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Unprecedented interest

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 15:49 UK time, Monday, 10 September 2007

There’s been a lot of criticism about the level of TV coverage that was given to the McCann’s return home. However there’s also been a large number of people who’ve been turning to BBC television, online and radio, because they’re keen to get new information about the story. So we have to balance that audience interest with a part of the audience who express their view very forcefully that we shouldn’t be spending time, or significant amounts of time, on that story. We try to make that very difficult balance through the editorial judgments we make every day.

Media surrounding McCann's carOften we’re not able to give viewers any new information and that’s one of the things I spend a lot of time talking to my journalists about, to focus on facts rather than speculation. So, for instance, over the past month an enormous amount of material such as hints or leaks from the investigation has appeared in the Portuguese press and has then been reported in British newspapers. A lot of this BBC TV News did not report at all.

Clearly on Friday we had the development where Mr and Mrs McCann were both declared suspects and where their spokesmen and family talked about what happened in the police interviews. That was genuine new information.

On Sunday we had their return to England and the first time that either of the McCanns had said anything on the record about the investigation or what the police had put to them in those interviews. That was fact. That was news. This morning we decided that this it was not the most important story of the day, and very deliberately decided to lead on the prime minister's speech to the TUC.

McCann family emerging from aeroplaneQuestions have been raised over why we used a helicopter to cover the McCanns' journey home from East Midlands airport. When you’re covering an extended event like that, having pictures which mean that you can get a continuous picture from one source, a helicopter is much easier and more cost-effective than having a number of cameras on the ground. And there is an element of covering the media interest as well - and we are of course a part of that, which we explain regularly on air. The McCanns' return was an important emotional moment in this story, and something which we felt we needed to cover for continuous news. We used very little of that material in the bulletin reports that we ran yesterday evening because the bulletin at the end of the day has the responsibility to compress the story of the day and only show those things which are most relevant.

It’s clearly a dramatic story and one in which people are interested: the number of people watching our TV news bulletins is one or two million up in the past three days. The number of people reading the McCann story on the BBC News website is four or five times greater than any other story. There is unprecedented audience interest, and people do turn to continuous news networks - BBC News 24 overwhelmingly ahead of competitor networks - and they expect to have that information brought to them.

Another claim which has been made is that we have been biased in favour of the McCanns. We’ve interviewed them a number of times and clearly when they give their point of view, some people ask why we are providing them with a platform. But we’ve also reported as best we can, given the secrecy around the Portuguese investigation, news from the investigation which hasn't come from the McCanns.

McCann parents being interviewedDebates about whether they’ve been treated in particular way because they’re of a certain class, for instance, is just speculation - individuals’ own views. People are entitled to their own views, but I don’t think that should form part of our news coverage.

I don’t think we have been biased in favour of them. In particular we’ve stressed all along, but especially in the past few days, how important it is not to refer to them by their Christian names. There’s a danger in over-familiarity. I know that many other TV and radio networks have been absolutely extraordinary, always talking about it in terms of sympathy and their feelings. Of course one has to be aware of that and there are large parts of the audience who are massively sympathetic to them. It’s a highly charged story, but we have to be as even-handed as we can and stick to the facts.

I do think that people who express a clear view about the level of coverage tend to be people who are saying they don’t want to hear any more about it. But all I would say is that the audience figures, the response that one actually gets to the story, and newspapers who are making their own commercial judgements, show that there’s a very large number of people who are interested. I suspect that those people are voting with their remotes and they’re choosing to watch it. So you have to weigh a very strongly held view that coverage should be reduced against the fact that the consumption of coverage is extraordinarily high.

There’s a position in the middle that says people do want to know, they want to know if the story changes and that’s what’s happened in the past few days. They want that update and that information but they don’t want us to dwell on it all the time. They don’t want us to use highly emotive language. They want us to be responsible and even-handed but to cover it fully and properly when there is new information. That’s the position we’re trying to take.


  • 1.
  • At 04:51 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Orpheus wrote:

I think on the whole the BBC has covered this affair better than most - not that that is saying an awful lot. Sorry Mr Horrocks but can you honestly say that, had this been a case of a single mum on benefits down the boozer, you would have handled it the same way. Surely not. It is quite disingenuous for you to say: "Debates about whether they’ve been treated in particular way because they’re of a certain class, for instance, is just speculation."
OK, they are now back, and have the prospect of charges being brought against them. That was indeed news and we have had the family and friends trotted out to say what loving parents they are. Now, let it take a back seat unless and until there are some more new devolopments. Incidentally, your reporters might like to have a go at finding out what is happening to the Fund.

  • 2.
  • At 04:59 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Irene Thomson wrote:

But Peter, News 24 coverage of the McCanns return to the UK on Sunday was a clone of Sky News coverage including rolling speculation & gossip, helicopter chase and all. If that is what BBC News has become (a close of Sky News), what's the point of the licence fee?

I heard enough about this 'news' story a long time ago. I know I am not alone in despairing every time a see a non-event in the saga brandished across BBC 24 and the BBC News website.

As for 'Voting with their remotes'? I guess BBC News gave in to populism over of real *news* a long time ago. Leave the pedantic irrelevent coverage to the Express and get on with some real reporting. Thanks.

  • 4.
  • At 05:21 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • jon grove wrote:

Peter, this is a weak justification for unimaginative and tabloid journalism. How is using a helicopter to follow the McCann's journey adding anything to the story? I'm not angry with the BBC, because I can understand that plenty of people followed this story, but I am disappointed at the way our license fee has been spent, when quality programmes like Storyville are gradually being axed.

  • 5.
  • At 05:38 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Julian Wellings wrote:

I agree with most of what Peter Horrocks says however I do take issue with the News 24 coverage which took place on Friday when Gerry McCann was due to arrive at police HQ.
Whilst I feel it was important for News 24 to cover his arrival I cannot understand why it was necessary for Jane Hill to present live and almost continuously from the scene, when literally nothing happened for over an hour due to Gerry McCann arriving much later than expected.
Jane Hill did an admirable "filling" job but I cannot understand why it was necessary for her to do this for over an hour when it would have been easier to cut back to London, run some other stories and then break in when Gerry McCann arrived.

  • 6.
  • At 05:51 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

What I find astonishing in this post [I didn't know before, as I wasn't watching the coverage] is that seconds after Mr McCann had requested that his privacy be requested a HELICOPTER would be tracking the family's journey back to their home.

Absolutely sickeningly, disgustingly, hypocritically indefensible !! This helly-telly nonsense has got to stop, and despite protestations, after every occasion you use it inappropriately, you persist in doing so. STOP IT !! NOW !!

The sanctimonious claptrap about your standards being better than those who are indulging in speculation is just spitting in the wind of public opinion when your 'journalism' is shown, by the use of aerial 'action news' nonsense to be no better than the Portuguese reporters following the McCann's back to the airport, or the paparazzi following Diana into the tunnel. GROW UP !!

  • 7.
  • At 05:52 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Oaktree wrote:

Sorry Mr Horrocks, but your justification of the BBC's prurient and ludicrously over-egged coverage of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is specious in the extreme.
What possible justification has BBC News 24 in particular for its blanket coverage of the McCanns' media appearances and its utterly tedious and entirely pointless speculation about the case?
This is absolutely not what I pay my licence fee for. Where are editorial rigour and control?
And forgive me, but I do not accept your explanation about the countless numbers of people hanging on each and every single report and word. Each and every person with whom I have spoken on the subject wants the McCanns and their families and friends just to be quiet, to allow Portuguese justice to take its course, and to stop making demands and comments that often verge on the arrogant and even xenophobic.
Had the disappearance of Madeleine McCann happened in the UK it is likely that the police would have given far more time to looking at her parents and their possible involvement(according to a friend in the police force). Instead the slant of the coverage of the McCanns by the BBC and others has at times been all too close to virtual beautification.
Many, including me, are also deeply uncomfortable about the many difficult questions raised by the coverage, questions you brush aside. For instance: how likely is it that if Madeleine McCann were not a pretty little girl, her mother not so photogenic and her parents not so adept at seeking and demanding attention, that the BBC would have given such endless air time to what is the tragic disappearance of one child among all too many.
And shame on the BBC for putting the entirely empty report about the McCanns' drive to Faro airport and their arrival at their UK home top billing above the deaths of British servicemen in Afghanistan.
You are failing absolutely in the claim you make in your final paragraph.

