BBC website does act on readers’ comments

Occasionally, I’ll see something in an article on the BBC News website that seems wrong, so I drop them a note via their contact form to point it out. They are actually quite good at correcting factual errors, although they seem not to write back to thank the the people who pointed them out. The only sign that a BBC News article has changed is the “Last updated” datestamp at the top.

Yesterday evening, I was reading an article, ‘Half’ unaware of smoke ban date, which claimed that many people are confused about the long overdue ban on smoking in public places in England. To the right-hand side of the article, under the heading “Across the UK”, the first link was to an article from 2005, How UK smoke bans differ. At the time the article was written, the government was considering a less comprehensive ban in England which would still have allowed smoking in “pubs not serving food” and in private members’ clubs, despite the fact that the other parts of the UK would have total bans. Fortunately, this proposal, which would have seen England becoming the dirty man of Europe where smoking is concerned, was voted out by parliament, so from 1 July, England will have a comprehensive ban as in the rest of the UK.

Unfortunately, because of all the confusion and coverage of the original proposals, many people still think that smoking will be allowed in some pubs and clubs. I thought the BBC’s inclusion of a prominent link to an outdated article unhelpful, as it would only add to people’s misunderstanding. I sent a quick note to the BBC website, and was half surprised to find today that they had removed the link as I’d suggested.

BBC error or revealing quotation?

On a previous occasion, I contacted the BBC website after it published an article on concerns about wi-fi networks in schools. It quotes a teacher, Michael Bevington, who claims that exposure to wi-fi in the school where he works has made him sensitive to other sources of electro-magnetic radiation. The story listed satellite navigation systems as one of the things that affected him.

Now, as I’ve discussed before, traditional satnav systems do not transmit anything, they simply pick up the weak signals from satellites and use these to calculate the current position. If anyone claimed “radiation” from a satnav made them ill, that would only show the the ill effects were all in the mind.

I left a comment to this effect via the form at the end of the article. That was back in December. I only remembered about it a couple of weeks ago, when the technology commentator, Bill Thompson, wrote an article, also on the BBC website, about how fears over wi-fi lack credibility. This prompted me to go back and find the earlier article. I discovered that there was no mention of satellite navigation. Was it the wrong article, or had I imagined the whole thing? Luckily, back in December someone had copied the article into a post on a discussion forum, so the original version is preserved. It clearly reads:

Like a number of other schools, Stowe has turned off some of its transmitters. But Mr Bevington says he is now sensitive to other sources of electro-magnetic radiation, such as phones, microwaves, fluorescent lights and in-car satellite navigation. He also has problems with city centre hotspots and his neighbours’ wi-fi networks.

The BBC moderators did not approve my comment for inclusion at the end of the article, but they did remove any mention of satellite navigation. (Of course, as usual, they didn’t thank me or notify me.) This leaves me to wonder whether Mr Bevington did mention satnav systems, or whether this was added by the BBC themselves – something that makes a big difference to the credibility of Mr Bevington’s claims (if only the difference between unlikely and totally ridiculous). But it’s something that’s likely only ever to be known by himself and the BBC’s editors.

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