Organisations have processes they want the public to use to communicate with them and standards that they adhere to.
In an earlier post I described how an inaccuracy complaint I filed with the BBC in November 2019 was finally partially corrected three months later on 28th of February 2020. After I received the BBC’s final reply I then filed a complaint with Ofcom on 31st of March 2020.
Since there has been some time passed since my filing, I rang them today on 020 7981 3000 for an update. I found out that my complaint has been closed without being considered because they have a deadline of receiving complaints for consideration within 20 working days after the BBC’s final decision on the case.
In my case, I missed the deadline by three days and that is why my complaint was not considered. I received no notification that the case was closed without being considered.
Here is a summary of my complaint for the record:
BBC News Website “Julian Assange: Sweden drops rape investigation”
My Complaint to the BBC:
“Your article with title “Julian Assange: Sweden drops rape investigation” of 19/11/2019 published here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-50473792 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.”
This is not accurate, as additional 17 charges under the Espionage Act were added in a superseding indictement 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]
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. The omission of such charges from your article keeps 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. In the interest of accuracy please correct the record by reporting all 18 charges and inserting the correct hyperlink which I append above.”
Reason for dissatisfaction with the outcome of the BBC’s final response:
Although the BBC acknowledged there was an error in their reporting their correction was inadequate. Here is the response I got on the 28th of February, 14 weeks after I submitted my complaint: ” 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”. ”
The inaccuracy lies with the complete omission of the 17 charges under the Espionage Acts (1917) from the article which carry a potential sentencing of 175 years.
Although the article links to the original 11/04/2019 US Press release https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wikileaks-founder-charged-computer-hacking-conspiracy it does not link to the US superseding indictment https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/wikileaks-founder-julian-assange-charged-18-count-superseding-indictment were the additional 17 Espionage charges are stated relating to the publication of classified material and they are mentioned specifically.
The correction of simply adding that Julian Assange “if convicted could face decades in jail” does not change the fact that no where in the article is explained to the British public that Espionage charges have been placed upon Julian Assange for publishing.
As I mention in my complaint:
“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. The omission of such charges from your article keeps 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.”
The risk to press freedom and freedom of expression due to this prosecution has been recognised by civil society at large both in this country and internationally.
In reaction to the news that Julian Assange has been charged with violating the US Espionage Act by publishing classified information through WikiLeaks, Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:
“The latest charges of violating the Espionage Act lodged by the US government raises severe press freedom fears in what amounts to an assault on the first amendment of the US constitution. Such a move poses a huge threat, one that could criminalise the critical work of investigative journalists and their ability to protect their sources. It is the latest unacceptable act from an administration determined to treat journalists as enemies of the people.”
The Council of Europe on the other hand recently stated:
“Several lawyers, politicians, journalists and academics consider Assange’s arrest in the United Kingdom and prosecution in the United States for publishing leaked documents of public interest an attack on press freedom and international law. ”
Yet the charges are not mentioned in the BBC article. Narrowing the spectrum of information available to the British public in this case is grossly unfair not only to Julian Assange but to society at large as this Extradition case will have profound effect on press freedom and freedom of expression. Why has the BBC narrowed that scope of information in relation to their reporting?
BBC Reference Number: 5763548
Date you submitted your complaint to the BBC:23/11/2019
Thankfully the BBC made a similar error in a more recent article so I have another pending Ofcom complaint pending, submitted within the 20 days of the BBC’s decision.
The publish every 15 days on a Monday the outcome of their decision in their website here:https://www.ofcom.org.uk/about-ofcom/latest/bulletins/bbc-online-bulletin and I will be checking!