  • 8.
  • At 06:00 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Dee Armstrong wrote:

Yes, it was news last week that the McCanns had become official suspects. Yes, it was news that they had returned home to the UK. By all means film them arriving at East Midlands and then have another camera waiting them at the house - but the helicopter chase in between was obscene and in no way added anything to the story. I was appalled. And as for all the unending drivel that Jane Hill spouted forth all morning - the fact that she found it so hard to fill the time just went to show how little news there was. And it is ridiculous to say that there is an element of covering the media interest as well. If you had left your helicopter on its launch pad there wouldn't have been quite so much media interest - talk about chicken and egg.

  • 9.
  • At 06:07 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Steve T wrote:

"a helicopter is much easier and more cost-effective than having a number of cameras on the ground."
Why on earth did the beeb think that they needed multiple cameras on the ground? What more needed saying than the fact that the McCann family had arrived back in the country and there was heavy press interest?
After all that they even ended up buying images from Getty to illustrate this artical rather than use their own. More money down the pan.

  • 10.
  • At 06:44 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Brian wrote:

I have to comment that there has been too much coverage of this whole affair.

Since this whole sad saga started the level of detail of coverage has been overwhelming and often focusing on triviality. For example, it may be news that the McCanns have returned to the UK, but having a reporter camped at their overseas home, one at the departure airport, one at the returning airport - was just too much. They are featured on tonights evening news again when there is essentially nothing new.

This is all becoming off-putting and detracting from the sorry plight the family faces. We are getting news fatigue and that won't help the family.

My heart goes out to the family - but how many other tragic cases of lost children have been featured on the news in the intervening period? I would suggest that there has been a total loss of balance for this news item
Please cut the sheer volume down and keep it to new developments and not trivial ones at that.

  • 11.
  • At 06:44 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Mike Godfrey wrote:

What will be the response if they are found responsible for the little girls disapperance?
What will the Popes response be?
Once again the media have gone over the top before the FACTS are known.
As a previous comment has stated, what if it had been a single Mum on benifits at a holiday camp in Clacton. Would the press have been interested or have they only been interested in the 'Jolly abroad' aspect and the over time?

  • 12.
  • At 07:38 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Andrew Wright wrote:

Mr Horrocks, I believe the BBC has been overly sycophantic in their coverage of the McCanns and has competed along with other networks to air as many interviews as possible from the various members of the McCann team. Understandable perhaps when everyone is trying to find a little girl. But didn't ANYONE stop to think about whether the BBC (funded specifically not to have to be down-market, to be a gold standard in news coverage) should be competing like this?

I'm a middle-aged white english male and have just been on holiday in Lisbon where I had a chance to compare BBC World (which seems to be very low standard) against Al Jazeera's english channel. I was surprised to find myself considering that the standard of output from Al Jazeera (mouthpiece of terrorism as far as most of us English would know in our ignorance) was very high - in fact what I would like to expect from any BBC news channel. You need to look to your laurels BBC. Incidentally I looked at their website today - not a peep since June on the McCanns.

Why follow the 'Big Brother' watcher audience when your duty is to follow and be seen to be following the highest standards of journalism. Some reporting of the McCann's is justified but why purely in response to their PR campaign? Where is the judgement on real worth here compared to .... (select your favourite difficult issue)? Is it perhaps because it's a distracting issue as well as absorbing human interest that it had so much budget as well as air time?

  • 13.
  • At 07:39 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • EJT wrote:

Far too much time has been spent on non-news in this case. I've been appalled at the way this subject has sometimes been treated as the main news of the day.

  • 14.
  • At 08:11 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Fergus Quinn wrote:

When all this began back in May, I have to admit to not being very interested in the story. I read about it in newspapers and watched television news programmes about it but it really didn't grab me. It was terribly sad of course and reminded me to take even better care of our 2 young children.

Now, this is a whole different kettle of fish what's happening now. Yes, the police in Portugal might be incompetant but probably not. Yes, the couple might be entirely innocent but then again maybe not. There has been a significant change in events to warrant more investigative journalism. I'm very interested now to find out if the police's suspicions are correct and whether or not the whole world has been led on a merry dance for the past 4 months.

More coverage, not less.

  • 15.
  • At 08:20 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • JG wrote:

"the audience figures, the response that one actually gets to the story, and newspapers who are making their own commercial judgements, show that there’s a very large number of people who are interested"

Yes, that's all that really matters these days at the BBC. I mean really, a helicopter to follow them as they drove home, just what does that achieve, apart from fill up airtime.

The new BBC, lets appeal to the lowest common denominator, its what we do.

  • 16.
  • At 08:29 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • DaveH wrote:

Overall, BBC coverage has been pretty good under rather hysterical circumstances and you have avoided a lot of the rumours.

However, what you should consider on a strategic basis is what you and the rest of the media are goingn to do, should the mopst recent events turn out to tell the true story. It will be a case study in (much mocked) Media Studies classes on how the media has been manipulated in putting over one version and been used in criticising the local police to divert them from the proper line of enquiries.

Like everyone else, the BBC certainly has repeated claims from those around the McCanns as though they are rfact and a little mopre used of "alleged" would not have gone amiss, especially on this supposed plea bargain.

I just have a gut feeling that it will not be long before we hear (in Nick Leeson style) that the UK is the proper place for a court hearing and Mr. Clifford will be filling the tabloids with sob stories.

Finally, should this prove to have been a sham in which the media was used to stir up a smokescreen (as happened in the week following the death of Princess Diana), how will you report the next child abduction? I noticed that just tonight, in the case of the missing 15yr old girl in Hampshire, that we heard "a family of 5 reduced to 4".

  • 17.
  • At 08:31 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • jim wrote:

"When you are covering an extended event like that."

Says it all. It was not an event. it was a media hyped non-event. Self perpetuated human "interest" story kept alive by the media for months.

Yet again the BBC wastes the tax payers money. When is it going to show some sense of morality and judgement instead of pandering to tabloid journalism.

  • 18.
  • At 08:44 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Al wrote:

Sunday's TV coverage was terrible.

Woke to Radio 4 talking about journalists pursuing the McCann family to Faro aiport - in a disapproving manner.

Then switched on TV later to find it was the BBC pursuing them!

After so many weeks of contrition and hand wringing over the Lady Diana/paparazzi pursuit problems of 10 years ago, it takes roughly a week for all the editors to just do the same again.

People driving home along a motorway is not newsworthy. It does not add any interest, no useful information and cannot be analysed for anything of worth. We knew where they'd start the journey and where they'd finish; what possible use if flying helicopters over them for the whole journey?

  • 19.
  • At 08:51 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • stephen pullinger wrote:

BBC News should not be pursuing a populist agenda chasing ratings. A public broadcasting service should be placing news stories in order of their importance to the nation, not according to their titilation value.

How many British soldiers have died in the past four months? And how many of these personal tragedies has the BBC chosen to examine, explore or explain? All they get is a cursory mention and a family snapshot shown on TV.

What is worse is that what is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan is the result of choices made by politicians - people we elect and who should be held regularly to account. If they decided to make different choices, this would have a direct impact on people's lives. What difference is the BBC's coverage of the McCann story going to make to whether people live or die tomorrow?

The use of a helicopter to track a family's return to this country is a complete and utter waste of public money and indefensible.

Throughout this case there has been a none too subtle implication - even from the BBC - that the Portuguese Police are incompetent and that the British legal system is far superior.
This has how the story has been framed from the start.

Even when it was clearly forensic evidence provided by the British police which led to the change of focus of the inquiry, the BBC chose to portray the story as the Portuguese authorities now trying to 'frame' the McCanns.

I have no idea what happened to this little girl in the Algarve. I hope she is still alive and is found safe and sound.

