October 12, 2005

The BBC and Taishi–A Correction

Filed under: MSM Biz/Other Bias,MSM Biz/Other Ignorance — Tom @ 4:51 pm

Angus Foster, Asia-Pacific Editor of the BBC news website, has e-mailed me comments concerning my original post on the BBC and Taishi: “Is the BBC Censoring Itself to Keep in China’s Good Graces?”

My concern was that BBC might be washing out references to the city of Taishi in the preparation of some of its web reports covering uprisings in rural China. As evidence I cited a Google search result listing a BBC article containing a reference to Taishi where the actual linked article had no immediately visible reference to the city.

All of which is true, but it doesn’t reflect what I originally feared, namely that an editor or other official with BBC had removed the city reference from the original article text.

Here is Mr. Foster’s e-mail explaining the situation:

Hi there again, someone who understands these things better than I has now pointed out the reason for your original concern.

Your google search found this:

BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China summit targets poverty gap
A villager walks past a row of riot police in Taishi, southern China …
closed-door meeting in Beijing to map out policy for the next five
years. …
news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4321186.stm – 36k – 10 Oct 2005 -
Cached – Similar pages

For whatever technical reason, Google is pulling in our story’s headline (China summit targets poverty gap) and then the alt tag – rather than the caption – of the photo. (The alt tag is the text that becomes visible if you hover your mouse over an image – I am sure you know that, but just in case the term is different in the US).

We didn’t remove Taishi on our story, you can still see it there in the alt tag on the photo at news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4321186.stm

All that has happened is that Google has shown you a different part of the story than you expected to see.

So I hope you can now do more than give us the benefit of the doubt.

I have gone to the page source code to confirm that the language Mr. Foster is referring to containing the reference to Taishi is indeed there, and of course it is. None of the Mac browsers I am using (Firefox, Safari, Explorer) displays the language when I hover over the picture, but I do see it in Firefox if I control-click on it and look at “Properties.” I would expect that hovers in Windows browsers reveal the Taishi-containing language, though I’m not in a position to know that at the moment.

I am grateful that Mr. Foster went to the trouble of getting an explanation, and to the further trouble of providing it to me.

I apologize to the BBC and BizzyBlog readers for jumping to an incorrect conclusion in this case. The fact that the Beeb did indeed work to eliminate the word “terrorist” from its initial coverage of the July London subway bombings may have justified initial suspicion, but did not justify my reaching the same conclusion regarding Taishi, and I greatly regret the error. I have referenced the original post to this one to ensure than all who read the original are aware of this correction. I believe that the Beeb is indeed, as Mr. Foster suggests, entitled to more than a mere benefit of the doubt on the fairness and accuracy of its Asia-Pacific and other reporting.

Now perhaps we can move on to Google and ask it why it shows hidden text as part of a search engine result.

UPDATE, October 15: Not that it constitutes redemption, but RConversation also thought Lu was dead: “Based on such a description, it seems implausible that a person could survive. But he did.” She further characterizes the error as a “colossal journalistic mistake.” I’ll say.


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