BBC BLOGS - The Editors
« Previous | Main | Next »

Editing interviews

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:54 UK time, Friday, 4 January 2008

In the past week or so, the BBC - and more specifically, the News website - has been accused on various websites, blogs and bulletin boards of censorship.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe claims relate to an interview with the late Benazir Bhutto, originally conducted by Sir David Frost for the al-Jazeera channel, and later rebroadcast in part on this website (the BBC has an agreement with al-Jazeera which enables both broadcasters to share certain news material).

During the interview, first broadcast at the start of November last year (more info here), Ms Bhutto made what was, on the face of it, an astonishing allegation - that Osama Bin Laden had been murdered by Omar Sheikh. The claim was brief, and went unchallenged by Sir David Frost.

Under time pressure, the item producer responsible for publishing the video on the BBC website edited out the comment, with the intention of avoiding confusion. The claim appeared so unexpected that it seemed she had simply mis-spoken. However, editing out her comment was clearly a mistake, for which we apologise, and it should not have happened. There was no intention on our part to distort the meaning of the interview, and we will endeavour to replace the edited version currently available via our website, with the original interview as broadcast by Al-Jazeera, which, in the meantime, you can find on YouTube here.

UPDATE Wed 09/01/2007: As promised above, we've now updated the original clip with the full version of the interview.


  • 1.
  • At 08:12 PM on 04 Jan 2008,
  • Steven Martin wrote:

Censorship at the BBC is mostly about what you choose to ignore and that is largely guided by powerful interests, usually government.

For example Hugo Chavez receives extreme scrutiny over everything he says or does. Even the mobile phone ring tone of the Spanish King telling him to shut up got a big story. Yet important topics such as the ORB survey on Iraqi deaths were pretty much ignored.

One major form of censorship (not exclusive to the BBC) is the exclusion of the opinions of non-official sources. For example, you might have a story about Iraq citing comments by various officials pushing their agenda, but you seldom have counter opinions from independent experts. We're so used to it that most people don't even notice, but when you step back it looks quite ridiculous.

I mean, imagine if you were writing a story about Israel, but the only opinions you quoted were those of Hamas. It would look pretty stupid wouldn't it? Yet replace Israel with Iraq or Iran and Hamas with the US Government and you have pretty much the standard situation in a BBC News article.

This is a result of being "embedded with power" as Pepe Escobar would put it.

  • 2.
  • At 08:52 PM on 04 Jan 2008,
  • p mose wrote:

censorship and the bbc and the government,
i had the pleasure to work with a man we called [h]he was skilled pannel beater,he was working for the government in the 60s he was part of a team who,s job was to conceal a special camera in the bodywork of a coach this coach was to carry ordinary holiday makers on a trip to chekozevakia,the driver was to make a diversion of the route past an air field and trigger the camera to film the russian air base ,then back on route,

they got caught inocent people got interogated,when they got home some tried to get the bbc to report it ,guess what, they did not get anywhere,

those old links between government and the bbc/old boys/licence fees/certain clubs that certain people belong to,

this was one example of 100s.

  • 3.
  • At 09:43 PM on 04 Jan 2008,
  • Alex wrote:

And that's all you got to say to the masses Mr. Herrmann!
Well, your explanation is beside the point, with the real question being - is OBL dead? If so, since when?
The question I bet you are not going to even touch upon.
Where is investigative journalism when we need it? Aren't you curious yourself as a journalist?

  • 4.
  • At 12:55 AM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • Kendrick Curtis wrote:

I do wish that the BBC News website would store a "page history" accessible by the audience. You change stories as they come in all the time and it is immensely distracting for those who link through to the BBC News site.

If, however, every published version of an article was available via a link from the page (and each revision had hardlinks for deep-linking purposes) then it would be thoroughly obvious when a revision was made. New revisions could even carry a tagline to indicate what had changed between the previous version and this one. I bet that you store all this information anyway in something like CVS or Subversion. Please make it available to the public!

  • 5.
  • At 02:01 AM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • Antonio wrote:

It seems that BBC chose which news is
good for elite and which will damage the Agenda.BBC real face is unveiling
by every passing day.This news should be the biggest news after 911, but ironically BBC chose to censor it.What are u doing man.U are exposing yourselves.

  • 6.
  • At 04:19 AM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • An 800lb Gorilla In The Room wrote:

Cue 9/11 conspiracy nuts.

  • 7.
  • At 10:32 AM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • Robert, Scotland wrote:

Of course the BBC would not broadcast the death of Osama Bin Laden, even it was verifiably true. This would undermine the BBC's role as the Governments lapdog on bogey-man stories. Good grief, what chickens would come home to roost should the blame it all on Al Qaeda excuse be in anyway diluted.
You have my permission to submit this comment to New Labour for censoring.

