Saturday, 24 March 2007

It wasn’t like that

Thursday, ITV news reported it had been found the Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer had a broken bone in his neck. At the same time BBC Radio news reported Bob Woolmer did not have a broken bone in his neck, it stated the rumour had been traced to a “rouge” policemen. Which report was correct?

On Friday the Jamaican police made the shocking announcement that Bob Woolmer had been murdered. He had been strangled in his hotel bedroom early Sunday morning. To be fair to the BBC, on Thursday the police stated they were investigating a suspicious death, they denied it was murder. The murder brings into stark reality the corruption that is a cancer at the centre of World cricket, or is it?

I would like to examine the confidence we can have in news reporting. We watch television news, listen to news on the radio and nod our heads in agreement; feel shocked at reports of tragic events. We believe what we see and what we hear.

I have been either centrally or on the fringe of about five news stories. On each occasion, irrespective of whether it was an account on TV or the newspapers, the accounts were at best only 50% correct. A few of the basic facts reported were correct, but the interpretation was distorted. What was more disturbing, was the additional unconnected information provided to support the reporter’s interpretation.

For about twenty years, between the mid 70s and 90s I was working overseas, where news came via a small short wave radio. I listened mainly to the BBC World Service. The problem with the BBC is it has a rolling news service, so every half hour you hear the same report. To relieve the tedium I would spin the dial and listen to Voice of America (VOA) or on occasions other stations including Radio Moscow, and the Dutch overseas broadcasting station.

I cannot remember the exact news story, but it occurred around about 1976 ~ 77. The BBC reported on the event; which naturally I believed. The VOA report was in close agreement with the BBCs’, but Radio Moscow’s was a complete contradiction. I wondered, why Radio Moscow would think that people would believe such blatant lies. Some months later the truth immerged and was reported in the press and the BBC - they matched almost exactly the original Radio Moscow report!!

In 1982, during the Falklands Islands War, the BBC reported the British had bombed Port Stanley airport placing it out of service for the Argentineans. Yet during the same time Argentinean TV was showing news footage shot in Port Stanley and flown out of the airport! The truth was, while the airport had been bombed it had not been placed out of service.

There is also another factor which adds to the risk of distortion of news reporting, and that is the introduction of the 24hour rolling news television channels. To grab the interest of viewers they need news. They need new news and often. This has resulted in off the cuff reporting without the time necessary to perform background research and verification of facts.

YesBut just because you see a reporter standing in front of a camera at the scene of a news story; it doesn’t mean he or she knows the facts; or what is reported is the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


B.T.Bear Esq. said...

Found my way to your blog via Dave's Awards List!

Re your post-
always found radio4 news best.
Long ago came to the conclusion that TV news is basically a "clip show".

& 24hr rolling reporting results in the "this hasn't happened, but what do you think about it, if it did?" banter between person A in the studio and person B in windy street. (WHY does he NEED to be outside the house that someone died in four days before?) Or the latest proof of desperation- the "if you have a story/photo, text us on..."


And WHAT is all that walking around with clipboards nonsense? The Channel 5 woman even delivers one bulletin halfway up a sodding staircase! I want my newsreaders sitting behind desks! (BEHIND! Not ON!)


now look what you've done. I'll never sleep now. More tea an' biccies needed....

Anonymous said...

I can't believe that the BBC has fallen this low. This is a wonderful article about speculation and punditry:

Thanks for a stimulating blog, YesBut !


Yes But said...

b.t. bear esq.

What’s Dave’s Awards list?

Like you I tend to believe Radio 4 News. Until I come across a story I know something about and “#*$”.

Perhaps ITV and BBC could produce some decent programs if they saved money sending reporters, camera crews and satellite dish vans, to the scene of none events. How many reporters and crew were sent to Iraq last week? Hugh Edwards acted as a presenter and linkman which he could have done from London.

Finally, sorry for disturbing your sleep. But don’t worry I’ve arranged for the BBC and ITV to report from outside your home tonight.

Yes But said...

Hi Underdome

Thanks for pointing me in the direction of the Michael Crichton Message Board. I’m going to spend this afternoon reading the threads.


B.T.Bear Esq. said...

So that's what all the noise was about last night! You bugger!

Dave's awards list (sorry I can never remember the full name d'oh) is "Authorblog" at