BBC self-promotion should also face the facts

In the final episode of the recent BBC drama, The Hour, one of the major characters could be heard berating one of his journalists with fact, not opinion for proposing they run a story which couldn’t be verified.

The BBC World Service this week broadcast an extract-come-promotion for an upcoming documentary concerning the fate of a large number of Irish men who served in the British Army during World War II.

Being Irish, I took some notice of it, but didn’t listen to it in detail. Not long after I noticed a number of people sharing a link to the same story from the BBC website. Reading through the content, I was pretty certain it was reasonably close to a transcript from the radio piece. While on the whole the piece was factual, a number of issues stood out.

  • Firstly, the focus on the punishment meted out to the 5,000 or so soldiers who had deserted the Irish Army to join the British with barely a mention of the 30,000 or more other Irish nationals who also served in British forces during that war.
  • The presentation; neither supported nor contradicted, of a quote from a supposed History Professor at Trinity College in Dublin:

I’d estimate that 60% of the population expected or indeed hoped the Germans would win

In order to meet the requirements of its own title, no doubt the Face the Facts program, once broadcast in full, will correct these omissions and errors. There are plenty of Irish, British and other historians who can help them explore and explain to their listeners the reality of the time; such as the complex and confrontational relationship between Britain and Ireland in the years leading up to 1939. It’s such a pity that in the modern quest for instant gratification and self-promotion, headlines missing critical pronouns and questionable statistics are allowed to run.

The challenge of facts served without context and opinions presented as facts remains when you consider some of the commentary accompanying the sharing of this article on the internet. To the uninformed, it may seem as if the Irish Free State was in league with the Nazis, and that all Irish citizens who dared to fight Mr Hitler were punished severely upon their return.

We used to rely on journalists at the BBC, on programs like those represented in The Hour, to explore and present the portion of a story which wasn’t instantly obvious. For as with all, there is almost always more to a story than that which meets the eye.

While it’s clear The Hour is just a drama, you have to believe the script was influenced in some way by the policies which existed at the BBC at the time of the Suez crisis. 55 years on some of the same policies could be well used at their online news site.

Unfortunately, it seems the venerable BBC has succumbed to the Murdochian need to promote its upcoming investments rather than ensure both the story, and indeed the bait of the headline, are factual; or at least where opinions are presented they are backed up or contradicted so as not to be confused with facts.

In the case of today’s example, that’s more than unfortunate. Ireland has come a long way from the days of de Valera and his comely maidens dancing at the cross roads. It didn’t shoot them in the head, but its treatment of those deserters from its army who chose the bigger picture over Ireland’s own interests does need examining. I look forward to the documentary in anticipation it faces the facts rather than continuing to present them in a way which suits its narrative.

Link

Reuters are reporting that the purchasing behaviour of the Kindle Fire isn’t  exactly clever if you plan to give them to kids.

Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, one of the hottest gadgets this holiday season because of its low price, has some parents bristling over the simplicity at which children can order from the retail giant and the inability to stop them without crippling the device.

As if selling the product at below cost wasn’t enough, this is surely just another reminder to the market of what Amazon’s business is?

Is AP forgetting simple rules by restricting retweets?

Associated Press (AP) thinks their staff shouldn’t be allowed to retweet on twitter due to the high risk of their journalists being perceived as biased. Perhaps rather than issuing unnecessarily strict social media rules to their well educated writers, the AP might consider some other rules common to any journalist.

An article by Caitlin Johnston in the American Journalism Review exploring AP’s instruction to writers not to retweet on twitter was shared into my tweetstream yesterday:

Retweets are an endorsement says Caitlin Johnston in the American Journalism Review

My immediate reaction reading the content of the tweet and the first lines of the article was Ms. Johnston didn’t ‘have a clue’ and I wasn’t afraid to retweet with that as my commentary.

Reading the article in more detail, I know now Johnston was, in fact, going about her job by producing an extremely fair and balanced piece on the entire topic of retweeting and how it is perceived by various sections of the Media Industry.

She explores those retweeting rules recently issued by AP to their Journalists, including quoting AP’s standard’s editor, Tom Kent, as saying: “…by simply retweeting the information the journalist could be suggesting that he or she endorses it.”

Which, if you think about what happens when you retweet on Twitter, is akin to a scenario where I would say to someone: “so and so thinks xyz about abc” and that person then tells another it was I who thinks “xyz about abc”.

One of my favourite bloggers on the topic of Journalism and writing in general, Bill Bennett, also wrote today on Craig Silverman’s eight simple rules for accurate journalism. Bill quotes Mr. Silverman’s first rule as being:

 “Initial, mistaken information will be retweeted more than any subsequent correction”.

At first glance it seems this rule is backing up AP’s banning of retweets by staff, yet his article also teaches us “Failure sucks but instructs”.

Compared with the reaction AP might receive if one of their staff retweeted something controversial, my transgression against Johnston probably disappeared beneath most radars. I am however intending to use my failure to instruct myself  that “Verification before dissemination” is all important. If I can do that, then I’m sure AP could also respond to negative situations caused by a misplaced retweet with some relevant coaching and guidance for their staff.

Silverman’s last rule; “It’s not the crime, it’s the coverup”, needs also to be remembered in the context of any perceived failure. Circling the wagons often presumes further guilt by your the readers. The AP might consider that correcting the record and coaching their staff is a much more efficient response. It’s likely your readers will reward you and your writer will likely be happier too.

I can’t finish without issuing my own correction, despite Silverman’s guidance about them, and apologise to Caitlin Johnston for my reaction on Twitter. I thought her piece was actually excellent and will heartily retweet it as an endorsement.

Link

As if the Carrier IQ issue wasn’t enough of a challenge for the Android platform, a new permissions compromise has been found by boffins at North Carolina State University in the USA.

The challenge for smartphone vendors is that many of their customers aren’t aware they are actually buying a mobile computer. There’s an onus on the vendor and those of us in the industry to continue to remind less tech savvy users of the threats this might entail.

For most people Android or any other platform is as safe as a bank. As long as you keep your eyes and ears open and follow some key steps to protect yourself online.

I did note in the video the phone receiving the SMS appeared to be protected by Lookout. My friends there advised yesterday they protect against GG Tracker which is used to send Premium Rate SMS. I’ll be asking them if this compromise, which can also facilitate sending SMS, is also protected by Lookout.