  • 8.
  • At 03:14 PM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • Richard wrote:

Of course the media is biased/censorious! Even if it were possible to present a completely open and balanced recounting of simply the "facts", this would not be desirable, as it would not give any insight whatsoever into the implications of events. An independent source is not intrinsically more authoritative than, say, a government source. They just have a different point of view.

I'd be interested to know if those who accuse the media of bias would be so even-handed given the opportunity to express themselves on any given topic?

Although generally a positive thing, I'm inclined to think that the fragmentation of media as the Internet increasingly allows access to anybody, could lead to less clarity being as it is far easier to be anonymous and hide your prejudices and interests.

I would like to extend a cautious thankyou for the BBC clearing this up quickly, I say cautious as it was my website that got the ball rolling on this specific issue although there have been others, namely the WT7 story where it was reported to have collapsed while the reporter was quite clearly standing in front of the still standing building. That story as far as I am concerned has STILL not been explained.

I note also that the clip regarding Benazir Bhutto and her allegation has NOT been changed yet, I look forward to it being changed

If it were a misfortunate misjudgement to cut Bhuttos remark out - how comes that all other news media around the world do the same? NOBOFY notices Bhuttos allegation (true or untrue)- and THIS is the real scandal. The mainstream media do not want to discuss if "Osama-Videos" might have been doctored.

That`s all. BBC was just one in the line - and got caught.

  • 11.
  • At 07:54 PM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • Chris Townsend wrote:

No cue necessary Gorilla, they're out in force already. :-s

  • 12.
  • At 09:04 PM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • mat wrote:

Well some of us dont evem watch the bbc, we think bbc news is selective and has lost all creditability as a news medium. If no one pointed it out then people would nt have known this and bbc wouldnt have corrected it. how many other stories the BBc has reported that were half truths? possibly many.

  • 13.
  • At 10:19 PM on 05 Jan 2008,
  • Guy Fox wrote:

Do BBC editors ever distort or censor the news to fit a particular agenda? People who think the earth is flat would say no.

Astonishing equals "news" any day of the week.

If the video editor paused because this "astonishing revelation" (even "on the face of it") appeared to be news, then the intervening two months should have seen some fact-checking by BBC.

We can therefore assume these facts will be presented when the fully restored video is re-posted to the BBC website.

Correct assumption, Mr. Herrmann?

  • 15.
  • At 11:26 AM on 06 Jan 2008,
  • The truth will set you FREE !! wrote:

Doesn't it ring any alarm bells that the whole 9/11 saga and the illegal wars post 9/11 were engineered as part of pushing the agenda forward.
Look at the FBI website for yourself and see the real reason they are looking for Bin Laden, there isn't enough evidence to connect him to 9/11 so what the hell are we still doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, Oh yeah fighting this so call "WAR ON TERROR" or really it is a "WAR OF TERROR".
It's time to wake up and start asking questions for yourselves rather that waiting for the censored media coverage to tell you.

  • 16.
  • At 01:06 PM on 06 Jan 2008,
  • Fergus wrote:

Alex, Robert,

Do you really think that if the BBC could track down the truth about Osama Bin Laden, that they would not report it? Any major broadcaster or newspaper would dearly love to have that story. Equally, the suggestion that the BBC is the Government's lapdog beggars belief. Perhaps you memory does not stretch back as far as the 'sexed up' Iraq dossier?

The BBC is not obviously 'anti' our current government, but it certainly provides critical analysis, as is it's job.

There are many problems with the BBC and some of these lie with its news coverage. No need to invent unlikely conspiracies.

  • 17.
  • At 02:38 PM on 06 Jan 2008,
  • JC wrote:

Why didn´t the BBC try to find out whether Benazir Bhutto indeed did make a mistake and, more importantly, why David Frost failed to react. Was he not listening to her answer?

Surely the BBC should actually research the circumstances of controversial material before rushing to publish it? Rather than just cutting the problematic bits out of it without checking what they might mean?

