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BBC News in second pictures blunder as war breaks out over Asian coverage

The ITV News editor-in-chief, David Mannion, has criticised the response of the BBC and Sky News to the two Asian natural disasters, while the BBC has accused Sky News of allegedly "misleading" viewers with its coverage of the Burmese cyclone. The outbreak of bickering between the three major UK television news providers over their coverage of the cyclone in Burma and the Chinese earthquake may be a sign that the competitive pressures in covering the two disasters in difficult conditions are starting to show.

TV news budgets are also being strained by the two Asian disasters, together with the longer than expected US Democratic presidential primary process, and recent crises in Zimbabwe and Lebanon, with warnings that smaller stories later in the year might suffer as a result. In an internal staff email, veteran news executive Mannion said ITV News' coverage of the Chinese earthquake had "comprehensively" beaten the BBC, while the corporation and Sky News had been left "floundering" in covering the Burmese cyclone.

"The brilliant and rapid reactions of the foreign desk coupled by the extraordinary endeavour and bravery of the team in Burma left not only the BBC and Sky floundering; it produced the only first-hand television account of events in that closed country," he added. "Once again we comprehensively beat the BBC [on the Chinese earthquake], despite their huge resources and the numbers they have in Beijing. Sky too were unable to match us for both speed of response and quality of work. Our partner news broadcasters around the world have been fulsome in their praise, as has ITV's new programme boss Peter Fincham."

ITV News correspondent Neil Connery reported from inside Burma from May 7 to last Thursday, May 15, when he flew to Bangkok. The broadcaster's China correspondent, John Ray, and his team are reporting on the earthquake. The international editor, Bill Neely, and his crew are also in China for ITV News, which is supplied by ITN.

However, the BBC's world news editor, Jon Williams, refuted Mannion's allegations, although he also praised ITV's coverage. "I wouldn't say we have been floundering. I am quite happy with what we have done," Williams said. "We were in Burma before ITV got there, but their coverage has been nothing less than impressive. It is that sense of competition that is good for the audience," he added.

However, sources say that questions have been raised internally within the BBC over its coverage of the disasters, although a spokesman denied this amounted to any sort of formal review. "We assess coverage every day, but this does not equate to a review," he said. The BBC has also been stymied by having two of its correspondents - Andrew Harding and Paul Danahar - deported by the Burmese authorities.

An on-air apology also had to be issued by the BBC on Friday after it mistakenly used a still photograph of the 2004 Asian tsunami before a report about the Burmese cyclone during Thursday night's 10pm news on BBC1. The BBC spokesman said the corporation currently had "small undercover teams" in Burma, while in China its Beijing bureau team - James Reynolds, Michael Bristow, Dan Griffiths and Paul Danahar - has been covering the earthquake. Williams said he wanted to get more people into both Burma and China but visa restrictions meant it was difficult.

Meanwhile, on the BBC news website's editors' blog, Williams also seemed to criticise Sky News for some of its coverage of the Burmese cyclone. "A number of reporters are also operating inside Burma. But don't believe everything you see on television!" he wrote. "While the BBC and most other UK broadcasters are reporting from Rangoon or the Irrawaddy delta, this weekend one news channel set foot across the Thai border, many hundreds of miles away from the areas worst hit by the cyclone, and claimed to be reporting from 'inside Burma'," Williams added. "It's not a lie - but it is misleading. Burma is a big place - 'day-trippers' are allowed to go to some tourist parts of the country. But it doesn't equip those who travel there to comment on what's going on elsewhere. The truth is not always as it appears."

A BBC source later confirmed that Williams was referring to a Sky News report on May 10. A Sky spokeswoman declined to comment on Williams's allegation. But she said the broadcaster was covering the two disasters with two correspondents in China - Peter Sharp and David Bowden - while it also had a reporter and producer on the ground in Burma, although she declined to name them for security reasons.

The costs of covering the two disasters are putting strains on the budgets of all the UK's main news broadcasters. "This stuff is expensive, but that is the business we are in," Williams said. "We are not not spending money, we are throwing money at these stories. If we have to make some difficult choices later in the year about the smaller stories that is an issue we will return to."

In other news, the BBC today admitted that a factory making Adolf Hitler dolls that it told viewers was part of the rise of Neo-Nazism in the Ukraine was actually located in Taiwan. The BBC has apologised for the mistake, which it broadcast on television and online on April 23.

It is the second BBC apology over an inaccuracy in one of its news broadcasts in four days. The corporation admitted that the item about a Ukrainian manufacturer producing dolls of Adolf Hitler and a rise in neo-Nazism in the country contained a "factual error". Following complaints, the BBC launched an investigation and found that the dolls were actually made in Taiwan while it said a contributor interviewed in the piece who claimed that the policies of Ukrainian leaders were contributing to a revival of neo-Nazism in the country should also have been challenged.

The BBC said the pictures came from a Russian television station "via a trusted agency route", but that they had not been scrutinised properly. "When the BBC takes material from other broadcasters it is subject to scrutiny under the BBC's editorial guidelines," a spokeswoman said. "However on this occasion a potentially controversial story was not subjected to the required rigorous examination. After complaints were received we investigated the item and immediately decided not to run it again on television and to remove it from the website. We shall be looking at what lessons can be learnt from this episode and applying them as a matter of urgency. We regret that some of our viewers were upset by the item and felt it was not up to the BBC's high standards."

The editor of BBC Breakfast Alison Ford, writing on the BBC news editors' blog, added: "We apologised to those people who had told us they were offended by the piece, and of course we're happy to repeat that apology publicly." The piece ran on the BBC News channel in the UK and international rolling news service BBC World.

The acknowledgement of a new mistake follows the on-air apology the BBC made on Friday after it broadcast a picture the previous day which it claimed was of dozens of people killed by the devastating Burmese cyclone, but which instead was taken in Sumatra during the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Peter Horrocks, the head of the newly created BBC multimedia newsroom, said the corporation would review its processes for checking pictures it received following the incident.

This post first appeared on Automated Daydream, please read the originial post: here

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BBC News in second pictures blunder as war breaks out over Asian coverage


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