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Last Updated: Friday, 17 February 2006, 14:16 GMT
'We're getting reports...'
Breaking news is the lifeblood of channels such as News 24, but is there a point at which a story is too vague to broadcast?

Coach crash near Cologne
The crash in Germany left three British people dead
A number of viewers were concerned about a report on Breakfast of a British coach crashing in Germany.

Barely any details were available apart from the fact that a coach, believed to be from Britain, had crashed near Cologne.

Then a couple of minutes later, the presenters revealed that at least one person had died.

Steph Meadows wrote: "My son is a teacher taking children to Austria skiing and they're going through Germany at the moment. How many families have been worried sick this morning before you reported what area the coach is from?"

Worthwhile

And John Neeve said: "Can anyone explain the point of 'news' like that. It's the sort of thing you hear at work or at the pub - basically just rumours.

"If you don't have anything worthwhile to tell, keep it quiet until you have some facts."

None of the reports was inaccurate - the crash, involving two coaches, was to claim three British lives. But some people felt it caused unnecessary worry.

Simon Waldman, morning editor at News 24, told NewsWatch: ""I've got huge sympathy with those viewers. I've got children myself and when they go off on school trips I worry about them all the time."

He said if there wasn't enough information to make any sense of a story, then it would not be broadcast.

Narrowed down

"In this case, the very first piece of news we broadcast said that we didn't know the nationalities of the casualties but that a team from the British Consulate was on its way.

"In one respect that is going to tell viewers we think there are British people involved but we weren't sure at the time. However it was an important piece of breaking news.

Simon Waldman
Simon Waldman: "An important piece of breaking news"
"But the very first mention here narrowed down the area of concern, if you like, to Cologne.

"I can quite understand if we'd used the words 'coach crash, Germany, schoolchildren, British', thousands of people are going to be terrified. Our job is to narrow down the area of concern as soon as we can.

"Cologne is still a big place, I accept that. But this was a major breaking story and in today's world, with so many outlets offering people news, we have to broadcast.

"As soon as the story broke on the wires, the production team were on the phones, talking to the foreign office, talking to the consulate, talking to the emergency services in Germany," explained Mr Waldman.

"One of the journalists, when we first saw the pictures as they came in, saw the name on the side of the coach and did an internet search and found it originated from the Norfolk area.

Plane in flames

"We decided not to put that fact on the air immediately, because it could have been wrong, but it allowed us to start making calls in that direction."

Sometimes news channels can put live pictures on air with very little information to explain what is actually happening. An example was the plane that burst into flames at Toronto airport last year, captured live by a roadside security camera.

Toronto plane crash
The Toronto plane fire captured by a security camera
All 300 people on board escaped alive, but did broadcasters know that as they showed live pictures?

"We had seen a plane make an emergency landing, we had seen the emergency chutes open," said Mr Waldman.

"But there was a huge danger involved in that because I think we were on the pictures live when flames suddenly shot out. In terms of taste, if the people hadn't have got off, I think you'd have found we'd have moved off those pictures pretty quickly.

Magnetism

"But there is a magnetism about live pictures, particularly when you are hopeful that it's a lucky escape, a good news story.

"Another example was a light aircraft with serious undercarriage problems coming in to land at a small American airport. Flicking about, I noticed that every other news channel bar the BBC was carrying this live.

"We took the decision not to carry it live because there was every possibility we could expect immediate casualties."

Mr Waldman said he thought the BBC did show greater restraint than some of its rivals, but added: "We've seen in the past that if we hold back too long the audience will go and find what they can elsewhere."




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