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tv   The Media Show  BBC News  July 27, 2021 1:30am-2:01am BST

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this is bbc news. the headlines and all the main stories after this programme. hello. this might sound like the plot of a hollywood spy movie, and indeed in the future it might get made into one, but this week, something called the pegasus project is news. a group of news outlets from ten countries has banded together to expose the alleged use of phone hacking to spy on leading journalists, politicians and human rights activists across the world.
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among them are heads of state — emmanuel macron�*s phone number appears on the list of alleged targets. the spyware used is called pegasus and it is made by an israeli surveillance firm. the revelations have been dropping all week, so how do you pull off a series of global scoops like this? we are joined by some of thejournalists behind it. also today, the role that specialist fact checkers play injournalism. in the last 18 months, this has been a story of what is and is not true. some stories of course are easy to disprove. the vaccine does not contain a microchip from bill gates, but how do we navigate the grey areas? donald trump's claim for example that covid—19 could come from a chinese laboratory was widely branded as a conspiracy theory by the media and you could not share it on some social media platforms, but that changed a few weeks ago when president biden said that it was a possibility.
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we are going to be talking about that and more a bit later with claire milne who is the acting editor of full fact, the uk fact=checking organisation and ian birrell who is a contributing editor of the mail on sunday. let's start with that pegasus project which has been making headlines all week. laurent richard is the director and founder of forbidden stories, the ngo which got hold of this leaked list of 50,000 possible targets for surveillance, and paul lewis is head of investigations at the guardian which is one of the partners of the pegasus project. laurent, before we get into how you coordinated all of this and what it might tell us about the power of collective journalism, just tell us, how does this pegasus spyware work? what does it actually do to a phone? it is basically a spyware that is attacking your phone and you do not know that, it is an invisible attack.
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it will turn your phone into a spy in your pocket and then the pegasus software will take the entire control of your device, which means they will know everything you're doing with your device, who you are talking to, they will know the messages that you are sending, even if they are encrypted, they can activate the camera, they can know basically everything and then the pegasus software will transfer the secrets, your secrets, your data, to the person that is tracking you, to the government that is tracking you, so this is considered as a weapon by the israeli defence minister. you need a licence, a military licence, to be able to export that. it is sold by a company called nso group, that is an israeli company. most of those people working inside that company are coming from the military in israel and n50 is selling that to state actors.
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now, laurent, nso have given us this statement. they have said that your reports are full of wrong assumptions and uncorroborated theories and they deny any wrongdoing. they say that the software is only supplied to countries with good human rights records and it is intended for use against criminals and terrorists. so, do you know who has been using it? who nso group have sold this spyware to? yes, we do know and we know that those countries do not have good human rights records. when we talk about azerbaijan, they do not have good human rights records. same for morocco, same for mexico, for saudi arabia. we know that when you are a journalist in azerbaijan, like khadija ismayilova, and you want to investigate corruption with that kind of regime that is having a lot ofjournalists and political opponents injail, you are taking a lot of risk and you are surveilled. and that was not the first time that khadija was surveilled, but this time we were able to get the evidence
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of the hacking of the device of khadija. nso company is selling that kind of cyber weapons to countries with a very sad and very bad track record in terms of human rights abuses. paul lewis, of the guardian, if i can bring you in here. there are 17 news outlets partnering on this. how'd the guardian come to be one of them? we were invited into this project by laurent at forbidden stories. he contacted us. we had to be very careful when we were reporting this about conversing on phones, as you can imagine, because phones are obviously at risk and indeed some of the reporters who worked on this project, forensics showed that they had pegasus, this spyware, on their phones. anyhow, laurent contacted us here at the guardian and said he would like to invite us into a project. i visited, with a delegation from the guardian, his offices in paris.
