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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 15:58 GMT 16:58 UK
Royal coverage fails to amuse
"Why is there no coverage by the BBC of the Queen's visit to Canada?" asked viewer Tony Heldreich.

The Queen in Canada
The Queen in Canada

In fact, the main news bulletins carried a couple of filmed reports and a handful of short mentions. But that wasn't enough for some people.

"I don't understand why the BBC seems to think this is of no interest to the people of this country," said Patrick Keogh.

"The BBC will follow a group of ball-kickers to the end of the universe, in depth, whereas the Queen, the monarch, our head of state, can travel to our oldest dominion and be completely ignored."

Virginia Cecil was concerned that while one edition of the One O'Clock News devoted just 12 seconds to the Canadian tour, it managed to find space for a story about a gorilla at Bristol Zoo which had had a cataract operation.

"Is our head of state really considered by the BBC less important than a monkey?" she wrote.

Jon Williams, the BBC's home news editor, responds to that point and other issues.

We actually carried six pieces in eight days. One of the issues for us was that western Canada, where the Queen was visiting, is seven hours behind London and that's why quite a lot of the coverage made it on to Breakfast and two pieces did make it on to the One O'Clock News.

Home news editor Jon Williams
Jon Williams: Royal stories must have news value
But that's principally the reason and I ought to point out that the BBC was the only broadcast organisation to actually travel with the Queen. None of our competitors went to Canada.

Has the nature of Royal coverage changed? Does there have to be a demonstration or another story to justify coverage these days?

I don't think there has to be a demonstration but clearly there has to be a story and we have to apply the same news values to coverage of the Royal family that we apply to everything else.

I think the nature of the coverage has changed. It's changed in society in general in terms of deference and we don't simply report the Royal family because they're there as the BBC and other organisations might once have done. We are driven by news values.

But there has been quite a lot of coverage of the Royal family over the last few years and I suspect that the Royal family would rather the stories dropped out of the headlines rather than the broadcasters.

What about the viewer's comment that a gorilla in a zoo got more coverage than the Royal visit?

I'm not going to defend the individual item. What I would say is that the gorilla in itself was not uninteresting; it was the first time that the animal had had a successful cataract operation. Those are decisions for individual programme editors to make.

In terms of Royal coverage we have covered the Queen, we did go with Prince Charles to Australia and New Zealand earlier this year and I've no doubt that when Prince Charles takes Camilla on the first visit overseas we'll also cover that.

Viewers say the state visit to France last year got blanket coverage on French TV but nothing like it on British television. Why?

The visits to France and to Germany in November got extensive coverage. Nicholas Witchell went with the Queen and was on the Six O'Clock News and the Ten O'Clock News most nights, not least because the Queen delighted an audience in front of President Chirac speaking French.

There was lots of coverage of the trip to France and lots of coverage of the trip to Germany. I'm sorry if the viewer watched the One O'Clock News and didn't see it. Inevitably because of the time difference, the visit to Canada ends up being edged out by rather fresher material.

Could you have done other coverage while you were in Canada, surrounding issues as well as the visit itself?

One of the issues while the Queen was there was that Prime Minister Paul Martin's government was facing a crisis vote in its equivalent of the House of Commons and the threat that the Queen's visit was going to coincide with a general election.

That actually was the tone and the thrust of one of the pieces our Royal correspondent, June Kelly, did while she was in Canada. The Queen was visiting Canada as the head of state of Canada, not as the head of state of the United Kingdom and that was reflected in our coverage.

Did viewers get value for money?

I think six pieces in the space of eight days does provide value for money. But you hit on an interesting point, that actually we have to judge the merits of a story before we send people.

It wasn't only June that was sent - there was a producer, a camera crew and it's important to us as custodians of the licence fee that we are going to deploy on the stories that provide the best value for money. In this case, actually providing six pieces in eight days, I think we did that.


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