Telegraph misreport data.gov.uk launch


The Daily Telegraph stand accused of willfully misreporting remarks by Tim Berners-Lee at a press conference yesterday to mark the launch of the new data.gov.uk website.

Tim Berners-Lee's remarks were misreported by the Daily TelegraphThe Telegraph this morning report that, “Communities could be ‘ghettoised’ by official data website, Sir Tim Berners-Lee says”. The article claims that:

“There was a risk that some areas would seem like “ghettoes” compared to others, he said, although this was not necessarily a bad thing as it would create pressure on politicians to spend money on improving the worse-off areas.”

But the authors Christopher Hope and Matt Warman do not provide a direct quote from Berners-Lee using the word “ghetto” and two eye-witnesses deny that Berners-Lee made the remarks.

James Crabtree, Senior Editor of Prospect magazine, who was at the event, recalls:

“There were around 10 journalists, two from the Telegraph. Their opening question was something very similar to “are you saying that this will ghettoise communities?” Both Tim and Nigel said no, in various ways, they weren’t saying that. The Telegraph asked the same question, in different ways, two more times, and then obviously wrote it anyway.

“Tim actually records every meeting he is in, using a small video camera. IF he didn’t have better things to do, then i’d encourage him to put that video on the web — and let the public decide whether he, or the Daily Telegraph duo, had the better of the truth, this time.”

Crabtree this morning tweeted, “Daily Telegraph, shamed again: I was in this PR brief, and Tim Berners-Lee said no such thing. http://bit.ly/5lBmqd“. Paul Clarke, also at the event, re-tweeted “Me 2″.

The Telegraph report is the only one of more than 80 news reports to use the word “ghetto”.

UPDATE 15.55:

Earlier today, Telegraph journalist Matt Warman tweeted: “@wdjstraw @jamescrabtree – happy to play you the tape of TBL saying “the risk is that you find out you’ve got ghettoes” & more.”

Warman has since posted the transcript on the Telegraph website. It clearly shows that the quote above was part of a reframing of the question by Berners-Lee and not a statement about the creation of ghettoes:

Matt Warman, Daily Telegraph: There are going to be practical consequences to making data available aren’t there because if you’ve got information about house prices and standards of schools and that sort of thing – the very good areas are going to become more attractive and very poor areas are going to be obviously quite poor – is there a risk that you get ghettoes and clusters?

Sir Tim Berners-Lee: Let me… You ask quite a good question – is there a risk that you get ghettoes. The risk is that you find out that you’ve got ghettoes do you mean? Well isn’t the risk that where we have bad situations that we want to remedy that this may become apparent? I would say that that’s a risk in general, but one of the main motivations is that governments should be held accountable, that people should be able to see where things can be made better – people, business and government can work together to make a difference.

Charles Arthur, the Guardian’s technology editor sums it up nicely with a tweet:

“.@mattwarman hmm. I don’t think the transcript reflects the writeup. Kudos on transcript tho'”

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