In the meantime, though, could the British Broadcasting Corporation please recover some perspective on life and the universe.

  • 20.
  • At 09:12 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Mike Banahan wrote:

I've given up hoping for more editorial independence from the BBC. Now all it does is ape the headline writing and news values of the commercial press.

As Irene Thompson says - now it's a clone of Sky News, what's the point of the licence fee? I thought the licence fee was intended to allow the BBC to take a viewpoint that isn't driven by the relentless need to sell advertising - but nowadays it's indistinguishable from all the rest.

Get a clue BBC - what interests the shallow prurient public is not always the most important news of the day. You can aim higher. Bet you don't though.

  • 21.
  • At 09:14 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Peter Ausden wrote:

Thank goodness there is the BBC & it´s sensible & factual coverage of events. Our equivalent here in Portugal, the state owned RTP1,today invited a criminololigist on their morning newshour for his so-called expert opinion on the McCann case. I was disgusted & sickened to hear him say ´the McCanns spent so much time in the Praia de Luz church & also had their own key to it that the church is suspect & should be investigated as well`. You can´t get any lower than that even though there´s a lot of fierce competition here! Thankyou BBC & keep up the good work.

  • 22.
  • At 09:35 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Glenn Mrosek wrote:

It's a good thing giving media coverage concerning a missing child. But what about the thousands of other children who are missing and whom we never hear about? Use the interest in the story while people are motivated enough to help find other children.

  • 23.
  • At 09:52 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Stephen wrote:

Your explanation of the helicopter coverage is, I'm afraid, unconvincing. You maintain that it was 'easier and more cost-effective than having a number of cameras on the ground'. Maybe, but why on earth cover the McCanns' car journey in the first place? Yes, their return was 'an important emotional moment', but the operative word is 'moment', and 'continuous news' of a moment is a contradiction in terms. The McCanns arriving at the airport and making a statement is news. The McCanns arriving at their home is news. The McCanns' car travelling on a road between airport and home is most definitely not news. If you can't grasp that distinction, then yes, Mr Horrocks, you may well be better suited for a job with Sky. As Irene Thomson's earlier post suggests, we pay up for the BBC expecting you to keep your side of the bargain - to provide us with a service that isn't in lazy thrall to standards set by others.

  • 24.
  • At 09:56 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Robert McKay wrote:

"Questions have been raised over why we used a helicopter to cover the McCanns' journey home from East Midlands airport. When you’re covering an extended event like that, having pictures which mean that you can get a continuous picture from one source, a helicopter is much easier and more cost-effective than having a number of cameras on the ground."

You've missed the point. The questions aren't about why you used a helicopter, but why you covered the journey home at all. Journalism would require only a simple statement "the McCanns' returned home today". Tabloid sensationalism would require following the journey live and in ridiculous detail.

  • 25.
  • At 10:10 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • John Till wrote:

The BBC is a somewhat middle class organisation and the McCanns are middle class parents which explains, in my view, the inordinate amount of coverage. To echo a previous comment, had it been a single mother, a working class family or a black family I doubt we would have gotten a fraction of the coverage we have. Thousands of kids go missing in Europe every year, why BBC do we seldom hear about them?

  • 26.
  • At 10:36 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • David M wrote:

If you provided news based on popularity, there would be a great deal more 'news' about sports, or Big Brother goings-on. To say that there was a lot of public interest in this case is neither here nor there. There is a great deal of public interest in many things that are in no way newsworthy, and I imagine you would never cover some stories if you went only on public interest.

I do not believe your reporting to have been biased, I do however believe it to have other flaws:

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the issue of an on-site reporter - or reporters - in Portugal. To my mind there has been NO newsworthy developments since the first two weeks of the little girl having gone missing. What I absolutely detest and get exacerbated with is a journalist telling us how 'awkward' and 'uncomfortable' it is too see crowds and crowds of reporters covering every stage of the case, without the faintest hnt of irony.

Of course you, the BBC, are not alone in this charade. But that is no excuse for getting caught up in it like the proverbial sheep to the slaughter.

You simply cannot and will not convince me that the countless stories you have shown in recent weeks have been in any way newsworthy. What it has amounted to is speculation and spurious guesswork. And to haul a 'friend or family member' of the couple in every time is, quite frankly, laughable; What exactly do you hope to gain by that? I would have though a friend or family member would have a quite clear view on the couple, and speak only in their defence? As we treat -or are supposed to treat - the couple as innocent, why bother with this?

And to continue to spread the countless, but meaningless, lines of information supposedly leaked by the police is at best misguided. The law in that country clearly was not designed for broadcasters and journalists. Deal with it. Do not seek to counter-balance that with reportage of information that can in no way be validated, or seek to undermine the law of that land.

I would say a great deal more about the conduct of the media towards the chap named as a suspect, but I do not believe the BBC was the worst player in that travesty of injustice and deception. Needless to say the tabloid press have a lot to answer for on that count.

But the fact remains that you will probably not care a great deal for your critics' views, as ratings appear to be the primary concern for most editorial decisions these days. If I could, I would request my few pence back off my licence, in exchange for the simply awful coverage to-date of the case, from start to finish a stage-managed affair by people who clearly know the PR/media business a great deal more than the other families who have missing children.

In closing I would urge you to keep in mind the comments made by your business (?) editor. He said that a lot of people within the BBC didn't quite understand business, and had several misconceptions that impacted upon their reporting and dealings with the subject.

The same I think can be said of some your journalists/reporters; either they should present a succinct and accurate account of the detail to date, or say nothing at all. It probably this element that has caused me the greatest frustration; this whole debacle has been a vacuum in terms of actual news developments, and as a result the BBC has had to grasp at straws: On the one hand, obviously not wanting to be left out of the glut of coverage of the case, on the other not - like ALL the other broadcasters - having anything to report.

I remember the case of the prostitutes' murders, and the subsequent decisions to air an interview - against the interviewee's will - supposedly in the public interest. I urge you to think very carefully as you continue to report on this case. Facts and news first, speculation and supposition last - if ever.

  • 27.
  • At 11:19 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • C Drury wrote:


I had one minute at the end of Victoria Derbyshire's programme (dk if you had gone by the time I said what I said) to make a serious point about nature of coverage and I would dearly like to discuss this a bit more in terms of 1. educating the public on the difference between news and news features...and
2.the absence of sufficient programmes that take wider angles on current subjects and
3. the case for thematic documentary series from the BBC on media coverage ( can't explain thsi in full in an email)because I am with you and said it to the researcher...I think alot of this is down to appetite but I would call for much braver editorial stands... and in terms of BBC quality and that live issue..well the time is cetrainly ripe.

If you could take the time to contact me, I'd be very happy to explain this a bit better. The phone might work better so feel free to email me and i will advise of number here

  • 28.
  • At 01:17 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Suzy wrote:

What if they weren't all attractive?

  • 29.
  • At 01:31 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • jane wrote:

just wanted to say thank you for this message. i was one of the people asking for more neutral reporting on this case, and am glad to see that will be the norm from now on, from the venerated bbc news.

thank you.

  • 30.
  • At 04:26 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Why don't you give as much focus to the huge numbers of other children that have gone missing? It's amazing to me that Madeleine's picture is still plastered in airports all over Europe, but she is just one of many children who have been abducted or perhaps murdered.

Just because people want coverage of what's happening in the McCann case doesn't mean you have to make it into a soap opera.

  • 31.
  • At 08:11 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Joe Knight wrote:

The phone-in on BBC Radio Five Live yesterday (Monday) morning about whether people supported the McCanns was a forum for wild speculation, lurid rumours and prejudice. The BBC tv news coverage has been more objective generally than the rest of the media, but the Five Live phone-in was a huge error in judgment. The programme had to be cut short due to the level of complaints. I hope the BBC pays attention and is as concerned about this as a large number of its listeners.

  • 32.
  • At 08:15 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Stevie D wrote:

Sorry Mr Horrocks, but your defence of the BBC's coverage fails.

You acknowledge concern about the over coverage, but your boastfulness about the BBC undermines what you say.

