BBC management has been asked to review its fact-checking procedures on the BBC News website after inaccuracies in an online story were not corrected quickly enough.
The BBC Trust‘s Editorial Standards Committee found that a June 2007 article about the annulment of a US Congressman’s marriage was ‘fundamentally flawed’and that the BBC web team should have reacted ‘more quickly’when notified of the mistakes.
The “Vatican backs ex-Kennedy wife” story, published 20 June 2007, wrongly suggested that the Vatican had reversed its own decision in a ruling on Congressman Joseph P Kennedy’s marriage. in fact, the Vatican had reversed a decision of the Boston archdiocese. A number of other errors were contained in the copy, including misattribution of a quote.
The complainant emailed the BBC News web team on 21 June, a day after the story was originally published and correspondence over changes to the text ran until 25 July.
The BBC team argued that they had responded to the complainant at each stage within BBC guidelines’ time limit of ten days. But it admitted it could not make changes to fully reflect the story the complainant believed was most accurate.
The web team said: ‘We are writing for a general audience. While an online story can in theory be of any length, we do have constraints on our time and resources to devote to each story. Put simply, our staffing simply doesn’t allow us to go into the detail you outline in your email correspondence.’
The editorial standards committee apologised for the number of errors in the original article and also accepted that the handling of the complaint had ‘not (been) dealt with as swiftly or as effectively as it should have been.’
The BBC story was taken from a Time magazine article that the committee said had not been checked out properly. The committee said: ‘The Committee was not suggesting that the original magazine story was wrong; but that the processes at BBC News online for sourcing and checking stories had been faulty as had been their processes for checking and correcting the story once the errors had been established.”
The committee said it would write to BBC head of journalism Mark Byford to request a review of the BBC’s online policies as to sourcing and checking of stories prior to publication.