Instead of being bullish, the BBC should eat humble pie

Two weeks ago, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) rejected a complaint lodged by a group of scholars, researchers and journalists questioning the credibility of the infamous BBC documentary, ‘Rwanda, the Untold Story.’

Two weeks ago, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU) rejected a complaint lodged by a group of scholars, researchers and journalists questioning the credibility of the infamous BBC documentary, ‘Rwanda, the Untold Story.’

Late last year, a group of about 50 individuals, conversant with the subject of Genocide against Tutsi, wrote to the BBC pointing out the flaws in the documentary stating that the BBC had been “recklessly irresponsible” in airing the film and that it contained ‘serious inaccuracies’ that only amplified the voice of Genocide deniers.

 

In so doing, BBC breached its editorial principles of truth, impartiality, fairness, and distinguishing opinion from fact that guides the BBC in its journalistic work and on which basis this team had lodged a complaint.

 

But, surprisingly, when the BBC’s complaints unit sat to examine the accusations contained in this letter of 50+ scholars and researchers, it cleansed itself and concluded that the documentary “was not in breach of the BBC’s editorial standards.”

 

That would not be surprising given the fact that if you were the prosecutor, the defendant and the judge in a case that concerns you, you will certainly absolve yourself even if you were as guilty as sin.

Therefore, for the BBC’s own complaints committee to pass an acquittal verdict for itself would not be shocking, more so, on an issue that concerns some tiny nation in the dark continent of Africa.

Yet we are blindly fooled to believe that the ‘mighty’ BBC is the centre of excellence for quality journalism—we naively assume or believe that they have an independent and highly professional internal peer review mechanism that should be able to provide credible checks and balances on issues concerning its editorial discipline.

But that’s not to be the case. In fact, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (Rura) commissioned report on the BBC has now put this media network on a more prominent spotlight.
Its findings do not only question the credibility of the documentary itself but also exposes the sloppy work of the BBC’s own complaints Unit.

The Rura Commission, chaired by a seasoned lawyer, Martin Ngoga, points to one thing, that if indeed the BBC’s editorial complaints’ unit was serious about knowing the flaws in the film, it only needed to re-read its own editorial charter.

With evidence gathered from varied sources, this 43-page report details how the BBC violated the universally agreed principles of press freedom and free speech—how it violated its own ethical code and how the basic journalistic standards were completely ignored in making this documentary.

The report uses the BBC’s very own editorial charter that promotes accuracy, impartiality, fairness and respect for standards of taste and decency and demonstrates how each of these tenets were completely ignored in making the film.

When you examine the kind of people that the BBC chose to use in their documentary, you wonder what was going on in their mind. The list reads who is who in terms of Rwanda’s sworn enemies, criminal convicts, disgruntled political figures and renowned Genocide deniers.

Out of the 12 interviews conducted in the documentary, 11 fall within the category. They consume 23.25 minutes compared to only one minute given to a Genocide survivor.

In fact as the RURA report indicates, this survivor wasn’t included to give his account of the Genocide but rather to conveniently justify the reporters’ intention of questioning the legitimacy of memorial sites.

“To give a disproportionate amount of airtime to exiled opposition figures and critics of the Government of Rwanda and exclude Genocide survivors, credible academics on the subject matter as well as government officials cannot be taken as an impartial or truth seeking journalism of the kind the BBC charter demands,” the report states.

The other element which the RURA report brings out well and which exposes the Emperor’s nakedness is the narrative that questions the figure of Tutsis killed during the Genocide.

Credible scholars and researchers have extensively discussed the number of people that died in 1994 and the ICTR took a conclusive and binding judicial notice on this issue.

Therefore, for the BBC to turn a blind eye to this known and well founded fact, amounts to a “deviation from the broadcaster’s own principles on how it treats sensitive subjects and goes against its claim to value truth and accuracy,” which area clearly stipulated in the BBC’s editorial charter.

The Rura report has detailed examples backed by credible evidence on how the BBC violated its own ethical code, abused international instruments and stooped low when it came to general principles that guide journalistic standards.

Therefore, for its complaints unit to pass a clean bill of health in as far as this documentary is concerned, is either a deliberate move to hide the grease or a complete indictment of their capacity to interpret their own editorial charter.

Otherwise, you do not need genius minds to conclude that the values of fairness, accuracy, impartiality that we have traditionally respected the BBC for, went to the chores when it came to making the documentary “Rwanda, the Untold Story.

The writer is the Director General of Rwanda Broadcasting Agency

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