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What really happened

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 16:58 UK time, Friday, 19 June 2009

The crisis over the Iranian election has been our lead story for most of the week. As with all our coverage, we have been careful to report what both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi supporters are saying. Similarly, we have taken care to label the pictures we use, explaining what they are of.

BBC News story Obama refuses to 'meddle' in IranHowever, on Wednesday 17 June we made a mistake in a picture caption published on BBC News online. In the story Obama refuses to 'meddle' in Iran, we mistakenly stated that a Getty agency picture of a pro-Ahmadinejad rally was a pro-Mousavi rally.

Some blogs, including, are pointing out that the LA Times used a similar photograph which showed President Ahmadinejad waving to supporters. The Getty pictures we received did not show Mr Ahmadinejad.

When a reader contacted us about it, we checked our caption and corrected it. We're sorry for the mistake and have added a note explaining the correction to the story.


  • Comment number 1.

    Amongst all the coverage and especially the comment, I've found one thing very hard to track down: The full text of Ayatollah Khamenei's speech on the Iranian election. Not just at the BBC News, admittedly, but across the internet news in general.
    Surely the undigested, unprocessed, uncommented-upon information is a basic part of the news. To help a few of us cross-check on those abstracting and commenting, at least? Otherwise how do we know we are getting fair summaries? Or know what is *not* being commented on?

  • Comment number 2.

    "Cry for help from Iran"

    On June, 18th, an E-Mail of Iranian students arrived. They managed to circumvent the internet blocking and sent us their urgent cry for help. Even Khomeinis granddaughter, Zahra Eshraqi, is said to be arrested!

  • Comment number 3.

    Mistake...2+2=6 is a mistake. This is deliberate misinformation just like it is disseminated here in the states. We are itching for a war with Iran. Kissinger said he's redy for regime change from within or using external means. What would you make of that if you were an Iranian? Independent polls show similar numbers for the current president. These folks remember who was responsible for bringing the Shah of Iran to power through a US sponsored coup. It's our style.

  • Comment number 4.

    This crowd, that crowd, it really doesn't matter, could end up another Tiananmen Square or something closer to Burma. Either the leadership makes adjustments or people will leave and trouble will be internal. There is a simple rule when advocating for change: They will only give you what you can take from them anyway.

  • Comment number 5.

    Despite having the title "Obama refuses to 'meddle' in Iran", the BBC has yet again refused to explore the possibility that the US may indeed be meddling. Seymour Hersh and other journalists have written about Bush-approved operations to destabilise the Iranian government, so why has this not been explored in any of the dozens of articles the BBC has written?

  • Comment number 6.

    "we have been careful to report what both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi supporters are saying. Similarly, we have taken care to label the pictures we use"....

    "What really happened is", perhaps, that you didn't take care and you were not very careful at all. Is this a first, or simply, because the "mistake" was spotted by a reader, the first time you have noticed or been made to take notice?

    Do you check ALL the photos used in story lines for authenticity and copyright or have complaints been made in the past about using "unauthorised" material?

  • Comment number 7.

    LOL BBC, who do you think your fooling?

    If this sort of deception had never been found at the BBC before then perhaps we might fall for the "mistake" but common do you really expect us to believe it now?

  • Comment number 8.

    This is not the only example of cropping/photo-shopping designed to create the illusion of huge support for Moussavi.

    On this page:

    ...there is a picture published of an Ahmadinejad rally taken before the election.

    On this page: appears again under the caption "Reclaiming their country", having been uplifted from The Atlantic:

    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 9.


    Yep, kind of reminds me of the BBC's coverage of 9/11 when they said WTC Building 7 had collapsed even though it was in shot in the background.

    The Beeb then went on to claim they had the lost the tape of that momentous occassion, even though copies of it were circulating the interwebs.

  • Comment number 10.

    Lets ask ourselves just two basic questions.Then ask for the cost.
    1..Can we see any/many GREEN flags being waved.
    2..If we can then who are the supporters cheering for.
    What is the lie worth.How many lives

    Why do people, BBC and commentators HERE not start with the plainfully obvious..Does the "potential conspiracy" thought process negate all other cerebral activity..If that be the case,hopefully you will seek assistance from a professional,be they a Teacher..a Rabbi..or a Minister(excluding Political kind of course).

