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Last Updated: Monday, 2 October 2006, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Stars in their eyes
By Ian Jolly
Series Producer, NewsWatch

In recent years there has been an explosion in the number of magazines devoted to celebrity news, interviews and gossip.

Likewise, television has latched on to the value of star names in a big way, whether it's I'm a Celebrity, Get Me out of Here! or "star-studded" versions of other shows - Celebrity Wife Swap or Strictly Come Dancing.

Richard Hammond
Thousands wrote in after Richard Hammond's crash
But should that extend into the news? It's an issue that was highlighted with the recent high-speed crash involving Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond.

While the BBC received thousands of get well messages from fans, there were also those who questioned why this story was the main item on many news broadcasts and why it continued to be a big story for so long.

"I really can't understand this obsession with minor celebs," wrote Rebecca Spence. "I didn't even know his name before three days ago and I imagine many other people didn't."


Neil Woodcock agreed. "I'd not heard of Richard Hammond until last week and in my book that makes him a C-list celebrity, if celebrity at all," he said.

Neil Woodcock
I don't want my news polluted by stories like this
Neil Woodcock
"I wish him well, but I don't want my news polluted by stories like this. If I wanted to watch tabloid TV I would find tabloid TV but I think the BBC's got a bigger responsibility than that.

"I know lots of people who enjoy Top Gear so it has news interest, but why should it dominate my news from my BBC - it was wall-to-wall?

"I think there are more interesting things. Genocide in Darfur, chaos in the Middle East and the battle for leadership of this country should have taken precedence over a car crash - in my view, a very dangerous stunt which sets a wrong example for young drivers."

David Kermode, editor of Breakfast - one of the programmes which led on this story - said it was partly the response of the audience that influenced that decision.


"Whether Richard Hammond is A-List, B-list, C-list or D-list, he is a major star, he was doing something absolutely extraordinary - attempting a land speed record - and we found that a lot of people cared about what had happened to him," he explained.

Beyonce on news bulletin
Singer loses weight - is that news?
"Also, there wasn't a lot else happening that morning. The second story was day two of the Thai coup, and not much had happened since day one. So I do appreciate the point that there are a lot of other things going on round the world."

But according to some viewers, this was the tip of the iceberg, and they see it as a trend that's developed rapidly over the past couple of years.

In 2005, the former head of BBC TV News, Roger Mosey, wrote on this topic: "The occasional lighter item is more likely to be about the arts than entertainment.

"It's simply inconceivable these days that we'd do the plot of a soap opera as a news item in the way that the shooting of JR Ewing in Dallas occupied bulletin time more than 20 years ago."

Maple syrup diet

Well, anything that gets more than 20m people watching TV at the same time is probably still newsworthy. But how does that view account for the Six O'Clock News running a story on actress Wendy Richard giving up her role as Pauline in EastEnders after 20 years?

Or the births of babies to Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise? How the singer Beyonce lost a stone in two weeks on a maple syrup diet. Why Kate Moss's career is successful again? A discussion with the band Kaiser Chiefs on whether they watch much news on TV?

Breakfast editor David Kermode
David Kermode: "It's about getting balance right"
"That was part of an interview that was wide-ranging," responds David Kermode. "The Kaiser Chiefs had done interesting things about the way they'd chosen to market their music and there are cultural things that are very important about the way that we live our lives.

"People do feel a connection to the Kaiser Chiefs - many won't but others will - but it's about getting the balance right and we don't get always get the balance absolutely right."

He points again to statistics that show the audience does respond to these stories, adding: "I'm afraid it divides people for sure but it's something we need to cover."

But Neil Woodcock sees a wider issue. "I think that sometimes you're just trying to fill airtime with this celebrity stuff," he said.

'Celebrity-driven pap'

"Reports on Richard Hammond moving hospital included one of your reporters saying: 'This hospital has an A&E, neurosurgeons and physiotherapists.' Well, it's a hospital - of course it does!

"I don't care about Kate Moss, the fact that a crocodile showman dies in Australia - yes, tell us about it but don't go on about it. The BBC manages to trot out this stuff about what George Michael's doing on Hampstead Heath, for example, and it's not important."

And viewer Michael Rigby is clearly not alone in his view that things have gone too far. He said: "The time's coming when the BBC will have to make a choice - turn your TV bulletins into adult broadcasts for intelligent human beings or give it up and go for celebrity-driven pap and leave serious news to the radio."

The news value of celebrities
09 Mar 05 |  Notes


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