Following on from our story on the Northern Ireland medical registrar, Emma Keelan, who claimed in a 22nd July tweet that her hospital, the Mater in Belfast, was “full with young (in 20/30s) critically unwell, UNvaccinated COVID patients on ventilators who are now regretting their decision” we now highlight the reckless role of the BBCNI in bringing attention to the discredited claims.
On two separate radio shows, the BBC would give significant airtime to Dr Keelan’s claims without informing the listeners they, BBCNI, had not verified the claims made in the tweet.
BBCNI first gave airtime to Dr Keelan’s tweet on the Good Morning Ulster programme with Chris Buckler and Joel Taggart which aired between 06:30 and 09:00 on the morning of the 23rd July, the day after Dr Keelan posted her tweet.
The tweet was initially read out on air at approximately 07:10 when the show’s producers made no effort to inform the listener that the following information had not been verified by the BBC.
It was then read out for a second time on the same programme, only this time to the medical director of the Belfast Trust Chris Hagan at approximately 08:10.
Bizarrely, rather than taking the opportunity to ask the Trust’s medical director Chris Hagan if the tweet’s contents were true or not, the presenter instead asked him about a response to Dr Keelan’s tweet from a person who felt her claims were “scaremongering”. You would also assume that as the claims made by Dr Keelan were false, that Chris Hagan could also have taken the opportunity to clarify matters.
Not to be outdone, Stephen Nolan would then read the same tweet emotively to a young caller just after 09:00 on the same morning, just after Good Morning Ulster had finished.
Again, Nolan made no effort to inform his listeners that his crack-team of researchers had not managed to verify the contents of the tweet. Instead, it was read out as fact, leaving the young fellow who Nolan was speaking to in an impossible position and unable to answer the claims being put to him, as they were false.
As you will soon see, Nolan’s editor would inform us that the only information they allegedly managed to source in regards Keelan’s tweet was that they were informed ‘hospitals in Belfast had numerous patients in their 20’s and 30’s with Covid‘ which of course does nothing to support her claims.
BBC NI: The Complaint
The now infamous tweet sent by Dr Keelan was posted on the 22nd July, and the BBC shows went out the following morning of the 23rd July. By the evening of the 22nd we had been made aware from a senior source that the claims made by Keelan were false. This was when we attempted to resolve the matter with her privately…
Only to then be blocked from communicating with her any further…
Having full confidence in our source and after further consultation with them, on the 28th July, we lodged two complaints with the BBC, one regarding the Good Morning Ulster broadcast and one regarding the Nolan broadcast. On the 30th July, Clare received her FOI response from the Belfast Trust confirming what our source had told us.
The complaints were very similar, so I will only provide one set. This was what we sent to the Nolan Show.
Was verification sought?
On the 23rd July, Stephen Nolan quoted a tweet on air made by a doctor by the name of Emma Keelan who according to her Twitter profile is a Medical registrar at the Mater hospital in Belfast. The tweet was also read out twice on Good Morning Ulster on the same day. It reads:
“To the 18% that haven’t had the 1st covid vaccine…the Mater is full with young (in 20/30s) critically unwell, UNvaccinated COVID patients on ventilators who are now regretting their decision. Might be time for a rethink. The 3rd wave is here & u r now the most vulnerable”
Given the reach the claims in the tweet obtained by appearing 3 times in these two well listened to radio shows, I’d like to ascertain what steps Stephen Nolan took to verify the claims raised in the tweet? And if he did not seek to verify the claims at the time of the broadcast, why did he not inform the listeners that the tweet had not been verified?
The editor of the Nolan Show would respond with:
However, Ross does not address our question, which was seeking to ascertain if the claims made in Keelan’s tweet, read out on air, were verified by the BBC prior to being read out on air. Instead, he skirted around the issues, saying they had learned, allegedly, that hospitals in the Belfast Trust catchment area had “numerous patients in their 20s and 30s with Covid-19“.
I then went back to him seeking to raise the complaint to the second stage, otherwise known as Stage 1b.
