Television reports must have a motive

Editors, programme makers and journalists have been under scrutiny about coverage of crime. Do we do too much? Do we add to people's fears? Do we glorify criminals?

We conducted research into early evening television news programmes and asked viewers to rank their interest in various topics. Health was number one - 84 per cent were very or fairly interested in items on the subject. Crime, including law and order, came second with 82 per cent, closely followed by the environment, weather and medicine. Politics and sport came bottom of the list. Now I'm not saying polls should dictate, or even suggest, the running orders of our bulletins, but we have to reflect public interest.

We have to weigh that interest against the knowledge that the reporting of crime may make people feel insecure. So how do we reconcile these apparently contradictory needs?

The BBC has a clear responsibility. We can never use crime as a way of winning a ratings battle. We believe we are there to inform - not to exploit misfortune needlessly. We must cover crime, but we must have clear reasons for doing so.

The limited length of our bulletins means we have to be selective. Some crimes are so horrendous, so extraordinary that we must report them. The discovery of the Gloucester bodies is a case in point. Some crimes have a wider resonance.

Let me give an example of the choices that are made. One day in March there were a number of possible items about crime for that night's news. The first concerned three youths convicted of murdering Les Reed, kicked to death when he tried to stop them vandalising of traffic bollards in Cardiff. The second was a Readers' Digest survey about fear of crime, showing that burglary caused most concern. Third, was the case of the lovers in the so-called lawn- mower murder trial being set free.

What went into the Nine O'Clock News? The Les Reed case was significant, as it raised the issue of when or how people should intervene if they see criminal acts. The survey into the causes of fear of crime was also reported because it threw light on people's perceptions of crime. The lawn- mower case, given prominence elsewhere on television and in the press, did not raise a significant issue and was not reported.

It is right that we are tough on ourselves, not just on what we cover but also on how we cover crime. We should think carefully about the prominence we give crime in news bulletins. We should be sensitive to the audience, who might not want details of a particular horrific attack, especially if children could be watching or listening. We should be careful in our language, not using unnecessary adjectives, hype or cliches. Above all, we should not be making crime appear glamorous. Slow-motion techniques and the use of music in news coverage are unacceptable.

By promoting an informed debate on the causes and consequences of crime, the media can begin to lessen the fear that restricts the quality of life for so many people. That is why I believe the time has come for journalists to re-examine why and how they cover crime. And that is why we are holding an internal review of our coverage to ensure we fully and fairly report the wider national debate.

Tony Hall is managing director, News and Current Affairs, at the BBC. This article follows a Guild of British Editors seminar on Law, Order and Rumour.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas