have your say
The BBC Trust's Editorial Standards Committee has requested a review of the broadcaster's online editorial guidelines to ensure journalists consider the global audiences of their work when reporting. The request follows a complaint about a Have Your Say news debate.

According to a report released by the committee today, a complaint was lodged in relation to an Africa HYS debate page on the BBC World Service website in December 2009, which asked the question "Should homosexuals face execution?" in its headline.

The debate concerned proposed legislation in Uganda to make certain homosexual acts punishable by death.

An incorrect version of the headline, “should homosexuals be executed” was also circulated on Twitter and received media coverage.

After the programme was transmitted, the debate was closed and archived under the BBC News Online banner “Should Uganda debate gay execution?”.

According to the report, the complainant argued that while it was right for the BBC to report on the events in Uganda, the original headline and treatment of the information was “unacceptable, offensive and potentially criminal”.

“Where their judgement was faulty was to think that it was appropriate to do so via a debate, particularly on so abhorrent a topic, and one that would invite comments that could easily be criminal incitement to hatred.”

Director of World Service, Peter Horrocks, is quoted by the committee as admitting on his blog that the website's original headline was "in hindsight, too stark".

This apology was rejected by the complainant as "flimsy" and "half hearted".

Following an investigation into the complaint, the committee found the website's original headline should have been written more clearly, "to encapsulate the boundaries of the debate in relation to the debate in the Ugandan Parliament".

But they concluded that BBC management had apologised promptly and this had resolved the issue and so no further action was required.

In relation to the treatment of the topic itself, the committee concluded that it was an appropriate issue for HYS to cover and were "satisfied that there was a clear editorial purpose for the programme and for the style of presentation".

It added that there were however "lessons to be learnt" in relation to the global availability of the BBC website.

"Online content producers would now have to be more aware that all material they produce is universally available via the internet. Hence, headlines that might cause offence to certain audiences needed greater contextualisation than previously," it said in the report.

The committee requested that the BBC Executive review its Online Editorial Guidelines on audience expectations to ensure content writers are reminded of this.

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