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he showed us this data and we were stunned. there were 50,000 numbers of people who had been selected as persons of interest by client governments of n50. we had never seen anything like this before and it was obviously going to be a very big story. so the moment laurent invited us in, we were interested the moment we saw the data and most importantly, the moment we realised that there was forensic evidence to support the data, that we had done forensic examinations on phones and found pegasus, we were committed to seeing if we could get this project out with him. laurent, let's talk about the data, because at the heart of your reporting is this list of 50,000 phone numbers, which you say is a wish list of targets for users of pegasus. 0n the list are journalists, heads of state and so on. what can you tell us about how you got hold of that list?
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i can tell you nothing, basically, on that. of course, we cannot comment for many reasons that you can understand, but the most important things are what we see on that list at least and what it is telling us about how this software has been used againstjournalists, human rights defenders, political opponents. but as paul was explaining, the good thing in that project is that we were able to get evidence and this is really the first time i think in history of modern spying that we get evidence and we can show the face of the victims. we were able to find some thanks to the brilliant work of amnesty international security lab, that is a group of people who are able to set up a methodology and protocol to go into the device and find out if there were some traces of infection. so that is really what, asjournalists, we need when we are publishing such important stories and this is why we, during all the past months, were able to approach
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some people telling them that we have good reasons to believe they were surveilled and convincing them to agree to do a forensic investigation into the device and then we were able to find some traces a lot of times. paul, amnesty international did play this crucial role in analysing some of the actual phones that you obtained from people on the list. as i understand it, they were able to detect traces of the pegasus software on 37 phones and you got hold of 67 to test, which is quite a high hit rate. i wonder paul, though, amnesty is a campaigning charity. it is rather unusual, isn't it, for a journalist to be outsourcing this forensic work to a third party? did you feel they were impartial enough to partner with you?
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i think the unusual thing would be if a journalist tried to do that kind of advanced forensic work on a mobile phone themselves. amnesty international security lab is run by claudio guarnieri, one of the world experts on cyber security. you do make an important point, andrea, that we were reliant on the work they were doing and that is why we got both their methodology and the sample of their forensics on devices peer reviewed by citizen lab, which is a research group very well respected at the university of toronto and they concluded that their methods were sound. i mean, were you concerned yourselves, paul, as you were dealing with this, that your own phones were being hacked? how do you even go about talking to people if you feel that their phones have been compromised? i just wonder what are the nuts and bolts of that conversation? how do you actually reach out to somebody when you think that their phone has been hacked? it is incredibly hard. you have to have a face—to—face meeting and doing that in the midst of a pandemic is even more difficult. logistically speaking, i think this is probably the hardest project that i have ever been involved in. when talking to colleagues,
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when talking to editors here at the guardian, when speaking even to our in—house lawyers, we had to make sure that phones were not in the vicinity. it makes you realise how reliant on phones we all are, but particularlyjournalists, increasingly we rely on them notjust for emails but for finding stories, tweeting, finding out is what is going on and to suddenly be detached from your device, because you're constantly aware that it could easily be used as a surveillance tool, requires a lot of reworking. the last time i think the guardian had to make such significant adjustments was when we were working on the edward snowden disclosures and i think there are some parallels with that. that was obviously 2013, the difference i think was that snowden was revealing the apparatus that organisations like the nsa and gchq used to survey mass populations. what we had here was quite different. this was identifying
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the people who we believe were the potential targets of this kind of technology and it is as laurent said at the outset, that enabled us to identify real people, people who have got stories, people like the french minister yesterday who it was revealed had traces of pegasus activity on his phone and the thing to remember here, andrea, the thing that is most important is that n50 says, it has always said, that this technology is only supposed to be used for monitoring criminals and terrorists. it has said it contractually requires government to only use this technology to monitor criminals and terrorists. what we have found severely undermines that. paul, nso has also said that the numbers in this list, and i am quoting, from their statement, are not related to nso group in any way and they say that your claim is erroneous and false. how do you respond to that?
