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BBC Trust says reporter’s Queen death tweet was a ‘serious breach’

A tweet sent by a BBC reporter that wrongly claimed that The Queen had died was a ‘serious breach’ of the corporation’s guidelines, according to a report by the BBC Trust. It said that that the message, along with another posted just beforehand indicating that The Queen was ill and being treated in King Edward 7th Hospital in London, amounted to a ‘grave error of judgement’. And now the BBC is going to look at how it trains its journalists to use social media.

The messages were sent by BBC Urdu reporter, Ahmen Khawaja, on a day when part of the corporation was rehearsing how it would cover a major royal death. The report shows that Ms Khawaja hadn’t been sent an email telling staff the rehearsal was underway and reminding them not to discuss it – including via social media. However, when Ms Khawaja saw the practice on an internal monitor, she tweeted the two separate messages to her followers – around 8,000 of them.

The report into the incident said that although the tweets hadn’t come from an official BBC account the fact that the person who tweeted them worked for the BBC. It had added references to BBC World to the messages meaning they were picked up more widely than they might otherwise have been. The news led to an almost instant discussion on Twitter about the health of The Queen and the BBC Trust apologised for any distress that had been caused.

The report also said that the fact that the incident took place on the day when The Queen had gone into King Edward VII Hospital in central London for her annual medical check up (June 3rd) compounded the issue. Not long after the tweets were sent, Buckingham Palace took the unusual step of confirming the annual appointment to allay concerns.

The BBC Trust is the governing body of the corporation and sets its editorial guidelines. As well as its report, there is an internal BBC inquiry going on about the incident that happened in June this year. The BBC says it is now beginning refresher training in using social media in its overseas language departments.

Featured photo credit: Kiefer via Flickr