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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 15:16 GMT 16:16 UK
BBC 'too cautious' over riots
Newspaper coverage
Reporting on violence such as last weekend's rioting in Birmingham can be difficult for news organisations.

By Sunday morning it was clear that one man had died - another was killed later that day - and there was a trail of damage in the Lozells area of the city.

But many people felt the BBC was omitting a key fact from its coverage - that the clashes had been between black and Asian youths.

"The Times and other newspapers revealed the obvious racial element that the BBC could only bring itself to hint at on the TV news," wrote Martyn Beardsley.

Confused

It wasn't just TV news. "I have not got the foggiest idea what's gone on," said Barry Bernstein of the online reporting.

TV report
Did phrases such as "sustained disorder" confuse viewers?
And Colin Meade complained: "I keep on reading your articles on Birmingham and coming away confused. Who called the church meeting and why? Who were this group of 100 people who started the riot?"

A story on the Newsround website avoided reporting the race of any of the people involved.

John Price wrote: "Imagine telling the story of the LA riots of a few years ago without mentioning the racial aspect of the story."

No edicts

Marek Pruszewicz was editing the TV news during the trouble. He denied there was a BBC policy to withhold information which newspapers were reporting on Sunday morning.

"There is no culture of political correctness, there are no edicts given. I was in charge of TV news at the weekend and I didn't lay down any edict, quite the opposite, in fact," he explained.

"I was very keen for us to report this as accurately and factually and relevantly as we could.

"This was an incredibly complicated and incredibly sensitive story to cover. What apparently triggered these disturbances was a story about an event that we still don't know actually happened and also it's a story about race, which is something the BBC - I think quite rightly - treats quite sensitively."

Full picture

But he conceded that in seeking to be both accurate and cautious, the BBC hadn't always given viewers the full picture.

"I think our reporting later in the day on Sunday was absolutely fine, it was pretty clear. Do I think it was clear as it could have been earlier in the day? No, I don't think it was," said Mr Pruszewicz.

Marek Pruszewicz
You can find yourself in a position where the viewer thinks: 'Are they holding something back?'
Marek Pruszewicz
Editor, TV News
"There are times when you can tell the viewer things you don't know as well as things you do know - things you don't know for sure but you believe may be an element of something behind the story.

"If you don't do that you can find yourself losing trust from the viewer. You can find yourself in a position where the viewer thinks: "Are they holding something back?"

"But one of the things we are very keen not to be accused of is inflaming things.

"Journalists at the BBC want to report fact, they want to be accurate. They don't want to be in a position where they report every rumour that springs from the rumour mill."

Gary Duffy, the UK editor of the BBC news website, agreed that some of the initial online coverage could have been clearer.

"We should handle issues of racial tension with great care, but we shouldn't avoid or downplay it when it clearly does have a bearing on a story we are covering," he said.

"Obviously we need to exercise sensitivity, but it is also right and proper that we should carefully report the full facts.

"As the situation developed, we provided plenty of reports that explained the trouble in its full context."


SEE ALSO
Third man held over riot stabbing
28 Oct 05 |  West Midlands
Riot residents 'remain positive'
27 Oct 05 |  West Midlands

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