Report from London-based Just Journalism:
BBC amends misleading Belfast festival headline
Fri. 1 Apr. 2011 @ 13.15 –
BBC News website changes headline wrongly implying Northern Ireland culture minister tried to foist ‘pro-Israeli stance’ on Belfast arts festival.
‘McCausland defends Belfast festival pro-Israeli stance’ was originally published on 24 March and reported that Nelson McCausland had approached the festival requesting the inclusion of ‘pro-Israeli views and Christian music’ at this year’s event.
The article quoted the minister from the relevant email correspondence with a festival organiser, in which he asked for ‘a view sympathetic to Israel in any relevant talk or debate’.
However, the context for the intervention was only referenced towards the end of the piece and was itself insufficient:
‘The culture minister said he had asked the festival to include pro-Israeli views as a previous Israeli speaker had had his invitation withdrawn at the last minute by the festival.’
Just Journalism wrote to the BBC on 24 March, objecting to the vagueness surrounding the intervention and to the framing of the article via the headline:
‘The reason that McCausland contacted the festival in the first place was the disinvitation of a Jewish (not Israeli) participant to last year’s event. This point only appears in the 15th paragraph, towards the end of the article. The reference to what happened last year to Geoffrey Alderman was vague and failed to provide sufficient context for this year’s intervention…
‘The invitation had specifically been for Alderman to join two critics of Israel on a panel discussion about Israel. After flying to Belfast, he was informed that he was no longer welcome and the panel event went ahead without an Israeli view being represented. The university said it had been a mistake to invite him ‘without consulting the academics in question’.
‘The framing of the article, particularly the headline, ‘McCausland defends Belfast festival pro-Israeli stance’ is very misleading, giving the false impression that the minister was pushing for a ‘pro-Israeli stance’ at the festival, when he was simply trying to prevent a repeat of last year’s deliberate exclusion of Israeli views from events at the festival specifically addressing Israel.’
The BBC replied on 30 March, concurring with our interpretation of the headline and informing us that further enquiries were being made regarding the details surrounding the story:
‘The issue you raise regarding the headline is one we recognised ourselves and in the light of that the headline was changed. It now reads “McCausland defends intervention over festival programme”. We have also contacted the minister’s department for some additional clarification which we will incorporate into the story.’
Just Journalism replied to the BBC on the same day to inform them that the original headline still stood and in response it was swiftly amended to, ‘McCausland defends intervention over festival programme’.
This version of the article includes more detail than the original; however, the Geoffrey Alderman incident is not elaborated on, thus the most recent version still lacks sufficient context for the ministerial intervention.