On the 29th July, we then escalated the complaint to Stage 1b. At this stage we already had Clare’s FOI response from the Belfast Trust confirming that Keelan’s tweet was a lie.
I’m unhappy with the response to my Stage 1a Complaint and would like to escalate it to Stage 1b.
My complaint centres around a Tweet from Dr Emma Keelan that was read out on the Nolan Show on 23 July.
I had asked the BBC the following:
1. What steps did the Nolan Show take to verify the claims raised in the tweet?
2. And if they did not seek to verify the claims at the time of the broadcast why did they not inform the listeners that the tweet’s claims had not been verified by the BBC?
Neither of these questions has been answered at Stage 1a.
The BBC wrote:
“We referenced Dr Keelan’s tweet during a conversation with a young caller and are satisfied, based on a second source in the Belfast Trust, that hospitals in the City had numerous patients in their 20s and 30s with Covid-19. It had elsewhere been reported that that the majority of people who are currently hospitalised with the virus haven’t been vaccinated.”
My enquiry remains unanswered, what steps did the BBC take to verify the claims Dr Keelan made? EG:
1. That the Mater was “full with young (in 20/30s) critically unwell…COVID patients on ventilators?
2. That these patients were “now regretting their decision [not to be vaccinated]?
The BBC concludes:
“We think that Dr Keelan’s tweet raised issues of legitimate public interest, including because of her position as a medical professional, and that our use of it was editorially appropriate and relevant to context.”
Again, these points are not being disputed and do not form part of my complaint.
On the 4th August, Ross would respond to our Stage 1b complaint, displaying a touch of suspicion that may actually know more than what we had so far made known.
He offers us to provide the BBC with “any information that contradicts Dr Keelan’s eyewitness testimony” again suggesting that the BBC were placing a lot of trust in Keelan being right based solely on her role in the hospital rather than carrying out the basic verification checks to ensure her claims held up. If we, as a volunteer group of citizen journalists, can seek out and get clarification hours after the tweet went out, then we must ask how the BBC with all their clout cannot get the same verification even several months later? Their producers and researchers are either bone-ideal lazy, complacent or don’t have the same trust from inside sources as we do. Even with the latter being the case, they’ve still had over 2 months to submit their own FOIs.
In his response to our Stage 1a complaint, Ross referred to “her position as a medical professional” implying this as a reason for not feeling the need to verify her claims and in his second response he refers to “Dr Keelan’s eyewitness testimony“. Eyewitness testimony that we now know to have been a lie.
Before going back to the BBC with our evidence, we spent the following 7 days triple-checking and confirming all the information we had in our possession. We went back to our sources to verify and cross-reference their information with the FOI results, and we also approached other well-placed sources to then confirm our confirmations. On the 12th of August, with a rock solid case, we went back to the BBC with the following:
Again, a similar email was sent to Jacqueline McIntyre, Senior Editor of Political Programmes for BBCNI as she had been dealing with Good Morning Ulster compliant.
On the 17th August, it would seem that Ross was sidelined and Jacqueline took over both complaints as she responded to us in an email with both case numbers. In her email, she wrote, “We’ll want…to make some enquiries of our own – which may take several days to complete.”
Those several days would turn into 2 weeks and still having heard nothing back, we contacted Jacqueline again offering to supply her with our FOI responses if it would help speed the complaints process up. I would draw attention to the fact that under their own complaint’s procedure, they have 20 workings days to deal with a Stage 1b complaint.
Appreciating that some complaints can take longer than others, we were sure that would not be the case in this instance as not alone had 24 working days already passed at this stage, but on the 17th of August, 2 weeks previous, Jacqueline would advise us she only needs “several days” to complete her investigation.
But to help the BBCNI along and to ensure no further delays, we then offered to provide them with our FOI information. We contacted Jacqueline on the 1st September, she responded on the same day, and we provided her with the FOI details. This all took place on the 1st September. The really poor formatting of Jacqueline’s reply emails is an issue at the BBC end, not ours.
We received an automated response to our above submission to the BBCNI on the 1st September, and after that it has been complete silence.