  • 18.
  • At 05:15 PM on 06 Jan 2008,
  • Laurence Penney wrote:

You're not alone, Kendrick Curtis:

"It is now more than three years since Biased BBC first called for BBC Views Online to provide a Wikipedia-style document edit history. Has anyone yet come up with good solid reasons why the BBC shouldn't provide tellytaxpayers with this straightforward information automatically?" - Biased BBC, October 2007

However also take a look at News Sniffer, which is actually doing something about it:

(deletions in red, additions in green)

  • 19.
  • At 05:36 PM on 06 Jan 2008,
  • m&m wrote:

Dear Mr. Herrman. Do You think that "Under time pressure, the item producer responsible for publishing the video on the BBC website edited out the comment, with the intention of avoiding confusion." is a really believable reason for cutting the most interesting and important part of Ms Bhutto's speach?
Do You think the most important role of BBC is "avoiding confusion"? How could that only Ms Bhutto's sentence confuse me? I want to know the true, I don't want to be "lulled" by fairy tale about nice and simple world.
Is BBC a "fairy-tale teller"? Why?
Excuse my English, please :-)
Thank You,...

  • 20.
  • At 07:59 PM on 06 Jan 2008,
  • Robert wrote:

Everything is filtered and then filtered again. Someone is even deciding which comments will appear after this post and which won't.

Here's one experience I've had: the press and media regularly publish inaccurate facts and figures about an event where I live. The public is being deceived and encouraged to buy tickets under false pretences.

The inaccurate information comes from the organisers as press releases and much of the media publishes the false info without checking.

The BBC is an exception and publishes the correct figures (I think because it insists on more than one source for stories). But, contact the other media outlets about this, and they aren't interested in the slightest bit. Even those familiar names that supposedly present themselves as 'more ethical' than others. Each year it is the same old lies.

Overall, much of the real investigative reporting has disappeared from newspapers and TV and so has a lot of the fact checking.

Although the internet gives an air of openness, comments can be censored or deleted, as can entire accounts on social networking sites, or blogs that you don't host on your own server.

If you really want to get your message out you need your own hosting space and your own website.

  • 21.
  • At 08:21 PM on 06 Jan 2008,
  • Toners Bruxtin wrote:

Mums the word... If the BBC is gagged just nod and shake your head to avoid confusion.

  • 22.
  • At 09:27 AM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • John wrote:

Did she offer any evidence for this claim?

I'm not sure the BBC should carry this sort of thing if there is no evidence for it. 'Bin-Ladens dead' rumours have been ten a penny since 2003, but he still keeps making the tapes.

Usually the lefties are moaning about 'wheres the evidence' and dodgy dossiers, not calling for rumour to be published.

I think you do need to careful editing (anybody's) interview if it appears to be verbatim but is not.

  • 23.
  • At 10:04 AM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Andrew K wrote:

Yes there is censorship at the BBC.

An example:

On the BBC website's Have Your Say pages this weekend was an article about mercury in fluorescent low energy bulbs and the banning of incandescent lightbulbs. The vast majority of respondents were very critical of the government and the green movement. Obviously this goes against the orders the BC has received from the greens on how to report green issues, so the topic was closed after just two days, even though others have been kept open for up to a week.

  • 24.
  • At 10:37 AM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • James wrote:

It was quite obvious that she mis-spoke and the BBC was simply trying to avoid confusion. If you look at other interviews with her before and after the Al Jazeera one she talks about Bin Laden but never claims he was murdered by Omar Sheikh. Get a life people.

  • 25.
  • At 11:37 AM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • ChrisJk wrote:

Sometimes it is easy to believe that BBC "HYS" and "Editors" feedback comments are being selected to bias the discussion.

Some topics publish a lot of vitrolic apparently irrational comments - yet very few reasoned statements of known facts appear. Some of my attempts to establish known facts have fallen in that latter unpublished category.

That could be merely a balanced reflection of the ratio in the received posts. However it begs the question as to whether there should be some impartial editorial control to include as much apparently factual comment as possible. Failure to do so reinforces the view that there are no facts other than the oversimplified "mob" labels purveyed by media headlines.

It then begs the question as to whether these BBC "public" fora should just be ignored - or whether by doing so the myths and misquotes gain credibility by much repetition.

I've been trying to post for days but not luck.

The BBC really should check this out.

I heard what she said and won't suppose what she really meant.

Reaction, Mr. Herrmann?

  • 27.
  • At 06:51 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • robert ronson wrote:

What is the difference between editing and censoring?

  • 28.
  • At 11:45 PM on 14 Jan 2008,
  • chris wrote:

This is clear and obvious censorship,you say it appears that she has mis spoken - this is a ludicrous accusation to make.
Benazir Bhutto was not some conspiracy nutcase that you could ignore, infact in her position of power and integrity I would believe what she said over anything the BBC reports on Bin Laden.
You got busted pure and simple.
I have totally lost all faith in the BBC,you should be ashamed to call yourself a journalist.

This post is closed to new comments.

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.