Case Numbers 5763548 & 5968312 have been referred to the BBC Regulator Ofcom
Back in July, I scratched the surface of the abysmal record at the BBC in misreporting and creating clearly biased content in their coverage of the Julian Assange case. In October a rally outside the BBC protested the injustice created by their biased and inaccurate reporting which was well attended with several people giving speeches including the former Mayor of London Ken Livingston.
Our efforts continue challenging the BBC reporting. In these days of the CorVid-19 pandemic, when our street actions are curtailed, correcting the record in the Julian Assange case is an impactful way of defending him and campaigning for his freedom.
On September 22nd last year I filed a complaint (Case number 5636639) at the BBC website and received an acknowledgement that I should expect a reply in around 10 working days.
My complaint was that their article “Julian Assange to stay in prison over absconding fears” stated: “He was arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he took refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden over sexual assault allegations – which he has denied.”
My point was that Julian Assange took refuse in 2012 to avoid persecution by the US for his work with WikiLeaks not to avoid extradition to Sweden. This is evident by his application for asylum and protection and that Ecuador granted him asylum for exactly these reasons. Julian Assange’s asylum in 2012 was granted explicitly because of the likelihood that he would otherwise be at serious risk of extradition to the United States. This fear had now been realised with an indictment threatening 175 years in prison for journalistic activity. By omitting this fact the article inaccurately described Julian Assange’s reasons for taking refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy. I then requested they correct this inaccuracy.
On the 1st of October I got an email noting that I believed the article misrepresented Mr Assange’s reasons for entering the Ecuadorean embassy in 2012. The BBC explained that in 2012, the UK’s Supreme Court ruled Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden to face questions over allegations of rape and molestation (which have since been dropped). One month later, Mr Assange then entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London. In August of that year, Ecuador then granted Mr Assange asylum citing fears that his human rights might be violated if he is extradited.
They also said that the above has been reflected across their reports on this subject and I could read more about the timeline of events here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-49689167
“I appreciate the time you’ve taken to get in touch and hope the above allays your concerns. Your concerns were raised directly with BBC News website editors and senior management via daily feedback reports which help inform our approach to reporting.”
I wrote back directly explaining that the reply did not address the issue of inaccurate reporting. The inaccuracy lied in not mentioning that Julian Assange entered the Ecuadorian Embassy seeking political asylum due to his well founded fear of onward extradition and even rendition to the United States from Sweden for his 2010 / 2011 publications with WikiLeaks. Evidence of this exists in his asylum application. The article in its current form omitted this fact as if the risk of onward extradition from Sweden to the US never existed, as if the US Grand Jury that convened in 2010 to indict Julian Assange never happened. Yet Attorney General Eric Holder in 2010 said “There is an active, ongoing criminal investigation that we’re conducting with the Department of Defense,” There were hundred’s of references to this investigation over the years.
These fears were well founded as the April & May 2019 US indictments, relating to the WikiLeaks 2010/2011 disclosures, clearly established.
I suggested that an accurate description would read:
“He was arrested at the Ecuadorian Embassy, where he took refuge in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden that sought him for questioning over sexual assault allegations – which he has denied, due to his fears of onward extradition to the US from Sweden over his 2010/11 publications with WikiLeaks.”
Finally I requested that my complaint was escalated for further review.
On the 5th of Oct they indicated I should expect a reply within 20 working days but they would let me know if it may take longer and appointed a different case number 5665522. On the 13th of October I was told to wait further 20 days, the same again on the 1st of November and then I heard nothing more on the subject. There was no review.
On November 23 I filed another complaint (Case Number 5763548) for inaccuracy.
Their article: “Julian Assange: Sweden drops rape investigation” and under the subtitle
“What charges does Assange face in the US?” states:
“Australian-born Assange faces a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in the US. [Hyperlink: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wikileaks-founder-charged-computer-hacking-conspiracy%5D
He is accused of participating in one of the largest ever leaks of government secrets, which could result in a prison term of up to five years.”
I pointed out that this was not accurate, as additional 17 charges under the Espionage Act were added in a superseding inditement which could result in a prison term of up to 170 years. In total the 18 charges could result in 175 years imprisonment.[https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-charged-18-count-superseding-indictment]
I explained that part of the legal challenge at Magistrates Court against Julian Assange’s US Extradition includes arguments that the Extradition request is sought for political crimes such as Espionage. The US/UK extradition agreement prohibits extradition for political crimes. I suggested that the omission of such charges from the article kept the British public ignorant of the substance of this case before British courts and its significance not only in relation to Julian Assange but also in the context of press freedom and freedom of expression. I then asked them to correct the record by reporting all 18 charges and inserting the correct hyperlink which I append above.
On the 20th of December they wrote to apologise for the delay adding that I could refer this delay and the substance of my complaint to the BBC’s regulator Ofcom. Finally on February 28th this year I received an apology for the delay. Their response went on to say:
“I note your concerns over the accuracy of the mention of the sentence that Julian Assange could possibly face, and agree that the report originally contained an error – please accept my apologies for this. The article has since been amended to make clear that “if convicted, he could face decades in jail”.”
After three months waiting for a correction it was good to see that the BBC acknowledged there was an error in their article and they took an action. Still, it fell short of overcoming the omission of the Espionage charges and their implications, which is the substantive part of the case against him.
On March 13th I had reason to file yet another complaint (Case number 5968312) on the very same issue as article “Chelsea Manning case: Judge orders release from prison” states: “Australian-born Assange faces a charge of conspiracy to commit computer intrusion in the US.” again omitting the additional 17 charges under the Espionage Act that were added in a superseding inditement. Other than an apology for the delay, my complaint remains pending.
At this point I would like to bring into the picture of this effort what has been said at Belmarsh Magistrates Court on the 24th of February this year : “James Lewis QC, arguing for the Crown Prosecutorial Service, which acts on behalf of the United States in its extradition request, explicitly asked journalists covering the case not to report on it as a matter of free speech or the right to publish.”
To conclude, when the BBC repeatedly omits to report the 17 charges against Julian Assange under the US Espionage Act for WikiLeaks publishing the 2010/2011 releases Afghanistan War Diaries, Iraq War Logs, Cablegate, and only reports the charge of conspiring to commit computer intrusion, does it serve Mr Lewis perspective in this case?
Perhaps it is time that the complaints I describe here are sent to the BBC regulator Ofcom. What do you think?