Guido had the story in his Sun on Sunday column this morning:

‘Director of News James Harding admits the Beeb made the wrong call over the amount of airtime given to allegations in a left-wing newspaper that Shapps edited his own Wikipedia page as well as those of Cabinet colleagues. Shapps was subsequently demoted and the story turned out to be false. Wiki investigated the allegations, only to find no evidence to support the claims first aired by a Lib Dem activist. Shapps finally complained to the BBC after they all but ignored that crucial development having gone to town on the original story, and now Harding has said sorry. “We covered it, but apologised for not doing as much on it as he, or we, would have liked,” says a BBC spokesman, adding that they had “not apologised for our election coverage”.’

I mention it for a number of reasons. First, because the imbalance between the reporting of the original allegation and the later Wikipedia investigation remains, so it deserves more attention.

Second, because it’s a salutary tale of monolithic media organisations like the BBC (and some of the newspapers, who lapped up the story as well) not understanding how more diffuse bodies like Wikipedia work. The online encyclopedia is collaborative and crowd-sourced, including in its process for making and judging allegations like this, not a top-down body where senior executives and committees decide everything. In short, the Beeb mistook Wikipedia for itself, and thus overestimated the importance of the story. To take the word of one person involved and portray it as the authoritative opinion of the whole outfit, apparently without checking who the person behind the handle might be, was a major error.

Third, because it’s a good example of why the BBC is losing friends in Parliament. In an age of instant-whip Twitter storms, the Corporation surely knew that by going heavy on the story it was feeding the fire of a thousand and one lefties who would link to it endlessly at a politically sensitive time (indeed, cynics may think that could  be why they did it…). I’m not saying Shapps is going to take up a vendetta against Aunty as a result, but it’s unlikely to help the efforts of the lobbyists of W1A as they go all-out to persuade Westminster that they’re perfectly fair and should definitely have the licence fee renewed.

12 comments for: The BBC apologises to Shapps over its coverage of a Lib Dem’s Wikipedia allegations

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