An open letter to the BBC

Dear BBC

Like many people on Saturday night I was just thinking about taking the dog for a walk before going to bed when a news alert popped up on my phone that there was an “incident” developing at London Bridge.   We all know that “incident” is not a word used lightly these days and that this was clearly a developing story.   Knowing that friends were in the area I opened up iPlayer so I could watch the news on TV.  Desperate to know what is happening when these events start unfolding yours is the news channel I opt for.   I tend to steer clear of Sky channels for fear of stumbling across Kay Burley, the last person I want to see during these events.

As expected, within minutes of the attacks you had live feeds of the area, had spoken to witnesses and had a reporter on the ground bringing us updates.

Unfortunately what you also brought us was more panic and fear, and I think this is something you seriously need to look into when reporting on these types of events.  Many of us tuning in those initial minutes are doing so because we may know people in the area.  Our friends may live or work there.  Or we may have seen friends on social media sharing updates of their afternoon and that they were in the area having dinner.   We need to know they are all safe.   Whilst we also want to know what is happening.

What we don’t want to see is scaremongering.    We want facts and in the absence of facts we want to just see events unfolding.  Last night  you gave us more than that, and quite frankly this needs to change.  Immediately.

At one point we saw a reporter relaying eye witness accounts.   We heard first hand from people on the phone that there were stabbings and shots fired and from those in the midst of the attack that is fine.   What we really can’t have is your reporter telling us that “there may have been gas canisters strapped” to the torso of one of the attackers.   Yes, you put caveats at the beginning and said it was uncorroborated and only one person’s account and yes they may have been traumatised and not really  know what they were saying, we get that you are saying that but…. really, should you have said ANY of it?  We don’t need to know at that stage, whilst the police are still trying to determine what is happening that there may be a suicide bomber about to do more harm.     Those of us watching helplessly at home don’t need to then be wondering if this is true and fearing for our loved ones even more.

That piece of news added nothing to the developing story.

Other than instilling fear in to us all.

What might have been useful is you assuring people unfamiliar with London that London Bridge and Borough Market are pretty much the same place.  You didn’t say that at all during the two hours I watched.   You didn’t reassure people that this was not happening miles apart, in different parts of London, but in the same place.

The other point last night that is utterly unforgivable is your showing of mobile phone footage that you hadn’t been previously vetted.   You allowed that to be broadcast with no idea what could be heard in the background.  We were told it was footage of the police telling people in a pub to get down, to get under tables, to hide.   Clearly the police were doing what they are trained to do and trying to protect the public.    What we didn’t need to hear was somebody in the background shouting (and I apologise profusely for the next three words) “fucking muslim cunts”.

Do we?

How on earth was that footage transmitted?  How did an editor let that come into the news room and have it aired with no editing?

Why was it transmitted?  It isn’t the c word that appalls me the most, it is the fact that muslims watching the news have to listen to that.  I have no idea how hard it must be to be muslim and living in this country at the moment.   Feeling that you are being blamed for every one of these events, personally.  Seeing that the Leader of the Free World, Trump, has waded in on Twitter and once again voiced his opinion on immigration and muslims in the midst of this developing event.

It is shameful.

I wrote recently how I am a huge fan of social media and of our ability to watch rolling, developing news but after last night I am now questioning that and wondering if we need to examine the whole concept of instant and constant news.      To examine how these events are reported.   It must be very hard to be standing in front of a camera knowing that the audience are looking to you for updates, for facts.   But I really do think you should stick to the facts, and in the absence of those, maybe just pull away and pause for breath.    Don’t just fill the silence with conjecture and rumour.

That does nobody any favours

Least of all you.

Image of BBC courtesy of Shutterstock

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  • Well said!
    Reporting of facts is one thing of which we must all approve.
    Speculation should play no part.
    Words of eye witnesses should be used with great care as they will, in all probability, be in deep shock.

  • Very well said!!
    I had no idea that London Bridge and Borough Market were near enough the same place. That was not made clear at all. When they said there could have been an incident in Vauxhall too I thought it was 3 different places…
    Ahh! It wasn’t just the BBC, Sky news was just as bad….I heard the C word several times over the couple of hours that I watched. Being replayed over and over again….

  • Personally I really think the rolling news culture, and all that entails, is incredibly unhealthy in itself, but I also think it encourages news outlets to go for shock value over fact. It’s more like a drama than a news show now. Mainstream media appear to no longer care about the facts, let alone what is sensible to broadcast. The focus is on getting views/hits, when it should be on informing the public.
    As news unfolded in London I refused to read or watch any news sources, instead I refreshed the Met Police’s Twitter feed every few minutes.
    The media have a lot to answer for imo, they fear monger, and that is the last thing that anyone needs.