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Messy divorce

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 11:17 UK time, Thursday, 19 October 2006

Should the Ten O'Clock News be reporting the increasingly messy McCartney divorce proceedings?

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoThat was the question at yesterday's editorial meetings. Some felt that the reports - including allegations of wife-beating and details of rows over bedpans and breast milk - were not a subject that should trouble the Ten. I can see that argument... Sir Paul McCartney flatly denies every single claim.

So why did we run them in the first half of our programme?

First of all, the Ten isn't a programme that should ignore stories that rightly have a prominent place on the news agenda - nor should it hold its nose and handle them with pinched fingers at arm's length.

That's not to say we will be diving into the latest shenanigans of c-list pop stars or glamour models - but this story is in an entirely different league. Paul McCartney is one of the most famous people on earth - the death of his first wife followed by his finding of love with Heather, moved a lot of people. When it all ends in acrimony, that is simply a good story.

Mills and McCartneyMoreover, the printing of the document in a national newspaper raises many questions about how what could be one of the biggest divorce settlements in British history is being handled. There are also questions about how the media operates - is it being used? Gavin Hewitt's piece on our programme (which you can watch by clicking here) was a serious minded look at the issues raised, with top-level media and legal commentators explaining that the stakes are very high.

The McCartney story was not the most important thing that happened in the world yesterday - but we would have been remiss not to tell it and to explore the implications.


  • 1.
  • At 12:31 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Its tabloid gossip and not what you would expect from the BBC. Moreover, the facts are still not clear!

  • 2.
  • At 12:32 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • A L NICHOLSON wrote:

I am surprised and disappointed that the editor of a BBC flagship news programme should believe that a story which, at this stage, is nothing other than a piece of showbiz gossip should "rightly have a prominent place on the news agenda".

  • 3.
  • At 12:38 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

Sorry, but I think you went way over the top on this story. If I want to read showbiz tittle-tattle, there are plenty of tabloid newspapers I can buy. I watch BBC news in the hope of hearing about more important matters.

By all means mention the story if you must, but surely 20 seconds or so should be enough.

  • 4.
  • At 12:49 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Darren Hutchison wrote:

I didn't see the news last night so I'm just going on what is in this article.

You say that there are a lot more important things going on in the world than this story. I would agree with that. So why put it so high in the scheduling?

I don't think it matters how famous the person is, they don't deserve high billing unless they've done something really special.

And of course there is the intrusion into privacy issue.

  • 5.
  • At 12:58 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Jennie wrote:

I agree with Adam's comment - this is not the sort of journalism in which a supposedly serious news programme should indulge.

The only reason there is interest in this story is the characters and the amount of money involved. It is not like the McFarlane case where a legal principle was at stake. It is also worth bearing in mind that the welfare of a small child is involved.

  • 6.
  • At 01:08 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • David Mawson wrote:

The divorce may be messy but I would have expected the BBC to know better.

If I want to read about celebrities and their private lives, I would buy a red top newspaper!

  • 7.
  • At 01:11 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • R Stewart wrote:

It's not a the kind of subject I expect to see on the BBCs evening news; tabloids trying to fill space or sell papers, yes, BBC evening news, not really.

I have to side with the couple and their family. This is a private matter, regardless of professional successes.

On the topic of their case possibly setting a new record in UK divorce settlements, that remains a possibility, not something that's actually happened and doesn't need to be backed up by the nitty-gritty of their relationship, divorce, and 'alleged' details before the case has even been settled.

I don't understand why there is so much attention in this comment here at BBC like in all tabloids; "is she the black vulture", etc. etc.
They are just living seperately,and I wonder if any of them has started a divorce process.

What is more relevant to me and for me; what has happened that they are standing so apart from each other, besides a few lines in the paper like "violence, alcohol and drugs". These are the populistic words for tabloids and even if they were be true,it doesn't say that much about their life together as a couple.These are symptoms of a relationship, if they would be true anyway.

So please BBC,"stay on topic", so to speak.

Greetings from Amsterdam

  • 9.
  • At 01:38 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Richard de Pesando wrote:

have you not realised that The whole point of such revelations is to create publicity and help engineer some sympathy for one party or the other - who edits the news? Max Clifford?

