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BBC, Fake News and Eritrea

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BBC, Fake News and Eritrea

By  Yafet Zereou

Sometime in April of 2017, the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit published  its findings about a complaint made about an article on Eritrea   ( ).

On the face of it, it would appear that the BBC had done the right and honourable thing by acknowledging a mistake it made. After all, this is the BBC where we are told in the BBC’s Complaint  Framework Document that, complaints were very important and would be dealt with as quickly as  possible.

However, in my experience the reality is far different. I have found out  that the BBC is an organisation that cares little for its own Charter and  in pursuing an anti-Eritrea agenda (constantly denied by those at the BBC)  it is willing to admit that, emails get lost, not once but twice and that
its writers have a worrying habit of unwittingly conflating stories  (unwittingly is defined as without being aware; unintentionally and  conflate is defined as, combing two or more sets of information, texts,  ideas, etc. into one. How a supposedly professional journalist, bound by  the editorial standards of the BBC, can ‘unwittingly conflate’ two  unrelated stories is beyond me).

On 9 September 2016, the BBC published a story of what they claimed was an  account of the experiences of an Eritrean refugee that had made his way to  the UK from Eritrea

Like other typical articles on Eritrea this article resorted to  exaggeration and outright lying (later euphemistically referred to, as  ‘unwitting conflation’).

As I read the article it was abundantly clear that it was just another  attempt by the BBC to smear Eritrea. Although it was clear that the content  of the article deviated from the truth, it was quite difficult to prove  this conclusively, as it was written as the personal account of ‘Marvin’,  the Eritrean boy featured in the article. For example, the article mentions  that ‘Marvin’ managed to escape the Eritrean authorities that were  searching his house by hiding behind the door. For anyone with a modicum of  common sense, this would appear preposterous, but I knew the BBC would use
its usual excuse of ‘it’s a personal experience’ to justify itself.

So I decided to identify the inconsistencies within the article and  challenge the BBC in accordance with its complaints procedure. The BBC’s  complaints procedure has several stages,

i)      Stage 1A is the first stage and the BBC guidelines state that the BBC should aim to respond within 10 working days. In my experience the BBC  rarely achieves this target

ii)     Stage 1B if one is not satisfied with the response of the BBC, then the matter is escalated further, where the BBC is expected to give a more  substantial response. The BBC guideline states a target of 20 working days to provide a response. Again in my experience this is usually exceeded.

iii)    If after the two stages you are not satisfied with the BBC’s response,  the matter is directed to the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit. This unit is  financed by the BBC but is supposed to be independent of the BBC. The unit has a target response time of 35 working days which it usually adheres to.

I was able to indentify several inconsistencies that I felt would highlight the rather poorly compiled report by the BBC. They are as follows;

a)      The article claimed that the boy managed to reach Italy and then make his way to Calais all by himself. It then went on to say that it was while  he was travelling across Europe that he found out that his village had been  burned. The question that arose from this was that, how did he manage to know his village had been burned down, when this event had not been  reported in the media or any publication and after he had lost all contact  with Eritrea?

b)      The second inconsistency was the issue of the boy enduring hardship in  Calais and risking his life to get to the UK, when he could have found  refugee in a number of European countries had he been fleeing from the  Eritrean authorities as the article had gone to great pains to tell us.

I registered my complaint on 11 September 2016 and the BBC responded on 17  September 2016. In its response the BBC basically told me to mind my own  business when it stated,

As the title suggests, this is Marvin's story in which he shares his own  experiences and feelings. He's not obliged to reveal to readers how exactly  he found out about things that happened back in his home country.

Obviously the response of the BBC was just a pathetic attempt at a cover  up. I therefore made a second complaint on 19 September 2016. In my second  complaint I pressed the BBC to provide evidence of the Eritrean government  burning villages and an explanation as to how a lonely boy travelling in  Europe can hear about this event. The matter should have taken 4 weeks but the BBC responded on 1 December 2016, 10 weeks later. No reason for the  delay was given and the response they gave was not much different to their  previous one and what little extra detail it had, certainly did not justify  the extra 6 weeks it took in providing a response.

In its second response, the BBC acknowledged that ‘Marvin’ was following a  well established route across Europe and not as they had first claimed had  travelled all alone across Europe. With regards to the burning of villages,  they said that,

The article mentions that he meets up with friends from his hometown on his  journey through Europe. It is therefore plausible that one of them may have  had some contact with his hometown.

At this point, I knew that the BBC was clutching at straws to justify their  claim. One would think/hope that those employed at the BBC would be of a  sufficiently high enough calibre to identify irregularities within their  own article. Had they actually read their own article, they would have realised that the people they said could have informed ‘Marvin’ of the  burning of his village had reportedly died in the Sahara and ‘Marvin’ only heard the news when he got to Europe. It was therefore impossible for them  to convey the news, which still leaves the question of how did he know  about an event in Eritrea which had never been reported on, unanswered. As  I read the BBC’s response, it was clear they were weaving a tangled web as  they had already started to deceive.

So naturally I escalated the matter to the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit  (ECU), pointing out the inconsistencies within the article and the  contradictory response of the BBC. The ECU’s response was delayed due to  the BBC Trust being abolished and OFCOM taking over responsibility from the

When the ECU’s response finally came through, I did not know whether to  laugh or be infuriated. In its response the ECU stated,

We have looked into the claim that his home village had been burned to the  ground and have established this did not happen to “Marvin”. The person  writing this piece unwittingly conflated a description of the experiences  of a Sudanese boy with what had happened to “Marvin”. The article did not  meet the BBC’s standards regarding accuracy and we are therefore upholding your complaint.

To me, the response of the ECU highlights the shortcomings of the BBC and  shines a light on its anti-Eritrea propaganda campaign. The BBC had ample  opportunity to acknowledge that a mistake had been made, however it chose  not to do so. There can be no doubt in my mind, that despite the ECU saying  that the author had ‘unwittingly conflated a description of the experiences  of a Sudanese boy with what had happened to ‘Marvin’, this was a   deliberate attempt in trying to portray the Eritrean government in the  worst possible light and resorting to pure and simple lies in order to do  this.

The author was not interviewing the South Sudanese boy and ‘Marvin’ at the  same time, therefore, how can he unwittingly conflate their experiences?

Furthermore, the article was supposed to have been based on an account  given by ‘Marvin’ in an interview with the author, so why then does the author need to ‘pad out’ his story with that of the South Sudanese boy’s  experience? To me, it would appear that ‘Marvin’ was simply a figment of  the imagination of the author and the purpose of the article was to provide  the BBC with an opportunity to regurgitate untrue, unfounded and  unsubstantiated statements about Eritrea. Unfortunately for the BBC, this  time round they simply could not get their story straight and seem to have  shown a light on the inner workings of the propaganda machine that is the  BBC, which is funded by the license fee paying British public but not  necessarily working for its interests.

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BBC, Fake News and Eritrea Reviewed by Admin on 12:02 AM Rating: 5

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