BBC global apology for using news paid by Malaysia
» Sarawak Report exposed FBC as Malaysia’s PR fixers
from The Independent
The BBC will apologise today to its worldwide television news audience for a news fixing scandal, exposed by The Independent, in which it broadcast documentaries made by London TV company FBC Media (UK) that was earning millions of pounds from PR clients which it featured in its programming.
The apology over BBC World News to be seen “from Kuala Lumpur to Khartoum and Bangkok to Buenos Aires” will be telecast at four different times in order to reach audiences in different time zones, the Independent reported. The BBC will apologise for breaking “rules aimed at protecting our editorial integrity”.
The BBC said in November there were 15 breaches of editorial guidelines, 8 of them in programmes about Malaysia.
Last year the Independent exposed FBC Media (UK) who supplied programmes to the BBC for nominal fees of as little as £1 . Eight programmes about Malaysia were made for the BBC while FBC failed to declare it was paid £17m by the Malaysian government for “global strategic communications”. The programmes included positive coverage of Malaysia’s palm oil industry, which has been held accused of deforestation and loss of native lands.
The Independent revealed that FBC, run by the former Financial Times journalist Alan Friedman and CNN presenter John Defterios, made editorial programmes for business broadcaster CNBC featuring FBC clients on the FBC-made show World Business. FBC clients included the governments of Greece and Kazakhstan and companies like Microsoft.
FBC also tried to suggest in its promotional literature it had “cultivated” key opinion formers, such as economist Jeffrey Sachs, as “ambassadors”. Sachs totally rejected the claim, the Independent said.
The BBC also used FBC to make a documentary about the spring uprising in Egypt without knowing the firm was paid to do PR work for the regime of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
The BBC Trust’s Editorial Standards Committee carried out an investigation into BBC World News which reported
The trust also identified other breaches of rules on sponsorship in programmes shown by BBC World News, which is a commercial entity and carries advertising. In its apology, the BBC will say: “A small number of programmes broadcast on BBC World News between February 2009 and July 2011 broke BBC rules aimed at protecting our editorial integrity. These rules ensure that programmes are free, and are seen to be free, from commercial or other outside pressures.”
Making a direct reference to the FBC documentaries, it will say: “In the case of eight other programmes, all of which featured Malaysia, we found that the production company which made the programmes appeared to have a financial relationship with the Malaysian government. This meant there was a potential conflict of interest, though the BBC was not aware of it when the programmes were broadcast.”
It concludes: “Editorial integrity is the highest priority for BBC World News, which is why we apologise for these breaches of our normal standards.”
When The Independent published its investigations into FBC the firm said it had kept strict divisions between its editorial and PR operations. FBC closed its London offices and went into administration in October. Broadcasting regulator Ofcom is investigating FBC.
Bad practice: The stories
Since 2009 FBC has made at least four BBC documentaries dealing with Malaysia and controversial issues such as the country’s palm-oil industry and its treatment of rainforests and indigenous people. The company has received millions of pounds in payments from the government of Malaysia for a “global strategic communications campaign”.
As Egypt was in the throes of a revolution, the BBC commissioned FBC to make a documentary on the country. But the firm had a commercial relationship to promote Egypt as “liberal and open”. The programme, Third Eye: Egypt, warned of the threat of takeover by Islamic fundamentalists.
The BBC director general has ordered an end to the practice of acquiring news programmes for “low or nominal cost” after the BBC admitted 15 breaches of its editorial guidelines and buying documentaries for “nominal” fees as little as £1 from a company that was working to promote foreign governments.
- BBC tightens rules on sponsorship (bbc.co.uk)
- BBC ‘cheap programming’ scandal exposed (independent.co.uk)
- BBC aired documentary made by TV company in the pay of Mubarak (independent.co.uk)
- The BBC Owns Up As FBC Scandal Deepens! (hornbillunleashed.wordpress.com)
- BBC World News faces sponsorship clampdown (guardian.co.uk)
- Firm in BBC news-fixing row targeted poverty guru (independent.co.uk)
- BBC Caught Selling News Slots to Climate Change Crusaders (order-order.com)