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Houla massacre picture mistake

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Chris Hamilton | 15:26 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Last weekend the news agenda was dominated by reports from Syria of more than 100 people being massacred in the town of Houla.

For about 90 minutes on Sunday, the BBC News website illustrated its story about what had happened with a picture of shrouded bodies in neat rows, with a child jumping over one of the rows.

It's an incredibly powerful picture, bringing home the shocking aftermath of a massacre.

Except that it's not from this incident at all, but was taken almost a decade earlier, in Iraq, by professional photographer Marco Di Lauro, who works for Getty Images.

The picture was first spotted as it circulated on Twitter, the social networking site, on Sunday, apparently sourced from activists in Syria, triggering our process for checking user-generated content.

Efforts were made to track down the original source and, having obtained some information pointing to its veracity, the picture was published, with a disclaimer saying it could not be independently verified.

However, on this occasion, the extent of the checks and the consideration of whether to publish should have been better.

It was a mistake - rectified by the removal of the image as soon as it was spotted - and we apologise for it.

Fortunately, such mistakes are very rare. BBC News has a strong track record of using content from non-traditional sources, and of stopping numerous examples of incorrect material making it to air or online - but it does underline the need to handle such material with great care.

Chris Hamilton is social media editor for BBC News. You can find him on Twitter @chrishams


  • Comment number 1.

    ***"Fortunately, such mistakes are very rare"***

    Oh? Really?

    Your follow-up was even more impressive. Displaying the logo of the United Nations Space Command (from the computer game "Halo") on a news bulletin for the United Nations Security Council.

  • Comment number 2.

    Dare I say that this is another example of why embedded image metadata is vitally important and also point out that as far as I can tell images on the BBC web site do not contain any attribution metadata.

  • Comment number 3.

    'about 90' on Sunday'
    90' ? Not my understanding.
    The difference between told by a person with some access, vs. legions ignored because every complaint's investigated, found unworthy, logged as a strike, & used to expedite folk out asap.
    As an exercise in Emperor's New Clothes hubris, takes some beating, especially this: 'such mistakes are very rare'. Saying it does not make it so. Post 1: QED

  • Comment number 4.

    As mainstream media picks up trending content from social media - Twitter, breaking news on Facebook etc, such errors are inevitable. As long as the process for picking up errors and correcting them promptly is in place, I think the overall news consumer experience is not really compromised.

  • Comment number 5.

    Perhaps if you weren't so keen to accept verbatim the press releases of the groups you approve of and were more willing to do your own investigation then we'd see an improvement.

    But you never apologised for the Jenin lies so I won't hold my breath.

  • Comment number 6.

    If the picture was wrong, what else might be wrong about the the reporting of the Syrian massacre and who perpetrated it?

  • Comment number 7.

    As far as I can see, Russia appears to be the rogue here blocking attempts to remove the Syrian murdering Dictatorship.

    Russia has the ability to use its own non-violent diplomacy but it does nothing because it is a major seller of military arms to Syria - that is dispicable, especially when the throats of children have been cut and Russia protects its business interests over childrens lives.

  • Comment number 8.

    Accident or not, the obvious intention behind this and other recent coverage on Syria from the BBC and many other news outlets, was to hasten a Nato invasion of yet another third-world country.

  • Comment number 9.

    Syria’s Dictator Must Go
    Under Hafez Assad, Syria joined Iran in directing Hezbollah terrorists to bomb the U.S. Embassy and the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, during which 241 U.S. Marines lost their lives.

  • Comment number 10.

    Such mistakes are very rare?? Last year the BBC showed pictures from India and claimed it was live footage of Libyans celebrating the fall of Tripoli! Incredible how we have to pay you money to lie to us.

  • Comment number 11.

    Even if the authenticity of the pictures is suspect, from alternative sources the massacre of women and children has been confirmed. We should be hardened to this sort of occurence in the Middle East. The massacres of children and pregnant women in Sabra and Shatila, as well as in Gaza by the Israeli army seems par for the course. It forms a significant theme in the Bible.

  • Comment number 12.

    Syria is bracing for more political chaos as all antagonistic forces appear to have entered into an unholy alliance to bring Syrian Govt to its knees by ingeniously choreographing massacres & blaming them on Syrian government, thereby turning the country into fertile soil for US-led invasion.

  • Comment number 13.

