BBC WORLD SERVICE
Letter to the Chairman of the Committee
from the Director, BBC World Service, 24 March 2005
This letter forms the response from BBC World
Service to the second submission from Christian Solidarity Worldwide
to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on BBC coverage of Nigeria.
My initial letter to the Committee on this issue
dated 13 July 2004 deals particularly with criticisms of the BBC's
Hausa Service, as I had assumed that the criticisms concerning
Christian groups in Northern Nigeria cited by CSW applied specifically
to the Hausa Service. For the avoidance of doubt though, let me
repeat that there is no evidence of systematic bias in the BBC's
Hausa Service, and that the Service reported the events referred
to in a careful and accurate way.
Turning to the use of the term Christian Militia,
which CSW state "the BBC denies using", my first letter
explains that, having checked their broadcasts, we established
it was not used by the BBC Hausa Service. I understood the criticism
was directed specifically at the Hausa Service, not to the BBC
generally, and responded accordingly.
In their latest submission, CSW raise the term
in the context of the BBC's coverage within our Online services
in English. Having looked specifically at that, I do not think
the term inappropriate. "Militia" is a now a broad term
commonly used to refer to armed groups who act as a body. It is
not only a term we use in the context of Christian groups. We
have used it in many other instances including references to Muslim
groups in Nigeria who have perpetrated acts of violence.
The CSW submissions leave the reader with the
impression that the BBC has paid scant attention to the attacks
on Christians by Muslims. So I offer here some sample stories
to show how fully we have reported these.
As you know, it is not our intention to favour
any group, faction or religion in our coverage, and I do not believe
in this instance we have.
While I appreciate CSW are unhappy with the
way the international media reports events in Nigeria, I do not
agree that the BBC should be included in this general criticism.
Newspapers often carry reports which claim to be based on BBC
news output, and some people get their impressions of the BBC's
work from these sources. Sadly some of these articles either misquote
the BBC or are simply inaccurate or fictitious. It is a fact that
some unscrupulous journalists do sometimes use the BBC's name
in an attempt to add credibility to their own work, or add currency
to inflammatory ideas they wish to peddle. Wherever we come across
this we do what we can to correct the stories, but you will appreciate
that this is a difficult thing to do and we are not always aware
when it happens.
CSW again raise the concern about the reported
death toll in Yelwa. The Hausa Service, which reports directly
to Northern Nigeria, avoided using this figure, as I said in my
last letter. The Online article in English to which CSW refers
(http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/world/africa/3689615.stm) does mention
the figure of 550-600, attributing it to someone our reporter
talked to on the spot. However, the reporter puts a very large
caveat around the figure given to her, so I do not agree that
the BBC promulgated this figure as fact.
I am quite happy to say who it was Jerry Timmins
talked to in Northern Nigeria, and I had already given a clear
indication in my first letter of the contacts we had pursued.
I did not say that both these men had "exonerated the BBC"
as CSW put it. We were not seeking exoneration. As we indicated
in our response, Jerry visited the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Forum.
He met with Pastor James Wuye. He also visited Joseph J Hayab,
the Secretary to the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Both
these men work in and around Kaduna.
Neither of them could provide specific examples
of bias in the Hausa Service and both engaged constructively with
Jerry in a conversation about where such perceptions might stem
from. Both had been interviewed on the BBC, and both felt that
they could contact the BBC and ask for redress if they ever felt
that a balancing Christian point of view was necessary. Jerry
urged both of them to do so. He also left his direct contact details
in case they ever felt they had cause for concern in the future.
We are very conscious of how highly charged
the situation in Northern Nigeria can become, and we pay close
attention to how we report events and endeavour to do so accurately
and fairly. We are not perfect of course andas Jerry has
shown by his willingness to talk to all sideswe are happy
to respond to concerns and listen to specific points CSW raise.
I would urge CSW to engage with us on these
issues and indeed to urge their congregations in Nigeria to take
part in our output when opportunities arise. We do monitor all
our output and will continue to do so and are always willing to
engage with any concerns CSW may have.
BBC World Service
24 March 2005