The alleged remit of BBC Monitoring is to supply monitoring of news from around the world accompanied by basic fact-checking of the veracity of assertions made by politicians, activists and commentators.
An alleged “analysis” of the causes of fires in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil In debate over Brazil fires, by Rose Delaney, listed (and debunked) untrue claims by supporters of alt-right president Jair Bolsanaro and by his opponents. All false claims by both sides were obviously wrong and had been mocked by the public. The article offered no conclusion, it was determinedly “balanced,” both qualitatively and quantitatively, and it did not mention the multi billion-dollar arrangements between Brazilian agribusiness and USA investors and corporations.
In Russia’s Navalny narrative creates Skripal deja vu Vitaly Shevchenko reported and dismissed a variety of inventive causes given by politicians, journalists and others for the illness of far-right Russian political activist Alexei Navalny, causes that disputed Navalny’s belief he was poisoned by the Russian state.
Both Delaney and Shevchenko offered basic reporting of facile comments made by others accompanied by easy rebukes of false statements. There was little substance to their articles.
Lightweight “monitoring” – lists of silly reported remarks followed by dismissal – is the essence of BBC Monitoring. The service provided is minimal, almost pointless. Its purpose is to haughtily decry the most fanciful claims with an undertone of derision aimed at an imagined group of people who chose to believe such claims.
In the UK, BBC Monitoring’s objective is to provide a parrot service for the Tory government and the government’s associates. Alistair Coleman, from the BBC’s “Anti-Disinformation Unit,” tackles any criticism of the government or its associates by asking them if the details of the criticism are true and, when they deny, he states that the criticism is invalid.
For example, at the foot of a BBC report on the Covid-19 test and trace application Coleman provided his version of fact-checking:
“There have been calls on social media to boycott the app because some people think their personal data is in the hands of a private company. The BBC spoke to both the Department of Health and Social Care and Serco, and both tell us that the app was made by a partnership led by the NHS involving Accenture, Alan Turing Institute, Oxford University, VMWare Pivotal Lab and Zuhlke Engineering. Serco has no connection with either the making or the running of the app. Additionally, Serco has told the BBC that it does not run the physical NHS Test and Trace scheme. That, too, is run by the NHS, with Serco providing about 50% of the phone operations staff for tier 3 contact tracing.”
Coleman believes that the most dishonest and corrupt government since 1828 and a business with an endless CV of wrongdoing, theft and incompetence should be trusted to answer questions honestly. His behaviour was the opposite of fact-checking and a vile extension of client journalism.
(Coleman’s “journalism” background includes producing “worst tweets” lists for Buzzfeed and his current occupation includes trolling real journalists on social media platforms.)
The industry of fact-checking is a fast-growing enterprise. The necessity for politicians and businesses to be dishonest and secretive, coupled with the ease at which untruths can spread globally, created a need for independent voices to referee disputes over accuracy of information.
The supposed role of a fact-checking body is to, as far as it is able, determine if an assertion is true or not. By doing so, fact-checking bodies acquire trustworthiness. The desire people have to trust something is exploited by people or groups that describe themselves as fact-checkers but who fail to fulfill the role.
Throughout its coverage of the presidential election in USA in November (2020) fact-checking analysis on BBC news lagged behind other networks and BBC provided uninterrupted yes-platforming of charlatans when most other broadcasters had taken an editorial decision to not broadcast the same events.
BBC’s unwillingness to check facts in real time is a facet of Director-General Tim Davie’s philosophy of allowing all opinions to be broadcast no matter how dishonest or absurd they are. He explained in his introductory speech to BBC staff that “we [BBC] need to explore new ways of delivering impartiality, seeking a wider spectrum of views, pushing out beyond traditional political delineations and finding new voices.” (Davie speech to BBC staff) He failed to say any of the “wider spectrum of views” need to have an association with facts, truth or honesty.
Coleman’s fact-checking is a swindle: In the example above he made no attempt to check facts but claimed he did because he asked those accused of lying if they lied.
The gradual descent in quality of BBC news reporting from 2010 onwards is steepening under Davie’s misguidance. The absurdity of BBC Monitoring’s practices is a symptom of the accelerating decline. Its fact-checking methodology is an insult to intelligence. BBC Monitoring is unfit for purpose.