  • Comment number 11.

    I have the same complaint as emettman. I'm looking all over for the full text of Khomenei's June 19, 2009 speech, and I can't find it anywhere. (There's word that Andrew Sullivan's blog has it, but if you look there you will see that that is not actually the case.)

    What's going on? Are we in the West actually as information deprived as others on this planet? Have certain people decided we shouldn't read the full text of Khomenei's speech? C'mon!

  • Comment number 12.

    Very gracious of the BBC no doubt, thank God for the internet and sites like '' being a site I peruse daily.
    Now people, have a look at Mike Rudin's story and the comments (esp from abour 3,000 on)in the editor's blog called "Caught up in a conspircay" and see how the BBC is refusing to update The Rudin 'Conspircay File' programs on 9/11.
    For example, the BBC will not report on the recent paper of 4th April 2009 by Niels Harrit and 8 other scientists on the confirmation of ther finding of nano-thermitic residue in the twin towers dust. Why not BBC? the Danes have put Niels Harrit on TV to expalin the findings fo the militarised explosives.Why should the Danes be more informed than the British in relation to the mass murders on 9/11
    The BBC will not/has not update/d their "No Mystery" program citing official investigators explaining that the No 7 building fell down due to 'thermal expansion'. But the BBC will not report on the concession by those oficial people that building No 7 fell down with 2.25 seconds of freefall for the equivalent distance of about 8 stories. That simply means that the underlying bulding structure had to be instantaneously and simultaneously removed. I suppose that was done by pixies eh, BBC? No! Try explosives. That certainly demonstrates that the 'thermal expansion' explanation is nonsense, as is the whole of the Bush believers Conspircay theory that 19 Arabs did 9/11'
    The BBC has many more corrections to publish before it can be relied upon as a 'news' source.
    In the meantime people, look elsewhere for reliable information.

  • Comment number 13.

    Let us think through what happened here.

    The BBC, wishing to retain its renowned "neutrality", has an editorial team that checks through all output. It is anxious to balance its output between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad so this editorial team would look at all pictures considered carefully and objectively. So precise is the activity of this editorial team (in the interests of "neutrality") that it failed to notice an incorrectly labelled picture until a visitor to the website pointed out to them that the caption was wrong.

    Let us reason what happened here and declare the options.

    1. It was a genuine mistake.
    2. The BBC noticed the mistake but didn't care.
    3. The BBC has a pro-Mousavi agenda.
    4. The BBC uses erroneous material some of the time.
    5. The BBC has an anti-Ahmadinejad agenda.
    6. The BBC deliberately used a false caption.
    7. It is a mistake to believe that the BBC makes mistakes.

    As someone who has noticed the increase in "mistakes" during the last decade I just wonder if the BBC really cares about the truth at all. Does it care about anything as long as the license fee money keeps rolling in?

  • Comment number 14.

    Given that we have recently had a plethora of blithering apologies from our political masters and mistresses that mean absolutely nothing (to them or us probably) it seems that the BBC has caught this variant of swine flu in thinking it can get away with anything "just as long as it fits the rules".

    Along with many others I am still waiting for the BBC to release the truth of 9/11, the 45 minute dossier, the descent into tabloid action and speak by the BBC's journalists and many other news "disasters".

    Apologies count for nothing BBC but releasing the truth does. Who knows it may do all your egos a power of good too.

  • Comment number 15.


  • Comment number 16.

    Steve - next time, turn your comments off on these posts. It might force these conspiracy theorists from going somewhere else for their fix.

  • Comment number 17.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 18.

    Yes.Iranian Election and its result news of this channel has become order of the day to many.
    Yesterday, Iranian Main leader had passed a severe complaint on British views.
    That can not be accepted by any democratic individuals.
    I always supports of your unbiased journalism.
    Now, what happened is in our hands.That is noticeable.

  • Comment number 19.

    On the subject of "mistake", I have the following story to tell.

    BBC World News aired a report on Beijing's air quality on July 8th, 2008, exactly one month before the opening of the Beijing Olympics. The reporter, James Reynolds, with a hand-held equipment in his hand which showed a reading of 351 (micrograms/cubic meter), declared that Beijing's airborne particles (known as PM10) were seven times higher than WHO's air quality guideline for PM10. It was not a mistake. It was a "selective truth".

