Joined: 03 Oct 2004
| Post subject: Reply from BBC re Syria news/Panorama edit issue
|Copied from MLMB and saved for future reference.
Reply from BBC re Syria news/Panorama edit issue
Posted by John Hilley on October 18, 2013, 12:52 pm
In response to my short email requesting clarification.
Dear Mr Hilley
Thanks for contacting us regarding BBC News broadcast on 29th August.
I understand you felt comments made by Dr Rola Hallam were altered during the report on Syria.
Please be assured we raised your concerns with the relevant editorial staff at BBC News, and with the team who filmed the piece in question.
Firstly, we believe it is important to clarify the text of what Dr. Rola Hallam said at the time:
“I need a pause because it is just absolute chaos and carnage here... Umm, we have had a massive influx of what look like serious burns, it seems like it must be some sort of chemical weapon, I’m not really sure, maybe napalm, something similar to that.”
It is common in broadcasting to edit spoken contributions to ensure maximum clarity, especially where there might be pauses or digression. This is also a practice in print, although in all cases, accuracy and meaning should be retained, as it was on this occasion. In both the News report and the Panorama a month later, it was made clear that this was an attack using an incendiary device, rather than a chemical weapon.
In this instance, in the news report from August 29th, the audio of Dr Rola was edited for exactly these reasons. This is what was used:
“I need a pause because it is just absolute chaos and carnage here... Umm, we have had a massive influx of what look like serious burns, it seems like it must be some sort of [EDIT] I’m not really sure, maybe napalm, something similar to that.”
The phrase “chemical weapon” was taken out of the news piece because by the time it was broadcast it was known that this was an incendiary bomb that had been used in the attack. Ian Pannell mentions this on two occasions in his script prior to the clip of Dr. Rola. To have included her speculation that this could have been a "chemical weapon" ran a considerable risk of being incredibly misleading and confusing to the audience, not least because the incident happened within days of an alleged chemical attack in Damascus.
The other issues the team had to consider were the physical structure of the news piece (starting in the school, explaining what happened and then moving on to the hospital where we see the aftermath – i.e. moving from cause to effect) and the time constraints in a news piece that necessitate a more direct approach.
Normally with editing of this kind, a cutaway shot - such as a "noddy" of the interviewer - might be used, but as she was wearing a mask this was not considered necessary. No extra words were inserted, nor was the meaning changed. Dr Rola states clearly that she is not sure what has happened and that is fairly reflected in all instances.
In Panorama on September 30th, the team chose to use a short section of Dr Rola's footage unedited, with her saying:
“I need a pause because it is just absolute chaos and carnage here... Umm, we have had a massive influx of what look like serious burns, it seems like it must be some sort of chemical weapon.”
On this occasion the team ended her clip in vision at this point. Her remark is then followed up, explained and elaborated upon effectively in Ian Pannell’s commentary; that the initial fear at the hospital was of a chemical attack (coming days after the Damascus incident), that it later became clear that a napalm-type substance had been used. As the structure of the Panorama piece was different and the time to explain events and the context more generous, it allowed the team to present this argument and then fully expand upon it.
In both cases, it is clear that at the time of the incident, Dr Rola was expressing her uncertainty about what had caused the injuries. Her charity, Hand in Hand for Syria, also confirm that both reports were authentic, fair, and absolutely accurate.
However, let me assure you that I’ve registered your complaint on our audience log. This is a daily report of audience feedback that’s made available to many BBC staff, including members of the BBC Executive Board, channel controllers and other senior managers.
The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.
Thanks again for contacting us.
NB This is sent from an outgoing account only which is not monitored. You cannot reply to this email address but if necessary please contact us via our webform quoting any case number we provided.