back to article Braindead obituarists hoaxed by Wikipedia

The veteran BBC TV composer and arranger Ronnie Hazlehurst died on Monday night. His long career at the corporation produced some of the most (irritatingly) memorable theme tunes: including The Two Ronnies, Reggie Perrin, Last Of The Summer Wine, Blankety Blank and the Morse Code theme for Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em. But when his …


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  1. Phil Endecott

    Fantastic Wikipedia comment

    The Wikipedia discussion page is worth a read if you want a laugh. My favourite comment is this:

    "t's clearly not true, but it's now been in several reliable and verifiable sources, and under Wikipedia rules it makes no difference whether it's true or not"

  2. Niall Campbell

    Another nail in the coffin for proper journalists

    What ever happened to properly researching things... I am a working journlist and I would never ever rely on anything sourced from the web.

    Perhaps these non-hacks should go back to journo skool for a spot of retraining.. or are they like most of the prats on Nationals and just friends of the editor!!!

  3. Paul

    The real problem is,

    that according to wikipedia rules this is now a fact, as there is an indipendant sorce for this infomation. So it can then be used more...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Nial Campbell

    Hopefully you mean ... Another nail in the coffin for lazy journalists

    But what with the web 2.0 meme floating around aimlessly picking on people, you may not be.

  5. This post has been deleted by its author

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Niall Campbell

    Well said my man, well said.

    When it's not simply copying and pasting stuff en masse including mistakes, it's copying and pasting and claiming it as their own work. That's shoddy journalism.

  7. Dunstan Vavasour


    This isn't funny, it's a bloody disgrace. We have once respected news sources forgetting Item 1 on Page 1 of Journalism 101 - use reliable sources. It's not that the obituarists put in something incorrect, it's that they have, en masse, been caught using a single unreliable source without corroborating their facts from a reliable one.

    My teenage son's teachers keep stressing to the pupils that researching a subject involves more than looking up a Wikipedia article. For educated adults, qualified in a career based on reporting correct facts, to promulgate a falsehood from a Wikipedia article should be a sacking offence.

    Disgusted Telegraph Reader,

    Tunbridge Wells.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't blink

    It's like that Dr Who episode with the statues. The newspapers publish it because it's written in Wonkypædia while the Wonkypædia publishes it because it's written in the newspapers. So who wrote it originally, Steven Moffatt?

  9. Matthew Smith

    Did it come from copy?

    Entering 'Ronnie Hazlehurst reach' into google will trawl up the quite shameful culprits: Times, Independant, Scotsman and even The Stage.

    However they all seem to be using the same copy, with some slight editing. Does this mean they copied and pasted the same text from Wikipedia, or a single source like Reuters got it wrong? Reuters being so sloppy is worse still....

  10. Lobo

    Same source ?

    It may not be the case that all the media outlets got this from wikipedia. If for example the news agency Reuters intially made the error then the others were just copying it from the Reuters bulletin, which is considered slightly more accurate than wikipedia and probably would have been trusted by the beeb,times etc.

  11. Jose Ramirez

    First rule of Reg Club?

    One more reason my first rule still holds ;)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's still in the Times and Grauniad,,2181878,00.html

  13. Peter Lenz

    "Only fools and journos"

    Department of Redundancy Department perhaps?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Pot, I've got kettle on the line for you

    When El Reg's reporters can clearly and consistently distinguish between "counterfeiting" (fact: a crime in most jurisdictions) and "parallel importing(fact: something which Big Boys hate but which is hardly criminal), THEN you can start crowing about mistakes from the "amateurs" on Wikipedia. You lot are supposed to be "professionals", so how about doing some proper work for your adclicks?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Pot, I've got kettle on the line for you

    We understand the distinction between selling grey and counterfeit goods. Microsoft accused RR Campbell of selling both, as we said in our article. Perhaps you would care to read the article again.


    El Reg

  16. David Wilkinson

    I love wikipedia, but you have to sometimes double check the facts

    I use wikidepdia all the time, but I am mindful of the fact that is user generated content.

    If its important, I always take a few minutes to verify the information with some quick google searching.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Dudes, you should check the discussion page:

    Nice discussion, "I can put this even if it is not true 'coz I can cite it!"

    And one of the best kicks: El Reg is used as a "reliable" source in debunking the myth. The fact was eliminated, and then the editors *reverted* it to show the S Club 7 song!

    Looks like that "Surgipedia" article did make sense...

  18. Ashtonian

    Hebden Bridge

    Is my favourite town

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Tin baths

    LOTSW was filmed in Holmfirth wasn't it?

    The Independent appear to have fixed their article now.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hacking reallity?

    Well now we know where they normally go for facts we can change what they say.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Independent

    Actually they haven't fixed it yet. I was looking in the obituary. The article in the Meeja section still gives him credit for the S Club 7 hit.

  22. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Show me heaven

    "I can put this even if it is not true 'coz I can cite it!"

