BBC news chiefs have met to discuss the increasing problem of misinformation coming out of Iraq as staff concern grows at the series of premature claims and counter claims by military sources. ‘By last Sunday the southern Iraqi seaport of Umm Qasr had been reported ‘taken’ nine times’ … ‘We’re getting more truth out of Baghdad than the Pentagon at the moment’.
Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2003 09:05:27 +0000
From: “Tim Chapman” (spam-protected)
To: forteana (spam-protected)
Subject: Fun with disinformation
BBC chiefs stress need to attribute war sources
Claims and counter-claims in the media
Ciar Byrne Friday March 28, 2003
BBC news chiefs have met to discuss the increasing problem of misinformation coming out of Iraq as staff concern grows at the series of premature claims and counter claims by military sources.
As a result the corporation has reinforced the message to correspondents that they must clearly attribute information to the military when it has not been backed up by another source.
“There’s been a discussion about attribution and it’s been reinforced with people that we do have to attribute military information,” said a BBC spokeswoman.
“We have to be very careful in the midst of a conflict like this one to be very sure when we’re reporting something we’ve not seen with our own eyes that we attribute it,” she added.
On nearly every day of the war so far there have been reports that could be seen as favourable to coalition forces, which have later turned out to be inaccurate.
Earlier this week there was confusion over whether there had been an uprising in the key southern city of Basra. A British forces spokesman, Group Captain Al Lockwood, said on Thursday there had been a “popular uprising”, but this was denied by Iraqi authorities.
By last Sunday the southern Iraqi seaport of Umm Qasr had been reported “taken” nine times, while reports of the discovery of a chemical weapons factory in An Najaf have not been confirmed – just two more examples of the confusion over what is coming out of military sources.
“We’re absolutely sick and tired of putting things out and finding they’re not true. The misinformation in this war is far and away worse than any conflict I’ve covered, including the first Gulf war and Kosovo,” said a senior BBC news source.
“On Saturday we were told they’d taken Basra and Nassiriya and then subsequently found out neither were true. We’re getting more truth out of Baghdad than the Pentagon at the moment. Not because Baghdad is putting out pure and morally correct information but because they’re less savvy about it, I think.
“I don’t know whether they (the Pentagon) are putting out flyers in the hope that we’ll run them first and ask questions later or whether they genuinely don’t know what’s going on – I rather suspect the latter.”
Earlier this week the BBC’s director of news, Richard Sambrook, admitted it was proving difficult for journalists in Iraq to distinguish truth from false reports, and that the pressures facing reporters on 24-hour news channels had led to premature or inaccurate stories.
Veteran war correspondent Martin Bell has called for 24-hour news channels to “curb their excitability” and warned against unsubstantiated reports which may help the allied cause, but later turn out to be false.
The Times journalist Janine di Giovanni has also said that the demands of real-time television, combined with the restrictions placed on reporters in Baghdad by the Iraqis and the difficulties of getting to the front line are making it virtually impossible for journalists to cover the war properly.