Broadcasters admit to failure in Molly Campbell coverage

Editors of Britain's leading news programmes have admitted they got it wrong in the way they reported the Molly Campbell story.

Twelve-year-old Campbell, also known as Misbah Iram Ahmed Rana, was reported missing on 29 August by her mother from Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. Early suggestions by her grandmother that she had been taken to Pakistan to be married, which later turned out to be false, were widely carried by broadcasters and other media.

Speaking at an annual meeting of the Cultural Diversity Network, the editor of the BBC News at 10, Craig Oliver, said: "There was a total jumping to a conclusion on that one. There was absolutely no doubt, from the coverage, in anybody's mind that she was taken, that after all that [an arranged marriage is] probably the only reason why a Pakistani would take a person out of the country."

Ben Rayner, a senior programme editor at Al Jazeera International, said: "The reality is that we unearthed a bone and created a brontosaurus out of it.

"What is also worrying is the prism that we give the world, which actually reveals that there is an assumption that is, to be frank, racist in how we covered that story."

The panellists also discussed the issue of the way in which the media reported the Forest Gate raids in July, during which two Muslim brothers were arrested and one was shot.

Rayner was critical in particular of the way journalists used Scotland Yard's press releases.

He said: "You're just assuming that what the police are saying is to be taken at face value, and that seemed to be the problem with Forest Gate all the way through.

"You are after the intelligence — Martin Brunt [Sky News crime reporter] has brilliant contacts, as has Frank Gardner [security correspondent], they were all fed this information by the police and that then became the story."

Ian Rumsey, programme editor of News at 10.30 at ITV News, said he believed that the media might have treated the Campbell story differently if the family involved had been white.

He said that the job of a journalist is to make sure that questions are being asked to both sides.

Rumsey said: "In those two examples, the key questions are how would we have covered those stories if the people involved had been white?

"With Forest Gate, the answer would have been yes — it's hard to ignore a story where 200 police burst into a house, shoot a man and say ‘we were looking for something which was pretty serious'.

"On the Stornaway story, I'm not so sure. I was quite astonished about the amount of ignorance that existed over [the difference between] a forced marriage and an arranged marriage when that story first broke."

He said although broadcasters tried to give equal prominence to both sides of the Campbell story when more details were gained, "mud sticks".

He said: "Even though that girl was saying what she was saying in Pakistan, I wonder how many viewers said, ‘Well she was probably coerced into saying that, she was only 12.' "

Mark Calvert, editor of Five News, also admitted that there had been failings among broadcasters regarding the Molly story.

He said: "I don't think any of us covered ourselves in glory on that first day and I'm sure lessons have been learned in all newsrooms."

Regarding the Forest Gate arrests, Calvert said: "Newsrooms are now getting used to so-called police intelligence- led operations not being so intelligent, and Forest Gate wasn't the first example of that.

"Across most of the coverage and certainly TV news, there was a healthy dose of scepticism throughout."

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