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i do not think we ever expected them to be overjoyed with these stories or even accept them, but we stand by our reporting. when you look at the data and the connection to the forensics, it is quite compelling. i mentioned this french ministerjust now, he was selected in this list 15 seconds before pegasus activity appeared on his phone. there are multiple examples that we can show and as you said, we did a sample of forensics on 67 phones that were in the data. of those, 37 showed evidence of some form of pegasus activity recording to the forensic analysis and for us, we think that is quite a compelling link. laurent, wejust mentioned the panama... edward snowden, rather, and we have seen this before with panama papers, this idea of teaming up with a range of news outlets rather than working with a single one. is it the scale, the 50,000 numbers, that means that
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you want to spread this around, or why do you choose such a large group of media outlets? it is not only the scale. of course, first there is a scale, there is 50,000 numbers, so that would be a big mistake to consider you can do that alone. so you need people to work with you, you need journalists with specific knowledge of some specific countries to have an efficient reporting. but then there is a second question about collaboration is brining protection and definitely for that pegasus project, we were facing one company that is well known to be non—transparent and ten governments, ten states, who are well known to not love journalists, so this is quite a difficult and complex investigation with a lot of risk for many reporters and especially for some reporters who are working from difficult areas. so clearly forbidden stories is a non—profit organisation
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with one main mission — we continue the work of threatened, jailed or assassinated authors, make sure that even if you kill the messenger, you never kill the message. and since we are talking about collaboration, we at forbidden stories, our role was to coordinate that global effort and a huge thanks to our small team here, we are 12 people with one brain in the middle of that, sandrine rigaud is the coordinator of all that big effort, and all that protection, all that collaboration makes really a lot of sense. it is also why that project was unstoppable. paul lewis, head of investigations at the guardian, thank you very much indeed and laurent richard, director and founder of forbidden stories, thank you. let's turn back to that topic that i mentioned at the start of the programme — fact checking and its role in journalism. every mainstream news outlet these days has a resident fact checker and the growth
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of social media and its ability to spread wrong information means a whole market now exists for professional fact checkers. but the industry has taken a bit of a knock, in the us at least, because donald trump's claim that covid originated in a wuhan laboratory has gone from conspiracy theory to now being taken to seriously. politifact, the us fact checkers, gave the claim the category "pants on fire" last year. well, now they've archived that assessment and added an editors note. the washington post has also updated articles that were initially dismissive, but these corrections haven't come about because of new evidence. instead, they have come about because president biden has admitted that it is a possibility. so, has fact checking itself become politicised? the stakes are high, of course. just last week, biden said that covid misinformation on facebook was killing people. lots to unpack here, so let's talk to claire milne,
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she is the acting editor of full fact, and ian birrell is the contributing editor of the mail on sunday and also a very experienced freelance journalist. he recently founded a piece of his work that mentioned the lab leak theory was being suppressed by facebook. claire, let's go to you first, and just set out the basics for us. what is it that full fact does? who do you work for? so, at full fact, we're an independent organisation. we fact check claims that appear in all sorts of different places — on social media, in traditional media, claims from politicians and public figures as well and all of that we publish on our website, we provide the links and sources that we use so that our readers can check that information for themselves and make up their own mind about what they think about the various claims that they may be coming across in their day—to—day. we do work with a number of different organisations, for example we are part
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of facebook�*s third party fact checking programme here in the uk which means we fact check misinformation that we see on that platform. we also encourage our readers to send us things that they see on whatsapp. that's a whole different can of worms on whatsapp because the particular elements of that platform, the fact that it is encrypted, make it much more challenging to fact check, but we do fact checking work on there and we also last year, during the pandemic, we worked with, we were joined by staff from them to help improve tech tools that we also build. we use them ourselves at full fact and with other fact checkers around the world. so, claire, who funds you, then? you're funded by facebook and google when you're working with them? for those projects, yes, we are. we're funded by a wide range of different organisations, by individual donations from readers and supporters as well and all that information is available on our website. transparency about our funding and where it comes from is a thing that we are very keen to promote