You say your coverage of the case is different to that of others channels, and that you don't indulge in speculation. Sorry, but the coverage I've seen looks just the same as everyone else's.

You also say your bulletins concerning the McCanns attract 'a couple of million' extra viewers. Doesn't it occur to you that that's a big number for you, but still a small part of the population?

And you are too biased towards the McCanns. I've heard any number of soft interviews given to their supporters, but never heard much about the questions concerning why these people left their little child on her own, with two even smaller ones. Something which many people find wholly irresponsible.

  • 33.
  • At 08:38 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

Not having a TV, I can't comment on TV coverage. But what strikes me the most about this post is the reference to an "important emotional moment in the story", which, to me, is precisely the problem about much of the media coverage of any event / development. Journalists are thinking in terms of storys (which they probably have been for generations now), rather than in terms of reporting.

Sure, the media are selling a product - but that product is no longer information, it is emotion, it is story, and it is narrative.

I couldn't care less about the McCanns or their plight. One family, one tragedy. How relevant is that in the grand scheme of things? How relevant compared to the tragedies affecting thousands of lives in the UK, hundreds of thousands of lives in the world? Should I care about them because their toddler was white and photogenic and Christian? The world is full of tragedies. Why cover only the ones with suspected bogeymen involvement, rather than the systemic ones that we (and our governments) should do more to address? Why go for emotion rather than information?

  • 34.
  • At 09:24 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Diana wrote:

A very poor justification for so much invasive coverage. In the past hundreds of 'voyeurs' watched public hangings, and no doubt would do so again if the opportunity was available, but I do not think you would claim that as a justification for their restoration.

  • 35.
  • At 09:37 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Richard Douglas wrote:

Dear Mr Horrocks, it frustrates me when editors write their blogs as if we are all children. I feel like a boy sat on the knee of his grandfather as he explains the mechanisms, morality and (recent) movements of the bbc. Maybe it is done this way because readers are of a certian class perhaps? Perhaps.
In fairness I understand and appreciate the position the bbc is in, but there really is no need to back peddle quite so fast as this reads.
One would hope that the reason for a TUC lead story and a change of direction slightly was because Mr Mcann requested on air that his family be left alone so as his remaining children could resettle into society...surely? Not that it was simply 'decided it was no longer the lead story of the day', which although, I believe, was the right action still stinks of something....well, unemotional. 'It's our job to be unemotional, how can we get the facts if we are' I hear you say. If news was simply facts it would be boring, there is emotion in how the story is told, thats why we listen. Up until recents changes I hoped as many did, that the BBC was assisting the Mcanns as much as possible in raising the profile of their daughter worldwide, albeit from a distance.....and why not, they have after all paid your wages their whole lives and they are Brits aboard in a crisis. Clearly not.
There was also the comment about the helicopter being cost effective blah! blah! Blah! I don't care, because I was reading it thinking that would make sense if all I saw was a helicopter view on the aired news, but instead we were privalaged enough to have a view from the air, their front door, the police station in spain and a couple of shots of photographers and camera crew filming from the ground hounding the couple as they made their way home. Did they all give their time and efforts to the BBC for free? I think not.

Look, the truth is the media is now playing for the prime spot in the biggest story this year....except the goals have now changed and no one is sure which direction to play. If their daughter is still alive and out there she is temporarily forgotten as the media rush to position themselves along the fence. The real question is what side of the fence are you on, if ever so slightly!?

  • 36.
  • At 09:43 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Mark Dye wrote:

Thanks for your perspective. I enjoy reading The Editors blog. I have learnt that your editorial decisions aren't easy; indeed there appears to be rather a lot of discussion about the best route to take, particularly on tricky occasions.

Each Sunday I watch Dateline London on News 24. I was annoyed that it was replaced with rolling coverage of the McCanns coming home. I watched the full half hour, from 11.30am to 12noon. There just was no new news and there was rather a lot of padding.

I was interested to read your comment: "people who express a clear view about the level of coverage tend to be people who are saying they don’t want to hear any more about it." This may be generally the case. But it's not the case with me: I AM interested in the story.

Did you play through the consequences of NOT bumping Dateline London? I wonder if there would have been as many complaints from people who wanted MORE McCann coverage.

Would you have received comments like, "I can't believe you stopped your coverage your coverage of the McCann's coming home for 30 minutes. I had to change channel to learn that their easyjet flight was still airborne."

I suspect those who wanted to track the story minute-by-minute may have switched to a competitor channel. You would have seen a dip in audience figures. But there's more to News 24 than chasing the highest audience share, isn't there?

  • 37.
  • At 10:16 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Sarah Bernard wrote:

I do think the BBC has been guilty of overplaying the importance of this story. The practice of sending out their 'big gun' reporters, such as Ben Brown, to cover stories of national importance is fair enough. But why was Fiona Bruce despatched to the Algarve last Friday to report on the McCanns' police interviews? The BBC should not have been joining in the general media scrum that surrounded this occasion.

  • 38.
  • At 10:21 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Sorry Mr Horrocks. I've defended BBC News countless times on these blogs but I can't agree with your analysis this time.

While I agree with your aim ("responsible and even-handed but to cover it fully and properly when there is new information") - I'm afraid I don't think BBC News achieved this position. OK it wasn't quite as 'tabloid' as Sky or ITV News. But even so... that's not saying much.

I've yet to hear a response from you about why flying your news anchors out to the Algarve (even for 'major' case developments) is considered necessary, given that (with respect to them) Fiona Bruce, Huw Edwards et al aren't actually doing anything there that couldn't be done back home in the studio.

I suspect the reason you've not answered this question is because there's only one possible reason - it's done to make the news appear more urgent, more breaking, more exciting. And you're trying to compete with your commercial rivals, who have found that a sizable portion of their viewers (those inclined to buy tabloids perhaps?) *do* respond to this kind of dramatic treatment, where everything is presented in the style of breaking news.

But does that absolve it of the charge of being excessive and unnecessary? I don't think it does.

I desperately wish that the BBC would rise above this kind of thing. I accept that you have to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and I accept that I probably sound elitist saying this (and that you think people who respond to these blogs aren't typical of your news audience). But that doesn't mean that there aren't many other people feeling the same way about the direction in which BBC TV News appears to be heading.

  • 39.
  • At 10:24 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Jane Hill wrote:

I think everyone has already made up their minds what may have happened to Madeleine...they just want to check on the 'news' all the time to see if they're right.

Now, what about that 15 year old who has gone missing? Is she or her family going to get as much coverage as the McCann family? I very much doubt it.

(Not THE Jane Hill)

  • 40.
  • At 10:35 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Mike wrote:

On the BBC news at 10 last night, the McCanns were top billing, again. Yet very little has happened and there was very little to report. There was plenty of conjecture though which is not what the news is about. It is about reporting facts, not giving unqualified opinion.

Yet Anita Roddick had sadly passed away, there was the asssessment of Surge in Iraq (which was woefully reported in preference for a BBC survey) and Brown's hostile welcome at the TUC (again, woefully reported with little union comment which was less than welcoming).

BBC's coverage has fallen into the Sky News trap of the lowest common denominator, glossy coverage, nothing to report and plenty of idle chit-chat from reporters with nothing else to do. Anything serious and more highbrowed requiring a modicum of thought from the viewer and its glossed over.

When more serious minded BBC journalists are calling for something to give to avoid more budget cuts, can I suggest axing News 24? If the BBC can afford helicopters to pursue people clearly the priorities are completely and utterly wrong. I can see it serves no use and judging by the response to the Radio 5 Live phone-in and comments here. You clearly demonstrate you have no idea what the public want.

  • 41.
  • At 10:40 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Alastair Scott wrote:

A child is missing, possibly murdered, probably one of many in similar circumstances round the world that day, yet related stories must have topped the daily news on a couple of dozen occasions over the past few months. And the whirlwind of rumour, speculation and fact is being stoked by, I believe, a completely new development - family and friends of those involved providing a running commentary on the actions and motives of those trying to do their jobs.

