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Donkin's World: News Values

Richard Donkin questions the judgement of a BBC television news editor.

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News organisations are agenda led. No better example of the extent to which this is the case was the BBC television news bulletin on the day of the first televised political debate in a British General Election.

The debate was without doubt a big news story, worthy of the lead item on most days of the year. But this was a day that not an aircraft in the UK could enter or leave the country because of a cloud of volcanic ash high in the atmosphere. The ash that is affecting most of northern Europe is a real threat to passenger flights due to the particle content that can cause aero-engines to seize catastrophically if clogged with ash.

Hundreds of thousands of passengers are stranded. As the news reporter announced "even after 9/11 flights weren't as severely disrupted."

This is a big story. I can imagine news editors, head in hands, irritated that something as serious as this could interrupt their carefully choreographed presentations. But that is the nature of news. It makes its own agenda and when it happens it demands that the people assessing the importance of news stand back from their best made plans and ask themselves just what story people will discuss among each other in the pubs and bars of the country? Three men debating in a studio, or nature cutting a country off from the rest of the world? Sometimes a slickly produced package has to move over for the real story. The TV news let us down.


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