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BBC’s Madeleine McCann coverage indefensible

Hold up!

See that little date above?

This post was published years ago.

My opinions have changed over time: I think it's quite fun to keep old posts online so that you can see how that has happened. The downside is that there are posts on this site that express views that I now find offensive, or use language in ways I'd never dream of using it today.

I don't believe in airbrushing history, but I do believe that it's important to acknowledge the obvious: some of what I've written in the past has been crap. Some of it was offensive. Some of it was offensively bad. And there's may be some brass among the muck (you can make up your own mind on that).

Some of what I've presented as my own views has been me—wittingly or unwittingly—posturing without having considered all the facts. In a few years, I'll probably think the same about what I'm writing today, and I'm fine with that. Things change. People grow. Society moves forward.

The internet moves on too, which means there might be broken links or embedded content that fails to load. If you're unlucky, that might mean that this post makes no sense at all.

So please consider yourself duly warned: this post is an historical artefact. It's not an exposition of my current views nor a piece of 'content' than necessarily 'works'.

You may now read on... and in most cases, the post you're about to read is considerably shorter than this warning box, so brace for disappointment.

Peter Horrocks has written an interesting piece on his BBC blog defending the way the organisation has told the story of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance. Unfortunately, his defence makes little sense. Some selected extracts…

Often we’re not able to give viewers any new information and that’s one of the things I spend a lot of time talking to my journalists about, to focus on facts … I know that many other TV and radio networks have been absolutely extraordinary, always talking about it in terms of sympathy and their feelings

I am incomplete agreement with Mr Horrocks here: Reportage of the facts, not of feelings, is exactly where BBC News should be focussed in this instance.

Questions have been raised over why we used a helicopter to cover the McCanns’ journey home from East Midlands airport.

An understandable question: Coverage of a car driving from one place to another has apparently little news value, and adds few new ‘facts’. So why did the BBC cover it?

The McCanns’ return was an important emotional moment in this story, and something which we felt we needed to cover for continuous news.

Eh? The BBC, which Mr Horrocks says focuses entirely on facts, and indeed is better than its rivals because of its emotional detachment from the story, felt the need to give continuous coverage to a car journey because it was an “emotional moment in this story”.

I sense a gap in the logic.

This post was filed under: Media, News and Comment.

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Comments and responses

Comment from hampshire terrier


    13.41, 11/09/2007

I absolutely agree with your sentiment. I have found the vast majority of the case coverage disgusting and blinkered.

We have seen people who know none of the parties involved claiming the police are framing the McCanns, we have seen forensic experts denouncing evidence that has not even been seen by them and we have seen a wave of sympathy for suspected killers in what would be one of the most sinister tales of our time should any guilt be proven.

For ‘impartial’ BBC reports to be constructed in this way is upsetting, let’s have some objectivity!! You would think they could learn from their mistakes in coverage of the Iraq war yet it is still tabloid-style journalism on a state-funded platform.


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BBC’s Madeleine McCann coverage indefensible


Comment from Mike P


    08.51, 12/09/2007

I personally believe that they are as guilty as a man found with his finger in his dog’s ass who then denies owning a dog


Comment from garth


    12.11, 12/09/2007

here here, I agree that this slack coverage is pretty symptomatic of the low quality of journalism about today (aside from bloggers of course)


Comment from Matthew


    14.21, 12/09/2007

Comment from sjhoward (author of the post)


    17.59, 26/09/2007

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

I’m glad that I’m not the only one who feels this way about coverage of the story – there does seem to be some consensus. Perhaps at some point the BBC will learn that in their quest to become ‘accessible’ they’ve gone too far, and reign the journalists back in a bit.




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