BBC Breakfast Promises to do Better (Updated)
Posted by apgaylard on May 8, 2008
The BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) has just published its final rulings on my objections to two items featured on BBC One’s Breakfast News last year. These were the credulous promotion of Ecowatt’s miraculous water heater and the ‘Sound’ Learning Centre’s advocacy of Lightwave Stimulation (LWS) therapy for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
You can read the rulings here and here. Essentially they follow the same format: the ECU rules that dubious claims have been uncritically promoted by the BBC as ‘news’ and the Editor of Breakfast promises to have their staff do the obvious in the future.
On the one hand it’s nice to have these complaints upheld; on the other I’d really like to see the BBC be big enough to put these gross errors right. Ecowatts are still using the BBC report as advertising on their website; more worringly the BBC website still has Richard Westcott‘s nonsense item on LWS therapy. (In fact it’s the top result from ‘BBC Audio and Video’ if you search the BBC site for ‘winter blues’)
I don’t think that this is good enough – particularly when the BBC have failed to remove material from their website which features a therapy that, as the ECU says, “is not the product of peer-reviewed science” and that the piece has, “no editorial justification for featuring the company which offered it in this uncritical context.”
I’ll definitely be following up on these rulings to see whether the BBC is prepared to set the record straight in a meaningful way. I would certainly hope that the offending material could be expunged from their own website.
On this latter point it seems that there may be some movement. I decided to run through the complaints process again on the specific point of having the video removed from the website. I have had a very swift reply from Ian Jolly (BBC News website), “Many thanks for getting in touch about this. It can take a little while for such rulings to filter through but the video is being removed. I’m currently looking at how we deal with complaints and will examine how we can ensure we respond more swiftly to ECU rulings such as this one.”
Also, the rulings do show the very defensive initial responses from the programme-makers in a very poor light. I’d hope that the individuals concerned would think twice about defending the indefensible in the future.
Finally, I would like to think that lessons have actually been learnt; particularly as some seem pretty obvious to me (checking and cross-checking facts, getting help from specialist correspondents, etc.). I’ll be keeping an eye on Breakfast News to see if it really does do better in the future. I genuinely hope they do.
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