Written by Media, Radio

Disappointing Tone in Discussion on Libya Reporting

I like Steve Hewlett on Radio 4’s Media Show, but I’ve just been catching up with this week’s edition and was really unhappy with the centrepiece discussion about Sky News v BBC News last weekend as the rebels (if that’s what we’re calling them) entered Green Square.
Make no mistake, Sky News undoubtedly scooped BBC News (and everyone else) with Alex Crawford sending compelling live pictures back from Libya. But Hewlett’s aggressive tone seemed to me essentially as suggesting that the BBC were cowards for not pushing their own reporters onto the frontline.
It’s quite clear that the individual teams on the ground made the decisions as to where they’d go and when. But events happen in a very unpredictable fashion – with fighting still taking place several days later in Tripoli. Places previously thought safe become dangerous again. Information is sketchy and unreliable. Reporters need to be able to take their own sensible decisions.
While Sky had some brilliant pictures, getting those pictures also comes with a risk. The tone that Hewlett took on the Media Show seemed to suggest that the BBC reporters and editors had failed in their duty and should have driven in with the rebels.
I wonder to what extent this ceaseless need for everything “live” and “now” is driven by internet commentary that was indeed very pro-Sky News’ coverage on Sunday night? They got the scoop. Great! What more needs to be said?
A TV executive may have told Hewett that Sky “creamed” the BBC that evening, but that’s not really the point. ITV and BBC channel controllers can worry about the performance of X Factor versus Strictly when the overnights come in on Monday morning. No harm is done. No blood is lost. But news in a warzone is surely different?
As we saw a couple of days later, when another BBC reporter came under fire travelling with a rebel group, this is a matter of life and death. Reporters can, and do, die in the line of fire. There was concern only this week, for international reporters trapped in the Rixos hotel until eventually they too were finally freed.
Putting pointless pressure on reporters to be somewhere first to get those grainy shots, and to not worry about their own safety is frankly unethical. The tone of the discussion was completely wrong. It should have been more about what Sky did and how they scooped the rest of the world. It shouldn’t have been about some perceived failings of a rival news organisation.
Does every discussion have to be framed in such a confrontational and belligerent tone?