Monday, 20 May 2013

Exchange with BBC on Iraq war fatalities

Whether you're soaraway Sun or BBC 1
Misinformation is a weapon of mass destruction
The killing in Iraq goes relentlessly on, nominally reported by the BBC as "sectarian", rather than invasion-created, violence.

No mention, contextual or otherwise, of the West's primary crime and responsibility for all of this carnage. 

And while the body count from such bombings is noted, the BBC still offer little or no detail of the wider war-led mortality figures within this deeply traumatised state.

On which note, an exchange with the BBC over its selective use of Iraq war death data:

Original letter to BBC (29 March 2013):
I'd like to request that the BBC end its selective use of Iraq Body Count (IBC) when denoting civilian war deaths in Iraq.

The issue of BBC bias towards IBC and the false impressions it serves is discussed here.

As noted, the following suggests a simplified alternative which, rather than IBC's limited and misleading count, offers a more informed and balanced range of figures:

Civilian war deaths in Iraq

Iraq Body Count (IBC)
(till Dec 2012)
110,937 - 121,227

Lancet/Johns Hopkins survey
(March 2003 - end of June 2006)

Opinion Research Business (ORB) survey
(August 12–19, 2007)

Source: Wikipedia

Please consider replacing sole reference to IBC with this fairer and more viewer-serving graphic.

The use of IBC as an 'authoritative' and singularly-mentioned figure is widespread across the BBC, which suggests that a specific executive/editorial decision has been taken in this regard.

I'd like to see any copy or/and details of that decision-making process.

As the BBC's own charter/editorial guidelines specify a requirement to be neutral and impartial, I look forward to a fairer presentation of this key information. If such an alteration is not undertaken, I intend to seek a ruling on this matter from the BBC Trust.

For the purposes of this complaint, I cite the following online report and its singular, biased use of IBC figures:

Iraq 10 years on: In numbers

I look forward to your reply.

John Hilley

From BBC (17 May 2013):

Dear Mr Hilley

Thanks for contacting us.

Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and we’re sorry you have had to wait on this occasion.

[Administrative details...]

We forwarded your concerns to the BBC News website team who respond to your concerns as follows:

"We have reported over recent years on the various attempts to catalogue the death toll in Iraq, and on the controversy surrounding the different figures.

The Iraq Body Count is the only organisation to offer an actual count covering the period since the US-led invasion. Other organisations seek to estimate the death toll at particular points in time, using statistical and sampling techniques.

In the particular graphic you cite, we attempt to show the rise and fall in deaths and casualties over the 10 years since the invasion. The Iraq Body Count is the only source that we feel we can rely on for this specific data. This graphic is not about numbers, but about the pattern over that period and other sources do not provide this information."

Please be assured that your complaint has been registered.

Thanks again for getting in touch.

Kind Regards
Gemma McAleer
BBC Complaints

Reply to BBC (19 May 2013):

Dear Gemma McAleer

The deceit and evasion in your reply is glaringly obvious.

The first link here gives distinct prominence to IBC, with only cursory mention of Lancet/Johns Hopkins and no mention of ORB, the others providing only basic news/assessment of the Lancet study and Iraqi Family Health Survey.

However, the issue is not just about discussions of those latter studies - sparse as they are in overall BBC output - but, more specifically, fair and equal presentation of such sources/data in viewer graphics.

It's clearly evident that the BBC has selected IBC's data because it reflects UK/US war killing in its least damaging light. Your every excusing word makes the BBC complicit in disguising that crime.

Also, if, as you claim, the point of the graphic is "not about numbers", why insist on a count-based graphic at all?

And even if it's about showing "a pattern over that period", why still exclude illustration of the other studies?

I've suggested that, for balanced information, the BBC could show a (simplified) caption with all these sources and their respective data. Why is this so problematic?

I've also asked for specific information on who at the BBC made the editorial decision to 'adopt' IBC and how that decision was arrived at.

Since neither that nor a satisfactory answer to my question about using additional sources has been received, I wish to have my enquiry elevated to 'stage 2' consideration.

John Hilley

It would be deeply intriguing to have an account of the BBC's internal discussions on this matter.

Their reluctance to divulge such information is often based on a key clause in the Freedom of Information Act (2000), specifying an obligation only to disclose information "held for purposes other than those of journalism, art or literature".

As noted by the BBC: "This means that the Act does not apply to material held for the purposes of creating the BBC's output (TV, radio, online etc), or material which supports and is closely associated with these creative activities."

All of which, as with the suppressed war deaths figures, keeps viewers from knowing more particularly how that editiorial decision was arrived at.

A similar request made to Channel 4's editorial team has not been answered. An exchange with Jon Snow on the issue of war death figures can be seen here.


Felicity Arbuthnot said...

Good for you, John Hilley. The IBC is a "pass go and collect $200" get out. Shame on them and the BBC. Iraq's figures between the invasion and the embargo are nothing short of a holocaust. "To the dead we owe only the truth."

Warmest, felicity a.

John Hilley said...

Many thanks, Felicity, and for all your own fine commentary on such issues.

Best wishes