My 'biased' view of the Biased BBC blog - part six - Moderation failure

Martin Belam  by Martin Belam, 22 March 2007

Yesterday, as part of a series of posts looking the Biased BBC blog and the accusations it makes against the corporation, I started to look at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issue, and pointed out some recent mistakes that had been made on the BBC's website which fit into the Biased BBC pattern of seeing bias against Israel, and more generally Judaism, at every turn.

Today I want to look at an even more serious case, which took took place last month on the BBC's Editors Blog.

Around the time of the screening of the BBC's recent programme about the 9/11 conspiracy theories, posts regarding the show were hi-jacked by conspiracy theorists being directly led there from Alex Jone's PrisonPlanet website.

Amongst the many pro-conspiracy theorist comments was #44 by Truthseeker. The post was without a doubt anti-Semitic in nature. It asserted that media coverage of 9/11 and the London bombings of July 2005 were examples of the behaviour contained in the "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" - a notorious anti-Semitic forged document from the turn of the 20th century. It also [not shown in my screen capture] contained the URL of a site that had clearly anti-Semitic content on it.


I was engaged in a thread on Biased BBC at the time about the conspiracy theory documentary, because a lot of the people on there, as a knee-jerk reaction, automatically assumed that the programme was going to support the conspiracy theory, and take the opportunity to be anti-Bush and anti-American. I was trying to point out that this wasn't going to be the case.

When the issue of this comment was raised, I was confident that the BBC's moderation policy would see it swiftly deleted. So I complained about the post myself using the "Complain about this post" button, knowing that it would be removed within minutes, and show the people on Biased BBC how wrong they were.


But it wasn't.

So I pressed the button again an hour or so later.

In the meantime, people over at Biased BBC had also complained on the Editors blog, complained via the BBC Complaints system, and phoned BBC Information.

Yet still the offensive post remained online.

The wording on the Editor's blog added creedence to the general Biased BBC view that the BBC was condoning these anti-Semitic views:

Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them.

This led people on the Biased BBC blog to assume that Conspiracy Files series editor Mike Rudin had personally approved the anti-Semitic comment for publication.

Having found that my "Complain about this post" button pushes had been to no effect, I then used the BBC Complaints site to register a comlaint that the BBC moderation policy had failed.

A couple of days later I got a very nicely worded and polite email, which explained that:

I have checked the blog and can no longer find the contribution by TruthSeeker. It appears to have now been removed. We appreciate all feedback about contributions made to the Editor's Blog and please be assured your complaint has been registered and made available to the News Editors.

But that wasn't the point.

By the time I got to making an official complaint, I wasn't complaing about the comment itself, I was complaining about the failure of the BBC's moderation process, which allowed racist anti-Semitic material to be published on one of their blogs, despite repeated complaints from multiple people through multiple channels.

This happened during office hours on a weekday, but it took the BBC until the next day to remove the offending post, even though it was clearly in breach of the house rules on two counts - in the racist nature of the comment, and in containing a URL to racist material on another website.

Now I understand the volume of comments the BBC receives, and understand that processes can sometimes break down.

But that volume or the claim of an error does nothing to defend the BBC from the kind of view that this type of blunder supports on the Biased BBC site. Namely that the BBC is institutionally anti-Semitic, and so it appeared to them that even when the comment was reviewed several times by the moderation team, they, and by extension the BBC, simply did not see a problem with it.

These are a couple of representative quotes from the Biased BBC site:

The BBC absolutely the most "moderated" place on the net I have ever contributed or tried to contribute to. Nevermind them removing stuff, they don't even allow a lot of things to appear in the first place. Yet even with all this "moderating" comments like the Protocols of Zion one get through? This, to me, smells more of selection and censorship than moderating.
My guess is that they will leave these comments up for another two or three days, and then languidly remove them claiming a "mix up", or staff "shortages" (!!) or some other lie.

In fact, there even developed a school of thought on Biased BBC that they should stop complaining, since whilst the comment remained published it gave them a permalink URL on the BBC site with which to demonstrate their arguments.

Regardless of the details of this specific situation, the BBC should do a couple of things to make the moderation of their user-generated content areas more transparent.

For a start, the Editor's Blog, and the other BBC blogs using the same system, should adjust the disclaimer that "Comments are moderated, and will not appear on this weblog until the author has approved them." to more realisticly reflect who actually does the moderation.

Secondly, they should more generally be up-front about who is actually doing the moderating on the site in the BBC's name. The DNA powered message boards, the blogs, the various pseudo-blogs dotted around, and the BBC News Have Your Say boards are all moderated by different groups of people, leading to a difference in quality and consistency.

Some of the boards are moderated by BBC staff, and some of the moderation is contracted out. The clearest exposition of how one of these areas works, the Have Your Say boards, is actually tucked away in the replies to a post on the Open Secrets blog.

The BBC could also be more open about the sheer volume of correspondence that it receives, and the odds of a comment actually being published.

