Guidance

Reporting Risk

Summary and Guidance in Full

In this article

  1. Editorial Guidelines Issues
  2. Summary of Main Points
  3. Introduction
  4. Reporting Risk Checklist

Last updated: October 2010

 

Editorial Guidelines Issues

This guidance note should be considered in conjunction with the following Editorial Guidelines:

  • Accuracy

See Editorial Guidelines Section 3 Accuracy: Avoiding Misleading Audiences - Reporting Statistics and Risk

 

  • Reporting Opinion Polls, Surveys and Votes

See Editorial Guidelines Section 10 Politics, Public Policy and Polls: Opinion Polls, Surveys and Votes

Summary of Main Points

 

  • We should report statistics and risks in context, taking care not to worry the audience unduly, especially about health or crime.

 

  • Using the Reporting Risk Checklist, compiled by BBC journalists and the Kings Fund, can help ensure the context of statistics is clear and avoid distortion of the risk.

 

Introduction

The reporting of issues of risk, such as health scares and crime, can have an impact on the public perception of that risk.

 

We should report statistics and risks in context, taking care not to worry the audience unduly, especially about health or crime. It may also be appropriate to report the margin of error and the source of figures to enable people to judge their significance. This may involve giving trends, taking care to avoid giving figures more weight than can stand scrutiny.

 

Reporting Risk Checklist

Research carried out by BBC journalists Sue Inglish and Roger Harrabin with the Kings Fund indicated concern amongst scientific experts about the potential of media coverage to distort risk and create disproportionate fear. Using the following checklist can help ensure the context of statistics is clear and avoid distortion of the risk.

  • What exactly is the risk, how big is it, and who does it affect?

 

  • Can the audience judge the significance of any statistics or other research? Is the reporting clear about how any risk has been measured - for example the size of any research sample, margin of error, the source of any figures and the sponsor of the research?

 

  • If you are reporting a change in the level of risk, have you clearly stated the baseline figure?  (A 100% increase or doubling of a problem that affects one person in two million will still only affect one in a million.)

 

  • Is it more appropriate and measured to ask "How safe is this?", rather than "Is this 100% safe?"

 

  • If a contributor's view runs contrary to majority expert opinion, is that clear in our report, questions and casting of any discussion?

 

  • We should consider the impact on public perceptions of risk if we feature emotional pictures and personal testimony.

 

  • Is there an everyday comparison that may make the size of the reported risk easier to understand? (For example, "it's as risky as crossing the road once a day")

 

  • Would information about comparative risks help the audience to put the risk in context and make properly informed choices? Consider for example, causing undue worry about safety of the railways could lead audiences to migrate to the roads unaware that the safety risk is many times greater.

 

  • Can the audience be given sources of further information?

 

 

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