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Copycat concerns

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Ben Rich | 08:13 UK time, Tuesday, 8 August 2006

If we're not careful, it's going to become something of a theme.

BBC Six O'Clock News logoLast week the Six O'Clock News ran a piece showing a dangerous game being played by teenagers on a playground roundabout - in which a motorbike engine was used to drive it around at ever greater speeds, with two teenage girls hanging on grimly in the middle. Yesterday it was a fireman who got spun round inside an industrial tumble-dryer to the vast amusement of his friends, and the horror of fire service bosses (watch it for yourself here).

In neither case was anyone injured, but they might have been. Why did we do these stories?

Well, one discussion we've had recently concerns what we should do about things that a large number of people are clearly interested in, but which do not have some political or other wider significance. These are the kind of items that get filmed these days and end up being passed around, sometimes to literally millions of people, via e-mail, or are watched by huge numbers via internet sites.

An image of the shocking stuntMany are just curiosities, but sometimes a particular piece of human folly strikes a chord and has that shock factor that makes people want to see it - and we've decided that at least sometimes they should be able to even if they do not have access to the web.

What made these two more relevant is that they were cautionary tales that happily did not end in tragedy and could serve as a warning.

Now that's all very well, but what about the risk of copycats? Of course that is something we have to consider (for example BBC guidelines make it clear that we should never show in detail the way people prepare and take illegal drugs) but you could argue that we might actually stop a few people doing these things too.

It's a difficult calculation to make and a potentially troublesome one for a journalist. Should we show people driving dangerously? What about film of anti-social behaviour?

I believe that as editors we have to have a fairly high threshold for censoring something just because it might lead to imitators. So long as we point out the dangers, we then have to leave it to people's own good sense, the control exerted by parents and, in this particular case, the difficulty of finding industrial-sized tumble dryers.

Ben Rich is deputy editor, One and Six O'Clock news


  • 1.
  • At 09:05 AM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • AndyB wrote:

"So long as we point out the dangers, we then have to leave it to people's own good sense"
Since when did teenagers start exhibiting common sense?,
"the control exerted by parents"
I take it you haven't watched some of the BBC's own programs that reveal just how little control many parents have over their children?
"and, in this particular case, the difficulty of finding industrial-sized tumble dryers."
Unfortunately roundabouts and mopeds are somewhat more numerous.

  • 2.
  • At 10:12 AM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

There's a danger of these clips turning into something from a Chris Morris sketch if you are not careful. Sanctimonious bleating about how a 'million people have seen this clip' - so let's show it to a few million more...

The idiocy being captured in low quality video on phones might soon disappear if the mainstream media failed to give it the oxygen of publicity. Sadly there seems to be zero chance of that anytime soon..

  • 3.
  • At 10:26 AM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Sorry, I've just realised my first comment was a bit grumpy. After all, my mum always brings out the 'copycat' argument for any crime or misdemeanour shown on the telly.

Indeed why do we even need to have any moral qualms about the fact that showing 'phone cam' video of someone getting injured on a roundabout to millions of BBC News viewers is rather like 'happy slapping'.

So let's see some more footage from Charlotte Church's mobile next week. Then people getting mugged on the Underground the week after. We could even make a separate programme out of it - now what to call it ?

'You getting mugged on the Tube' ? No, let's shorten it to 'YouTube'.
I feel another BAFTA coming on...

I'd pay good money to watch Pauline Fowler have a go in a tumble dryer in the square laundrette.

  • 5.
  • At 01:15 PM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • Tim Jackson wrote:

Come on guys, you aired these clips because tere is nothing better to report at the moment.

Leave the vid clips from mobiles to Jackass, YouTube and Bloggers.

Although the clip of the fireman did make me chuckle...

  • 6.
  • At 01:24 PM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • Paul H wrote:

I saw some kids trying this at the weekend. I doubt if they saw it on the web, but it was impossible *not* to see it on the TV or newspapers.

Why do the news media never seem to use the "Your own kids" judgement? Try it, Editor. Take your kids outside, show them some similar-aged kids doing something dangerous, warn them not to do it, and then surreptitiously watch what happens.

It will take mere seconds for them to try it themselves.

Don't trot out the usual lines about editorial integrity and journalistic freedom. This is about common sense.

  • 7.
  • At 01:26 PM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • sas wrote:

"... that a large number of people are clearly interested in, but which do not have some political or other wider significance."

A lot of people are interested in a lot of things, but that doesn't make it news. Surely the purpose of a news program is to inform people of what is going on, whether at a world/national scale or at the local level? Running a story about dangerous playground or workplace behaviour is one thing, but why include a video for its "shock" factor, purely on the basis that it's all over the internet?

Instead, why not try and seek out something interesting and original?

  • 8.
  • At 03:56 PM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • nerdboy wrote:

I found both videos hilarious, more please!

P.S any chance of the BBC not copying Sky News gimmicks any time soon?

  • 9.
  • At 07:17 PM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • Chris wrote:

The fact that someone would imitate such stupid acts shows that the person was already prone to acting stupid. The old adage "would you jump off a cliff if someone told you to?" is as applicable now as it ever has been. We shouldn't be expected to make the entire world a padded room for the sake of those who choose not to look out for their own safety. They are, to society, what terrorists often are: catalysts for overreaction, at the expense of the convenience, flexibility, and cost of everybody else.

The BBC made a mistake here. It was not a newsworthy item. It was certainly a nifty video - the sort of thing that would interest people who like movies where guys with swords chop the heads off vampires - but its only function on a news programme will be to give teenage idiots a new craze to imitate.

I wonder why they are called crazes? Perhaps you have to be crazy to follow them. You certainly have to be crazy to broadcast them.

  • 11.
  • At 09:15 PM on 08 Aug 2006,
  • Julian Morrison wrote:

Am I alone in thinking that the people who fear copycats, underestimate the inventiveness of fools? If they weren't doing one bit of slapstick idiocy they'd be doing another.

In this day and age you certainly can't guard the gates of the public's minds. But neither should you feel obligated to do so. The real question now is more like: how should you set the tone? It's a matter of aesthetic choice, rather than a civic duty.

  • 12.
  • At 09:24 PM on 11 Aug 2006,
  • P Appleby wrote:

I understand that you used your judgement on this issue, but maybe if you felt it was newsworthy, you should have shown it after the watershed.

Kids copy stupid stunts all the time and often don't listen to don't try this. Many parents have no control over their offspring and don't know where they are on a night or in the summer holidays, so you can't be blamed if someone copies and gets seriously burnt or something else serious.

As for lack of industrial tumble-dryers, in 10 mins of my home I know of 5 unmanned launderettes with dryers big enough to take a person.

  • 13.
  • At 10:57 AM on 14 Aug 2006,
  • Frank Bradshaw wrote:

I utterly agree with P Appleby - I was horrified when the BBC deemed it necessary to reinforce its story with the actual video clip, just to make sure we all knew what you were talking about. It's the summer holidays for crying out loud! Children will make up a larger than average viewing population at this time of year! And it is children, not adults, who normally fall foul of these industrial machines.

As you say, you don't show people how to prepare drugs, or build a road side bomb, or prepare a aircraft bomb chemical, all of which can kill people, so why show footage of how to insert yourself into an industrial dryer? I phoned to plead to have the item removed from the 6pm news but was ignored. An email complaint directed me here.

And to make matters worse, the presenter Sophie Raworth seemed to find the whole thing amusing!!

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