The BBC recently suffered a predictable consequence of relying on citizen journalism: It published a photograph circulated on Twitter by a Syrian anti-government activist that purportedly shows dead civilians after a government massacre last month in Houla, Syria. The image turns out to have been misappropriated and mislabeled for the purposes of propaganda.

The photo was actually a 2003 photograph from Iraq by Getty images contract photographer Marco di Lauro, John Harrington reported May 27 on his Photo Business News & Forum blog.  The image shows dozens of bodies dug up from a mass grave. They were victims of a brutal crackdown by former dictator Saddam Hussein against a Shi’ite uprising after the 1991 Gulf War.

A Syrian activist reportedly circulated the image on Twitter as evidence of a Syrian crackdown against its citizens, in order to stoke the international outrage against Al Assad’s government. The BBC saw it,  “obtained some information pointing to its veracity,” and published the image with a disclaimer saying it could not be independently verified, according to the mea culpa that BBC published on May 29.

“It was a mistake,” the BBC said, “and we apologise for it.” The image was displayed for approximately 90 minutes before it was taken down, the BBC says.

Harrington argues that the mistake was a predictable consequence of the rush by the BBC and other news organizations to embrace citizen journalism, while mouthing all the right words about upholding standards for accuracy, fairness and objectivity.

One would think that a few glaring errors like this might make reputable news organizations realize that there are no shortcuts to gathering and vetting news–and also make them twice shy about crowd-sourcing news in order to save money.

But for now the BBC seems undeterred. “Fortunately, such mistakes are very rare,” the BBC assures its readers. “BBC News has a strong track record of using content from non-traditional sources, and of stopping numerous examples of incorrect material making it to air or online – but it does underline the need to handle such material with great care.”


COMMENTS

MORE POSTS

Charges Dropped for Four Journalists Arrested at Inauguration

Posted by on Wednesday February 1, 2017 | Photojournalism

Federal prosecutors have dropped felony charges against four of the six journalists arrested during Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, the AP has reported. Charges agains Matthew Hopard, John Keller and Alexander Rubenstein were dropped on January 30. Charges against Evan Engel were dropped on January 27. Charges are still pending against Shay Horse and... More

Trump’s Order Barring Muslims Hits World Press, ICP

Posted by on Sunday January 29, 2017 | Photojournalism

World Press Photo has announced a last-minute decision to replace juror Eman Mohammed, a U.S. resident (and 2010 PDN’s 30) who fears she’ll be barred from re-entering the U.S. if she travels to Amsterdam this week to help judge the competition. Separately, a Syrian photographer scheduled to speak at International Center of Photography on March... More

Police Intimidation Watch: Six Journalists Charged with Felonies on Inauguration Day

Posted by on Wednesday January 25, 2017 | Copyright/Legal, Photojournalism

Six journalists, including a freelance photographer and a documentary producer, are facing felony rioting charges following their arrests while covering protests during the presidential inauguration, The Guardian has reported. If convicted, the journalists face up to ten years in jail and fines of up to $25,000. Journalists arrested at the January 20 protests in Washington,... More