    That's one of the fundamental problems with Wikipedia. If one of Wikipedia's sources has an error that is obvious to you and me, but there is no alternative source for that fact, then the error must stand, because Wikipedia does not have an editorial voice. The best that Wikipedia can do in that situation would be to omit the fact entirely. A Wikipedia article cannot say "... but that is clearly incorrect", or "... obviously, this is nonsense" because it does not have a writer, or an authority, to back up that statement. It is non-liable.

  23. Adrian Esdaile

    "Could the birth of literary software herald the rise of robotic authors?"

    Paging amanfromMars?

  24. Joe

    Editing the obits

    Surely once something is published it should be left "as is", and any mistakes should be noted at the bottom or top, under the title "correction" or "mistake"?

    Or are they unwriting the mistakes at minitrue? Doubleplusungood!

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: Pot, I've got kettle on the line for you

    Yes Drew, I did (re)read the article, several times.

    The article clearly quotes the MS *accusation* that the chap was selling *counterfeit*.

    However, nowhere in El Reg's article do I find anything where it is clearly *confirmed* (or contradicted) that the cheap stuff he was selling was *counterfeit*. Isn't that a bit odd if (as you say) El Reg does understand the difference between counterfeit (illegal, immoral) and "exploiting market forces" (apparently OK as long as it benefits the big guys?)?

    Perhaps I missed the confirmation, in which case please can you point it out?

    I'd have thought that if the High Court were convinced that illegal counterfeiting was involved, that the word "counterfeit" (or equivalent) might appear in the advert. It didn't say counterfeit, it said "parallel import". They're not the same, you said so yourself, maybe Austin needs a reminder of that before regurgitating the next MS/BSA press release on this subject?

    So who's most vulnerable here, the Wiki-fiddlers, El Reg, the High Court ?

    Behind the bike sheds at four o'clock, or... ;)

  26. Damian Turner-Steele


    Why oh why does anyone use Wikipedia. Basic rule of computing and by extension the web. Garbage In, Garbage out.

  27. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    Well he did admit it

    "R J Campbell [...] admitted to selling counterfeit software and so-called "parallel importing."

    So he admitted it in Court. Why then should there be a disclaimer ?

    Right after that, there's a reference to the legal issue. Let me quote it also :

    "Under EU law, parallel imports describe branded goods bought in one country and sold elsewhere within Europe at a cheaper price than the trademark holder intends."

    May I also bring your attention to this paragraph : "Microsoft seems to think folks going around higher European software prices are destroying the market."

    Notice the use of the word "seems", indicating that what Microsoft thinks may not be reality.

    Finally, there is the Court decision in its entirety, which clearly declares that Campbell was condemned for trademark and copyright infringement, and passing off.

    So what would you want, Mr Anonymous WikiTroll ? Would you prefer that El Reg, respectable news source, publish an article that showed Campbell under the light of innocent victim ? El Reg understands quite well, but the guy admitted and got condemned. Those are the facts.

    But don't worry. I don't expect a Wikizealot to worry about piddling things like facts.


  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Anonymous Vulture re Msoft grey products.

    I just reread this one. As far as I can see, every mention of "conterfeit" or "piracy" is a quote (i.e. what the source said). The article makes it very clear in both the title and the final court judgement (see below) that the truth is that this was, in fact, grey import gear and I cannot see it anywhere stated otherwise. It would be incorrect to alter a quote just because you think that the source is playing fast and loose with the truth.

    The only problem here is the subreport on the Business Software Alliance's "Whistle blower" program - piracy only, no mention of parallel imports here. The fact that the "bootnote" (i.e. added later) piece containing the court judgement from the Campbell case appears at the end, sandwiching the BSA article, appears at first glance to imply that the BSA piece should be taken as part of the Campbell case report. That's sloppy editing not bad reporting IMHO.


  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Anonymous Vulture re Msoft grey products.

    In the judgement, isn't "copyright infringement and passing off" a clear indication of counterfeiting having taken place?

  30. Scott Matthewman

    Steady on there - your own research may not be perfect


    You cited The Stage as having "cut and pasted the phoney factoid from Wikipedia without a second thought".

    Actually, in a small blog piece mourning the passing of one of his favourite TV theme tune composers which concentrated on Hazlehurst's contribution to British television, Mark Wright also expressed surprise (and additional respect) about a piece of information gained, not from Wikipedia, but from online reports at the Guardian and the Independent.

    Yes, those reports turned out to be inaccurate. And as soon as we discovered that they were, the reference to Reach was removed, leaving the majority of the article -- a celebration of TV theme tunes -- intact. We also took steps to ensure that the author of main obituary, which will appear in a future edition of The Stage, was aware of the false information. However, at no point was the incorrect information "copy and pasted" from Wikipedia.

    I do find it slightly ironic that in an article slamming "lazy" journalists, you have jumped to your own conclusions without doing research yourself.

    Scott Matthewman

    Assistant Editor, The Stage

  31. Andrew Orlowski (Written by Reg staff)

    When in a hole...

