BBC news is criticised for sloppiness

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THE BBC's news and consumer affairs programmes have been criticised for sloppy journalistic standards and a series of factual errors, by the corporation's own internal complaints bulletin.

Sir John Birt, the BBC director general, is known to be angry at slipping standards in areas as diverse as the Nine O'Clock News and Radio 5 Live.

The biggest error was on the One and Six O'Clock News bulletins which used library footage filmed for a report on how the Budget would affect families to illustrate a piece about single parents. The father shown in the film was in fact married and objected to being described as a single parent.

The complaints against BBC news programmes included one from the High Commissioner for Trinidad and Tobago, who objected to a report claiming that the Government there was rushing through the executions of five convicted killers without allowing an appeal.

The error was in a re-written introduction to the piece for the Nine O'Clock News. Another re-written introduction, on the Nine O'Clock News, was used when the introductory material sent by the reporter was mislaid. The new introduction, written in London, wrongly said that members of the Yoruba and Ibo tribes were fighting in the Delta area.

In his introduction to the report Sir John Birt said: "[An] unusual feature of the quarter... is that four complaints about items in television news bulletins have been upheld. This compares with only three over the whole of the previous year, and is disappointing in an area which has been distinguished for its consistently high standards."

Also galling for the corporation is the upholding of two complaints from the parent company of the Dixons retail chain. Dixons formed a lobby group of big companies to take on the BBC's flagship consumer affairs programme Watchdog.

Dixons complained about a Watchdog investigation which gave the impression that a customer claiming insurance on a stolen mobile phone was told she would only get a replacement if she had "had a go" at the thief. The complaints unit found that Dixons' "intention was entirely different".

The rest of the complaint, about the cost of Dixons' insurance policies was rejected and the BBC is at present meeting with Dixons' lawyers to discuss the wording of an on-screen apology.