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and so all that information is available on our website. ian, you wrote this piece for the online magazine unherd where you mentioned the wuhan lab leak theory, so tell us about it and what happened when you tried to share it on facebook. it was a piece i did in february after the who study group delivered its report from wuhan. i've been investigating the whole lab leak theory since last april, and what has been very clear is there are two strands to this whole debate. one is was there a lab leak or not? to which we still have no idea. the other has been this scientific media and political cover—up, really, where there has been this view that it is a conspiracy theory and you shouldn't discuss it, partly because of trump's involvement in inflaming all the tensions. so i wrote this piece in february, which wasjust taking issue with the who's report which was very patsy, very compromised, basically putting forward the china propaganda. and funnily enough, it is the sort of stuff which british and american governments actually later said
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themselves and tedros, the head of the who, later admitted that the report was flawed and it had downgraded the idea of the laboratory leak below less credible theories such as the idea that the virus was imported to wuhan on frozen food. as soon as this was posted, it appeared on facebook by unherd and i was then amazed to discover that it had been taken down and blocked for access on the grounds that it was conspiracy theory. for me, this is obviously quite a serious allegation, i hope i'm seen as a serious journalist, i certainly take pride in my work as being serious and rooted in evidence, and i took issue — i got hold of the head of facebook in europe and complained and they took it down relatively quickly. however, it does show first of all that there is this issue about valid discussion being blocked on spurious grounds and secondly, also obviously i was able to get hold of the head of facebook, but had i been a perhaps a less established journalist, had i been a new voice, had i been
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a youngerjournalist, i might not have been able to get it taken down and that could have really wrecked my reputation. indeed. did facebook actually tell you why they'd labelled it as containing false information? no, they did not, but i do understand part of the reason is they rely on artificial intelligence and part of the reason was that they used a lot of their basis for what they were saying on a now discredited article that appeared in the lancet and they used that as the basis for ruling out these sorts of discussions and it is a very serious concern. i think it is very different to the sort of work done by people like full fact, however. claire, ijust wonderabout the kind of rating system. i mentioned it slightly tongue in cheek in the introduction, that politifact uses this "pants on fire" category and that's what they called that lab leak. is full fact more nuanced, less committal? so, we don't, across the rest of our work,
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use a rating system. as you say, there is a lot of nuance in the claims we come across and it is not often easy to label them pants on fire, for example. there are ratings that are used on facebook which are separate to that which basically give, once we have written a fact check, an indication of how inaccurate we think the claim that we are fact checking is, so there is that but across the broader part of our work, there are often a lot of shades of grey and it can be hard to label it in that way. ian, i wonder if you think that the fact that donald trump had been promoting the covid lab leak theory when he was still in office meant that certain sections of the media were too quick to dismiss it? i mean, if the media is in the mindset of trump said it, and he says a lot of nonsense, this must be untrue. do you think that that plays into the way that this particular story was dismissed?
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i think it definitely plays into it. i mean, i know i myself when i began looking at it, was very nervous for that precise reason, i thought it probably was conspiracy theory, and the more i looked, the more i became convinced that there was a theory that deserved to be examined and that it was wrong that it was being stifled and silenced, and i think if a fact checking organisation, as you say, didn't look at the evidence and simply went with the idea that it was conspiracy theory, itjust shows it is not a valid fact checking organisation because there are no facts to say that the laboratory leak is wrong, just as there are no facts to say we know it's zoonotic transmission. we don't know, there are no facts and it remains a very open debate. and i think the importance is for any organisation like media or fact checking, they have to be open to challenge and be transparent and if facts do emerge that change it, they have to be honest about that. claire, i was reading a piece in the american scientific entitled the psychology of fact checking. the author was proposing what they call adversarial fact
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checking, which would pair up journalists from different publications with opposing views to fact check together. the idea would be that it would try to get rid of the inherent bias. what do you make of that? that's certainly an interesting proposition. at full fact we have a lot of processes in place to try and ensure impartiality and exactly, make sure that there aren't the kind of biases that you're referring to, so that starts right from our recruitment process, we have strict rules on impartiality that our staff have to adhere to, cross—party board of trustees that oversees the organisation. as i mentioned before, we make sure we are being transparent about who funds us, so that people can see that and we try and make sure that is from a wide range of sources to maintain our impartiality and independence and as well as that, we are very open to being challenged. we are human fact checkers, we get things wrong on occasion and so we make sure that we have a transparent
