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BBC edits Obama’s speech

By Natalie Johnson, Dotcom journalists

Shortly after Barack Obama’s inauguration, BBC’s Newsnight show ran a 50-minute special program on the beginning of Obama’s presidency titled “Obama’s first 100 days: Environment.” It opened the program with what seemed to be a sound excerpt from Obama’s inauguration address playing along with video clips of nature scenes and scientific looking buildings. In reality, the sound bite was three different sentences from different parts of Obama’s speech spliced together. The edited sound bite had an obvious focus on the environment and scientific advancement:
“We will restore science to its rightful place, roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.”

The first part of sentence one comes from paragraph 13 of Obama’s speech, the second part of sentence one comes from paragraph 20 and sentence two comes from later in paragraph 13. Paragraphs 13 and 20 of the speech did not focus on science or the environment but rather covered a wide range of topics including the economy, health care and foreign policy.

The full sentence associated with the first part of the clip read, “We’ll restore science to its rightful place, and wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” This sentence referred to scientific advancements improving health care and not fighting global warming as the clip would suggest.

The full sentence associated with the second part of sentence one read, “With old friends and former foes, we’ll work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet,” and may have simply referred to nuclear arms and not global warming as the clip suggested. The sound bites were spliced to make it seem as though Obama had devoted a significant part of the speech to address his hopes for scientific progress.

Immediately after the clip, the show’s host said, “President Obama couldn’t have been clearer today and for most scientists his vote of confidence could not have come a moment too soon.”

Though the editing may not have been big news in the United States, it caused quite a stir in the Internet and blogging world. BBC’s communications manager, Karen Rosine defended BBC’s choice in an e-mail to Poynter Online: “We edited sections of the speech to reflect the elements in it that referred to science as a way to give people an impression or montage of what Obama said about science in his inauguration speech… It in no way altered the meaning or misrepresented what the president was saying.”

A line from BBC’s ethical guidelines states, “We strive to be accurate and establish the truth of what has happened.”

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Works cited

-Obama’s first 100 days: Environment. BBC News. Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/newsnight/7841946.stm

-Perry, S. (2008). Unethical Editing: BBC Botches Obama Speech–On Purpose. Open Salon. Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=93929

-Tompkins, A. (2008). BBC’s Edit of Obama’s Inauguration Speech Raises Important Ethical Questions. Poynter Online. Retrieved on February 15, 2009 from http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=2&aid=157529

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