    James Reynolds however did make a "mistake" in that he also wrote a piece on the subject in his blog titled "Testing pollution levels". In that article, he disclosed that he tested Beijing's PM10 for seven consecutive days from July 1st to 7th, 2008, and the readings for the seven days were 121, 172, 122, 351, 112, 27, and 242.

  • Comment number 20.

    I would think you have a few other things to apologise for. As far as the photo is concerned you would think the BBC had been well trained by politicians grouping together behind a Parliament speaker to give the illusion that the place is busy.[They say, it is to speak to one and other.]

    In a nutshell, you have chased ''the story'' (again, as in Plots against GB-will he last til tomorrow)rather than give thought to the possibility that it may be nothing more than gossip and rumour.

    Blind Man's Buff

  • Comment number 21.

    The photo used by the BBC is not the same one as used by the LA Times, if you look for yourself you can clearly see that the windows in the background are in different positions, the crowd banners are different, the foreground speakers aren't there and the angle of the photo is different. It may be the same rally but it is not the same photo so why is the BBC apologising for what it did not do?

  • Comment number 22.

    1) Some windows of the main building on the background in the photo with Ahmadijenad are open while they are closed in the other one. This proves the photos were taken at different times and are thus not one and the same.

    2) On the photo without Ahmadijenad we do not see the buildings on the background (to the righ) that we do see on the other photo which is allegedly a zoomed-in version of the former, I was always told stuff disappears from your edges when you zoom in, instead of new stuff appearing.
    This proves one of the photos is not a zoomed-in version of the other, meaning they are not the same photo.

    My advice: let an expert watch this before the BBC let's itself be corrected by some site called "", maybe someone who can read the signs the protesters are carrying.

  • Comment number 23.

    emettman and kevin_gregg: We have now posted excerpts from the Khamenei speech here Steve

  • Comment number 24.

    What's most concerning is that a BBC editors blog is linking to blogs like ''. Many people would regard this blog as an anti-semitic conspiracy theory site. I'm for covering as many diverse views as possible, but some of the stuff on this site, is just pure hate.

  • Comment number 25.

    To those who believe that the differences in the two photos - one wider angled than the other - actually put the matter to bed, should look again.

    The two photos are taken from the same or similar vantage point but one uses a wide angle and the other a standard or short telephoto lens. Both lens slightly distort the "real view" both in width, depth, and height, but do this in different proportions. It is difficult to tell whether either shot has been cropped from the originals. (If one shot was an enlargement of the other distortion would still be apparent but would not change parts of the image that are clearly different).

    It is probable given the colour balance of the photos that they were shot from similar cameras or the same camera. It is probable they were from the same batch of shots. It is highly probable the shots were taken within minutes rather than hours of each other.

    The information provided with the original 'whatreallyhappened' story does suggest that it is the same picture rather than the same rally and that is highly suspect given that there are marked differences - for example in the foreground of the BBC version there is a man standing facing and above the crowd; is he in the other shot at middle distance? However, the main point is that it is almost certainly the same rally and so the criticism of the BBC and its original caption still stands.

  • Comment number 26.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 27.

    Ok i had to sing up to point this out, i went to getty media and found the picture it is indeed cropped, however, i quote verbatim their description of said photo.

    "TEHRAN, IRAN - JUNE 16: People attend a state-organised rally in a square June 16, 2009 in central Tehran, Iran.Thousands attended a rally organized by Iran's clerical regime. Iran banned foreign media from covering rallies in the country and Iran's Guardian Council reportedly said that they would recount some of the votes in presidential election that critics say was unfairly won by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinehjad"

    so it is really stretching the bounds of credibility to say that some one mistook it for a protest rally, quick hint for anyone wanting to distinguish between state and protest rallies, the former has signs in the indigenous language and the latter seems to have an awful lot in English, go to Getty and have a look for yourselves.

  • Comment number 28.

    The strange thing is that all this hot air over something which we have no control over is completely irrelevant. So a mistake was made and Mr Obama has graciously conceded that he will not interfere in Iran. Well at least he has learned something from the last lot. It seems to me that having been deeply involved in the skullduggery of Iran since way back when when we toppled Moussadek and installed the shah, that we have done enough. Iran must now settle its own problems, hopefully the cant will be hit by a dose of pragmatism. In the mean time can we sort ourselves out?

