I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you


A fortnight ago, I??escalated??a complaint from BBC Complaints to the BBC Trust??when BBC Complaints appeared to have told me a bare-faced lie. So far, no reply from them. But evidence has emerged that BBC Complaints do indeed, as I feared, lie to people who complain as a matter of routine.

During the recent riots, the BBC helped themselves to images and videos they found online. These were then credited on-screen to a website, not the original cameraperson. Andy Mabbett challenged BBC??Complaints??about this — rightly believing that broadcasters should credit the person behind the lens rather than the method of hosting the file. After all, if you show someone a photo and they ask you who took it, you don't reply "The Family Album volume 7" or "the photo belongs to iPhone 4", do you? (And if you do, seek help).

Worse, the BBC credited the photos to Twitter, who didn't at that time even host images. The images were hosted on sites like twitpic and yfrog — they were just found using Twitter. "Who took this photograph? Oh, it was ICI, because the plastic sheeting covering them in the album was made by them".

Broadcasters should be doing a little extra research — and it's honestly just two clicks, not a punt up the Amazon. Now: the churnalist in question is sat at a PC. They see a retweet of an interesting photo and download it, crediting Twitter. In future: the journalist in question is sat at a PC. They see a retweet of an interesting photo and download it, noting the @username of the person who posted it on twitpic or yfrog or the like. It's not brain surgery, it's basic journalism and the @username is in huge type at the top of the page. It's not like they need a giant calculator and Fred Harris on hand to interpret the results.

Now here's the rub. Mabbett complains in strident tones. BBC Complaints reply, having only skimmed what he said (they say he was calling on them to stop using Twitter as a source. He wasn't). The person replying says:

Twitter is a social network platform which is available to most people who have a computer and therefore any content on it is not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain.

This is not true. Not one part of this is true. Not, even for a moment, is any of it true. Yes: BBC Complaints have lied to another stakeholder to try to make them go away. The BBC have been caught red-handed at a practice that all journalistic organisations have fallen into because it's cheap and quick and lazy. But we hold the BBC to a higher standard, whether they like it or not, because we all, collectively as a nation, own our BBC.

And the BBC does have some really good arguments instantly at hand for using the images with a correct credit: "fair dealing", prior publication, expectation of reuse, the host's terms and conditions… lots of arguments. But they, again, resorted to telling an out-and-out lie instead.

I know this is how society now works. Big organisations now regularly, as a default, lie to us. 'Dave' Cameron can hardly open his mouth without letting a lie slip out. Gideon Osborne runs with them from both ends. Nick Clegg sleeps with a blankie made out of lies sewn together. British Gas has just stopped door-to-door selling because of the lies their representatives spew on the doorstep. Even the Co-operative has lied to me in the last 6 months, as a reflex, without a qualm. Lying is now normal.

Nevertheless, I say again: I love the BBC and I'd happily pay double the licence fee (it'd still be great value compared to Sky). But the lying has to stop. Now.

One comment

  1. Happily in this case there are enough clued up BBC staff members on t’interweb to get this sorted out and by the looks of it, that’s happening. Even the social media trainer who trains at the BBC waded in proclaiming that she’s told every single one of the 2000 staff she’s trained that that approach is just completely wrong.The Daily Mail in particular mocked the BBC for having social media training courses. But this kind of thing is exactly why it needs them. And clearly there are plenty of people still to train.

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