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BBC censorship

The Beeb’s new editorial guidelines include one paragraph which is sparking quite a bit of debate:

we [will] install a delay when broadcasting live material of sensitive stories, for example a school siege or plane hijack. This is particularly important when the outcome is unpredictable and we may record distressing material that is unsuitable for broadcast without careful editing.

Some people have been saying that this amounts to improper censorship, and fails to show the world as it really is.

Clearly, the whole point of this guideline is to provide sanitised, ‘safe’ news coverage, so that innocent people being killed in a horrific fashion will not be shown to the nation. Some commentators have been asking why this is necessary, when we see such very graphic imagery in films and dramas. This, of course, misses the point entirely; there’s a vast difference between fiction and reality.

For example, to see one’s relative quite literally blown to pieces live on television would cause untold mental suffering to lots of people, and would add very little to the public’s percerption of the event. That said, perhaps nineleven would have had a little less impact on the US as a whole had the second plane not been shown smashing into the tower – a moment which may well have been censored under the new guidelines (though, to be honest, I’m fairly sure it would have been shown).

The most unworthy argument, certainly from my point of view, is the idea that the BBC should show things absolutely live, in case the public switch over to another network. Frankly, if people are voyeuristic enough to switch networks at a time of high crisis simply to see pictures a few seconds ahead of time, then I don’t think that BBC News 24’s more analytical and level-headed approach to news will suit them anyway.

Perhaps rightly, perhaps wrongly, I trust the BBC’s editors in the judgement of when to use this new device. They should (and, I think will) be careful and deploy it only when absolutely necessary, but they certainly should not pander to the whims of those saying that a few seconds’ delay is too high a price to pay to maintain the dignity of the dying.

Once again, apologies for the delay – I keep pressing ‘Save’ instead of ‘Publish’ – it’s a new affliction to me, and one that I can’t easily explain, but it means that I don’t notice the post isn’t up until I come to write the next one. I’ll get over it soon. Just bear with me.

This post was filed under: News and Comment.

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