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Last Updated: Friday, 17 December, 2004, 10:45 GMT
Should sport ever lead the news?
By Kevin Bakhurst and Jon Zilkha
Editors of Ten O'Clock News and Five Live's Drive

Sport is not news. So claim many disgruntled BBC News users when David Beckham or Sven Goran Eriksson make it into the main bulletins. It's an issue that vexes the minds of editors across the BBC's platforms.

Greg Rusedski
He may not lead the tennis world but Rusedski has led BBC bulletins

Kevin Bakhurst writes: The way we cover sport - and in particular where it runs in the programme - has long exercised us on the Ten O'Clock News.

The programme has a serious agenda and a remit to cover the most important and interesting stories in the UK and - in particular - across the world. So does sport fit into this?

My starting point is that sport is an important and integral part of British national life and the fabric that binds our country together.

In many ways, it is like the arts, architecture and our retail habits. It is a major part of many people's lives and a main theme of conversation.

I don't share Bill Shankly's view that it is a matter of life and death. It patently isn't.

However, I do think that the BBC's main evening news programme should reflect those things that contribute to the life and times of the nation as a whole somewhere in our output.

Perhaps even more taxing for the programme editors is the question of the prominence we give to sports items.

Many people feel alienated and ask if a sports story really can be the most important story in the world.
Kevin Bakhurst

I think I can safely say that we get the most complaints on the log of viewers' calls when we elevate sports stories to the top of the bulletin.

Recent examples would include the England footballers' threat to strike over Rio Ferdinand's suspension and the drugs test on Greg Rusedski.

In both these cases, we decided to lead on the stories because they involved prominent public figures and important issues - in both these cases over drugs and sport.

The stories were also judged against the other stories on the day. I'm not sure there is a right answer in the end.

All I do know is that giving such sports stories such prominence is divisive: many people are very interested; many feel alienated and ask if a sports story really can be the most important story in the world that day.

David Beckham
Becks is staple tabloid fare but should he be on BBC bulletins?

Jon Zilkha writes: On a live news and sport network, it would be bordering on bizarre if sports stories found no place on news programmes and debates.

But the standards sports items must meet are no different from those applied to mainstream news stories: Does the story matter? Is it interesting? Does it tell us anything we didn't know already?

Stories like the threatened England players' strike, the will-they won't-they merry-go-round over the cricket tour to Zimbabwe, the challenge to athletics and other sports from drugs like THG - all had an impact far beyond the field of play and implications for the future of the sports themselves.

More problematic is the less overtly political sports story, such as anything relating to a sportsman's behaviour, or something they have said.

Does it matter if David Beckham deliberately got himself booked to get a suspension out of the way?

Is a remark by an English Ryder Cup player based in the US that he hates Americans a news story?

Do flying bits of pizza and showers of pea soup have anything to do with a news agenda?

Whatever the differing views on that, you can be sure many editors will find a hole for them somewhere. Who didn't want to know which Arsenal player had soiled Sir Alex's suit?

When Paula Radcliffe pulled out of the Olympic marathon, the nation divided into Paula-backers and Paula-baiters.
Jon Zilkha

This is where sport might cease to be hard news but is at the heart of the nation's conversation.

Some might say it is trivial and not worthy of airtime on a public service broadcaster.

Far more will expect us to get behind the headlines where we can, and give them a chance to take part in a debate.

As news broke of the threatened England players' strike last autumn, we were inundated with texts and emails. It seemed everyone had a view.

When Paula Radcliffe pulled out of the Olympic marathon, the nation divided into Paula-backers and Paula-baiters.

Hardly anyone said stop talking about it. Our job was to give them the chance.


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