The segment sparked fierce backlash on social media and was shared on Twitter by BuzzFeed News editor Matthew Champion. As of Monday morning local time, the clip had been viewed almost 3 million times.
British lawmaker David Lammy joined the growing chorus of voices criticizing the mistake, tweeting: “Kobe Bryant and LeBron James don’t even look similar. If the BBC hired more black producers and editors, appalling mistakes like this simply would not happen.”
Paul Royall, who edits the BBC’s “News at Six” and “News at Ten,” tweeted an apology Sunday, calling the mistake “human error.”
“In tonight’s coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant on #BBCNewsTen we mistakenly used pictures of LeBron James in one section of the report. We apologise for this human error which fell below our usual standards on the programme,” he wrote.
There was also an on-air apology for the mix-up from newsreader Reeta Chakrabarti, who said, “In our coverage of the death of Kobe Bryant, in one section of the report, we mistakenly showed pictures of another basketball player, LeBron James.
“We do apologize for the error,” she said.
HuffPost reporter Nadine White called the BBC’s error a “deeply unfortunate mix up,” tweeting: “They got two big, Black men confused and featured LeBron James instead of late Kobe Bryant in this news segment. This only adds to our collective grief at this time.”
“I grew up playing basketball and now that I’m living in the US, I was wondering how British media would report on the death of #KobeBryant. Didn’t have this in mind,” tweeted Sky News correspondent Cordelia Lynch.
Also known as “the Black Mamba,” Bryant retired in 2016. He was a global sports icon and a five-time National Basketball Association champion. As news of his death sent shock waves around the world, celebrities, politicians, players and fans paid tribute to the star, who is survived by his wife, Vanessa, and three other daughters.
Other organizations have also come under fire in the past for similar errors. In 2018, Fox News issued an apology after using a photograph of singer Patti LaBelle in its Aretha Franklin death report. “We sincerely apologize to Aretha Franklin’s family and friends,” a spokesperson told People at the time.