We chased them up on the 9th September and the 16th September and received the same automated response. Since the 1st September, we have been stonewalled.
The regulator normally only takes complaints about the BBC after the BBC’s own complaint procedure has been exhausted. But as the BBC kept us stuck at stage 1b, this has prevented us from taking the case to the Executive Complaints Unit, the same team who dealt with the Laura Duffel case and who found in our favour.
After communications with IPSO they were satisfied that we had done all that we possibly could to advance the matter, and it was their view the BBC ‘were stalling’. They took the complaint from us, saying that ‘they’ve had more than enough time to deal with this, given you escalated the case on 29th July and this is the 5th October.’
It went from us having prompt communications with the BBC to complete silence only after we provided them with proof that Emma Keelan lied in her tweet that they read out live on air, 3 times.
Neither the Good Morning Ulster nor Nolan Show producers made any attempt to ensure the message that Emma Keelan tweeted, that they read out live on air, was relayed to their listeners in an honest fashion. Instead, the tweet was read out verbatim with complete trust placed in the individual who authored it. It was read out as FACT each time.
Large audiences were then misinformed and fear levels in the population raised needlessly and dangerously once again.
We are supposed to trust doctors, and the BBC asks that we trust them too. But when a doctor lies and the BBC carries those lies, then not just is this catastrophic for public health messaging and trust overall, but it’s also dangerous when unverified claims are given a national audience’s attention, especially during prime time and especially during a period when much scaremongering is being played out in the media regarding the young, unvaccinated.
If the lies from the doctor weren’t bad enough and if the BBC carrying those lies didn’t add insult to injury, then the BBCNI deciding to stop communicating with us, only after we provided them with evidence the claims made were false, certainly points to something more sinister going on within the corporation’s Northern Ireland branch.
BBCNI Caught in an ‘Ass-Covering’ Exercise
In May of this year, dozens of people cosigned a complaint to the BBCNI with regard to an employee there by the name of Marie-Louise Connolly, who had taken to Twitter to advise people, whom she didn’t know, on health matters instead of referring them to their GP.
At one stage, Connolly tweeted support for children to be vaccinated, even though this hadn’t been approved by the vaccination experts at JCVI.
“the sooner the young ones are jabbed the better”.
When the BBCNI were asked to explain her actions calling for children to be vaccinated in the absence of a decision from the JCVI they responded with a pathetic apology for Connolly. In fact, it’s blatantly obvious they were covering up for her.
Our correspondent suggested that the relative prevalence of Covid-19 in younger age cohorts underscored the importance/likely benefits of the continued roll-out of the government’s vaccination programme, including for ‘young ones’, meaning those aged under 59yrs.Kevin Kelly – Editor Newsgathering (BBCNI)
Kevin Kelly informed us that when she was referring to “young ones” she meant “those aged under 59yrs.”
There is just no other way to interpret that response than to conclude the BBCNI were covering-up for their employee who, emboldened by the lack of accountability at the BBCNI felt comfortable actually calling for children to be vaccinated in her role as a BBC “journalist”. Kelly’s defence of her speaks to just how much of a cabal like structure exists within the corporation in the region.
A source has informed us that the likely reason the BBCNI have fallen silent is more to do with ensuring a greater time period is placed between the event and them acknowledging their failures. The source would say this tactic is designed to “take the sting out of any acceptance of wrongdoing” as the more time that has passed, the fewer people will recall or even care about the event. If the BBCNI were hoping for that to be the case, I can assure them that the length of time that has passed has only served to give the story more importance as people are questioning why we couldn’t get the answers sooner? They then naturally believe someone is trying to cover up for the lies.
Watching the behaviour of the BBCNI in recent times is like watching someone hit their self-destruct button. With people, in their droves, ceasing to pay the BBC their TV tax, and with so many people now calling for the defunding of the corporation, it’s like watching someone go through a slow, agonising death. Painful, yet the outcome has already been foretold.
The BBC in Northern Ireland is certainly in need of a little house-cleaning, and the place to start is with those who have been placed in charge of dealing with complaints.