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BBC prepares guidelines in effort to curb fear of crime

NEW guidelines warning against sensationalised and gruesome crime reporting are to be issued to BBC staff in an attempt to reduce what the corporation sees as an exaggerated public fear of violent crime.

The internal guidelines, which will cover national and regional news and current affairs programmes, will urge editors to avoid giving gory details about violent crimes and to steer clear of using close-ups of blood.

Programme makers will be told to weigh more carefully the amount of coverage they give to crime and warned against 'creating' trends, as when the media focused on pit-bull terrier attacks in the wake of one incident.

The guidelines to be issued later this month will also clamp down on the use of library pictures of previous crimes to illustrate a current story, speculative reporting, and the running of unnecessary news items on crime stories such as the 'House of Horror' investigation in Gloucester.

Announcing the details yesterday at a BBC governors' conference on crime coverage, Richard Ayre, controller of editorial policy, warned: 'Crime is ugly, painful and vicious. Our reporting of it should never hide that fact.'

He said the guidelines would also include stringent new rules governing programmes such as Crimewatch UK in which real-life crimes were re-enacted. It attracts 11.5 million viewers.

'These will avoid using music, sound effects and slow motion to add drama. The camera will observe events rather than using the victim's point of view. Shots showing the knife going in are not necessary,' Mr Ayre said.

The clampdown comes less than three months after Michael Grade, chief executive of Channel 4, called for programmes which reconstructed real-life crime to be taken off the air until it was established whether they fuelled fear of violence in viewers.

He singled out Michael Winner's True Crimes programme made by LWT for ITV for particular criticism, saying it used 'real crime purely for entertainment and no other purpose'.

But yesterday Mark Thompson, the BBC's head of factual programmes, defended the BBC version of the genre. He said that since it began in 1984 Crimewatch UK had solved 250 crimes and had led to the arrests of several murderers, including that of Michael Sams who was convicted last July of killing Julie Dart and kidnapping the estate agent Stephanie Slater.

'Our research shows that 92 per cent of our audience believes Crimewatch is important and only 3 per cent thinks it exploits its victims for the sake of entertainment,' he told the conference.

A second wave of industrial action planned by BBC journalists and technicians was called off yesterday after 12 hours' peace talks at the conciliation service Acas aimed at settling a pay and hours dispute. Leaders of the National Union of Journalists and the broadcasting union Bectu are due to continue the meeting with BBC managers today.

The unions object to management plans to introduce performance-related pay and other changes to working practices. Journalists and technical staff have already staged a 24-hour strike and have drawn up plans for further walkouts unless the dispute is settled.