The BBC broadcasts a daily radio news and current affairs programme on BBC Radio Four called Today. It includes a short daily religious slot called Thought for the Day, contributed by the Religion and Ethics department.
On the 10th of February the speaker on Thought for the Day, Dr Bell, made some factual errors. These errors were subsequently uncovered, and an apology was issued, together with a long statement from Dr Bell. [BBC, Regret the Error]
The normal practice would be to broadcast the apology at the same time as the original item, giving it equal prominence. On this occasion however, the BBC merely indicated that an apology was available on its website. (Apparently there was a view that Dr Bell's apology was too long to broadcast in full.) The BBC received further complaints about this.
Here are some observations about this incident.
- The News and Current Affairs department was heavily criticized recently, and blamed for inaccurate reports on Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction. So we may presume a renewed emphasis on factual accuracy and fact-checking.
- Listeners hear Thought for the Day as an insert within a News and Current Affairs programme, and therefore may expect the same standards of factual accuracy and fact-checking.
- However, the Religion and Ethics department has a rather different emphasis. We might expect them to be more concerned about religious and moral truth, rather than factual truth. Few of the speakers areprofessional journalists, and there are no special resources available for fact-checking. Stories are told because of their deeper message, and speakers such as Dr Bell may be careless with factual details.
- The News and Current Affairs department clearly takes no responsibility for Thought For the Day, provides no assistance or quality control, and does not feel implicated in any error or apology.
- One item is inserted (plugged-in, invoked) into another item. But there is a mismatch between the standards and values of the two items.
- Consumers experience the two items as a single whole, and therefore expect a degree of integrity.
- Compensation (apology) is not properly orchestrated.