BBC and the ‘right to be forgotten’- the latest flap

The “right to be forgotten” saga is back in the news after nearly a year’s hiatus. The twists and turns of the breaking story were chronicled on these pages in various posts, and given the nature and scope of the ruling, much space has been devoted to its ramifications for Google. There are calls, most recently from academia, for it to be more responsive and more forthcoming in dealing with the fallout from the ruling.

The focus has now shifted to the BBC, which has never been enamored of the “right to be forgotten” ruling, calling it, in the words of director of editorial policy, David Jordan, an “unsearching – an ugly word for an ugly process.” Jordan made a fuss on the subject a while ago which Douglas Crawford wrote about in these pages

BBC head of editorial policy David Jordan told a public meeting hosted by Google that the BBC disagreed with some of the removal decisions, and that greater care should be given to the public’s ‘right to remember’, before announcing that ‘in the next few weeks’ the BBC would start publishing a list of removed URLs, which would act as a ‘resource for those interested in the debate.

Presently, Neil McIntosh, managing editor of BBC Online, has republished a list of 182 BBC links that have been deleted by Google over the past year in accordance with the court’s ruling. Before the requests go to the BBC, individuals must prove to Google, which would dearly love to reject the claims, that the links contain damaging, defamatory, or irrelevant information which holds no interest or value for the public.

McIntosh made his decision to republish the links mainly out of concern for the “integrity of the archive”, but, though a thoughtful gesture, it must be remembered that we’re talking about a mere 182 links out more than a million. So, obviously more scrutiny is needed.

A Guardian article highlights some salacious stories which would prompt someone to request delisting. One instance describes a situation where an acquaintance is innocently tarred with the same brush as the alleged perpetrator, showing how such a person would have a genuine desire to be “forgotten”. Once the sensational story has broken, however, the less dramatic retraction is not noteworthy to the reading public, and when you search the web (as an employer might) the name pop-ups and remains affixed to the crime, whether guilty or not.

This phenomenon is peculiarly the practice of the British press, according to the Guardian’s account, as it fiercely opposes restrictions on its freedom. The press in many countries is not as vitriolic as their British counterparts, often publishing only partial names on stories regarding accused criminals. Still others delist from Google as a rule, to obviate situations that the BBC now finds itself.

Is the BBC argument genuine? Is it petulant over being a bit de-clawed (as it were,) or rooted in a real concern for the public’s interest in factual, if even salacious reporting? We may never know. But it is clear that re-publication, and with it identification of individuals by such reprinting, is not in the best interest of all concerned.

Stan Ward has enjoyed writing for 50 years. Writing has been a comfortable companion to a successful business and teaching career for him. Find him on Google+.

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