Wednesday, February 13, 2008

BBC's laughable excuse

This snippet was on an Honest Reporting email I got today:

Many of you send us the BBC's replies to your e-mail complaints, most of which are standard responses claiming that the BBC upholds the finest traditions of balance and objectivity. The following, however, stands out as one of the more ridiculous responses we have seen.

A subscriber wanted to know why the BBC's choice of headlines never directly mentions Palestinians as aggressors, preferring neutral descriptions such as "Rocket injures dozens in Israel", while Israel is almost always named as the primary actor in headlines such as "Israeli raids kill nine in Gaza". The BBC's response was revealing:

Please understand that we try to use neutral language in all our reporting, headlines included. Our writers, sub-editors and editors are required to write headlines that are between 31 and 33 characters long, including spaces, to fit in a Ceefax (teletext) template. It means that some long words, such as Palestinian, are often avoided to get more germane information into a headline. Neither of the suggestions you make (25 and 51 characters respectively) would fit the template.

So, for the BBC, fitting the text on the page and spacing is more important than an accurate message. The BBC admits it doesn't let the facts interfere with a good headline - even if readers get a false impression of the story.

I thought perhaps it would be in order for Freedmanslifers to compose their own headlines of 31 to 33 characters to convey a message. Of course, it doesn't have to have anything to do with the story that follows, let alone the facts.

Here's an example:

"BBC writers deserve to get shot"

That's 31 characters. Of course, I would never advocate that the nice staffers of the Beeb should be killed. The article I imagined would appear below such a caption relates to who should be among the privileged few who would be inoculated in the event of a deadly virus epidemic sweeping the capital. Hopefully an illness like journalismus factuali...

Feel free to send in your own contributions, with headline of the right length, and a description of the article that might follow. Best one wins a special prize!

* * * UPDATE * * *

The Beeb provides 31 joyous characters:

Bomb kills top Hezbollah leader

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