  • 10.
  • At 01:44 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Steve Smith wrote:

I wasn't surprised by the story being on the 10 o'clock news. I would have been more surprised had it not appeared. But rather than being a sign of quality, this is due to a general deterioration in what BBC news considers important in its coverage. You are right - there were more important events around the world. It just happens that these could and should have filled the whole of the Ten o'clock news, without resorting to this story. Those people who were interested had probably already read or heard about it. It's a shame that BBC news can't set the pace rather than follow others' lead.

  • 11.
  • At 01:52 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Kendck Curtis wrote:

To add my voice to the previous comments: this is not the sort of thing the BBC should be covering. Yes, McCartney is famous, but he hasn't done anything that's made him famous for several years now. The BBC should resist prying into the private lives of these two individuals, particularly when invasion of privacy was quoted in the reason for their split. Leave stories like this to ITV - it's what their viewers want. There are so many other more important or interesting things for the BBC to report on (as you identify). So get reporting on them!

  • 12.
  • At 01:52 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Iain Hunter wrote:

Should the BBC Report on the McCartney divorce? In a word NO!

An easy rule of thumb would be - would we report on a divorce case featuring an alleged violent husband, if the husband wasn't famous. If the answer is no, then don't report this tabloid fuelled rubbish.

The news is dumbed down enough without trawling the pages of the Sun for stories. If people want to hear about this stuff there are plenty other places this drivel can be dredged up.

  • 13.
  • At 02:17 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • J Westerman wrote:

This is straightforward enough.
It depends on what sort of rag you want to be.

  • 14.
  • At 02:17 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Justin Rowles wrote:

This sounds as if the Beeb is using the Kelvin MacKenzie defence.

He once claimed (in a privacy case) "it is in the public interest to report this because the public is interested". That's not what public interest means!

I'd be quite happy if I never heard another celeb story again on the main Beeb news (or any other) unless it impinged upon my life in some way. Those stories belong in cheap magazines at least until they become undisputed facts.

  • 15.
  • At 02:26 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Johnny Lyttle wrote:

The BBC does not choose what is a prominent story, the public do. Yesterday, the story that people were talking about was the McCartney divorce, and many would have tuned into the 10 O' Clock news just to see that story.

It would have been arrogant and conceited for the BBC to ignore a story of such public interest, and they were absolutely right to give it a spot on the 10 O' Clock news. Furthermore, I am reassured to see that the BBC question the importance of the news they could broadcast. Clearly what is broadcast has been carefully considered and fully scrutinised.

Job well done I say.

  • 16.
  • At 02:50 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Philip wrote:

Dreadful sanctimonious nonsense in justifying having this rubbish in a top slot. It is bad enough having this sort of tosh on the 'Six'.

More of this 'News you can use' absurdity on the 'Ten' and you can kiss goodbye to being thought of as a serious news channel.

I've just finished reading John Simpson's book subtitled 'Taking the Hard Road to Baghdad' - I wonder what he would make of your 'justification' for this decision ?

  • 17.
  • At 03:07 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Matt Colebourne wrote:

Personally, my view is that the story fails the 'public interest' test - although, clearly, not the 'public might be interested' test !

Once the case goes to court the situation changes rather dramtically since the functioning of the country's justice system IS in the public interest.

However, publication and dissemination of claim/counter claim prior to proceedings is not, I would contend, something that the BBC should entertain.

  • 18.
  • At 03:24 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Mark Hirst wrote:

I think the difficulty with the News at 10 and also the 6.00 o clock news as well is that there is a noticiable "dumbing down" or "Celebing Up" of the news agenda. We have seen it with the BBC "news" coverage of sporting events such as England cricket wins or ball tampering and an utter failure to cover voices which are not part of the establishment. I'm afraid I just find it too painful (from the cringe point of view) sometimes to watch. The other major failure, which I am sure has been raied before, has been the lack continued anglo centric coverage of supposedly "domestic" issues such as health and education which for Wales, Scotland and NI have no relevance at all. Border TV have accomodated this by having a news opt out have way through. Its still Border TV news but Scottish Borders viewers are not then subjected to Carlisle stories and vice versa. The BBC coverage of the McCartney divorse for me just represents a far larger problem for the BBC and there is a need to use that utter polluted phrase to get "back to basics" and understand what really is a news story and cover it... I would strongly recommend BBC journalists read "The Universal Journalist" which sets out the high standards they and other journos should be trying to reach. ps I have no connection to the author or publisher or any financial interest in it, but it would be a good starting point for you.

  • 19.
  • At 03:25 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • miika wrote:

I think it's important to define what "public interest" means with this.

