Rhonda Roland Shearer and Danielle Elliot of stinkyjournalism.org have greatly expanded their coverage of what someone has referred to as  ‘splicegate’.

As well as a very well informed and thoughtful exploration of the ethical issues involved in the editing of quotes, they have been in touch with the BBC’s Press Office.  The statement that they received seems to explain everything to the BBC’s entire satisfaction, but I doubt whether many people who have watched the video will be convinced.

This was one part of a 50 min programme exploring the start of the Obama presidency from various angles. We edited sections of the speech to reflect the elements in it that referred to Science as a way to give people an impression or montage of what Obama said about science in his inauguration speech. This was signposted to audiences with fades between each point. It in no way altered the meaning or misrepresented what the President was saying. The piece then went on to explore the challenges facing the president in this area.

They have also heard from Peter Rippon, the editor of Newsnight, and there is much more. Over on the other side of the Atlantic journalistic ethics seem to be taken pretty seriously. The Stinky Journalism team asked four experts on the subject, one of them an ex-BBC employee, to give their opinions on whether Newsnight’s conduct was acceptable. Their responses are interesting, to say the least.

I strongly recommend that anyone who wants to understand the issues that are at stake to have a good look at Rhonda and Danielle’s post.

Bishop Hill has also filed some typically shrewd observations under the title Ethicists criticise BBC .

If the BBC wants to justify the editing of the Obama quote, then they will have to come up with far more convincing explanations than the ones that have appeared so far. The sooner that the BBC Trustees provide an official response to my complaint the better for all concerned, I think.

The BBC press release that announced the appointment of Peter Rippon  last autumn had this to say:

BBC’s Deputy Director of News, Stephen Mitchell, said: “Peter Rippon is an outstanding editor with significant experience and a reputation for innovation with his current stable of programmes from The World At One, PM and Broadcasting House.

“Newsnight is one of our most important programmes and I am convinced that under Peter’s leadership its reputation will be taken to new heights.”

Press release

Newsnight is, in my opinion, an excellent programme, but that does not mean that it is infallible.  The present furore on the internet could easily be abated by a correction and an apology. Trying to defend the indefensible will only prolong the agony and do further harm to the BBC’s reputation.

5 Responses to “BBC Newsnight’s Obama quote – ethical considerations, and the BBC explains everything”

  1. Thanks for the kind words about StnkyJournalism dot org’s report.

    Everyone should try to help keep up the heat at BBC. BBC needs to simply say they are sorry and properly correct the video to disclose the truth– that they literally fabricated the opening Obama quotations and should not have done so.

    We have just added what we call an “ethics breakthrough timer” for this case. It does a continuous running count of the number of days, minutes, seconds, that have elapsed since BBC has been asked to correct their error.

    It is on this page –it asks:

    “How long before BBC admits their “Montage” of Obama’s Inaugural Address was Ethically Wrong?”

    As of this second the count is… 06 Days, 10 Hours, etc. See for yourself it is also on our home page

    Also a bunch of unenlightened folks commenting on the Guardian piece about this issue are dismissing it as unimportant. People here would do some good by commenting over there to explain why this is an important ethics case, as you have done so well here.

  2. Rhonda’s link to the Guardian is broken.

    TonyN: Thanks Bishop, fixed.

  3. A cut down version of Chris Tryhorn’s Guardian website report on splicegate has appeared in today’s print edition of the paper. Strangely, it doesn’t mention Harmless Sky, although the web version did, but credits commenters on Susan Watts’ blog with detecting the slices.

    Well I don’t suppose the Guardian would want their readers visiting a site that challenges climate alarmism, even if that is where they got the story from.

    PoynterOnline has an excellent post reviewing what both Stinky Journalism and Harmless Sky have reported and exploring some basic rules for editing quotes. Thanks Al, if you’re around.

    Update: The Daily Telegraph seem to have lifted the story form the The Guardian.

  4. I’ve just posted the whole text from my complaint to the BBC, in a comment on the Guardian article. Will also post it on my own blog, along with any reply I might get, in the near future.

    Christopher Booker in the Telegraph (here) has an interesting thing to say about that plastic polar bear/ice floe sculpture that was floated down the Thames last Monday (26th Jan.)

    He remarks: “Londoners might have been startled last Monday to see a giant mock-up of a polar bear on an iceberg, floating on the Thames outside the Palace of Westminster. They might not have been so surprised to learn, first, that this was a global warming propaganda stunt and, second, that the television company behind it is part-owned by the BBC.”

    Apparently the company organising this was the new digital TV channel Eden, which according to its Wikipedia article (here) is part of the UKTV network, which in turn is owned by BBC Worldwide and Virgin Media Television.

    On the UKTV website’s FAQ, it states, under “Who owns UKTV”: “The UKTV joint ventures between BBC Worldwide Ltd and Virgin Media were established in March 1997 and are owned 50:50 in terms of both economic and voting interest. It is a fully independent company.” I note that in recent news, Virgin Media may sell its 50% stake to BBC Worldwide and Channel 4 (who are possibly merging.)

    Re BBC Worldwide, here is what it says about impartiality, in their Corporate Governance Report for 2007/2008:

    “The BBC’s code of ethics is incorporated into its editorial guidelines and offers advice on standards and values including accuracy, impartiality, fairness, taste and decency and the welfare of children. These guidelines apply to all BBC Worldwide commercial activities and are strictly adhered to across all BBC Worldwide activities.”

  5. Alex

    Your complaint (here and search for Alex) compliments mine, which focused on the splicing not being obvious to the audience, rather than the extent to which the ‘sound bite’ misrepresented what President Obama had to say about global warming in the speech. But this is also an issue of course, and one that the BBC will have to address before this matter can be laid to rest.

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