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Balancing act

Ben Rich | 12:13 UK time, Tuesday, 23 May 2006

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.

BBC Six O'Clock News logoI 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.


  • 1.
  • At 07:20 PM on 15 Jul 2006,
  • Joseph Enterton wrote:

I realise it's now several weeks since this item was broadcast, so this may seem a little late. But I'm posting my comment now because it's the best example I can find of an ongoing phenomenon which I want to address. I believe journalists call it "going off-diary" or "setting the agenda". I call it "making up the news".

My view is this: BBC1's main bulletins should cover news that has actually happened. Of course drugs are a vital issue of paramount concern. But on that day, as Ben Rich concedes in his blog, they were not the news, so this had no place in a BBC1 bulletin.

I fully expect the BBC to carry out this kind of analysis and investigation, and I absolutely agree that this is a topic that should be covered. But it shouldn't happen on the BBC1 bulletins when nothing new has actually happened. Its proper place is one of the BBC outlets which are designed for this kind of coverage - Newsnight, Panorama, The Politics Show to name just three.

It's a phenomenon which happens increasingly frequently. One further example: the Ten O'Clock News will occasionally lead with film of an on-going famine in Africa. Not because there's a new development, but because a special correspondent has just finished their long-term assignment. Great journalism - but nothing new has actually happened, so don't put it on the BBC1 news bulletins.

In summary, and at the risk of being repetitive, BBC1's news bulletins should cover events that have actually happened, not general issues or random topics where there is no new development. They should be news, not current affairs.


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