The whole thing is probably an inevitable consequence of a declining market (for newspapers at least) which is furiously competitive and leads to a fight over every scrap of news, or non-news, but the thought of the over-personalisation and over-cooking of news stories becoming even more extreme in the future is unbearable.

  • 42.
  • At 10:53 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Digitagit wrote:

Unprecedented interest? Surely there is a large measure of cause and effect here. The interest has been massively fuelled by the coverage. All the media, print, TV and other, have lost any sense of perspective over this story, including the BBC. Whether it's helicopters or flying Fiona Bruce out to Praia de Luz/Portimao to 'anchor' Friday's 10.00 O'Clock news (in fact to interview other BBC reporters) you are wasting licence fee payers money on a grand scale at a time when your star journalists (Paxman/Humphreys) are wingeing about budget cuts and pleading for special treatment for news. Get your house in order....

  • 43.
  • At 11:13 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Gareth wrote:

Gutter journalism and no better then Sky.

Was the helicopter footage of the McCanns returning home live, or broadcast with a delay Mr. Horrocks?

I ask because last month Craig Oliver, partaking in a role playing game at the Media Guardian International Telly Festival, claimed he would show footage from a hostage scene with a delay incase something happened. Was the footage of the McCanns similarly delayed on the slight chance of an accident occurring?

I would also like to know if the presence of former BBC reporter and now head of the Government's Media Monitoring Unit, Clarence Mitchell, early on in this case played a part in the extensive and sympathetic coverage the McCanns received. Did he corral the British media into not asking difficult questions in return for access? Has anyone questioned why the Government was keen to get involved?

I thought the lowest point of the coverage was actually late on in the evening on the Saturday night. The studio anchor asked the BBC News 24 reporter in Portugal if there was time limit whilst the McCann's were suspect before the police had to charge them.

The reply was "Nobody knows".

Nobody knows?

You've had the entire British press pack writing about the legal system in Portugal for most of this summer, and yet you can't on the ground answer a simple question that you should have found out the answer to when the first suspect was officially named by the police?

  • 45.
  • At 11:55 AM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Tim Coulson wrote:

I don't buy your justification Mr Horrocks. I think you've spent too much time and too much money on this story. A helicopter following the journey from the airport? That's just ridiculous.

I hope you'll be able to look back with some detachment in a while and understand how you can cover such events with more restraint in the future.

  • 46.
  • At 12:17 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Kevin wrote:

Yes this is a big news story but the BBC should be reporting on the facts and any new developments. All to often we are seeing reports that are based on leaks, information from un-named sources or re-hashing of what is in the tabloids. As far as I can see the media are trying to second guess the police instead of letting them get on with their job. Lets not forget that Robert Murat was grassed up by a journalist.

I for one can do without BBC reporters telling us about the dreadful media scrum, when they have reporters at the villa and the police station, going airside at the airport etc.
OK you may be trying to take the high moral ground and not having your guys right at the front of the barriers but even if your are in the back row of the media scrum you are still part of the game.

This ghastly pantomime must cease. The McCanns have played the media for mugs the whole way through - and good for them.

However, when the media they're playing is funded by MY taxes, and when a helicopter is devoted to following their car home from the airport, that is unacceptable. One reporter at the house with a camera crew would have been more than adequate. Nothing was going to happen on the journey. Nothing. All it was was twenty thousand news hacks filming each other.

Disgusting. I expected better.

  • 48.
  • At 12:26 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Alison Macfarlane wrote:

I have never felt stirred enough about the rights and wrongs of media coverage to put pen to paper before but I have become incensed by the unrelenting press coverage of the McCanns' plight. As a lawyer, I can appreciate (however frustrating it is for the new hungry public) that there is very little fact based information to share with the public at this time yet there is constant speculation, debate and discussion on a range of essentially unknown issues and wide ranging possibilities. The British media has adopted a holier than though stance when criticising the Portuguese press about rumour mongering yet it is doing nothing but adding to the fictions surrounding this case. The McCanns will never be able to escape the doubts this type of coverage is creating about them unless Madeleine is found alive and well (and please God, let's hope that she is). Does the media not stop to think that this type of relentless pressure and trauma can drive people to suicide or perhaps worse still, to a mental state from which they never can recover? Report the FACTS for goodness sake and stop filling in the gaps.

  • 49.
  • At 12:33 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Rvvm wrote:

Give me a break.

Please step outside your media bubble for once Peter and return to the normal world.

Then maybe you'll realise how over the top and ridiculous the whole coverage was.

It wasn't all that long ago someone on the editors blog was bemoaning the decision to film Paris Hilton leaving jail, yet here we are with another non-news event being filmed - the McCanns leaving Portugal. Which way does the BBC want to lean on this issue?

  • 51.
  • At 01:13 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Orpheus wrote:

Peter Horrocks writes of the parents: "I don’t think we have been biased in favour of them. In particular we’ve stressed all along, but especially in the past few days, how important it is not to refer to them by their Christian names. There’s a danger in over-familiarity."
So. what was all that Gerry, Gerry, Gerry on the lunchtime news?

  • 52.
  • At 01:18 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Alan V. wrote:

I didn't watch much of the TV coverage which is being discussed and I didn't hear the Victoria Derbyshire phone-in on Radio 5 Live which has also been mentioned but yesterday I heard a phone-in on another BBC radio station which was based on the question "Do the McCanns have your support today - yes or no?" and included a vote. Whilst Peter Horrocks was right to come here to respond to criticism of TV coverage I believe that a senior manager in BBC radio should post here to explain why some BBC radio stations think they have the right to conduct trial by media with the verdict being decided by a Big Brother-esque vote.

  • 53.
  • At 02:01 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Kate wrote:

Broadcast what you like and stop feeling the need to justify it, Peter. Just don't pay for it via a compulsory tax (ie. the licence fee).

I'm a great defender of public service broadcasting, it's just a shame that the BBC has stopped doing that. But now be honest with yourselves and the public, and give up the licence fee.

  • 54.
  • At 02:02 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

Some very sensible comments here, pointing out quite rightly that the BBC's coverage of this story has been completely over the top. Sure, there may be many people who are interested in the story, but they have every right to go out and buy the Daily Express.

The license fee means that the BBC doesn't have to play the popularity game. It can focus on giving high quality news for the minority who appreciate it. Could you try to remember that please?

  • 55.
  • At 02:10 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Dave wrote:

The justification for the helicopter chase is ludicrous and disingenuous, as several have already observed. Similarly, it has been pointed out that the BBC has been quite happy to indulge in wild speculation and rumour, even if, for the most part, this has been dressed up as "people are saying/asking" or "some news agencies are reporting". You might as well have said "I don't want to be a gossip, but have you heard..."

Even if it felt it had to waste so many resources on this story (anchoring the news from Portugal, and on-the-spot reporters madly filling are particularly pointless examples), the BBC could have covered it properly, by sticking to the facts, debunking rumours which were known to be untrue, and maintained a genuine objectivity. Instead, we get wall-to-wall speculation and fawning interviews with "friends and family", where no assertion, however ridiculous, is challenged.

Why don't you just admit that you're trying to compete with Sky, both in terms of ratings and access to the "human interest" interviews?

  • 56.
  • At 02:10 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • simon wrote:

Peter - I'm afraid I agree with many people about the weak justification for the helicopter trip. Saying it was easier to do it that way than by road is missing the point - the BBC shouldn't be doing it at all. What could possibly on the drive home that would be newsworthy?

And I still don't understand why Fiona Bruce had to be in Portugal? Or who in the BBC thinks 'do the McCanns still have your sympathy' as a topic for a phone-in vote is anything other than tacky, tawdry journalism, and patronising to the intelligence of Five Live listeners.

Very, very disappointed to see you using viewer figures as justification as well. It's an argument which will lead BBC detractors (of which I'm not one) to question what the licence fee's for.

  • 57.
  • At 02:55 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Darren Tunstall wrote:

"This is hour 57 of our live, round-the-clock coverage outside the Simpson estate. Remember, by the way, to tune in at 8:00 for highlights of today's vigil, including when the garbage man came and when Marge Simpson put the cat out...possibly because it was harassed, we don't know.

