast”, Abu Sumayyah described how fighting with ISIS was “actually quite fun”, he compared it with a computer game and said it was: “better than" Call of Duty”. 

Excerpts of the video were taken from the internet and broadcast in a Newsbeat report at 12.45pm on BBC Radio 1, Friday, 13 June 2014. Information taken from the video was also used in a Newsbeat online report. 

The recorded news item did include some context which indicated the degree of violence ISIS used and how it was perceived internationally. However the extremist was not interviewed by the BBC and did not face direct challenge or question from BBC journalists in relation to the claims he was making. The online report did not include any context which explained ISIS’s methodology or the international response to it. While both the broadcast report and the online report referred to the material as originating from “The ISIS show podcast” there was no further information to allow audiences to understand what editorial controls there had been over the original output. The Executive reported these Breaches of the Editorial Guidelines orally to the Editorial Standards Committee of the Trust (the “Committee”) on 11 September 2014. 

The Committee considered this was a serious breach of the Editorial Guidelines for Impartiality and for Harm and Offence. Trustees requested that the Executive provide answers to various questions with a view to identifying the editorial failings that had occurred and considered whether appropriate measures were in place to prevent similar breaches in future. 

Trustees considered that the absence of an appropriate warning and the failure to include sufficient context to question the comments by Abu Sumayyah led to a breach of the Editorial Guidelines for Harm and Offence in terms of the BBC’s “responsibility to protect children and young people from unsuitable content” and in terms of “…including material that condones or glamorises violence, dangerous or seriously anti-social behaviour”.

Trustees also considered the failure both to offer challenge to the views that were aired and to include sufficient context to allow audiences to judge them was a breach of the Editorial Guidelines for Impartiality in terms of the requirement that: “Contributors expressing contentious views, either through an interview or other means, must be rigorously tested”.

The broadcast report has been the subject of a complaint to Ofcom. Ofcom has upheld the complaint as a breach of two rules of the Broadcast Code, namely: 

Rule 1.3: “Children protected by appropriate scheduling from material that is unsuitable for them”.

Rule 2.3: “In applying generally accepted standards broadcasters must ensure that material which may cause offence is justified by the context...Appropriate information should also be broadcast where it would assist in avoiding or minimising offence”.


  1. Personally I am not impressed.

    It seems to me that the BBC Trust is really just trying to maintain the system which keeps people in general in ignorance of just how mainstream ISIS are. All their laws, policies and actions are made in emulation of Mohammed - following his example as set out in the Koran and Hadith. The law in ISIS areas is Sharia law.

    Generally speaking, the BBC - indeed nearly all the UK Media and the UK government - don't want you to know this.

    So I see this BBC Trust judgement as really being about news management, or if you prefer, truth management.

    Dan Read

  2. Also relevant to this discussion, I would recommend the following Analysis programme which I think did a reasonable job of describing the gulf between teh culture of Islam in Britain and that of mainstream culture.

    To that extent, it stands apart from the usual BBC template for discussing such matters, which is relentlessly and pointlessly optimistic.

    Dan Read

    1. Yes, that 'Analysis' was something quite out of the ordinary for the BBC. It helped that it wasn't a BBC reporter/presenter doing the 'analysis'. I have never heard a BBC reporter/presenter state, as David Goodhart did, that if non-Muslims understood Islam more it would actually make it seem even more alien to our own own liberal values.

    2. In fact I'm quite tempted to transcribe parts of that 'Analysis'.

      Sometimes BBC News website articles are published alongside episodes of 'Analysis'. Ed Stourton's strikingly sympathetic take on the concept of a 'caliphate', for example, was given such an equivalent online article. (Note to self: Why didn't I write a post about that Ed piece?) So it will be interesting to see if this happens in this case. (It hasn't appeared yet).


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