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News reporting on Extremism

May 26, 2013

For a long now I have been deeply uncomfortable with the level of news reporting that we are subjected to these days. On a fundamental level I disagree with the concept of 24 hour news channels because they constantly regurgitate news events and repeat what was said only a short time previously. When something news worthy does break, there is such a rush and scramble to be the first there with the news and accuracy of often the first casualty.

I am old enough to remember a time when TV news was restricted to scheduled news bulletins and if a story is still breaking at the time the reporting on it would simply be that ‘we are getting reports of …’ and then there would be a promise of facts when they arrived. On rare occasions there would be an interruption of a broadcast programme for some really big news. In all cases, there was a confidence that the news organisation in question had put effort into facts first.

These days, there is such a scramble for being first with something new and almost any old thing will do and this past week we have seen news in the UK that has made me feel sick and angry. It’s the story of a soldier, killed by extremists in broad daylight. It was a disgusting act, committed in front of people by a pair of radicalised individuals.

Early reports were confused, who was wearing what, who was shouting what, was it a soldier, was he dead, was he run over by a car first, were the perpetrators on the loose or in the area,  were they Muslim, were they British. Gone are the days when important information is gathered first and then reported, the attitude now is that being first with the report is all that matters, facts can be corrected later. Mobile phone footage, no matter how disturbing, is show in the absence of a news crew and members of the public are interviewed in absence of a reporter with facts. That’s not to say that there aren’t times when the public have something valuable to contribute.

There will always be something intelligent and considered opinions of value from members of the public, what is important is that what is shown on the news is worthy of being shown on the news and all too often this is not the case. This takes me back to my original point of why 24 hour news channels are a bad thing, quality comment and reporting is sacrificed in the name of something different. Personally I’d rather the news channels just stopped reporting for an hour or two because that is far preferable to repeating old news items and incorrectly reporting on breaking news.

Wall to wall stories.


The issues I have with 24 hours news reporting become even more apparent when there is a significant story, like that which happened in Woolwich this week. The news programmes will constantly show the same clips, the more dramatic the better and you don’t get much more dramatic that a man standing in the street with bloodied hands, brandishing a knife and shouting threats about never being safe. It is sickening and, despite my mature years, it really is not something I wish to see on my TV screen and certainly not repeated several time in a half hour period.

Because of the connected world we now live in, news of this sort of thing very quickly travels through social media and this is where news organisations really do have a responsibility to the public. Incorrectly reported facts very quickly get repeated around the world and later corrections don’t follow with the same enthusiasm. When challenged on this, the typical response from a news organisation will be along the lines of “this is a very fluid situation and a breaking story of high public interest so it is important that we let the public know what is happening and sometimes we will get it wrong and will always put a correction later”. Frankly, this is a lazy cop out and news organisations should put extra effort into accuracy when it is such a big story. More than that, they have a responsibility to consider public response.

In this specific case there was footage of a man, having recently murdered, spouting a message of hate and in the background can be seen the body of a dead human, while members of the public mill about. It was not pleasant and certainly does not belong on general broadcast. The facts will suffice, the pictures are not required. This isn’t a case of me being prudish; it is much bigger than that.

In this age of almost constant terror reports, this sort of event simply adds to the tension and hatred of those who would seek reprisals. In this country there is a growing feeling of resentment towards immigrants and religious extremists. Often there is little distinction drawn between the two groups. Events like the killing of Lee Rigby only serve to fuel those feelings and when a news organisation blanket reports on the horrific nature of the crime and shows deeply insensitive images and video those feelings get magnified. It is hardly a surprise that social media sites were flooded with highly charged rhetoric.

My criticism of news reporting is not just of this event, it is a problem that has existed for a long time and each time I see how the events are reported and see how people respond to the events I wonder if maybe this time the reporters will see that they are actually contributing to the problem. Each time I wish that they would tone down the nature of their reports and give more attention to other stories.

Each time I am disappointed and I am left convinced that the reporting of terrible news is actively contributing to the problem of extremism in the world today.

Report on it less and fewer people will know about it and fewer people will wish to take revenge or even replicate and maybe, just maybe, there will be a little less hate and a little more hope.


From → comment

  1. I can only comment on the USA situation, as I don’t have access to the British channels.

    News has become part of the entertainment lineup. It is treated more as drama than as reporting. Even if a report gets all of its facts correct, this emphasis on the dramatic gives a grossly distorted view in that it exaggerates the importance of the events that are seen as dramatic.

    The saying around here is “If it bleeds, it leads.”

    I pretty much gave up on TV news around 20 years ago. While radio news is not perfect, it seems a lot better. My wife still watches TV, and I’ll occasionally watch an event where the pictures might be informative. But, for the most part, I find I am better informed by the radio news.

    • Hi Neil

      Its not too dissimilar here, TV News does seem to aim for the sensationalist at times. I think its a direct result of having always on news channels because they have to fill the day out somehow. Oh how I wish we could go back to scheduled news bulletins.

      Was the daylight murder of the soldier in London last week featured on US news services?

      • It was certainly covered on radio — both NPR and the commercial CBS. There’s lots of talk about it, so I presume it was covered on TV.

        • I did wonder, though its never easy to tell how much British news makes it over the pond or how much emphasis it has.

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