It's not often that we devote the first 12 minutes of the Six O'Clock News to one subject, but last night we did just that, on the subject of drugs, and the effects they are having on our communities. There was not a particular news story it was attached to. We did our own survey with ICM of what people thought of the effect drugs were having in their area, and our special correspondent, Richard Bilton, went and visited some of the worst affected places. The issue was covered in combination with News 24, the Ten O'Clock News, and the BBC News website.
I don't think there would be much argument that it was powerful and important stuff and that broadcasting it was in the public interest. But we did have to balance it against the other news stories of the day, and justify the scale of our committment to it.
And our committment was tested. The verdicts in the Lozell's case arrived just before lunchtime. They were the final stage in the story of the murder of a young black boy in Birmingham, who was simply trying to avoid trouble. It was a racially motivated attack that coincided with some of the most serious riots we've seen in Britain. It also had wider social importance in that it highlighted the divisions between the Asian and Afro-Carribean communities in the Lozell's area, and resonated with more general worries about integration between people of different ethnic backgrounds.
After some thought we continued with the plan of running drugs as our lead item. Our poll had shown that three quarters of people thought drugs were a problem in their area, more than half thought the police were not doing enough. By definition in News we are usually driven by events, but sometimes it's good if we step back and find the time to address in a significant way some of the realities of our society.