    US' behavior runs counter to fact - many rebels are linked with al-Qaeda; US claims to be fighting terrorists. Along US, UK acknowledged it has provided an extra 2M to Western-backed rebels fighting Syrian Govt. Cameron told a hearing at the House of Commons Liaison Committee his govt had provided cash/equipment to western-backed rebels in Syria calling it emergency medical supplies & food.

  • Comment number 14.

    ***"Fortunately, such mistakes are very rare"***

    Oh? Really?

    How long did the beeb call the murder of Ian Tomlinson an "unfortunate" accident? How long did they spout the "weapons of mass destruction in Iraq" lie?

  • Comment number 15.

    Moving swiftly on, to something emotional, to take people's minds of the last topic...

  • Comment number 16.

    Sadly the fact that the BBC accepted an image from "opposition supporters" just typifies the BBC reporting of Syria - slavish adherence to the U/US govt line. Why would the Alawites, a minority in Syria wish to inflame sectarian divisions as has been suggested?

    In Bahrain where protesters were slaughtered, the Crown Prince gets invited to tea with the Queen and we sell then $3bn of guns.

  • Comment number 17.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 18.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 19.

    'BBC News is one of the legend in an internet world.'
    Ne'er a truer word said in.. well, ne'er a truer word said, anyway:)
    One presumes this was via one of those famous of the BBC, by the BBC, for the BBC polls?

  • Comment number 20.

    Nothing should be used on mainstream media that can't be verified.

    Most of us are sceptical anyway about the sophisticated propaganda being put out.

    But getting it wrong can cost lives and enough have been lost already.

  • Comment number 21.

    Whatever you think of Assad, it was absolutely inexcusable to publish this photo in an incorrect context. I am afraid that I just don't believe the account given. I am certain there are mechanisms to determine the source whether it is the visual memory of BBC media archivers, embedded meta data in the jpg or automated matches against an image database.

  • Comment number 22.

    '21. At 17:47 31st May 2012, 4hero123 wrote: I am certain there are mechanisms to determine the source '

    There is, and it takes minutes online and can be free.

    That a £4Bpa news monopoly with staffing in tens of thousands, that daily claims 'most trusted' status, can't even admit that, is a concern.

  • Comment number 23.

    Well, Press TV in Tehran spotted your "mistake", or propaganda, whichever it was.

  • Comment number 24.

    The BBC have chosen sides in this conflict and reproduce material which to further the rebel cause, and are less stringent in examining material.Bias is seen in coverage of the middle east, support for Hamas, support for the benign muslim brotherhood in Egypt. Basically, BBC, you are biased, you have a political agenda, and I resent paying your political levy - oops I mean TV licence.

  • Comment number 25.

    You could always atone for this "mistake" by reporting on the events today at Chantilly, Virginia, and maybe even provide a list of attendees.

    Shhh! Don't mention the Bilderberg, i did it once, but i think i got away with it.

  • Comment number 26.

    Maybe the best plan is to point everywhere else and say 'see, others are at it too'. That always works.
    But questions are being asked of the askers still.

  • Comment number 27.

    Another example of a politically biased approach to news coverage. Perhaps the time has come for a total rethink of what the BBC's responsibilities for reporting the news should be , rather than the present policy of attempting to make news, or to manufacture news according to the views of what appears now to be a politically driven pro Islamist majority of the BBC hierarchy

  • Comment number 28.

    This is one more piece of evidence that reveals the BBC is a campaigning organization that has lost contact with its charter. I don't believe the excuse here. A characteristic of the left is misinformation, Is Leveson to be informed?

  • Comment number 29.

    #ProfPhoenix wrote:
    'A characteristic of the left is misinformation'

    And a characteristic of the right is to accuse the BBC of being left-wing.

    Still, you obviously think you know what you are talking about so carry on.. it's funny :)

  • Comment number 30.

    29. At 13:53 1st Jun 2012, ukblahblahblacksheep wrote:
    And a characteristic of the right is to accuse the BBC of being left-wing.

    All seems a bit wingist to me. Is there a quango?

    I do note that the misinformation aspect is not denied, but simply met with a counter that suggests an accusation but passes no view on its validity.

    Which, if unintended, does amuse.

  • Comment number 31.

    The BBC has been repeatedly publishing reports from discredited "activists" concerning Syria. False claims concerning Lattakia were broadcast for days without retraction or apology.

    The 1.5 million extra provided to the Arab service by the Foreign Office was also for "democracy promotion”. The USA gives millions to a UK based BBC source.


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