Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Can the BBC be trusted with a web page?


[trigger warning]

(via Liberal Conspiracy) The BBC Have Your Say forums currently have as a question:

Should Uganda debate gay execution?

Should homosexuals face execution? Yes, we accept it is a stark and disturbing question. But this is the reality behind an Anti-Homosexuality Bill being debated on Friday by the Ugandan parliament which would see some homosexual offences punishable by death.

There are many legitimate questions to ask about the current situation in Uganda. This is not, no matter how many disclaimers are added, one of them.

You can complain to the BBC about this. My complaint letter is:

I can not understand how you can think this is a legitimate question to be asking. There are plenty of reasonable questions that could be asked about the proposed legislation in Uganda, but "should homosexuals face execution?" is not one of them.

There is no way to ask that question that does not imply that "yes" is a legitimate answer. Your "house rules" for Have Your Say contain "Do not post messages that are unlawful, harassing, defamatory, abusive, threatening, harmful, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, homophobic or racially offensive." - when the question itself meets several of those, it sets an unacceptable example.

I expect a full and sincere apology from the BBC for this, and details of what steps are being taken to ensure that similar questions are not asked in future.

Update, 18 December

The BBC claims it has done nothing wrong, and then after that fails to stop complaints, issues a non-apology. I'm aware that the BBC considers non-apologies completely adequate. The National Union of Journalists has also come in on the "mass murder is unacceptable" side of the debate.

I got a reply to my complaint pointing me to those posts, claiming to "understand the concerns I have raised". My reply to that was:

[Neither post] acknowledges at all that:

  • it was not an appropriate question to ask
  • the problem was not merely with the original headline but with the entire concept for the question

Nor does it provide an apology beyond the "we're sorry if anyone might possibly have been offended, but we're still right", or describe what steps will be taken to prevent a recurrence of this sort of question.

I find it an utterly unsatisfactory response to the complaint that does not make me believe that you "understand the concerns [I] have raised".