"Of course, there's no way to see into the Simpson home without some kind of infrared heat-sensitive camera. So, let's turn it on.

[screen shows blue house, orange Simpsons watching TV]

"Now, this technology is new to me, but...I'm pretty sure that's Homer Simpson in the oven, rotating slowly.

[closeup of turkey]

"His body temperature has risen to over 400 degrees -- he's literally stewing in his own juices.

[in the studio]

"Now, here are some results from our phone-in poll: 95% of the people believe Homer Simpson is guilty. Of course, this is just a television poll which is not legally binding, unless proposition 304 passes. And we all pray it will."

Sounds like Kent Brockman will soon be headhunted by News 24.

  • 58.
  • At 03:04 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • John Walters wrote:

How can you justify the 'character testimonials' for the McCanns broadcast from 'friends and family' once they were made suspects? I have never in my entire life seen the BBC present what would undoubtedly be part of the 'case for the defence' in any trial in this way for suspects in a criminal investigation. Am I not right in thinking that were this a UK investigation, you would have been prevented from doing this? You should stick to that obligation in cases going on overseas too. You should remember that in cases of child abuse / murder by parents, there often IS no-one to speak for the child - against the parents. YOU should not therefore allow an unbalanced case to be put: stating that Portuguese methodology does not allow the police's side to be put during an investigation, is NOT an excuse for running an unbalanced story. Where and whilst, for whatever reason, you cannot present both sides you should present NEITHER!

However, now you have discovered this approach I am looking forward to an identical itinerary in the Lugovoi case: questioning the soundness of delayed forensics being the sole plank of a case; wondering whether 'political' pressures may have led to the police conclusions; broadcasting testionials from Lugovoi's friends/family about what a kind/gentle/family man he is etc, and how he could never have done such a thing. You might, at some stage, point out the FACTS that there are HUNDREDS of child abductions in the UK EVERY YEAR; also the separate fact that MOST child abuse is carried out by 'nice' people like the McCanns - by parents, family and friends - not by sinister strangers. You have done a grave diservice to the many thousands of children, tragically being abused by their 'nice', white, middle-class family-members, who will find it EVEN MORE difficult to come forward, and to be believed, as you help perpetuate the lie that people like this just don't do that kind of thing. Shame on you: part of their suffering is now on your head you silly, silly man!

To claim reporting has been unbiased would have credence if the BBC website had a single reference to Jeremy Wilkins.

  • 60.
  • At 04:49 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • simon collins wrote:

Good attempt at trying to justify the beebs appalling coverage over the last months, Peter. Unfortunately, no matter how you try to spin it, the coverage on Sunday was nauseating. Your team has been heading this way for a while now – pretty much since news 24 was launched, but you guys truly reached a new low in the history of bbc news.

Once upon a time, your reports may have shown a distasteful media scrum from a distance - perhaps to show the scale of the interest. Over the last few years you have been getting closer and closer, and on Sunday your report came from the very front of the pack. Well done.

All is now plain to see: the BBC has abandoned any semblance of professionalism. You frothed, speculated, chased and zoomed BBC news, right into the gutter.

I wait for the day this circus ends, and we start to discuss the editorial procedures and decisions, which allowed the once world respected BBC news, to find waist deep with the rest of the tabloid media scum.

I don’t pay for them and I will not pay for you.

  • 61.
  • At 04:51 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • E P wrote:

I think the BBC has covered this story fairly well, and I'm glad you have tried to avoid mawkishness (e.g. not using Christian names). The amount of coverage probably does reflect public interest in the case. However, I was troubled by the report on Sunday about the return of the McCanns to the UK. Yes, it is news. People are interested in it, and you should report it. But chasing the McCanns' car to the airport and following them in a helicopter? That's completely unnecessary (we know what cars look like, thanks) and overly intrusive. Being in the news does not make someone public property - they don't belong to the media, to be exploited and turned into a good story to fill your bulletins. In the same report you showed Mr McCann asking for his family's privacy to be respected. Do you think you were doing that by hounding them on their journey, or by focusing closely on their children's faces, or by speculating on their feelings about going back to their house?

Please remember that commenting on the intrusive behaviour of the media does not exempt you from responsibility when you yourselves are intrusive. If the BBC doesn't condone such behaviour, don't take part in it.

  • 62.
  • At 04:56 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • simon collins wrote:

Good attempt at trying to justify the beebs appalling coverage over the last months, Peter. Unfortunately, no matter how you try to spin it, the coverage on Sunday was nauseating. Your team has been heading this way for a while now – pretty much since news 24 was launched, but you guys truly reached a new low in the history of bbc news.

Once upon a time, your reports may have shown a distasteful media scrum from a distance - perhaps to show the scale of the interest. Over the last few years you have been getting closer and closer, and on Sunday your report came from the very front of the pack. Well done.

All is now plain to see: the BBC has abandoned any semblance of professionalism. You frothed, speculated, chased and zoomed BBC news, right into the gutter.

I wait for the day this circus ends, and we start to discuss the editorial procedures and decisions, which allowed the once world respected BBC news, to find waist deep with the rest of the tabloid media scum.

I don’t pay for them and I will not pay for you.

  • 63.
  • At 05:11 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Andrew Langstone wrote:

I turned off when the helicopter started its inane following of a car along a road.

It added absolutely nothing to the story and was just the final straw. I dread to think how this expensive tou is going to be deplyed in the future.

This was just rolling news at its very worst.

  • 64.
  • At 08:22 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • marcmc wrote:

I don't agree that the coverage was what veiwers wanted. Only the saddest of voyeurs would have been interested in most of the NONnews that their return home was.
As for chasing the man around in a helicopter who had just asked for soem privacy in what must be a very stressfull time was just plain wrong. What has happened Beeb, do you have no class at all anymore? What you did was voyeurism plain and simple, and i woudl have expected better.

  • 65.
  • At 11:08 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Ron M wrote:

I am sick fed up with the coverage of the McCann story as has been said time and time again in the attached comments this is a soap opera not a news story - all right as new events arise mention them during or at the end of the bulliten but not as breaking news taking preference over our more important National Stories. The other thing that annoys me is the critisism of the Portuguese Police - all right they may have different ways of working but when you go to a foreign country you should expext to to be treated in the way of the country - After all the family left their three children unattended whilst they were out enjoying their meal - why did they not use the services of the sites child minding service? Please let us have a break -I've stopped buying newspapers - and I mute the TV when your start spouting about the story - I expext more for my License Fee. Dont follow what the rest of the media does you will be more respected in the long run.

  • 66.
  • At 11:08 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Andrew wrote:

It's interesting to read most of the posters distain at the coverage of the McCann afair, but lets face it everybody watched, helicopter coverage and all. It was all very interesting and the reports were all very factual. Remember the McCanns courted the Media for a very long time, so when the media start asking difficult questions they want privacy! (Gerry McCann keeps writing his blog!!) Well done Peter, Richard Bilton, Jane Hill, Tim Wilcox and BBC NEWS 24 for giving us the facts. By the way this is a NEWS event and if you don't like it switch off and get your news from other channels, newspapers. (oh, sorry there all leading on the McCann story)

  • 67.
  • At 12:13 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

"I don’t think we have been biased in favour of them."

I disagree. On the BBC, there has been very little debate or criticism of them for leaving 3 young children alone in a hotel room. To not highlight that aspect of this sad case is clear bias in favour of the McCanns.

  • 68.
  • At 12:29 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

I found the majority of comments on the amount of time devoted to the coverage of this story extremely interesting but how sad that all those indignant comments are like water on a ducks back. The BBC has no interest in what comments are made as demonstrated by the editor responsible. It can do no wrong.
Those who alligned their comments with a remark about the TAX we must pay to own a TV receiver are especially niave given that they also appeared to think that the BBC should hold some higher ground. What do they base that assumption on? some pre 2nd world war value.
As someone else said 'get real'.
The BBC is in the entertainment business.Very few issues are not considered entertainment, but, Al Jazeera are away ahead of almost unbiased reporting on all issues. Some of their reportage is suprising given that we are told they are in legue with the devil. They do not receive a penny TAX contribution plus their reison de terre is not purely entertainment. They definately do not have anything that resembles 'eastenders'.

