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Last Updated: Monday, 3 October 2005, 13:15 GMT 14:15 UK
Storm kept at bay?
Floods in Andhra Pradesh, India
Thousands were affected by floods in Andhra Pradesh in southern India
How does BBC News decide which natural disasters to cover in depth? Is devastating storm damage less important if it happens in South Asia than if it happens in the United States? Who decides?

The issue has been raised by audiences following extensive coverage of recent hurricanes in the United States compared with relatively limited attention to storms and floods along the Bay of Bengal.

Charles Manson wrote to Newswatch: "Correspondents were rushing to New Orleans to give reports. How many correspondents were there, and how many are going to Bangladesh? There are a lot of British citizens here of Bangladeshi heritage, don't they deserve better from your news service?"

Kath Heywood felt similarly: "I am quite disgusted at the bias shown by the BBC who constantly insist on their policy of impartial reporting.

Fran Unsworth
The US hurricane story wasn't just about the devastation that had been caused
Fran Unsworth
Head of BBC newsgathering

"Is the BBC suggesting that the lives of those in Asia hold less worth than those of the Americans affected by Katrina?"

Strategic decisions about where to deploy BBC correspondents are made by the BBC's head of newsgathering, Fran Unsworth.

BBC News had a team of more than 30 people covering Hurricanes Rita and Katrina. Ten of these were correspondents filing for BBC news outlets on television, radio and online and the rest were camera operators, picture editors and radio producers.

Fran Unsworth says that the BBC doesn't necessarily need to send a team on the ground to report on stories like the floods last month in South Asia provided the story is covered in other ways.

But she defended the scale of coverage of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in an interview on Feedback on Radio 4 last weekend:

In the past we have actually had an aversion to US hurricanes - we shouldn't just be covering them because it's easier for us to get there from our Washington bureau, or because the people there speak English.

There is a bit of an accusation that we were slightly slow on Katrina and it wasn't until we woke up on the Tuesday and saw the massive devastation that had been caused to Biloxi and Gulfport that actually we thought this is probably more significant than most other US hurricanes and we should be there.

And please remember that New Orleans is a destination which has a massive amount of resonance for British people. Many of them go there on their holidays and there's inevitably going to be a massive amount of interest in something like that happening to it from our audience.

Novelty

Obviously we have a responsibility as well to cover parts of the world which aren't necessarily of much interest to our audience.

I would like to make another point and that is that news is about novelty. We can agonize for a long time over what should be in the news agenda. But news has to be something which is surprising to people.

A shop front in Port Arthur, Texas swamped by flooding
Rita was less severe than feared but some Texan towns like Port Arthur were badly hit
I think the key element about the US hurricane story is that it wasn't just about the devastation that had been caused. It was also about the US response to it and the fact that actually this became a political story in the delay and in the response from the US authorities.

And that actually is quite novel in that here we have one of the richest countries in the world which didn't seem to be responding to the plight of its citizens as effectively as one would have expected - and that was part of the news story.



SEE ALSO
Lethal storms batter South Asia
21 Sep 05 |  South Asia
Fears grow for Bangladesh boats
22 Sep 05 |  South Asia
Nightmare in New Orleans
28 Sep 05 |  About BBC News
Blair admits BBC Katrina disquiet
25 Sep 05 |  Politics
Weathering the storm
07 Sep 05 |  NewsWatch

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