BBC mistakenly uses image of Iraq in Syrian massacre story

A 2003 photo taken in Iraq was mistakenly used by the BBC website to illustrate a report about the recent massacre in Houla, Syria.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the image of a child jumping over body bags was removed from the story after the BBC realized its error. The photographer who took the shot is incredulous that the BBC could have confused his photo with recent events.

“I went home at 3am and I opened the BBC page, which had a front page story about what happened in Syria, and I almost felt off from my chair,” Marco di Lauro told the Telegraph. “One of my pictures from Iraq was used by the BBC web site as a front page illustration claiming that those were the bodies of yesterday’s massacre in Syria and that the picture was sent by an activist.”

The caption on the BBC image read, “This image – which cannot be independently verified – is believed to show the bodies of children in Houla awaiting burial.” The credit line on the image said, “Photo From Activist.”

Di Lauro posted on Facebook Sunday about the use of his image, and included this screenshot of the BBC website:

He made this statement in a Facebook post, which has since been shared over 750 times:

Somebody is using illegaly one of my images for anti syrian propaganda on the BBC web site front page

Today Sunday May 27 at 0700 am London time the attached image which I took in Al Mussayyib in Iraq on March 27, 2003 (see caption below) was front page on BBC web site illustrating the massacre that happen in Houla the Syrian town and the caption and the web site was stating that the images was showing the bodies of all the people that have been killed in the massacre and that the image was received by the BBC by an unknown activist. Somebody is using my images as a propaganda against the Syrian government to prove the massacre.

After being contacted by the Telegraph, a BBC spokesperson provided a statement. It reads in part:

We were aware of this image being widely circulated on the internet in the early hours of this morning following the most recent atrocities in Syria …

Efforts were made overnight to track down the original source of the image and when it was established the picture was inaccurate we removed it immediately.

The BBC has a very good team working at its User Generated Content Hub. They focus on sourcing and verifying content that surfaces on social media, or is sent in by activists or unofficial sources. An image of this nature that came from an activist would first go through the UGC Hub for verification. That’s what the group exists to do.

My guess is the UGC team failed to properly vet the image, or the image went live to the site before the UGC Hub had a chance to do its work. I contacted sources at the BBC but have not yet heard a definitive account of what happened.

Update on May 29: BBC News social media editor Chris Hamilton offers additional background in a post on the website today:

Efforts were made to track down the original source and, having obtained some information pointing to its veracity, the picture was published, with a disclaimer saying it could not be independently verified.

However, on this occasion, the extent of the checks and the consideration of whether to publish should have been better.

It was a mistake – rectified by the removal of the image as soon as it was spotted – and we apologise for it.

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