BBC News Has Point of View Problems

The BBC’s reporting on the British Airways industrial dispute with Unite has been fascinating in terms of the nuances of meaning that can easily be interpreted to favour one side over another and also how the juxtaposition of human interest stories (‘how do you feel about your honeymoon being cancelled?’) with reporting of arcane negotiation details can influence the message of the report — there’s a lot of subtlety, whether deliberate or through lazy reporting — and the subject is interesting in a wider writing context.

One particular example was heard on Five Live’s bulletins on Saturday night. The newsreader stated that BA had said more Unite cabin staff had turned up to work ‘than expected’ and consequently the airline had ‘re-instated’ previously cancelled flights.

The number of staff ‘expected’ in this report was  entirely BA’s own subjective figure, which as it had previously not been published could not be verified. This tactic was obviously BA PR spin designed to give an impression that the strike was weakening and the BBC reported this clear inference despite this assertion having no independently verified basis.

More rigorous journalism would have attributed to whom the verb ‘expected’ was related — e.g. ‘A BA spokesperson said more staff had turned up than BA’s management had expected’. By missing out the vital attribution of who expected the turnout, any listener is invited to infer that it is the reporter or the supposedly impartial BBC who has made the judgement about whether the strike is being well observed or not.

Unattributable quantitative judgements like ‘higher than expected’ play with the reader or listener’s expectations and relate very much to the point-of-view discussions that we’ve had in the classes at City. Whose expectations are these that are being reported? It’s vitally important. Obvious authorial interventions, as in the BBC report, imply an omniscient narrative voice that, in BBC News Bulletins, should be impartial. Fictionally such leading assertions belong more rightfully placing red herrings in a detective novel (where even then they’d be rather too obvious).

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