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Mark Popescu | 17:28 UK time, Monday, 12 March 2007

I've taken over from Amanda Farnsworth as editor of Daytime News on BBC One - responsible for the One O'Clock News and Six O'Clock News. They're two of Britain's most watched news programmes - and are broadcast into the heart of the family home. That means we have a special responsibility to be careful over the stories we choose and the language we use.


BBC Six O'Clock News logoI recognise that the judgments we take in a newsroom - often a fevered environment - can seem very brutal when you're watching television at home in the kitchen or living room. So a decision on whether to use the word "bastard" on the Six O'Clock News - a decision I had to make last week to report the statement by former Conservative front bencher Patrick Mercer - is tough. For some people, this is extremely offensive language.

My first reaction was that we should try to avoid using the word at six o'clock, as I recognise it is a time when families are watching. As editor, I accept that getting that right tone and language is extremely important. There was an extra complication - Mr Mercer used the word three times, and so to report the story fully, it would need us to say it three times.

The more we examined the story, the more we realised that the story itself was about the use of language in the army and that it was impossible to explain why a senior Conservative had been sacked from the Shadow Cabinet without explaining what he had actually said. We did examine whether we could use a graphic with the word B*****D, but that didn't get around the problem of what our reporter would actually say.

We looked at the BBC editorial guidelines and discussed the issue with editorial policy and with senior management. I concluded that given the importance of the story - the programme was leading on it - and the impact of the language used on Patrick Mercer's career, the viewer would only have a full understanding of what had happened if we used the full quote in its proper context. We agreed with editorial policy that we would give a warning before the report, telling viewers that it contained offensive language.

Incidentally, I note that most other broadcasters also chose to use the B word in full. But I'd be interested in your thoughts as to whether you think we got it right.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 01:17 AM on 13 Mar 2007,
  • Calum Thomson wrote:

I think you got it absolutely spot on. Your explanation gives a clear rationale behind your decision. The use of the word was central to the whole story and you would be failing to cover the story properly had you omitted the word. Sometimes I feel that there is too much censorship of the news. Keep up the good work!

  • 2.
  • At 06:58 AM on 13 Mar 2007,
  • andy wrote:

I'd like to think that this shows the bbc as a responsible non biased news organisation. No matter what people would like to think, the english language isn't always "pretty". I'm pleased that the bbc team felt that there audience was mature enough to accept the use of this word in the given context

  • 3.
  • At 09:58 AM on 13 Mar 2007,
  • Richard Morris wrote:

Agree with Andy. I can't see that the fact that 'families are watching' has any relevance. News is often brutal. Families with young kids shouldn't be allowed to hold a veto over that.

  • 4.
  • At 10:32 AM on 13 Mar 2007,
  • Donald wrote:

Since the news quite naturally deals with the most horrific aspects of daily life on the planet, war, murder, famine, rape etc all of which the majority of viewers will never experience directly it seems a bit odd that you worry so much about a word most people will hear regularly, particularly if you venture near a school.

Sadly the news has to contain a lot of unsavory things, a naughty word isn't even close to the worst of it.

  • 5.
  • At 03:53 PM on 13 Mar 2007,
  • Johnny Lyttle wrote:

Censoring the word for being offensive would have been paramount to agreeing with David Cameron's view that Mercers comments were unnacceptable, without letting the public make up their own mind. That would have been biased reporting.

I agree with Andy, it was good to see the BBC assumed that their audience were mature enough to react appropriately to the necessary language used in the report.

  • 6.
  • At 11:28 PM on 13 Mar 2007,
  • James Boulter wrote:

I must say I've never understood why daytime news should be edited any differently from the evening news. The only possible consideration would be more general BBC guidance: should the word be used before the watershed or not?

It is irritating that the BBC seem fixated by the need to adjust the news to fit "the heart of the family home". Is this why the Six is becoming consistently more patronising and dramatic and less intellectual?

Please stop framing headlines like this:
"What interest rates could do to the value of YOUR home..."
and questions like this:
"Should WE be worried about this, Andy?"

and return to a little sanity with:

"What interest rates could to the value of homes"
"Who will this development concern?"

The Six may follow Blue Peter, but the presenters don't need to act like they're auditioning for children's TV.

  • 7.
  • At 03:06 PM on 16 Mar 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Seems the word 'black' is much more of an issue.
And anyway, it was only by actually using the word 'bastard' you could guarentee his dismissal.
Job done.

  • 8.
  • At 01:30 PM on 19 Mar 2007,
  • Amanda Farren wrote:

No I completley disagree. It's hard enough being a parent and trying to explain to children that swearing and racisim is wrong and to teach them the rights and wrongs in life without the BBC or any other channel at two minutes past six broadcasting statements reading bastard and black bastard in them. If such statements need to be read out then they should be broadcast later in the evening when my two and five year old children and any other children aren't watching the television.

I understand that it is the news and probably does need to be reported on along with all the other badness in the world, but this was totally out of order!

You have programmes such as Big Brother broadcast but there language is bleeped out and that's exactley what the BBC chould have done at this time in the evening.

I don't understand how this can be justified at this time of day.

  • 9.
  • At 12:44 PM on 20 Mar 2007,
  • Karen Boyle wrote:

I disagree with this statement, as I was watching the 6 oclock news with my 7 year old son whilst eating our evening meal, and was very upset to hear the language used. I know that bad language is used in the real world, but my son is not exposed to this, as the people he mixes with both adults and children do not swear. I feel that children are exposed to too much these days and as a parent am concerned as this news item could have been given more coverage on the 10 oclock news.

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