The BBC: Changing the Facts “In Simplifying the Tale”

December 12, 2008 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

The Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) of the BBC Trust has admitted that the corporation broke again its editorial guidelines on accuracy, this time in the documentary of the freelance reporter Greg Palast, broadcasted on November 2007 by Newsnight. The report was about Ecuador and the fight of indigenous communities against Chevron Texaco, in what is known as the biggest environmental lawsuit ever.

The complaint was advanced by the Ecuadorian activist Fidel Narváez, who challenged the BBC to prove the veracity of the statements made in the program. In the report, it ‘turned out’ that Chávez had given a quarter a billion dollars to Ecuador to face George Bush, and that oil company Occidental Petroleum was “kicked out” from Ecuador by the current government. Both statements proved to be outrightly false, clearly misleading the audience in the most prestigious news program in the UK.

Despite starting off as a personal complaint, the affair acquired major dimensions, when the National Assembly´s Committee for Sovereignty and International Relations, as well as several Ecuadorian State Ministers and the Ecuadorian Embassy in London indeed, wrote directly to the BBC Trust demanding a public correction, in the belief that the report had altered the reality and damaged the good name of Ecuador. Julia Buxton, Senior Research Fellow at University of Bradford, officially consulted by the BBC on the matter, concluded that the report came up with “…unsubstantiated comments on finance” and that the result of that was a “misrepresentation of the relationship between Ecuador and Venezuela.”

Although admitting the breach of the guidelines on accuracy, the BBC Trust will not make a public correction, apart from the mere publication of the ESC’s finding on the web. The ESC did not think that the report breached the guidelines on “impartiality”. On the matter Fidel (pictured) comments that “the Trust is eventually doing justice, but only partially. It has been outrageous to see how the program’s producers have attempted to justify false statements, with inexistent transactions and falsely quoting the very President Rafael Correa.” However, the worst was reached when Newsnight blatantly admitted of having changed the facts, when they said: “In simplifying the tale, we have implied that kicking out Occidental was done by Correa (the current President). That was wrong.” Nevertheless, the Trust claims that it was only an ‘error in editing’.

It took BBC a whole year to process the claim. In the meanwhile, Fidel Narváez assures that, in the dialogues held with the producers, they tried to persuade him to desist from his petition. On its outcome, Fidel has also commented: “Even though having won a lawsuit against Newsnight and a iconic journalist like Greg Palast tastes like a victory, I am not entirely satisfied. A public amendment would have been the right thing to do. Had a country of a different calibre been involved and not ‘little Ecuador’ how Palast likes to define it, the outcome would have been different. After all, millons TV viewers were fooled with wrong information. BBC is a public media and we the license payers deserve a reliable broadcasting that does not change the facts to simplify the tale. In the end, this was not just about truth winning, but also about public accountability.”

Movimento Ecuador is a London-based campaign group: – The Ecuadorian Movement in the UK

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This post was written by Movimento Ecuador

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