In the final part of this series, I want to look at my own experience of striving for impartiality on the services I worked on at the BBC, and to draw some general conclusions about the future of a unbiased BBC at a time when the internet is enabling greater public scrutiny of the media than ever before.


I am a great critic of the BBC - its insensitive bias and political correct agenda.
Yet your blog states they are anti-semetic. I do not find this so - they are anti Israeli (as I am) but not anti-semetic. My own not insignificant experience with Jews and Israili's shows they are generally poles apart and it is truly unfortunate that some leading Jews in Britain blindly follow the Israili government propaganda in the mistaken belief of Jewish cohesion.
If I wished to know what is happening in Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, or any part of the Middle East I would not turn to the BBC for information but to any other continental channel such as France and Germany.

I work at the BBC, and am responsible for the editors' blog. Martin, thanks for the suggestions in this post about being clearer about our moderation processes. We'll have a look at doing that. As for the details of this case, it was unfortunately a case of human error, compounded by our blog complaints system being crippled by spam. We took the problem very seriously, and so immediately altered our procedure so that complaints about blog comments now go directly into the BBC Complaints system. This means if ever there is a similar problem we should be able to deal with it much more quickly.

Hi Giles, thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

You might be interested in the BBC's response to accusations in the Mail that it's been hypocritical in trying to suppress the Balen report:

Martin Belam and Giles wilson,

Here's my two-part comment on the Biased BBC site - part of a larger and quite interesting debate on the thread:

Link to comments

Link to comments

Thanks, Martin Belam, for being at least prepared to open up debate.

Hi, Most obviouly your quite wrong.

You're extremely lucky that you even got a response to your complaint.

I gave that up a long time ago - as with commenting on the boards (never published), or reading them (quite a lot of favouritism in terms of what is published and what isn't).

Maybe the complaint system registered your BBC IP address, which acted as a trigger.

Hi Richy, just to clarify, I haven't worked at the BBC since 2005, and so I do not have a BBC IP address.

[Note: Bryan posted this to another article on the site, and I thought it was worth re-posting here - Martin]

I recall a debate we had on the Biased BBC site a while back on the apparent reluctance of the BBC to delete an anti-Semitic comment from The Editors blog despite many complaints, from yourself included. I remember that you posted an article about it on your blog at the time.

In the light of that article, in which you described how you were confident that the BBC would delete the comment after the complaints and were amazed when it didn't, I thought you might be interested in the fact that the BBC has now dropped the pretence of fair play and is refusing to delete an anti-Semitic comment from one of its message boards, while deleting complaints about the comment from the thread: p=524

The BBC is going from bad to worse.

Your websires are all geared to complaining about particulaar programmes! I have just spent 45 minutes trying to discover how to complain about your overall policy, without success - I'm not even sure that THIS is the place and expect my complaint to disappear without trace - this is the new spurious acces - just dent people easy acces to the aspects you don't want questioned!!!!
[Condensed version of this going to the Guardian...perhaps the only place left to complain about the BBC]
WHY are you cutting news staff while maintaining programmes such as [this last week]
WHY cut news [which is valued globally as RELATIVELY independent while keeping 'stuff' like Medium, Street Doctors [both dangerous and boring]Nigella Express [far better done on independent channels, the "One Show" [aimed at 6 year olds?], replays of One Footin the Grave, The restaurant,Snooker, endless quiz programmes and silly competitions, QI ETC ETC ETC
WHY are you cutting current affairs? I am trying to teach Genral Studies A level, but you give very little information on VERY important current issues - are you so cowed by the government that you DAREN'T question anything important?
Jermey Paxton can be irritating, but at least he questions the key spokespeople about key issues intelligently
Whay has THIS sort of programme, which doesn't exist elsewher. have to be cut in order to allow silly quiz and 'lifestyle' programmes to continue?
WHY do you make it so difficult to compain about general issues/

Hi Anne, you can find the BBC complaints process at This is simply a personal website by someone who has worked at the BBC at times.

Hi, Martin,

You might be interested to know that The Editors blog is still fumbling and stumbling in its apparent attempts to sort out the "technical" problems that have plagued it pretty much since its inception. I put "technical" in quotes since I just cannot see how the problems could possibly drag on for months turning into years if they were simply technical in nature and I have long suspected that the BBC was actually trying to filter out "undesirable" comments and commentators - not because they break any rules, but because they are not PC. Paranoia? Conspiracy theory? Possibly. But have a look at this:

We need to be able to extract real editorial value from such contributions more easily. We are exploring as many technological solutions as we can for filtering the content, looking for intelligent software that can help journalists find the nuggets and ways in which the audience itself can help us to cope with the volume and sift it.

It's from Peter Horrock's recent Value of citizen journalism post.

As someone who is clued up about these matters, perhaps you can indicate what this filtering process involves?

Over the weekend following his article, I tried to send Mr. Horrocks a lengthy comment, in two parts. It wouldn't go through, just hung. So I sent it on the Monday and it went through OK but was not published, perhaps proving my point. So I published it on the breakaway blog from Biased BBC

Any thoughts you have on this matter would be much appreciated.

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