  • 69.
  • At 08:52 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • AlsoWatching wrote:

Surely you did not want to write "McCann's return" but "McCanns' return". Not just one McCann returned, all of them did.

If this is the level of BBC's English, what is the hope for the rest?

I am sure if I was growing up now, reading and listening to BBC English, my grasp of the language would be god-awful!

  • 70.
  • At 10:31 AM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Joao Rocha wrote:

The news coverage in the UK has been unmistakably partial to the McCanns. News of the parents as putative suspects in the case have appeared in the Portuguese press for as long as month. Incidentally most of the following reports in the local press have turn out to be right not only from the line of enquire that the police is following now but also from the few comments that the police has made recently. If the same kind of "rumours" would have surfaced and implied Robert Murat I can not see the same kind of measured report being followed. It took a Spanish and a German journalist to ask the obvious questions. I don't know whether the parents of Madeleine are guilt or not, sincerely I hope they are not, but it is irrelevant to the case whether the suspects turn out to be of kin or some stranger. The crime is a little girl disappeared on May 3rd and somebody must be guilty. It happens that the police has collected some facts that make them believe that the parents are be it. Let them prove it and do their job. The job of the media should be to inform and clarify us not to stirrer emotions. It can start by explaining us what means a DNA match of 10 or 15 doesn't mean a probability of 50% or 75% as reported widely in every newspaper.

  • 71.
  • At 01:10 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • kate wrote:

Why has my comment not been posted on this blog?

This isn't 'Have Your Say' - it's a blog. Post all the comments and stop censoring, BBC.

  • 72.
  • At 02:05 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • George wrote:

The BBC have given far to much coverage of this story placing it as breaking news on the level with worldwide and local political events.There has been in my view no need to have highly paid newsreaders giving us their views from the Algarve on what has sometimes become a celebrity show. I have taken to watching Deutsche Welle (the German BBC)as this provides a quick and concise snapshot of world events including what is happening in Europe (of which there is little in the BBC)and I was delighted to sit in Berlin a couple of weeks ago with no McCanns to disturb my day.When I did look at the BBC World Service News, there was an overemphasis on IndoPakistan events of 60 years ago. Not sure how much of worldwide audience that hoped to attract.

Till now media was trying to paint them innocent. Now they are trying to paint them guilty. When will media stop playing the game and for once show the picture in true colours ?

  • 74.
  • At 02:48 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • smith wrote:

I'm afraid that the BBC, no doubt for good reasons,compromised itself from the start. The editor of News 24 stated on his blog some five weeks ago that from the very beginning "we agreed to report the news only from the point of view of the parents."

It's on record.

  • 75.
  • At 03:02 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Rid Gray wrote:

On Sunday the McCanns came home

That was it

What did a helicopter shot add to our


Senstional, speculative rubbish

All day, wall to wall

A channel to miss!

  • 76.
  • At 03:06 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • L.W.Acres wrote:

Dear Mr Horrocks,
I is rather refreshing to hear some common sense from the BBC by way of a refreshing change. However, "Orpheus" is correct, if the parent had been a single Mum on Benefits, "Down the Pub" it would not have been treated the same. What the McCanns did is just as serious!

  • 77.
  • At 04:28 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • A Shaw wrote:

Why oh why are we paying a licence fee to throw good money after bad in supporting the BBC when quality in all types of programmes has plummeted and then we have to listen to the pathetic excuses put out by Peter Horrocks for their appalling non stop supporting coverage of the MacCans saga.
Would they have covered it the same had the subject been an ordinary single parent who had locked the Babies in a room and gone off down to the pub, I think "not".


Due to a sore foot (long story), I have been unable to fulfil an invitation to the News Watch studio to talk over the coverage last weekend of the McCann's trip home from Portugal.

In your piece above you defend the amount of airtime spent on a very boring journey by citing the research on the number of viewers following the story.

This is situation of a news company creating news, or, more precisely, the promise of news if we just keep filming.

There was a story and it was the McCanns decision to go home. However, there was no more to the story than that. It would have been fully and fairly covered by the news anchor reading, "The McCanns today flew home to their home in England. At East midlands air port Gerry McCann made this brief statement to the press ..." And you could have had that clip.

However, actually following every inch of the journey, wasting my licence money and valuable news time and resources was quite ridiculous.

In doing so no further or new information was provided, no important details of the story were revealed - you just repeated and repeated the same limited knowledge over growing minutes of two peoples rather insignificant trip.

Above you make a point about ratings, that the amount of interest in the story justifies the coverage.

News should NEVER be about ratings. The job of an editor should be to disseminate the information into an order of importance based on whether it is news worthy - not on whether it gets good ratings. That is how the tacky tabloids work. It should NOT be how a publicly funded, public service broadcaster should act. Often, it seems, that you gove something such a vast amount of coverage simply because all your competitors do.

As a general note about your audience figures, these are typical examples of the "cliff hanger" syndrome. It is what kept Dr Who alive for many years. It is the hope that although the news brought nothing new, the next bulletin might.

The Story is a good story, and it is a newsworthy story, I would agree with you there. And generally I think you have treated it fairly. However, airtime at the Beeb is enormously expensive, and I think you have to judge better the amount of airtime minutes you spend on any particular part of any story.

When it came to the trip home you blew it. And as a TV licence payer, I would love to see an audit on the actual cost of covering that one line story.

  • 79.
  • At 05:25 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Carl Ellis wrote:

I'm sorry, but Peter Horrocks must have been watching a different News24 to the one I've been watching.

It might not be as biased as Sky News or GMTV, but that certainly does not mean it has come out of this story smelling off roses. Reports still referred to the McCanns as Kate and Gerry after they had been declared arguido, a sharp contrast to Robert Murat, whose arguido status was "helpfully" reinforced by the BBC resorting to that old trick of slowing down footage to make someone look more sinister.

A prime example of the BBC's handling of this story occurred on Friday night.

Richard Bilton voiced a report showing Kate McCann returning for questioning early in the day. "We know now," he declared, "that Kate McCann had been offered a deal..."

Except that he didn't know this at all. All he had was a claim, which seemed to originate from Gerry McCann's sister Phil, that there had been a deal.

Apart from hardly being an impartial source, Phil McCann had already shown herself to be an unreliable one as well. During an appearance on the Richard & Judy Show she had unambiguously declared that one of the McCanns friends "had seen Madeleine being abducted" on the night of 3 May. This is either a deliberate distortion or a misunderstanding of Jane Tanner's alleged sighting of man that evening (a "sighting" which was initially not reported, then became a man carrying a bundle, then a man carrying a bundle which could have been a child, before finally becoming a man carrying a blonde child with pink pyjamas - although Madeleine's pyjama bottoms were white).

At the very least, Bilton's report should have stated this was a *claim* by the McCanns, not a fact. Whether or not such such a "deal" is even possible under Portuguese law should have been checked, and the report amended (I understand that it is not).

At 7pm on Sunday, News24's ticker was still reporting the alleged deal, although now at least it was in quotes. However, in that day's Observer, the McCanns' own lawyer stated that claims of a deal were a misunderstanding, i.e. there was none. The Observer would have been available before midnight on Saturday, but the BBC continued to report inaccurate and biased information for at least 19 hours after the lawyer's statement has first been published. Bias or sheer incompetence?

  • 80.
  • At 11:53 PM on 12 Sep 2007,
  • Robert McFadden wrote:

I have read many previous comments and have my own thoughts on possibilities on Madelleines dissappearance. I find it difficult to believe the questions of license fees against the quality of BBC programmes. I watch BBC News every morning because no other channel comes close to reality.
This particular story is a world beater, irrespective of the outcome.
The question was the coverage of the McCann's story.
I think the BBC is the only media outlet that has relayed truth.
Stick to facts.
There seems to be concern over usage of a helicopter. Welcome to the real world. In reality, we could also watch it from a satelite. Oops, too much information. Sorry 1945 British people. Catch up please.
I think the Portuguese police have been portrayed as incompetent.
I think, at present, the McCanns are being portrayed as having played a part in Madelleines dissappearance, however, NOT by the BBC.
I reserve my own thoughts about all concerned.

