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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 July, 2005, 15:28 GMT 16:28 UK
Bomb spree 'tests BBC journalism'
More than 30 million people tuned into BBC television's news coverage of the London bombings last Thursday.

Head of TV News Roger Mosey addresses some of the many sensitive issues raised by BBC audiences after the dramatic event.

The horror of what happened in London last week will not fade from our memories.

For those of us who live and work in this great city, terrorism has been both a reality and a threat over the years; but nothing prepares us for the shock of an event like last Thursday's attacks. We grieve for those who lost their lives.

Roger Mosey
If I may leave our customary impartiality aside for a moment, the comments made on Fox News are beneath contempt
Roger Mosey

In these times of tragedy, broadcasters have the natural human responses - but also the need to keep our audiences informed.

Journalism is a vital part of our national response to terrorism: reporting honestly and accurately what has happened, and equipping people with the knowledge to understand the world in which we're living.

I believe the BBC did that last week and we will continue to do it. Nothing tests our public service mission more than our reaction in times of emergency.

In all, more than 30 million people watched BBC News last Thursday - more than the other news broadcasters in the UK put together.

With audiences of that size and with stories of this scale, many issues arise about our coverage. I want to address the main ones.


First, our scheduling and the question of whether there was too much about the London bombings on terrestrial television.

Grab from News 24
Live coverage of the London blasts was on BBC One for nine hours

News 24 was carrying rolling coverage from the start of the incidents, and we first did a News Report on BBC One just before 10am.

At that stage, all broadcasters were reporting that the cause of the Tube disruption was believed to be a power surge - but as soon as we'd confirmed the reports of the bus explosion in Tavistock Square we moved News 24 onto BBC One and our coverage continued until 7pm.

We have two sources for believing this was right. Audiences were more than double the normal level; but we've also asked a representative cross-section of viewers whether they thought the coverage was proportionate and by a large majority thought it was.

In the evening schedule we made a commitment that we would bring our audiences news on the hour every hour on BBC One.

I'm particularly pleased that we commissioned a special current affairs programme at 8pm from the Newsnight team, which allowed us to give more of the background and context to the day's events.

It included interviews with Home Secretary Charles Clarke and with former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and a film by our specialist correspondent John Ware on the nature of the terrorist threat.

Again, we know this was appreciated by the audience as well as being journalistically the right thing to do.

Flow of information

Second, people have asked about the flow of information - and in particular whether the BBC was more cautious than other news sources.

Grab from News 24
The BBC had to ensure its news was accurate, says Mosey

Let's be clear that the BBC does not withhold known facts. We always want to be first with confirmed news, and it is non-negotiable in our journalism that we supply information as soon as we have it.

However, we will not report mere rumour and nor will we run casualty figures, as the most obvious example, without being able to verify them.

At times last Thursday, we were seeing other news sources running figures well above any official estimates, and in some cases those reports exceed the known death toll now.

That isn't the way the BBC operates, so on very rare occasions our information will be "later" than some of our rivals: accuracy is more important than speed, though we want to achieve both.

This approach has been praised by commentators here and in the United States - where the Los Angeles Times and the Baltimore Sun are among the newspapers approving of the BBC's restraint.

Images and time delay

Third, how do we decide what images to show - and do we impose a time delay?

Paul Dadge helps an injured woman
The BBC had to make instant decisions about what images to show

We have to show the reality of these shocking events, though it's also a requirement that we preserve human dignity and do not add to the distress of relatives.

Overwhelmingly, I believe we achieved this - though early in the coverage under the pressure of the breaking news there was a brief sequence shown on News 24 that should have been edited out.

We have said that we will delay live feeds by a few seconds only in exceptional circumstances, and that remains one of the options for our output teams.

But it wasn't invoked on Thursday because, for the most part, our reporting was after the event.

The greatest need for a delay is when we're with a live and unpredictable event - for instance the Beslan siege - and where we don't want to have close-up images of death and destruction unfolding on the nation's television screens without there being an editorial judgement first.


Then there has been a controversy about our use of language - particularly the question of whether the BBC banned the word "terrorist".

There is no ban. It's true the word is contentious in some contexts on our international services, hence the recommendation that it be employed with care.

But we have used and will continue to use the words terror, terrorism and terrorist when they're accurate - as we did in all our flagship bulletins from Thursday.

No bias

Finally, we are never immune from accusations of bias.

It goes without saying that there is nothing more sensitive than matters of life and death, and the BBC's audience response has been massively supportive and understanding about the dilemmas we face in reporting terror.

There have been two main exceptions.

From a smattering of radical websites comes the argument that we are being hypocritical in mourning the dead of London when we allegedly gloried in civilian deaths in Iraq.

Grab from Fox News website
This Fox News website article was 'beneath contempt', says Mosey

This utterly misrepresents the BBC's reporting of Iraq, where we have always sought to portray the whole picture of events in that country.

The second exception is principally Fox News in the United States.

A contributor to Fox said after the London bombings that "the BBC almost operates as a foreign registered agent of Hezbollah and some of the other jihadist groups".

On the Fox website, there was an opinion piece "How Jane Fonda and the BBC put you in danger".

I am writing this in a building which was bombed by Irish terrorists. My colleagues and I are living in a city recovering from the wounds inflicted last week.

If I may leave our customary impartiality aside for a moment, the comments made on Fox News are beneath contempt.

Trouble with the T-word?
13 Jul 05 |  Notes

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