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corrections process, people can get in touch with us if they disagree with something we've written, or if they think that we have got something wrong, we'll look at that and publish all those corrections on our website as well. ian, do we even need fact checkers? isn't this, in a way, thejob ofjournalists? i wonder what it says about this kind of growing distrust for journalists, the growing concerns about everybody having their own reality, their own truth? aren't journalist supposed to check their own facts? journalists should check their own facts, but as we know, journalists operate at very high pressure, very fast often, and make mistakes. everyone makes mistakes, and i think anything that adds to the armoury that allows people to check facts, allows the public to make up their own minds, that helps journalist find facts as well, is a good thing. we do live in an age of distrust and an age of lots of information coming at you from all sides and i think any reputable sources of information are only a good thing, whether it's old media, new media, whatever. i think anything that helps provide stability and facts
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and evidence within a debate should be welcomed. claire, it strikes me that you've got a huge responsibility. we do and there is a lot of misinformation there to fact check. we work to make sure that, as i say, we give people the information that they need to make up their own minds so that that's there for them. claire milne, thank you very much indeed, the acting editor of full fact, and ian birrell, contributing editor of the mail on sunday. thank you both very much indeed and indeed thank you to all our guests and thank you to you for listening. i will be back with the media show at the same time next week. hello. the forecast for the next few days is looking quite turbulent
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and at times very wet indeed, with some torrential, heavy, thundery downpours, albeit with some sunny spells in between. now, let's take a look at the recent satellite picture because you can see all of these areas of cloud just rotating around, circulating on top of the uk, and this pattern continues with low pressure firmly in charge. close to the centre of the low, particularly, we are going to see some really intense downpours and thunderstorms popping up during tuesday. so, some cloud and some showery rain from the word go across western and southern parts, a bit more sunshine further east. but through the day, the showers will pop up quite widely, and some of them will be very heavy and thundery, especially across parts of north wales, the north midlands, northern england and scotland. and with very light winds, those showers will be very slow—moving, so in one or two places, we could see an awful lot of rain, giving rise to localised flash flooding. temperatures not doing too badly in the sunshine between the showers, as high as 23—24 degrees. some of those big showers and storms will rumble on through tuesday evening into the early hours of wednesday, and we start to see some more persistent
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rain developing across parts of scotland. so, low pressure still very much with us for the middle part of the week. in the centre of the low, an area of rainfall is going to become very slow—moving across scotland, so that could well cause some flooding issues. see, the rain will just continue here throughout the day. for northern ireland, england and wales, it's sunshine and showers again, some of the showers heavy and thundery. some really squally, gusty winds, but the winds generally will be a bit stronger on wednesday. so, at least that means the showers, where they do turn up, should move through a little more quickly. temperatures will be lower on wednesday, though. quite cool for the time of year actually, 14—20 degrees. as we move out of wednesday into thursday, the rain across scotland will only slowly pivot and start to move southwards. so, before this rain finishes, some places across scotland could see 100 millimetres or more, hence the potential for flooding. some of that rain drifting southwards into northern ireland and northern england through the day.
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some sunshine further south, chance of one or two showers, but we could well see another area of wet and blustery weather pushing into the far south west later in the day. and temperature still a little disappointing, 17—21 degrees.
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this is bbc news. i'm sarah mulkerrins live in tokyo — day four of the olympics has got underway. a first ever gold for bermuda as flora duffy is celebrating after wininng the women's triathlon. heavy rain, wind and high waves expected injapan, prompting organisers to bring the surfing finals forward by 2a hours. i'm lewis vaughan jones in london. also in the programme: afghanistan's descent into violence continues — with the un saying civilian deaths this year have increased by 50%. and pledging to unite a diverse country — canada's first indigenous
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governor—general is sworn into office.


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