It's not in the public interest in the context of it is information that directly concerns or affects them - it's in the public interest in the context of the public's unseemly penchant to want to pry into the private lives of famous people.

In that respect, I think it's a clear intrusion of privacy by the media, further sensationalism in an attempt to garner ratings with things that are not in the public interest, they're just interesting to the public.

The stated reason for the breakup to begin with was the pressure of media attention - Has the media considered the ethical implications that by giving the situation such a high profile they are potentially directly contributing to the issue?

Hmm, I just used "media" and "ethical" in the same sentence. Silly me.

Is the issue news? Certainly. Does it affect people's lives? Not in the slightest. Did it deserve to be given such a profile by in a news program? No.

People need to stop paying so much attention to the foibles and follies of the famous, and pay more attention to the things that matter. The media needs to go back to reporting on the things that matter, it's not like the world is providing slow news days any more.

  • 20.
  • At 03:26 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Nick wrote:

While I also don't much care what happens to a pop star whose greatest days (and greatest music) are long behind him, and I'd just as soon never hear another word about it, I do take the point made by the editor.

If this is indeed going to be one of the most significant divorce settlements in history, then we need to not get hung up on the detail, and not get hung up on the fame, but the way in which it is handled bears examination.

To the extent that the press is being manipulated, used or leveraged in the trial, a dispassionate examination of who reported what, when, is interesting. If the BBC manages to elegantly sidestep the grimy details of the case itself and focus on the wider issues, it is an issue worthy of coverage.

I think the reaction of many previous posters has been, "I don't want to know because they're famous". If this was exactly the same divorce case but between to extremely wealthy but unknown people, it would merit interest due to the reasons above - they don't deserve additional privacy just because they're famous, and not all reporting that involves celebrities has to be shallow.

  • 21.
  • At 03:46 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Nick wrote:

Yes, you should have been remiss and skipped this. You have only given excuses and not reasons for running it. The consequences of "being remiss" are negligible compared to the damage to your public respect and self-respect - you made the wrong comparison there. The real issue appears to be that nobody at the BBC had the courage to not run the story.

If I had to watch some unnecessary celebrity rubbish on TV, I'd rather prefer it to be an ex Beatle rather than a person who becomes famous overnight for 10 days.

I support BBC's decision.

i agree with pretty much everyone else - this just isn't the kind of material that the 10 should be running. different media outlets have different remits and the role of the 10 isn't to recycle sordid 'tit for tat' gossip about lightweight celebrities' lovelives.
i don't know whether you've covered madonna's adoption saga but i don't think that's part of your programme's remit either.

more news, less tittle-tattle, please.

  • 24.
  • At 04:27 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

I think its true to say we have tabloids for this kind of stuff. We don't need it on the BBC.

Besdies which does anyone really care? I mean honestly? Peoples most private information laid bare for us all to see?

Why do people want to see this stuff? Are we perverts?

  • 25.
  • At 04:37 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Darren Hutchinson (4)
There are not more important things going on in the world. Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Al Qaeda, the Taleban, Darfur, global warming, all pale in comparison to the breakup of Paul McCartney's marriage. The others are only potentially World War III, this IS World War III and the public wants to hear about it.

R. Stewart (7)
It's exactly the kind of story BBC reports best. Have you paid close attention to their other reports lately?

Alfredo (8)
Violence, alcohol, drugs (and promiscuous sex), this is what he and the other three bedbugs wrote about, sang about, glorified (well maybe not violence so much.) They made billions and therefore were knighted. Who would have thought in bygone centuries that one day mere minstrels would receive knighthood from the Crown of England just for selling their songs and making a lot of money?

BBC, you've finally found your true calling :>)

  • 26.
  • At 04:39 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

Darren Hutchinson (4)
There are not more important things going on in the world. Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Al Qaeda, the Taleban, Darfur, global warming, all pale in comparison to the breakup of Paul McCartney's marriage. The others are only potentially World War III, this IS World War III and the public wants to hear about it.

R. Stewart (7)
It's exactly the kind of story BBC reports best. Have you paid close attention to their other reports lately?

Alfredo (8)
Violence, alcohol, drugs (and promiscuous sex), this is what he and the other three bedbugs wrote about, sang about, glorified (well maybe not violence so much.) They made billions and therefore were knighted. Who would have thought in bygone centuries that one day mere minstrels would receive knighthood from the Crown of England just for selling their songs and making a lot of money?

