Triple censure for BBC over 3G phone 'child porn' reports

The BBC was forced to apologise to mobile phone manufacturer Hutchison for an item it used on the TV news, Newsnight and BBC News Online

The risks inherent in multimedia journalism were driven home to the BBC in the most recent quarter, after complaints about one item appearing on television news, Newsnight and the internet were upheld.

BBC News was forced to apologise for unfairness to a mobile phone manufacturer after the 10 o’clock News, Newsnight and a BBC News Online story unfairly suggested that 3G handsets could allow paedophiles to access child porn websites without being detected. The web-based story also had to be re-edited.

A complaint by phone manufacturer Hutchison 3G UK was upheld after the three stories – broadcast on 12 January this year – used its ‘3’ logos and handsets in association with concerns expressed in a report by the National Children’s Home.

According to Hutchison, what was said in reports created the impression that its phones and services “were a case in point” when it was not possible to access child porn on the internet via the ‘3’ phones “as sold in the UK”. 3 was the only 3G phone service provider in the UK at the time.

The BBC complaints unit found that the BBC News “implication – in what was said about 3G phones in general – that 3’s phones could be used for such a purpose was unfair”.

The unit added that BBC News Online and Newsnight had gone “some way to mitigate the unfair implication about 3 in relation to internet access” when they made it clear manufacturers had recognised the concerns expressed about 3G technology and were acting together to minimise any risk to children.

“However, there was no such mitigation in the item in the 10 o’clock News,” it said.

The BBC’s 10 o’clock News was told to apologise on air and the website item was edited “to make the true position clear,” removing the ‘3’ logo from the story.

A complaint of bias against BBC Radio 4’s Today by the Advertising Association was also upheld, after criticisms on the programme levelled against the industry’s role in the promotion of food to children, were not allowed a response.

“Although it was legitimate to include the criticisms, the item should also have included a balancing element,” the unit said.

Today producers “were reminded of the need to check for impartiality and balance at all times”, it added.

By Wale Azeez

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