It’s All A Conspiracy!

Over the weekend I decided to take a break from the news. Yes, I largely ignored bulletins for the whole of Saturday because, quite frankly, I was knackered – and getting a bit bored with the post election fallout and the jolly yet sombre recollections of VE Day.

So I initially missed the story which many social meeja warriors said had been ignored by – of all organisations – the one I work for. Except the conspiracists had got one fact wrong. It wasn’t true.

The story in question was of the anti austerity protest which resulted in clashes with police and some rather disgusting graffiti on the Women’s War Memorial. On Saturday night Twitter was awash with complaints that the main BBC News had failed to cover the story. According to the Metropolitan Police the protest began at 1600 and ended at 2100. In fact, the late news on BBC one did cover the story, four minutes into the bulletin. It was sandwiched between the main election coverage and the VE commemorations.

Yet if you were to believe the many comments online, the BBC had variously “ignored the story” or even “been ordered not to run the story by the police/Government/Tory scum”. This coming after weeks of sustained attacks from all sides claiming bias in the BBC’s election coverage. The story has received further coverage on today’s news output.

Having disproved the initial complaint, the next attack came from the pro-protest lobby : that the BBC had deliberately ignored any coverage while the protest was taking place, despite foreign news outlets carrying pictures. 

Let me make one thing clear : I wasn’t working yesterday and didn’t witness the chain of editorial events in question. But what I do know, from previous experience, is that protests are very rarely carried live – for the simple (and sensible) reason that if things turn nasty, broadcasters don’t want to inflame the situation by encouraging more idiots to join the minority of idiots who’re causing the trouble. 

Of course, the rise of social media means that such events are now brought to the public’s attention far more quickly and directly than even before. But does this mean that responsible journalists should rush to republish images or stories that haven’t been properly verified? A dramatic image may portray one narrative, but we have no way of knowing if that image has been altered in any way. In favour of either side.

Then the third moan : that the BBC had deliberately only covered the protest once it had turned nasty. The suggestion being that the anti austerity narrative didn’t fit in with the news of the day. Again, I didn’t witness the editorial process here – but the fact is that weekend news coverage is always about balancing scant resources. Significant parts of the Newsgathering operation would have been dealing with the VE Day events, for example.

Fact is, newsrooms get hundreds of calls and emails each day asking us to cover one event or the other. I wonder how much advance notice was received about this protest or – as is often the case – if the organisers provided a point of contact to verify the details? You’d be surprised how many anonymous communications we get. Guess what – we don’t act on each one. 

I don’t doubt that the majority of folk who turned out yesterday did so with the best of intentions – to make some post election noise and hopefully get “on the news”. Bus sadly, not every media outlet jumps just because you think it should. And you really shouldn’t be surprised if interest grows when things turn a bit grim That’s just how it works.

Does it need to change given modern technology? Maybe. Though as any BBC basher will happily tell you, “I don’t get the news from the telly” – angrily waving their smart device on one hand and their TV Licence in the other. But before you get too angry, try to remember this : there’s no conspiracy.

Which will probably make you angry.

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