This guidance note discusses the considerations around the removal or amendment of our online content in response to complaints, errors, legal problems or possible breaches of Editorial Guidelines. It applies to text and audio-visual content and UGC material, both short-form and long-form material published on a BBC site or syndicated elsewhere, which is intended to form part of a journal of record or online archive. It is not intended to apply to online content with shorter lifecycles which will naturally be replaced by more up to date content. Nor is this note intended to apply to archive that is subsequently republished online.
The considerations outlined in this note may weigh in favour of removing or amending online content even when there is no legal obligation to do so. Under UK law, a requirement to amend or remove online content arises only in limited circumstances and the guidance in this note extends beyond the BBC’s legal responsibilities as a publisher.
The note should be considered in conjunction with the following Editorial Guidelines:
Unless content is specifically made available only for a limited time period, there is a presumption that material published online will become part of a permanently accessible archive and will not normally be removed or we risk erasing the past and altering history. (See Editorial Guidelines Section 3 Accuracy: Managing Online Content)
Online content, whether it’s part of a catch-up service or a permanent archive, should only be removed or amended in exceptional circumstances. For example, where there are legal or child protection issues or where a failure to act would be likely to lead to a serious breach of editorial standards, endanger an individual’s safety or cause significant harm or distress.
We normally refuse requests to remove or amend stories where the BBC is not the sole public source of the information concerned.
Requests to remove articles where individuals argue they didn’t consent to their contribution appearing online or being made available in perpetuity should also normally be refused, providing they gave consent to one part of the BBC and their safety is not endangered by the report’s presence.
We should consider alternatives to permanent removal of text or audio-visual content to preserve the archive or catch-up service, such as temporary revocation, while we amend the material before re-instating it; an offer of anonymity if, for example, a contributor is endangered by the continuing presence of the content or the publication of an online correction.
Inadvertent strong language should not be cut out as though it never happened, but disguised. Programmes containing mild language usually don’t need to be revoked.
Divisions need robust protocols, which include a system of referrals and record keeping for the removal of online content.
On-demand programmes which have been altered since linear transmission should not be presented as though they’re the same as the original.
We should be transparent about revocations, revisions and corrections and explain the specific reasons behind them, unless there are legal or editorial reasons not to. This should be at point of play for on demand programmes or on the same page for text.
We should publish online a short statement of our policy on the removal of BBC online content.