    Scott, I'm sorry you took away the impression that The Stage had been hoaxed by Wikipedia - when you insist that you been hoaxed by The Guardian Online.

    I'm really not sure why you feel the need to boast about this though. The end result is the same:

    1. Disengage brain

    2. Copy

    3. Paste

    Remember that Ronnie H. had retired 20 years before the S Club 7 hit. Two seconds of research by your staffer (a fan?) would have revealed this very improbable assertion to be a load of bollocks. Was he so surprised he felt he didn't have to check it?

    Still, keep digging.



    El Reg

  32. Jon Eiche

    Re: I love wikipedia, but you have to sometimes double check the facts

    "If its important, I always take a few minutes to verify the information with some quick google searching."

    Yes, because we all know that if it's on Teh Interwebs, it must be true.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I write as a person who has participated in Wikipedia for more than five years.

    I'm glad that the article points the finger in the right place: journalists who don't check their sources. Wikipedians themselves tell school kids to seek independent support for what they use from Wikipedia. Teachers who dwell upon Wikipedia's inaccuracies, often to the extent of blocking its use entirely, miss an opportunity for teaching kids to question anything that they read from whatever source. That will be an absolutely vital lesson for children growing up in a time when access to information is unbridled, and the most convincing presentations are often from people with a vested interest.

    Journalists should have learned better a long time ago. Wikipedia would be very happy if those journalists notified Wikipedia to say that some detail is mistaken; someone would investigate and most often the problem would soon be solved. Instead they whine that Wikipedia is wrong, rather than accepting their own responsibility in the matter. Wikipedia's capacity for self-correction probably results in its being more often correct than many, many other sources, either printed or online. Those who view this as changing history also need to remember that an archive of those changes remains fully available. If newspapers publicly retract an error it cannot happen in the same issue as the error; it will likely appear a few days later. Some years later, a historian will look at the original article, and use it, completely oblivious of the retraction. A readily linked archive of changes and retractions reflects a much higher level of accountability.

    Errors on Wikipedia will continue to arise with great regularity, and, regrettably, many will not be found until there is another incident like the present one. Unfortunately such an incident tends to magnify inaccuracies out of proportion to their frequency. They take on the inevitable nature of Cúchulainn being served a meal of dog-meat.

    Someone in the responses to the article quite fairly cited "It's clearly not true, but it's now been in several reliable and verifiable sources, and under Wikipedia rules it makes no difference whether it's true or not" from the article's talk page. It's Wikipedia's paradox. Without it the inaccuracies would be much worse, and Wikipedia would be full of bizarre physics and urban legends. It seems that some Wikipedian brains have the same gear shift as some journalist brains. A good driver will know that his vehicle comes specially equipped with gear positions for mountainous terrain. A poor driver will just damage his own vehicle. Rules do that to us. Daleks and Vogons are very certain of their mission in life; doubt is inimical to belief, even when that belief is blatantly stupid. Reliable and verifiable sources become virtual teddy-bears that we can hug when we want to go to sleep; they will protect us from the ghosts of doubt.

  34. Marco


    Mr. A. Vulture, what you are trying to get to here is a negative equilibrium: Wikipedia is not trustworthy, but no other source is trustworthy, therefore Wikipedia is at least as trustworthy as all the others. Which is bullshit. No other site on the net takes less responsibility about its content and allows people to post slander as anonymously as Wikipedia does.

    Then of course you put in the usual "fix it yourself" attitude. Maybe at some point it will get into your how-can-you-spurn-the-gift-that-is-Wikipedia braindead heads, that it is not -our- responsibility to fix the damn thing.

    You are absolutely missing the simple point that Mr. Orlowski is trying to get across: that no journalist in his right mind should ever be lured in by the "all nformation in one place" and "we are an encyclopedia" appeal of Wikipedia to research background as he might look like an ass.

  35. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who is it about?

    The article is only indirectly about Wikipedia. The error did indeed appear in Wikipedia, and has since been corrected. Marco admits himself that "no other source is trustworthy" His blind bias, expressed in such ad hominem terms as "braindead heads" and gratuitous sarcasm about "spurning the gift" suggest a person not yet ready for objective analysis.

    Orlowski's point is indeed about the journalists. That the error should derive from a Wikipedia error reflects more on Wikipedia's size and broad topical reach than its error rate. That's a question of probabilities.

    That Wikipedia is maintained by a large collection of amateurs is a well-known fact, and if an excuse were acceptable that would be a good one to hide behind. Orlowski notes six organisations that perpetuated the error - six organisations which are presumably run by professionals who were all duped by a gang of amateurs.

    The dynamics that bring this about may very well reflect broader questions about the nature of modern journalism. Are the media providing enough fact-checking staff, or are they limited by budgetary limitations and the need to satisfy the shareholders? Computerised spell-checkers have meant big savings on proof-readers, at the expense of the occasional malapropism. Tight deadlines too encourage writers to cut corners.

    The real question then is how to work collaboratively to optimise the information result for future generations.

  36. Brad

    nuke wikipedia

    we got along quite fine without it

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