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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 June 2007, 13:12 GMT 14:12 UK
Media facing Woolmer questions
By Torin Douglas
BBC Media correspondent

Mark Shields
Jamaican police authorities denied that they used the media too much

It is not just the police who have questions to answer following the U-turn over Bob Woolmer's death at the World Cup.

So do the media, which swallowed - and regurgitated - every sensational "revelation" surrounding this most remarkable of stories.

More crucially in the internet age, newspapers and broadcasters must decide how to handle all the archive material on their websites that is now incorrect.

In April, the story was unequivocal: "Murder At The World Cup". You can still see it here on the BBC website - and many others too.

Media 'revelations'

Not only had Bob Woolmer been strangled, as the Jamaican police had announced.

He had also been poisoned - and this explained how someone had been able to overpower a man who was 6ft 2in tall and heavily built.

This was the headline "revelation" in the BBC's flagship current affairs programme Panorama.

It was widely reported in national newspapers and on websites, which themselves had had a field day with this most sensational of stories.

I think that if we had kept quiet and not made frequent announcements, we might quite rightly have been criticised for not sharing sufficient information and maybe even of a cover-up.
Mark Shields Jamaican Deputy Police Commissioner

In a news release, Panorama's programme-makers trumpeted the importance of their finding: "The specific details of that poison are now very likely to offer a significant lead to finding his murderer."

Were they and the other media too keen to follow the sensational angle? Should they have been more sceptical? Or, faced with a charismatic, confident and media-savvy investigating officer, were they simply reporting the police investigation as it proceeded?

The Jamaican Police Deputy Commissioner, Mark Shields, was the key figure at all the news conferences and he was the man who showed Panorama's reporter round the 12th floor of the hotel for its exclusive report.

'Diligent' investigation

Shields' constant media appearances fanned the flames, says the BBC's sports editor Mihir Bose. But at a news conference following the public U-turn, Mr Shields dismissed suggestions that officers had mishandled the investigation by giving so many interviews.

Mr Shields said: "I think that if we had kept quiet and not made frequent announcements, we might quite rightly have been criticised for not sharing sufficient information and maybe even of a cover-up.

"The fact is that we took the decision to share as much information as we possibly could, without derailing the investigation, while at the same time continuing to conduct a thorough and diligent investigation."

For its part, the BBC says the Panorama programme was a fair representation of the investigation as it stood at that stage and that, like all news organisations, it will be following the latest developments closely.

Pervez Mir
Pakistan team spokesman Pervez Mir fielded many media questions

The news report is still there on the Panorama website, though you will not find that edition of the programme on the archive page.*

It says it will be interviewing Mr Shields - as have other BBC News outlets - and broadcasting an update in its round-up programme 'Panorama: What Happened Next?' Is that enough?

When people delve back into the BBC website in years to come, will they always find the "Latest News" link, next to the old 'murder mystery' stories, pointing out that Woolmer 'was not murdered' and 'died of natural causes' after all?

Or should there be a clearer 'health warning' - particularly on the BBC Press Office site, where the original news release stands?

In the internet age, such about-turns are no longer so easily forgotten.

*[Update: 13 June The website team have since clarified that the programme in its entirety was never on the website because of rights restrictions around the sports clips it contained.]

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