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.

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Web Analytics Manager / Optimisation Manager

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Analytics Manager / Optimisation Manager ...

Graduate Sales Executive

Up to £24k + Commission: Sphere Digital Recruitment: Premium Ad Verification C...

Agency Sales /Senior Sales Manager

£40,000 - £65,000 + commission : Sphere Digital Recruitment: Great opportunity...

Marketing Manager

£26 - 32k: Guru Careers: A Marketing Manager is needed to join a unique and ex...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style