Tuesday 18 July 2017

Rally - BBC v2

I have just watched the late night edition of 'Reporting Scotland' and they've done it again, reporting the 'fact' that four spectators were killed in two separate motor rally accidents. And we wonder why Mr Trump goes on about 'fake news'.

I am not for one minute trying to belittle the tragedy that befell all those involved at these two separate accidents. Not just the four lives lost and their families, but the competitors and officials who were most directly involved. Both incidents and their circumstances are entirely different and should be regarded as such.

In the immediate aftermath of the accident the Police arrived at Rally HQ in Kelso on that terrible night. I was asked to handle all media enquiries until the Police Media Relations Officer could get there. Unfortunately the media relations officer got lost on the way and couldn't find Kelso Racecourse, so my 'temporary' job lasted a good wee while longer than anticipated.

Why me? Over the years I have been Press Officer at other events where fatalities have occurred, at motor racing and motor cycle racing events, as well as rallies, although the Snowman accident was the first where a spectator tragically lost her life.

That was why I was tasked with the job, answering and responding to media inquiries, and then conducted the formal handing-over process when the officer turned up. Perhaps because of that I was a regular point of contact in the aftermath where I repeatedly tried to inform and impress on journalists that it wasn't spectators who were involved in the Jim Clark event.

At the time I telephoned BBC Scotland, and emailed them, to try and correct their reporting of the matter. Eventually in one discussion with a News editor, the explanation was made that it was too complicated to try and convey all the details in a short news bulletin.

My response was that it was their duty to report the facts regardless of the complexity. Eventually she offered a compromise whereby they would in future say 'three people' lost their lives.

Subsequent reports did use the term 'three people' so it did work. They did listen. Eventually. Until today.

At a point in time when the legal process is just getting underway, reporting of the true facts should be foremost in a reporter's mind, the News editors who approve the stories and the presenters who then have to relay them to the watching and listening public. What they report and say will influence a wider audience, not just those in court.

Apparently the British public pays the BBC £3.7bn in licence fees to provide a public broadcasting service. For that amount of money is it too much to ask them to try and get things right?

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