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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 January, 2005, 12:34 GMT
BBC defends Tsunami coverage
By Roger Mosey
Head of TV News

Press criticism that the BBC was slow to respond to the Tsunami disaster is just plain wrong - and the ratings prove it - according to its TV news chief.

Jon Sopel reports live from Sri Lanka
Viewing figures for News 24 show Sky and ITN were not miles ahead

There has been a small outbreak of criticism of the BBC's coverage of the tsunami disaster.

This has come from our commercial rivals, and not from viewers - who have overwhelmingly praised the sensitivity and range of the BBC reporting.

So this is a time when facts and opinion clash.

At the same moment as a critical piece appeared on a media website and another in a London newspaper, our audience researchers delivered their analysis of how television audiences had responded to the terrible events in Asia last week.

"Coverage exposes BBC News 24's weaknesses", said Media Guardian, claiming we allowed the opposition to "walk all over the corporation" during coverage of the tsunami.

A BBC internal email, meanwhile, shows that Sky News did have a big increase in its audience - reaching 7.9 million viewers last week; but BBC News 24 went up even more and was seen by 8.9 million people in multi-channel homes.

Nick Ferrari and Matt Wells
The catalogue of BBC blunders is long and're left questioning the very existence of News 24
Nick Ferrari, Evening Standard
Royal Television Society awards will not be weighing down the mantelpieces at White City this year
Matt Wells, The Guardian
Quality matters most

We have never said that ratings are the be-all and end-all, and the quality of what we do in such tragic times matters most.

But let's start from the premise that beating the competition by more than a million viewers doesn't exactly square with failing a key test.

News 24 has, of course, been a whipping-boy for media correspondents over the years.

What has usually sent them into a prolonged mope is the fact that Sky has traditionally had more viewers.

We were castigated during the Iraq War for falling significantly behind Sky News on a major story.

It is therefore a bit rich that in the year 2004 that News 24 achieved higher average weekly audiences than Sky, and then beat it by a million on the year's biggest story, audiences are not even mentioned by the commentators who decide to take us on.

Viewers in multi-channel homes are able to make a free choice.

They chose to watch News 24 out of all the news channels available, and critics should show them more respect - even if they don't agree with their decision.

Newspaper carping

There is a further disjunction between the hundreds of emails we've received from viewers praising our coverage and the newspaper carping.

People liked the fact we were resolutely internationalist; that our coverage was sober and factually-based; and that it was comprehensive and of high quality around the clock.

George Alagiah
The BBC was criticised for not shipping out its big guns early enough

I have always said I admire what Sky News do, but we do not want to be like them; we have achieved our higher viewership by being distinctive, not by being imitative.

Dismal anonymous sources are then wheeled out to give the impression there was some crisis in the BBC's coverage overall.

Again, not a single fact bears this out.

The BBC's response to the disaster began with rolling coverage across its news channels which is still continuing ten days later.

A special bulletin was scheduled in peak time on Boxing Day on BBC One, then every other main bulletin was extended for the following seven days - some of them being doubled in length.

The BBC was the only broadcaster to have a terrestrial news-based Breakfast programme throughout the holidays, at a time when our rivals were playing cartoons.

We've also produced three News Specials so far for BBC One, in addition to BBC One's New Year Eve programme which was radically changed to reflect events in Asia and the two minutes' silence shortly before midnight.

Massive audiences

Once more, audiences came to us in massive numbers: ranging from the 8 million who saw the Ten O'Clock News one night, to peaks as high as 2 million for our breakfast service.

Roger Mosey
We are absolutely confident that we served our audiences well, and that's what matters
Roger Mosey, Head of TV News

News 24 had its highest single audience since its launch seven years ago. This was, again, a free choice by UK viewers.

There have then been lame allegations about deployments.

For instance, that Jeremy Bowen arrived on the scene late - which will come as a surprise to people who saw him anchoring our peak time news special live from Colombo last Wednesday.

Equally, we've been criticised in the past for parachuting correspondents and presenters into a country without a chance to find out what was happening - and that is why we explicitly gave George Alagiah some time to do some filming before he presented last night's Six O'Clock and Ten O'Clock bulletins live from Sri Lanka.

We think that decision paid off, and so yet again do the viewers: much appreciation, along with headline figures roughly 2 million ahead of the ITV late bulletin.

Enormously proud

It almost goes without saying we have been enormously proud of the work of all our teams in covering the tsunami and its devastating aftermath.

It may be disappointing to media correspondents, but the broadcasting of the past week has been achieved by the closest liaison between the various departments of BBC News - and by unprecedented levels of co-operation between News and network television.

We never expect our critics to agree with us, and we never claim to get everything right; but we are absolutely confident that we served our audiences well, and that's what


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