- Tweets by Ahmen Khawaja, who saw monitor with BBC training exercise rehearsing news of a royal death, were picked up by CNN and NBC
- BBC Urdu reporter Ahmen Khawaja sent out incorrect tweets stating that Queen Elizabeth was in hospital. Photograph: Imago / Barcroft Media/imago/Future Image
John Plunkett The Guardian july 7, 2015.
Rogue tweets sent by a BBC reporter incorrectly stating that Queen Elizabeth was in hospital and had died were a “grave error” and a serious breach of the corporation’s editorial guidelines, the BBC Trust has ruled.
BBC Urdu reporter Ahmen Khawaja sent out the erroneous tweets after seeing an internal monitor carrying pictures of a BBC training exercise rehearsing breaking news of a major royal death.
The tweet was picked up by news broadcasters around the world, including NBC, CNN and German newspaper Bild. There was later widespread coverage of the tweets having been posted in error.
The trust’s editorial complaints committee said the tweets, sent on 3 June, had included “information of a highly sensitive nature and had the potential to cause a great deal of distress in the UK and beyond”.
It said the widespread coverage had been “deeply regrettable”.
BBC management told the trust that the incident was now part of a formal internal disciplinary process, with an ongoing inquiry into what had happened.
It said it was rolling out a refresher training course in the use of social media and editorial values in its overseas languages department.
In a ruling published on Tuesday, the trust said the tweets were a “serious breach of the editorial guidelines for conflicts of interest” and broke the BBC’s rules on use of social media.
Trustees said it had been a “grave error of judgement to publish the tweets” and they “profoundly regretted any distress that had been caused”.
However, despite the fact that Khawaja identifies herself on her Twitter account as a “BBC broadcast journalist”, it said the tweets “did not amount to the BBC itself publishing information that was wrong”.
It said her connection with the BBC had resulted in the tweets “reaching a far higher number of followers than she would have done otherwise”.
In the first tweet, Khawaja, who had more than 8,000 followers at the time, said the Queen was “being treated at King Edward 7th Hospital in London. Statement due shortly: @BBCWorld”.
In the second, she said: “Queen Elizabrth [sic] has died: @BBCWorld”.
Khawaja had seen images of the BBC’s rehearsal for breaking news of a major royal death on an internal TV monitor.
She had not been sent an email informing staff about the rehearsal and telling them it was “essential” that it should take place without publicity and people should not talk or tweet about it.
Management had taken a number of precautions to prevent any leaks about the rehearsal including suspending public tours and closing blinds around the BBC’s newsrooms in Broadcasting House in central London.
The trust said the fallout had been compounded because the tweets had included references to BBC World’s official twitter account, and by coincidence the Queen had been taken to the King Edward VII hospital in London on the same day for an annual appointment.