  • Comment number 29.

    When you refer to interferring with Iran 'way back', you appear to cut off at the toppling of the Shah.
    If you read Evan Black's book; 'Banking on Baghdad" you will appreciate that the West has been interferring in the area since 'way way back' and in the 1920's Churchill was gassing the popuace.
    Of course the British were in Palestine "way way back'. The French were in Egypt 'way way way back'.
    So let us us just leave the poor people alone for a change!!

    Of course the British media, with weapons of mass deception has been behind all interferences since many a 'way backs' and does not change.

    So; for the integrity of British journalism! Regrettably, the British people actualy finance the BBC and are hence, complicit in the deceptions and misinformation practises of the BBC. Indeed, the same applies to the Australian Broadcasting Commission. (ABC)

  • Comment number 30.

    Wait a moment until I put my "conspiritual" hat on.. There...that's better..

    Is it possible that...unknown to the Editorial Staff...the BeeB's Jounalistic collective has been infiltrated by raiders of the lost spark who are pushing the naivette of the British public to the limits of rationale and common sense..

    adamgreene27 (above).."like ''. Many people would regard this blog as an anti-semitic "

    I was waiting for the "hate" and "anti-semitic" label to be attached to this BBC story which factually may be incorrect BUT none the less reasonably impartial

    The danger of Adam's historical ignorance underscores the deceptive blaming of the BBC in referencing "" which I believe highlighted the "error" "mistake" or "lie" from the BBC
    Adam must realise that Abraham and Moses were both Arabs and Semitic people born in Iraq(Mesop) and Iran(Persia)respectively..

    Did he just faint?

  • Comment number 31.

    Steve Herrmann (BBC), thank you very much. I don't want to insult your intelligence, but I really am afraid you compel me to ask you this question. Do you know what a FULL TEXT is?

  • Comment number 32.

    16. At 10:30am on 20 Jun 2009, Jordan D wrote:
    Steve - next time, turn your comments off on these posts.

    Yep. That'll work. On all sorts of levels. Genius.

  • Comment number 33.

    Censoring the comments of the fee-payers is the worst idea since... well not bothering to read the accompanying text of a picture and then potraying said picture as diametrically opposite to what it was, all within the back-drop of an extremely volatile situation, in one of the most volatile areas of the world, lending credence to the charges made by the Iranian authorities about BBC sedition.

    I also notice Steve "was invited to speak" at a discussion which somewhat irnoically was called "Blogs and accountability" although to be fair it wasn't about posting incorrect picture captions, it was desribed as

    "The discussion (called "Learning to talk") will be about how - and whether - blogs can help make media organisations, in particular, more accountable."

    Well i think Mr Herrman has an answer to that, and I for one am thankful that the picture was corrected, after all imagine people thinking that there were actually more protests for Mousavi (who incidenatlly according to TIME in 1987 was a good friend of Manucher Ghorbanifar, of Iran-Contra infamy) than there actually were, and also the magnitude for them.

    Anyone got a guess for the next "colour revolution" colour or location?

    We've had the "rose revolution" in Georgia, the "Orange revolution" in Ukraine and now the "Green Revolution" in Iran, have a look at a map and see if you can notice geographically any similarities, or where their main proponents were educated.

  • Comment number 34.

    Unfortunate mistake, but readers. lets understand that mistakes do happen, one should take it with a human face. I hope such a mistake does not repeat too often and at everyone's uncle's convenience - that is the only string I would want to add.

    -- RPH
    [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 35.

    I'm sorry, but I simply don't swallow the line about unbiased commentary by anyone in the media, not even the BBC. The coverage has been overwhelmingly supportive of the uprising and anti Ahmadinejad. Virtually any time an 'undemocratic' or 'restrictive' regime is challenged, the Western media clamour to support the cause and neutrality is junked. Sit and watch one of your own news programmes and then tell me how unbiased it is. Over the last week, we've seen pictures of all the poor Iranians Twittering or wearing the green wristbands - quite obviously being portrayed as the underdog 'goodies', and the contrasting portrayal of the Ahmadinejad supporters as the 'baddies'. The media (especially the papers) have long ago given up any pretence of neutrality. Instead, they all identify a 'target market' and write their articles in a way that will appeal to this target market. 30 years ago, football commentators took great pains to come across as neutral, even when England were playing, but the current crop make no attempt to hide their pro-England stance. Fair enough if you're going to take sides, BBC, but don't put out blogs that claim otherwise. Nobody is fooled.

