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BBC Say 'Fake Journalists' Will Not Be Used Again

BBC Say 'Fake Journalists' Will Not Be Used Again


By David Miller
http://www.spinwatch.org/

Responding to complaints about the use of 'fake journalists' paid for by the MoD, the BBC Controller of Editorial Policy, Stephen Whittle, has acknowledged that their use was 'not ideal' and 'will not happen again'.

Spinwatch had revealed that the BBC had broadcast a report in November 2004 which had been provided by the British Forces Broadcasting Service. This is a propaganda service for the armed forces run by the Services Sound and Vision Corporation which is entirely funded by the Ministry of Defence (Read the original story Here or Here)

Whittle, the most senior editor in the BBC also notes that the report supplied by the BFBS to the BBC for no charge, an indication that this was not a normal contractual arrangement.

Email correspondence with Whittle follows.

**************

-----Original Message-----
From: David Miller
Sent: 17 March 2005 12:17
To: zzStephen zzWhittle
Subject: BFBS and the BBC
Dear Stephen Whittle,

I am writing to you about the use of reports from British Forces Broadcasting Service on the BBC. Full details are pasted below in an article I have written for Spinwatch. [(Read the original story Here or Here) - editor]

As you will be aware the BBC producers guidelines discuss this kind of problem. They state: 'Increasingly, official bodies, commercial companies and campaigning organisations provide broadcasters with video or audio news releases or other material. Sometimes the material will have been recorded by the organisation itself, sometimes by others acting on their behalf. Such material may purport to cover stories from an objective standpoint, but is usually slanted to promote the viewpoint of the supplier. We do not normally use any extracts from such releases if we are capable of gathering the material ourselves. If we do use such material for sound editorial reasons we should always ensure that it is clearly labelled on-air.'

In the case under discussion, it is not simply the use of a clip from an audio news release that was used but an entire report. In addition the guidelines note that 'we must be wary of using a News Release to illustrate a story about the organisation which provided it, particularly if it gives an unrealistic or overly favourable impression of the organisation. We should normally use such material only to illustrate the way in which the company or organisation is promoting itself' http://www.bbc.co.uk/info/policies/producer_guides/text/section5.shtml

This seems an eminently sensible guideline and I wonder why it seems not to have been followed in this case?

Furthermore I note that the guidelines state that 'There may be occasions when the BBC decides to enter into a formal contractual agreement with an information supplier. This agreement may include a provision that the BBC will reflect the source of the information. Any formal agreement about credits should be made for editorial rather than commercial reasons. Arrangements of this kind should be made only with the approval of the relevant Director or Chief Executive.' http://www.bbc.co.uk/info/policies/producer_guides/text/section5.shtml

I accept that this is not the sort of case that the guidelines are really designed for, but I wondered if you could tell me what the contractual basis of the BFBS reports on Radio Scotland were. Was the BFBS paid for its report or did it offer it for free? In either case doesn't this raise difficulties for the BBC reputation for impartiality?

Finally, I wonder if you think that the producers guidelines are able to cope with this kind of use of propaganda material? Perhaps there needs to be new guidelines to cover the kinds of cases we have uncovered?

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

David Miller

**************

-----Original Message-----
From: zzStephen zzWhittle
Sent: 23 March 2005 10:38
To: David Miller
Subject: RE: BFBS and the BBC

Thank you for your email.

The use of BFBS material within Good Morning Scotland on one occasion in November 2004 was unusual and unique. The piece was commissioned by BBC Scotland from a known journalist. It was included in the programme as a feature giving Scottish listeners a sense of the place where a Scottish regiment was operating in Iraq and how they were responding to the challenges. It was clearly flagged on air as coming from BFBS in accordance with the Producers' Guidelines and the BBC had full editorial control over what was broadcast. Nor, did the BBC pay for it. However, we acknowledge that given the public debate about Iraq it would have been preferable for the BBC to gather this material itself. Commissioning of this kind of item will not be repeated.

Stephen Whittle

**************

-----Original Message-----
From: David Miller
Sent: 23 March 2005 10:55
To: zzStephen zzWhittle
Subject: RE: BFBS and the BBC

Dear Stephen Whittle,

Thanks for your email and your reassurance that this kind of commissioning will not be repeated.

However, you seem to be under a misapprehension. The use of BFBS in November was not unique. At least one other report from BFBS (from a different journalist) was broadcast by BBC Scotland, on the lunchtime news on Christmas day. Can you investigate and confirm for me how many other times this has happened?

Also, if flagging up a report from an MoD funded unit is acceptable under the producers guidelines, perhaps you can point out to me the passage which permits this. My reading of the guidelines, as I suggested in my original email, is that this only applies to 'extracts from such releases' rather than the use of whole packages. Also, the guidelines state that 'we must be wary of using a News Release to illustrate a story about the organisation which provided it, particularly if it gives an unrealistic or overly favourable impression of the organisation. We should normally use such material only to illustrate the way in which the company or organisation is promoting itself' http://www.bbc.co.uk/info/policies/producer_guides/text/section5.shtml

Given that BBC insiders have described the report in question as an 'audio press release' for the army, this would also appear to be a breach of the guidelines. If so, surely you have a duty to say so?

Lastly, you state that the BFBS report was made available free to the BBC. This does suggest, more than if it had been commissioned through the normal channels, that what we are discussing is the use of promotional material rather than the commissioning of an independent journalist who would and should be expected to be paid for their work. Can you tell me if the same arrangements applied to the other commission(s) made from BFBS?

Yours sincerely,

David Miller

**************

-----Original Message-----
From: zzStephen zzWhittle
Sent: 23 March 2005 11:20
To: David Miller
Subject: RE: BFBS and the BBC

To the best of my information after extensive checking, there was no other report. As I explained, the piece was commissioned by the BBC in Scotland and the provider identified.

Having read the transcript I would quarrel with the description of the item as "an audio press release". In any event, the BBC retained editorial control. We have made clear it was not ideal and will not happen again.

Stephen Whittle

******ENDS*******

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