Thursday, April 02, 2009

Tragedy in the North Sea and the London news agenda

The helicopter went into the sea around 2.00pm, and within half an hour there were Twitter and, using automatic feeds, Facebook posts about what had happened.

I was on air at the time and I found out through social media, which obviously plays a part in how the programme works. It's important for news to get to a live music show so we can avoid tasteless or offensive clashes between records or band names and current events. Helicopter Girl would have been out of the question yesterday. Given events at the G20, we came close to dropping the Clash's Rock The Casbah.

For me, living in Shetland, within the sound of offshore helicopter operations and with a heightened sense of the North Sea's dangers, yesterday's fatal crash was of enormous importance. But that was true for everyone in Scotland, where we all know someone who works 'offshore', and for whom the North Sea oil industry has, I think, something of the mythic importance that deep coal mining once had for my parents' generation. It is part of our identity.

I thought BBC Scotland (and I'm trying not be biased here; I do work for them, but this blog is staunchly independent!)reacted admirably and with both commitment and restraint. The story was both reported as a piece of live, developing news and placed carefully in context.

But the 'national' UK news, not just at six o'clock but throughout the evening, even when it was clear that 16 people were dead, didn't just lead on the G20 talks in London and the associated (mild) unrest, it insisted on relegating the helicopter crash way, way past the Obama-gives-Queen-Ipod fluff and the Royal Bank of Scotland vandalism. To say I was disgusted was putting it mildly. A reporting agenda had been set in London early in the morning, the coverage had been budgeted for and planned, and nothing, NOTHING was going to deflect that intensely metropolitan set of news values.

Even this morning, Radio Four is leading its news not an actual events in London, but on speculation as to what may or may not happen later in the day. By contrast, Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland is a live outside broadcast from Aberdeen Harbour, with reporters live in Peterhead and elsewhere. Only there could I find out the crucial fact, for Scotland (and Shetland) that Bond had suspended all North Sea operations. Something which could have major implications for the oil industry as a whole.

I can honestly say that I have never felt so betrayed, so overtly, by a set of journalistic decisions. Nor have I ever felt quite so Scottish.


norrie said...


Your post is well considered and I think a measured response to what frankly is an appaling state of afairs. I saw your twitter post on this with some increduality.

I have posted before on sites that I think BBC Radio Scotland is a fantastic broadcaster that manages a mix of "serious" and "entertaining" broadcasting which must be the envy of most broadcasting organisations. Not that I am any sort of media guru but thats not the point. BBC London on the other hand is dumbing down to a shocking level in my opinion.

As of right now on the BBC News website this appaling tragedy is about mid place, below STI for 47 year olds and a call by MP's for a simpler school curiculum.

David said...

Whenever something of interest and importance comes up I tend to keep an eye on the Twitter search page.

It updates as people update their Twitter page. It's instant response in real time.

So for much of yesterday afternoon and evening I had it open with the word "helicopter".

To my disgust I saw some people making comments like "Why are BBC News speaking about some helicopter story from Scotland when there is much bigger news happening in London?"

I very nearly started replying with expletives but managed to stop myself before I did it.

Catherine said...

I agree. It ended up at the tail end of world news here in Switzerland and it shouldn't have.

I too was very, very surprised and disappointed at the news values shown that day.

Anonymous said...

I entirely agree with all the comments, but, we shouldn't be surprised at the lack of Scottish news coverage from the England based media, it happens time after time. Such a tragedy should have been afforded the leading item on the news bulletins. It HAD already been aired that the police expected riots in London - so that was OLD news!

The other top news item was the grinning Browns and Obamas at No. 10(perhaps a toothpaste company may wish to sign them up for ads!). Then it was the visit to HM, and Phil as usual putting his foot(or two)in it with his comments and HM's pressie of an ipod - suppose we, the taxpayers, will be paying for someone to educate her on how to use it.

I searched various TV news channels this a.m. for an update on the disaster and it wasn't until I found the brief allocated slot for Scottish BBC TV news that I heard an update.

I agree with David's comments - expletives first came to my mind.

The lack of TV (London)coverage of this news is an insult to the bereaved families and friends and also to the Scottish people (we too are licence payers). If such had happened in England it would have been top of the news bulletins, regardless of whatever else was going on in London!

Tom Morton said...

I was very moved by the dignified anger of one of the bereaved.
I thought what she said about 'a lack of respect' is an accusation that could have been levelled at the newsmongers in London.

As I said to Susan yesterday, with all the belated, stupid insight of someone who's just woken up: we're living in a different country.

Sneddy (aka Lizzyman) said...

Tom, As usual our media Heirarchy decided that the Fate of Bankers & Protestors, was more important than the fate of our fellow countymen & women in the industry that the UK depends upon for the majority of it's revenue(let's not forget that they were only down there because the national and international media taunted them by saying that"THE THOUSANDS OF EXPECTED TROUBLEMAKERS DESCENDING ON THE CAPITAL", and that they knew that the "telly would be there" was to say the least incendiary. Getting back to our Radio Scotland,the team delivered precise,accurate journalism and went to get the story without being invasive, respecting the wishes of families and the teams who had to carry out rescue missions on the Buchan Coast. I am appalled at the speculative and lazy reporting heard the incident.I looked out from my window on the Coastline and pondered when you were broadcasting and was humbled by the strong people of my new home town of Peterhead.We trully are living in a different world, a world which is getting tougher for some more than others.

Unknown said...

As you say, we all know people who work offshore and it's something which I am sure touched us all. What I was utterly appalled at was a certain newspapers headline which said "16 dead in horror crash" long before anything was confirmed - pretty tasteless! Hats off to the BBC for excellent and respectful coverage.