BBC: Changing the facts "in simplifying the tale"

Editorial Committee of BBC Trust upheld Ecuador´s complaint and admitted the breach of the guidelines on accuracy.

The Editorial Standards Committee (ESC) of the BBC Trust has admitted that the corporation infringed its editorial guidelines on accuracy in the documentary of the freelance reporter Greg Palast, broadcasted on November 2007 by Newsnight. The report was about Ecuador and the fight of indigenous communities against Chevron Texaco, in what is been described as the biggest environmental lawsuit ever.

The complaint was advanced by the Ecuadorian activist Fidel Narváez, who challenged the BBC to prove the veracity of the statements made in the program. The report purported that Venezuelan President Chávez had given a quarter a billion dollars to Ecuador to face George Bush, and that the oil company Occidental Petroleum was "kicked out" from Ecuador by it's current government. Both statements proved to be totally false, clearly misleading the audience in one of the most prestigious news program in the UK.

Despite starting off as a personal complaint to the BBC it transcended this level as the Committee for Sovereignty and International Relations of the National Assembly, as well as several Ecuadorian State Ministers and the Ecuadorian Embassy in London indeed, wrote directly to the BBC Trust demanding a public correction, as the report included clearly untrue elements and damaged the good name of Ecuador. Julia Buxton, Senior Research Fellow at University of Bradford, officially consulted by the BBC on the matter, concluded that the report came up with "...unsubstantiated comments on finance" and  that the result of that was a"misrepresentation of the relationship between Ecuador and Venezuela."

Although admitting the breach of the guidelines on "accuracy", the BBC apparently will not be making a public correction, apart from the mere publication of the ESC's finding on their website. The ESC did not think that the report breached the guidelines on "impartiality". Fidel Narváez comments that "the Trust has recognized the validity of the complaint, but only in part. It is outrageous that the program's producers have attempted to justify false statements, with inexistent transactions and falsely to quote the very President Rafael Correa." Worst of all is the fact that Newsnight blatantly admitted to having changed the facts, when they said: "In simplifying the tale, we have implied that kicking out Occidental was done by Correa (the current President). That was wrong." Nevertheless, the Trust claims that it was only an 'error in editing'!

It took BBC a whole year to process the claim. During this time, Fidel Narváez confirms that, in the dialogues held with the producers, attempts were made to persuade him to drop his complaint. On its outcome, Fidel has also commented: "Even though having won a case against Newsnight and an iconic journalist like Greg Palast tastes like a victory, I am not entirely satisfied. A public amendment should have been made and had a country of a different 'caliber' been involved and not 'little Ecuador' as Palast calls it, the outcome would have been different. Millions of TV viewers were deceived with incorrect information and the license payers of a public network should be provided with facts rather than a "simplified version". We deserve a reliable broadcasting that does not change the facts to simplify the tale. In the end, this was not just about truth winning, but also about public accountability."

Diego Alarcón, London, 8 December


The complete records of the complaint and the final finding from the BBC Trust are available on MERU's web page: http://www.movimientoecuador.co.uk

The report can be seen on: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/7113903.stm

To contact directly with Fidel Narváez in the UK:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 07853924632

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