BBC's James Harding says 'sorry' to Grant Shapps over scant coverage of Wikipedia story 'correction'

BBC head of news James Harding has apologised to Conservative minister Grant Shapps over coverage of his Wikipedia page.

In April, it was widely reported that Shapps had edited his own and other ministers’ Wikipedia pages. However, Wikipedia said that there was no evidence connecting Shapps’ page with “any specific individual” and the administrator who made the accusations to The Guardian was censured by Wikipedia.

After the election, Shapps was moved from being chairman of the Conservative Party to being a minister at the Department for International Development.

He complained to the BBC earlier this month that it had broadcast the original claims 42 times in a 24-hour period and that the subsequent news, that he had not edited his Wikipedia page, was not given enough prominence.

He said: “The original story was ran during the heightened political coverage of a general election, but when a story is misreported the listener or viewer is entitled to hear that correction. Indeed Ofcom’s own guidance clearly states as much saying, ‘Significant mistakes in news should normally be acknowledged and corrected on air quickly.’ Rule 5.2 continues, ‘Corrections should be appropriately scheduled.’

“Now, unless someone was listening to one specific 6pm radio broadcast, they would simply never know that the original story was entirely inaccurate. Indeed the correction was broadcast only once and lasted just 25 seconds.”

Shapps has now published a letter from the BBC’s director of news and current affairs James Harding. In it, Harding said: “I quite take your point that our caravans can sometimes move on too quickly and it is something we try to guard against…

“I don't think the original story needed 'correcting' as your correspondence suggests because we reported the event accurately and fairly. I would add that it is difficult to weigh the original coverage in the way you have done, not just because of the number of press review programmes, but because it largely and quite properly focused on interviews with you and your denials."

Harding added: “The question is rather whether we gave the subsequent development the right amount of coverage and I don’t think we did quite enough.

“As you say, no one would expect the follow up outside of election time to receive the same or similar airtime, but I’m sorry we didn’t do as much as I would have liked.”

Shapps said in a statement: “When the original false accusation was made it was as if the BBC couldn’t get enough of it. Repeating the story hour after hour.

"But when it turned out to have been trumped up by a LibDem Administrator, later admonished and fired, you would have been hard pressed to have heard the update or correction.

"The BBC has a duty to not only check the source of a story before it runs, but also to highlight a correction in a timely manner.

"I believe that there should be a simple test in such cases. Could someone who heard the original broadcast reasonably be expected to have heard the apology or correction? In this case the answer was clearly no and I’m grateful for James Harding accepting that in this case the BBC got it wrong and his apology on behalf of the Corporation.”

Earlier this month, Wikipedia volunteer administrator Richard Symonds – a former Liberal Democrat activist who goes by the online username Chase me ladies, I'm the Cavalry – was criticised by an internal inquiry after he blocked an account over the suspicion it was being used by Shapps to editor his own page.

Symonds faced the prospect of having his privileged Wikipedia access revoked after an investigation found he was unable to provide sufficient justification for his actions.

The "proposed decision" by the Wikipedia arbitration committee, posted online, said that no evidence was presented to the inquiry which definitively linked the suspect "Contribsx" user account with any specific individual.

It also criticised Symonds for the way he used his access to the site's CheckUser tool and subsequently revealed details to The Guardian in a way that "created an appearance of favouritism".

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