Libelous Lapse

A recent BBC Editorial Complaint Unit ruling has led to the BBC publishing an apology to pop musician Bob Geldof over claims made in several recent reports about the use of Live Aid benefit money and how it was used in Ethiopia.

The pieces that prompted the apology were a BBC World Service program called Assignment broadcast on March 4, 2010, in which a reporter investigated whether or not money raised by Bob Geldof's Band Aid Trust had gotten into the hands of the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front and was used to purchase weapons and further politics, rather than provide famine relief. This prompted Geldof's organization to complain, given the damage done and the lack of evidence necessary in order to make such a claim, as well as the fact that the organization did not get to respond.

The apology later goes on to mention pieces run on bbc.co.uk that mention exact amounts of money raised and hypothetically spent on weapons with insubstantial evidence, with claims that upwards of $95 million was raised by western organizations and then used to further rebel warfare in Ethiopia.

The BBC's apology then consists of a list of findings for each of the programs and pieces either broadcast or published online, with many of them pointing out the fact that the BBC's investigators used certain pieces of evidence to tie Band Aid towards funding rebel activity when it was a blatant stretch to do so. It also points out the fact that the report provided insufficient reason to the Band Aid Trust to provide a response before the piece ran given the nature of its allegations.

The apology further picks apart a number of pieces, pointing out places where similar moves were used to tie the Band Aid Trust towards rebel fighting and emphasize Geldof's unwillingness to discuss the issue, with each piece's complaints either being listed as "Upheld," "Partially upheld," or "Not upheld" (with complaints concerning PM, The Andrew Marr Show, and The Media Show) all being dropped.

As a resolution, the BBC published and broadcast apologies to the Band Aid Trust on BBC One, the News Channel, Radio 4 and BBC World Service. The organization also made edits to online pieces in order to ensure that readers know that complaints have been made and upheld about the articles before they view them and pointed out several more instances in which the piece that aired on Assignment was either "inaccurate or potentially misleading" about the success of Band Aid Trust fundraising towards Ethiopia.

In essence, the BBC faced consequences more than anything else for sensationalizing what would otherwise be a fairly normal piece of reporting, using insubstantial evidence when making rather lofty claims about how large sums of money were spent and the consequences. Geldof and his organization were understandably angry, especially if they have the proof that 95% of relief money was not, in fact, used to fund rebel warfare in Ethiopia, which the ECU's investigation seems to have pointed out.

Andrew Hall is a blogger for My Dog Ate My Blog and a writer on Accredited Online Colleges for Guide to Online Schools.

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