BBC, you've finally found your true calling :>)

  • 27.
  • At 04:51 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Ramblingsid wrote:

It isn't news - it's gossip and tittle-tattle. And to be perfectly frank it is of no interest to me whatsoever.

For goodness sake concentrate on the real issues of the day.

  • 28.
  • At 04:58 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • S Atkinson wrote:

For me, the question is what story got dropped or cut to make room?

If you'd feel even a little bit touchy about telling us that, then running this story in the ten o'clock news was the wrong decision.

  • 29.
  • At 05:22 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Andrew Harris wrote:

One of the main points has been missed here. Irrespective of the nature of the story, tabloid or not, there are major questions as to how the information relating to the MCartney divorce became public. Never mind the ethics. Much of the discussions in newsrooms about whether to run the story will have been about the legal right of media sources to quote from what should have been confidential documents. Even now that does not seem to be clear. Most newspapers, but not all, decided that the juiciness of the story overrode any potential legal risks. The BBC must have had the same discussions and decided that the procedures put in place after the Hutton report could be ignored on this occasion. Remember all that guff about accuracy before speed in news reporting. Sad to see the BBC losing its nerve again and going for sensational rather than measured journalism.

  • 30.
  • At 05:38 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Brenda wrote:

"Paul McCartney is one the most famous people on earth.." On earth? Good heavens! Where on earth are you spending your time Craig Oliver?Perhaps you would be better suited to editing a tabloid newspaper or "Hello" magazine, rather than the BBC news. Yet another example of the rapid slide in standards of the BBC, unfortunately.

  • 31.
  • At 05:44 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Steve wrote:

Let's not beat around the bush here - this so-called "news agenda" (that the editor claims the Beeb shouldn't ignore) is actually an agenda increasingly driven by the moronic tabloid press. I've seen that happening year on year, whether it's the prominence awarded stories on Heather and Paul or the prominence given to negative "Muslim stories" - a favourite boogeyman of the popular right-leaning press.

The people that this tabloid-driven agenda appeals to are, let's be honest, far more likely to be interested in Paul and Heather's marriage shenanigans than in the latest developments in Darfur.

In my experience, this represents a significant portion of the country, if not a majority. And it pains me to say that. The popular press aren't called the "popular" press for no reason.

The dilemma the BBC faces, as always, is how to appeal to a nation of largely celebrity-obsessed voyeuristic and dumbed down news consumers without facing the charge that it itself is dumbing down.

If it goes the other way, it can just as easily be charged with being elitist and not in touch with the very public that's funding it.

It's a vicious circle, but I feel that we desperately need people and organisations to lead by example and not succumb to the downward pull of tabloid values.

  • 32.
  • At 05:46 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Scott wrote:

If Newsnight can send an 'ethical' reporter to Jamaica to hand out lightbulbs I'd say the governors will let you do just about anything you like.

Whether the people that pay your wages will be happy though is anything thing.

And while I'm on Newsnight they're pushing their environment bandwagon so hard you may as well push the sensationalism of celebrity.

Who needs news on the news anyway.

Guess that's why you're asking us.

  • 33.
  • At 06:18 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

It's interesting to see that almost everyone who has replied to this post agrees that the BBC were wrong to give so much coverage to such a trivial story.

I look forward to reading a future "Editor's Blog" on the lessons the BBC has learnt from this.

  • 34.
  • At 07:07 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • Phil Linehan wrote:

Hasn't the BBC noticed there are other things going on in the world that are slighly more important? When the divorce is finally granted the BBC may report it by saying "Today Paul McCarthy and Heather Mills were granted a divorce". Some hope!

  • 35.
  • At 07:07 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • roz lewis wrote:

If it is to be covered, then it shouldn't be given a prominent place in the schedule. As the saga will no doubt play out very messily over the next few months, with both sides employing PR teams to maximise the use of all news channels, having some ability to not be manipulated by the story's originators should be possible.
Or perhaps the BBC should do what Channel 5 does and have a totally separate celeb news slot, which thus puts the trivia back into it all.

  • 36.
  • At 08:12 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • matilda wrote:

It would seem that most of the above posters are male and state that it did not need to be in the tv news.

Paul's somewhat beastly behaviour would be termed abuse in some places.

So would the story be abuse and why a woman should or should not stay or the public's purient interest of the beastly behaviour of someone they admire?

The slant of the coverage would determine the necessity.