  • Comment number 36.

    Who cares? I wish someone would do something about all this conspiacy garbage. If our agents were a tiny fraction as clever as these theorists make out then dictators would mysteriously disappear, the Taliban would be decimated and bombs would not go off in our cities. Please, please grow up and get a life. JFK, who cares it was nearly 50 years ago. 9/11 oh please! Yes there are despicable evil people out there but the government are a bunch of inept, clueless lawyers so you really expect far too much of them, they couldn't organise a p**s up in a brewery.

  • Comment number 37.

    This was just the rankest sort of propaganda of the type the BBC is famous for.

  • Comment number 38.


    No, they thought, it can be done, so it was done, you're right on your estimate though, they couldn't do it without turning it in.., to use Mr. Porter's terminology, huge 'cock-up'.

    Incompetence from 'A to Z'.

    Caught red handed.

  • Comment number 39.

    Were these Tweeters legitimate Iranian people or the works of a propaganda machine? Apparently the info coming from Iran was from a handful of people with some striking similarities -

    1. They each created their twitter accounts on Saturday June 13th.
    2. Each had extremely high number of Tweets since creating their profiles.
    3. IranElection was each of their most popular keyword
    4. With some very small exceptions, each were posting in ENGLISH.
    5. Half of them had the exact same profile photo
    6. Each had thousands of followers, with only a few friends. Most of their friends were EACH OTHER.

    hy would a news organization post a story about 3 people who JUST JOINED TWITTER hours earlier? Is that really newsworthy or just increasing tension between the West and Iran?

  • Comment number 40.


    The people's representatives dumb or very dumb, their agents pretty shrewd, cold and calculated. The media's godparents dumb or very dumb, their henchmen and henchwomen pretty shrewd, cold and calculated. A TV audience with conditioned minds, and producers with buttons marked brainwash. So easy and so symmetrical - saddest part it works almost every time.

  • Comment number 41.

    I agree with LippyLippo #35. Jon Leyne seemed to be campaigning for the opposition. It is so embarrassing for the UK to be associated with this kind of reporting.

    Whether the Foreign Office is behind it or otherwise it is blatant interference.

    The BBC does the same thing in UK politics but so far we havent been successful in throwing out those responsible.

  • Comment number 42.

    I can't believe a reputed broadcasting agency can make such a dire mistake in captioning a picture. it's actually easier to notice that the statement is incorrect than comparing with the picture from the times. Look at the color of the demonstrators. they're bearing the iranian flag, which is Ahmadinejad's campaigning color, while Mousavi's campaigning color is green. if the editors didn't notice this and made the mistake thereof, i would like to question their credibility and competency.

  • Comment number 43.


    See #10 above

  • Comment number 44.

    BBC wheres my "vote" :-)
    No significant difference of intent in what the "Greens" have been shouting in the streets of Tehran and our site here....:-)

    Cut and paste..after posting to Lonehunter88 tells me that...

    "43. At 01:01am on 25 Jun 2009, Caractacus4 (awaiting moderation)
    Where's my comment?All new members are pre-moderated initially, which means that there will be a short delay between when you post your comment and when it appears while one of our moderators checks it."

    Tell Ayatolla Clarkson that as a personal protest to this censorship I will forget to tune in to "Top Gear" tonight(in Canada).."Times" have changed for the worse it seems.

  • Comment number 45.

    Dear All, following is the link to Iran's Supreme Guide Syed Ali Khamenie's address transcript. You can read it to find exactly what he said about elections in Iran.

  • Comment number 46.

    Today , 1 Feb 10, on the 1.opm news, the Newscaster Kate Somerfield (?) rteferred to the CDS as "General Sir Jock Stirrup". She should know better! The reporter on the Iraq inquiry got it correct "Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Ctirrip"

    H P Munro


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