BBC admits Radio 2 volcanic ash news bulletin "incorrect"
Investigator says "incorrect description should not have been aired"
Allow me to remind you of this story...
The 5pm Radio 2 news bulletin broadcast on 25th May included an interview with Dr Clive Oppenheimer, a volcano expert from Cambridge University in which he gave his opinion of what could happen to an aircraft jet engine if it flew through a volcanic ash cloud. He said, "The only problem with ash is that it can re-melt inside an engine which is obviously very bad news if you've got molten lava slopping around in an engine". This statement flies in the face of all other evidence of jet engine damage that has been disseminated to the UK public by the press and broadcasters, including the BBC. The ash does indeed melt when heated by the engine, and it then coats the turbine blades, inner surfaces and engine sensors with a glass-like coating, and so reducing the engine's efficiency and viability. There is also the potential for simple abrasion damage as the ash passes through the engine turbines and combustion chambers. I found Dr Oppenheimer's email address (Google was my friend!) and challenged him about his statement and he quickly replied at some length, but opened with this sentence: "I am guilty of hyperbole talking about molten lava in an engine.".
So, he made it up. And the BBC News department chose to broadcast it.
Needless to say, I immediately filed a complaint and included the quote from Oppenheimer's email. On Friday afternoon, and after three chase-up complaints, I finally received a reply (my highlights):
Thanks for contacting us regarding a Radio 2 News Bulletin at 5pm on 25 May. Please accept our apologies for the delay in replying. We know our correspondents appreciate a quick response and are sorry you've had to wait on this occasion.
We raised your concerns about the broadcast with the relevant editorial staff. As you outlined in your additional contact, Dr Oppenheimer seems to admit that the description he used in this instance was incorrect. We also agree with your perspective on molten ash crystallisation.
Dr Oppenheimer’s views are his and his alone, he was put on air in good faith and this as I’m sure you will agree, was not a deliberate attempt to mislead the audience. Having said that, we apologise for the error and recognise that an incorrect description should not have been aired in this manner.
We would like to thank you for bringing this to our attention and please accept our apologies again for the delay.
"We also agree with your perspective on molten ash crystallisation" is an interesting phrase. I'm not sure who "we" are but whoever they are they appear to have a better grasp of the volcanic ash/jet engine interaction than the expert who misled the audience that day.
Frankly, I am surprised that somebody of Dr Oppenheimer's standing should promote such misinformation. Frankly too, I am not surprised that the BBC grasped his comments with open arms as they attempted to increase the level of sensationalist and hysterical tosh that they were peddling to the public in the name of "fact" at that time.
I forwarded a copy of the BBC Complaints email to Dr Oppenheimer on Friday, and introduced it with just one sentence: We can only hope that next time the BBC will interview an expert who knows the subject, rather than an expert who does not. So far, he has chosen not to respond.
So, what has this to do with your programme? Well, for ages now I have been suggesting that you should discuss the credibility and accuracy of main-stream news bulletins, and add impartiality to that list for the BBC. Issues like that described above continue to erode your listeners faith of the "news" that they are spoon-fed every day in the vain hope that somebody might actually believe it. This is becoming more and more of a problem, yet it continues to be ignored by the very organisations that are its cause. So go on Jeremy, grasp the nettle and please talk about something that is of interest to A LOT of people. Tomorrow, maybe?
Oh, and you won't have seen the headline I quoted because, and in the best journalistic tradition, I MADE IT UP. The story, though, is completely true.
So, let's look at the "issues that affect me" today...
1) CALL CENTRES - We discuss the call centre that's moved back to the UK because Burnley is now cheaper than Mumbai. Find out more in this Daily Mail article : Hooray! The Daily Mail makes its first appearance this week as the first story of the week. Does this set the tone for the rest of the week? Moving call centres back to the UK is good news. A few years ago I was involved in a serious road accident, fortunately with only minor injuries. The worst part of the whole experience - honestly - was dealing with my insurance company's call centre in India. Since then I have been careful who I choose to give my business to and I now ask specifically "Where are your call centres?". Any non-UK country mentioned will then cause me to look elsewhere, but I always tell the company why and "You're not the first person to do that" is a common response. So, it looks like I have already taken precautions to make sure that this issue does not affect me. Next...
2) REPATRIATION ROUTE DIVERSION - The decision to divert the repatriation route for fallen British servicemen away from Royal Wootton Bassett has been criticised as disrespectful to the military. Find out more in this Sky news article : Oooohhh... a story culled from Murdoch news. Wasn't there a BBC memo that said that all staff must pretend that he doesn't exist, or slag off the Murdoch empire at all times? I have never seen one of these processions, so the closure of RAF Lyneham does not affect me, the re-routing of the flights does not affect me and the re-routing of the funeral cortège does not affect me. The tragic deaths of the servicemen affects us all, and I sincerely hope that you are not just using their deaths to raise your listeners' blood pressure in the name of cheap radio. Your discussion will change nothing, as usual, but others that have a real interest and concern just might. Next...
3) CARE FUNDING OVERHAUL - The amount of money which people in England have to spend on care in their old age should be capped, according to an independent report : Just remind me where this is happening again. Oh yes, England. I don't live there so this does not affect me. Next..
4) HOSTEL - And residents of north Belfast want "paedo alert" signs on lamp-posts outside a hostel which houses paedophiles. Find out more in this Belfast Telegraph article : Now, here is an interesting thing. You have chosen to cover a story from the distant outpost of the United Kingdom known as Northern Ireland. One could believe that this particular territory barely exists given the amount of coverage that it receives on your programme. Like Wales, it is hardly ever mentioned specifically. Fortunately, your listeners in Scotland seem to be better served. So why has this story floated to the top of the Jeremy Vine Show septic tank of news stories today? Oh yes, because it is about that stalwart favourite topic: Paedophiles. I don't live in Belfast so once again this is an issue that does not affect me.
The Jeremy Vine Show - for all the latest paedophile news..