  • 37.
  • At 10:59 PM on 19 Oct 2006,
  • alice wrote:

If you want to report on individual stories, how can these allegations come before the recollections of the murder of a police woman. The news bulletins I heard yesterday were worthy of sky news - a bit of glamour horror gossip to make the rest more palatable.

  • 38.
  • At 08:54 AM on 20 Oct 2006,
  • Sam wrote:

Matilda: That is assuming he has done anything wrong and even if he has do you honestly think if joe bloggs down the street was in the same situation it would even get a mention on the news? No of course not this is triviel nonesnese.

If you want to read stories like this i suggest you stick to your girly magazines.

  • 39.
  • At 10:25 AM on 20 Oct 2006,
  • grainne wrote:

I think it's a stupid argument to say that the BBC should cover it because it's out there in the general media. Rubbish is rubbish and you're just dumbing down. If this sort of thing wasn't spoon fed to the public the appetite for it wouldn't be growing. That kind of reportage has a similar affect on our minds as fast food does on our bodies. You're falling prey to a lower level of journalism. If that happens what will differentiate the BBC from everyone else?!

  • 40.
  • At 12:39 PM on 20 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

I'm a staunch supporter of the BBC, but I can't see why the 10 (or any of the main news programmes) should be covering this story. One of the main question an editor should ask is 'Does this story affect the viewers'? Sir Paul's divorce doesn't.

  • 41.
  • At 04:49 PM on 20 Oct 2006,
  • Richard wrote:

At the point that there is a divorce settlement, then that will be hard news - and will merit a brief item.

Up until then, the PR antics of the various parties involved are not hard news. The BBC should not be reporting on them in its main bulletins.

  • 42.
  • At 03:36 PM on 21 Oct 2006,
  • EDDIE LAMB wrote:


  • 43.
  • At 06:14 PM on 22 Oct 2006,
  • Elizabeth wrote:

Please stop talking about this subject. As far as I am concerned they both deserve each other. I don't care what happened in their marriage. It is not news its gossip. Let the courts sort it out. Why not cover the impact of the war on our armed services and their families. ITV are leaving you standing.

  • 44.
  • At 08:11 PM on 23 Oct 2006,
  • C.Collins wrote:

We watch the BBC news programs for one reason only. To see 'the news' that has happened in the day around the world. Since the story about Sir Paul McCartney is currently tabloid heresay and rumour spread to damage and shock and to expand newspaper sales. The BBC dont need to do that and its not the quality of journalism we as a British public expect from their news teams.
Personally I would prefer to keep this gutter news where it belongs, in the gutter press.

  • 45.
  • At 11:01 PM on 23 Oct 2006,
  • Brenda wrote:

Elizabeth- if you take the time to write about it, then you care about it.Don't kid yourself !

  • 46.
  • At 01:21 PM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • Julie wrote:

As an ex-pat living overseas I don't know how much coverage was given to this story in the mainstream press but I do know that many more important things have happened in the last week or so than this. This story is important only to the lives of the people it affects. Others which have been covered on world news have much wider impacts. They include: a bomb in Peshawar, Pakistan killing many; on-going problems in Darfur; failing peace talks in Uganda; failing crops and potential famine in Afghanistan; increasing tensions in Sri Lanka; pending elections in USA which may radically change the power in Capitol Hill; not to mention the on-going tensions in the middle East and N Korea. I can only guess how much coverage these stories got in the UK but please, each of them deserved more than some couples possible divorce papers. I expect more of the BBC.

  • 47.
  • At 03:22 PM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • John wrote:

I don't care about them and neither should the BBC. To use that oft repeated phrase "my licence money" shouldn't be used for you to compete with "Heat" magazine.

  • 48.
  • At 06:35 PM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • Iwan Roberts wrote:

There's far too much trash about so called celebrities on the BBC and nowhere near enough coverage of the intellectual life of Britain and the world.

Also, there is much too much sport. Sport is not news. In case the BBC hasn't noticed there exist channels covering nothing but sport. People who like that sort of thing can easily switch over to Jockstrap World.

  • 49.
  • At 08:28 PM on 24 Oct 2006,
  • Roger Davis wrote:

Why should anyone be wringing thier hands about the fate of Paul McCartney and his soon-to-be-ex-wife? The guy is loaded and will still come out of this wealthier than most of us can only dream. His offspring will enjoy a far better quality of life than most of the other kids who are the victims of lesser divorces. Who cares about these two morons? Not me. Lets get on with the real issues of the world, and not the antics of self-seeking luvvies.

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