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User-generated content now comes with cautions at the BBC

By Louise Ashwell

The BBC has started issuing on-air cautions for user-generated material.

The change comes after concerns were raised  in a 2012 BBC Trust report over the use of amateur footage during the corporation's coverage of the Arab Spring.

The warnings will be issued only where it has not been possible to independently verify material.

The Trust confirmed the change in a follow-up report  on the back of last year’s BBC-commissioned review of its Arab Spring coverage by former foreign affairs commentator Edward Mortimer.

According to the report, other improvements since Mortimer’s 2012 review include the appointment of “story champions” to make coverage more in-depth, and “stand-back moments” where staff are encouraged to reflect on content. Another measure was the regular attendance of BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen at news group board meetings "to provide his analysis of future stories and themes, and his reflections on past coverage."

Following Mortimer’s review, research by academics at Loughborough University found that as much as 74 per cent of the 171 broadcast news items they examined which featured user-generated content had been transmitted with no caveats regarding the materials’ authenticity.

In the report, the Trust said that: “Since the review was published, the BBC has adopted new wording for all user-generated footage where independent verification has not been possible.”

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The report described a transmission by Ian Pannell on 16 May featuring the new cautionary script, when he reported: “A local activist gave us this footage. He says it was taken as the shells landed. We can't verify these images but all the videos you are going to see were apparently taken on the same day by different people we met.”

The UGC Hub, the BBC unit tasked with verifying content, has also pulled footage which appeared to show a rebel fighter being killed while trying to save a girl caught in crossfire after doubts were raised about the location and date of the incident.

A BBC spokesperson said: “All our UGC material goes through stringent verification processes – a point made clear by Mr Mortimer in the initial report. What he said then is that we could be better at signposting this process to our audiences.”

“We have now adopted new wording for all UGC footage where independent verification has not been possible to help audiences better understand this vetting process.”

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