  • 81.
  • At 07:43 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Victoria wrote:

This story led me to write to the BBC news service for the first time ever - when I was watching a blow-by-blow coverage of Sunday of the McCanns' returning to the UK.

It was ghoulish and sickening and there isn't an excuse for the levels of news coverage when the story could have been covered in a two minute update if there had been any further progress in the story.

It isn't the type of thing I had hoped the BBC would buy into to be honest.

  • 82.
  • At 10:44 AM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Ian H wrote:

70-odd comments and rising. The vast majority are critical of the BBC's approach to the events and one would hope Mr Horrocks would take stock and learn but surgeons, doctors and media executives share a belief in their own infallibility that is often essential when making quick important decisions but can so often turn to hubris.

  • 83.
  • At 02:34 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Alastair Reynolds wrote:

I wrote a specific complaint to the BBC, and their only response was to direct me to this blog. This is disappointing.

Here are the specifics of my complaint:

"During the report on the return of the McCanns to the UK, the static ticker at the bottom of the screen (not the scrolling one) is still stating that the Portuguese police offered Kate McCann a deal in return for a confession. Your only source for this is Philomena McCann, sister of one of the formal suspects in Madeleine's disapearance, and arguably neither independent nor reliable.

Coverage over the last two days has given far too much weight to *opinions* and *hearsay* sourced from the McCann family.

A small amount of research would have revealed two facts: Firstly, the McCanns' Portuguese lawyer, Carlos Pinto de Abreu, said that the newspaper reports of a deal being offered were due to a 'misunderstanding' that had arisen during questioning. Secondly, police have no control over sentencing in Portugal, and plea-bargaining is not possible under the Portuguese legal system.

You have reported neither of these facts.

Repeating opinion and hearsay as fact is symptomatic of the worse kind of journalism. I don't doubt that you have plenty of proper investigative journalists on your staff - please let them do their job *and* report the results."

I hope someone from the News 24 team might be able to tell me why this hearsay was reported as fact.

  • 84.
  • At 04:08 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • K Gray wrote:

I complained about the coverage of this 'news' item and received a reply linking to this site. Typically no attempt to answer my original complaint about the complete waste of airtime, money and resources. It appears we no longer have news programmes, just purile and banal 'entertainment'.
This blog represents the new face of the BBC and gives me no hope whatsoever that good quality, impartial broadcasting will ever return to this channel. It's tabloid television and it's in need of one of its own dreadful makeover programmes.

  • 85.
  • At 04:08 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Kate wrote:

I note that a load of comments (including mine) complaining about having to pay a licence fee for this kind of rubbish have suddenly appeared, about two days after they were posted. Selective editing in action! Clearly the BBC needs to learn more about what a blog means.

  • 86.
  • At 04:40 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Dave W wrote:

I don't think I can say anything new beyond what has already been posted in this thread, but I would like to echo the sentiments about the coverage which are reflected in the above comments. I too thought the coverage was unnecessary given the request for privacy from the family, the restrictions the family are under from the Portuguese authorities in relation to what they can say about the case and the lack of newsworthy coverage that surely could have been predicted taking these points into consideration. The level of interest implied in the viewing figures and web site hits does not validate insensitive coverage or profligate use of BBC resources. The level of interest is such because of the nature of the story and the empathy of parents around the country. Of course there are elements who undoubtedly have a prurient interest in the gossip and speculation surrounding the case. My fear is that following the family around by helicopter fosters this sort of curiosity without actually relaying any useful information.

  • 87.
  • At 05:25 PM on 13 Sep 2007,
  • Ken Morrison wrote:

on his two most recent reports from the Algarve your reporter, Richard Bilton, has stated that he is outside the Crown Court.
Isn't Portugal a Republic?

  • 88.
  • At 12:53 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Michael Phillips wrote:

Well Peter,

Your not doing a very good job of it.

I think 90% of the BBC reports on this case have been entirely speculative, as has been the same from most other news outlets.

I think the BBC and most other news media have behaved Despicably in the manner they have reported the McCann story. You have nurtured a host of unverified speculations and half truths that has fuelled outrageous animosity towards the parents of Madeline McCann from some quarters.
And I believe you have done this deliberately purely for headlines and commercial reasons.

Even the forensic evidence has not been officially revealed, yet the BBC and the rest still report the rumours knowing full well that rumours repeated enough soon become facts in some peoples minds.

The only real fact we yet know, is the little girl is still missing.

  • 89.
  • At 11:19 AM on 14 Sep 2007,
  • Darren Stephens wrote:

"So you have to weigh a very strongly held view that coverage should be reduced against the fact that the consumption of coverage is extraordinarily high."

Yes, but in this case supply leads demand. In the immortal words of Paul Weller, "The public wants what the public gets". If you want to watch or listen to news you have (almost) no option but to wade through the mass of (mostly irrelevant) coverage of the whole issue. There is little or nothing new to say but the pressure to fill air time forces you into all of this padding.

For that reason I am starting to avoid the news entirely, or at least the first few minutes when I know I can avoid the worst excesses.

  • 90.
  • At 05:15 AM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • Linda wrote:

Less McCann big brother style reporting and more reporting on "real issues" like our soldiers being killed in Afghanistan. Oh sorry I forgot, the two soldiers who lost their lives on Saturday did get a 5 second mention on the Sunday morning news at 6.30 a.m. - the next 29 minutes to 7 a.m. was the live exciting important news coverage of waiting for the McCanns to put their luggage into the car!!!

  • 91.
  • At 05:45 PM on 15 Sep 2007,
  • David M wrote:

I see the BBC is at it again;

Today one of the most important pieces of news in the world is that the McCann parents are planning to put out more ads about their missing daughter.

They haven't done it yet, mind. They're planning to. Not that them doing so would even constitute news, but you can see where I'm going with this. Why is this deemed to be newsworthy? What is the decision-making process here? Is this a major development?

Why do you have to rope in more and more friends and family of the couple? Do they have some specially insightful thoughts on the matter? Or are they all going to continue to defend the McCanns? Which is there right, of course, but the BBC is surely not set out to be the platform where the sides toss allegations at each other?

Especially since the Portuguese authorities are legally incapable of saying much. It seems to me that the sole reason for the prominence is the perceived popularity of this saga.

Which, I suppose, would be fine if the BBC were a commercial, profit-driven, organisation where the bottom line is viewer figures. But it seems to me that the BBC should be about more than just that; in such instances one should ask the question: Is this news?

To my mind the answer here is clearly "no"; Whilst I would love for the poor girl to turn up safe and sound, until a development of similar importance happens I see no reason for the BBC to continuously report on this situation. Let alo9ne having however many on-scene reporters to look at us from a sunny land and effectively say

"Well John/Peter/etc, actually we have nothing to report because of X"

"What I can tell you, based on speculation, guesswork, insinuation and general rumour is that the McCann friends and family are firmly behind them, and the Portuguese authorities aren't saying anything"


Stop this madness, please.

  • 92.
  • At 10:38 AM on 18 Sep 2007,
  • John Cox wrote:

It is a very, very odd experience to view the UK medias unquestioning support for the McCanns. Today (18 September 2007) Clarance Mitchell presented a statement on their behalf which included the statement that they were 'innocent victims' and had answers to all the things that the PJ have found. Actually this is a twisting of the truth - the innocent victim is Madeleine herself, they may be victims we don't know but they are not innocent because they left their child at risk to this crime. Also they have refused to answer the questions put to them by the PJ using the protection that their 'arguido' status gives them. So why have they fled Portugal and refused to help the police with their investigation? It is puzzling why their priorities are around media and spin rather than sorting out the answers to the forensic evidence.

Why doesn't the BBC ask these questions?

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