Subsequent correspondence here, here, here and here. The BBC Editorial Complaints Unit’s finding upholding the substance of this complaint is here. A decision by the BBC Trust on the wider issues of BBC editorial policy is here.
- Newsnight 29/8/14 (BBC2, 10.30pm) section commencing 04:49 minutes
- Syria Vote: One Year On 30/8/14 (BBC News Channel, 04:30 & 14.30) section commencing 04:44 minutes
The 29 August 2014 edition of BBC2’s Newsnight was devoted to the consequences of the UK Commons vote on intervention in Syria exactly one year previously. Footage of alleged victims of the “playground napalm bomb” from the BBC’s 29 August 2013 report was featured at 03:00 – 03:20 and 04:49 – 05:08. Over the latter scenes, date stamped “August 2013″, presenter Laura Kuenssberg stated “by chance, just as MPs voted, these images of a chemical [sic] attack were shown for the first time”.
“The phrase “chemical weapon” was taken out of the [29 August 2013] news piece because by the time it was broadcast it was known that this was an incendiary bomb that had been used in the attack.”
“To have included her [Dr Hallam’s] speculation that this could have been a “chemical weapon” ran a considerable risk of being incredibly misleading and confusing to the audience, not least because the incident happened within days of an alleged chemical attack in Damascus.”
Consequently I alerted Laura Kuenssberg on Twitter to her use of the term “chemical” in her Newsnight report (and indeed in her Tweet).
At 4.30am on 30 August 2014, a few hours after my Tweet to Ms Kuenssberg, a re-edited version of the same edition of Newsnight entitled “Syria Vote: One Year On” was transmitted on the BBC News Channel in which from 04:44 the “napalm bomb” sequences had been replaced by footage from an alleged chemical attack on Saraqeb, Northern Syria on 29 April 2013, originally broadcast in a BBC News report of 16 May 2013.
The substituted footage was not date stamped and its source was unidentified. Laura Kuenssberg’s narration remained unchanged and thus continued to inform audiences that the Saraqeb footage had been “shown for the first time” “by chance, just as MPs voted” – i.e. on the evening of Thursday 29 August 2013 – when it had in fact been “shown for the first time” over three months prior to that date.
Both versions of Newsnight are listed on the BBC’s website here. Screengrabs of the relevant sections from both editions are below, including subtitles as transmitted demonstrating that the narration was identical in both instances.
BBC Complaints: “very rare” delay
I referred to the above matter in my final appeal to the BBC Trust regarding ‘Saving Syria’s Children‘ (2 September 2014) and on 10 September 2014 lodged a separate complaint in respect of it. On 21 October 2014 BBC Complaints replied, stating “we do not believe that the replacement of the footage altered the nature of the report, so we do not believe this breached our editorial guidelines.”
As noted at section III here, the BBC acknowledged my challenge to this decision in a letter of 3 December 2014, stating it may “take longer than 20 working days before you receive our reply”.
- After 50 working days, on 16 February 2015, I contacted BBC Complaints via the complaints webform, reminding them of the BBC Complaints Framework stipulation that “the complaints process should be quick and simple.”
- After a follow up phone call to BBC Audience Services on 27 February 2015 (59 working days) I belatedly received an email saying that a reminder had been sent to “the relevant people”.
- During a further follow up phone call on 16 March 2015 (70 working days) Manager Mark Roberts emailed BBC News Division with a fresh reminder.
- On 7 April 2015 (84 working days) the BBC Customer Services Adviser I spoke to expressed her bewilderment over the delay, stating it was “very rare”. I was advised that Manager Kevin Freeburn would “get on to the Escalated Complaints Team and see what’s happened”.
- 29 April 2015 marked 100 working days since the BBC’s holding reply of 3 December 2014.
29/8/14 (BBC2, 10.30pm)
Section commencing 04:49 minutes. Footage from “napalm bomb” report (BBC One, Ten O’Clock News, 29 August 2013)
30/8/14 (BBC News Channel, 04:30 & 14.30)
Section commencing 04:44 minutes. Footage from an alleged chemical attack on Saraqeb, Northern Syria on 29 April 2013 (originally broadcast in a BBC News report of 16 May 2013) accompanied by identical narration by Laura Kuenssberg .
NB: The subtitles below refer to “images of an attack with chemical weapons” while those above state “images of a chemical attack“, however the narration in both cases is identical and uses the latter form.