Saturday, 6 October 2012

tactless journalism and society's responsibility

Yesterday Sky News reporter Kay Burley sparked complaints after revealing live to a volunteer in the search for missing five-year-old April Jones that this was now a murder enquiry and then asking her how she felt. 

Previous to this, Burley had said a few days before that Sky had a development which viewers would be excited about, before going on to interview the estranged son of a man currently being questioned on suspicion of April Jones’ murder. 

Kay Burley’s tactlessness is already well documented, from incidents such as her interview with Peter Andre, where she queried how he would feel if Katie Price’s new husband might want to adopt his children, to an interview she conducted with the wife of Suffolk Strangler Steve Wright, in which she asked, “do you think that if you’d had a better sex life, he wouldn’t have done it?” 


Journalists are generally not known for their tact or sensitivity, although it would appear that Kay Burley has a particular skill for asking the most tactless and insensitive questions imaginable at the most inappropriate times. 


However, I can’t also help wondering whether the public’s desire for rolling reporting of news events fuels the need for the Kay Burleys of this industry. 


When a serious crime happens, Sky News are there, reporting every detail as it happens, when it happens, regardless of whether it has been verified as being true or not.  Truth and speculation are intermingled and after watching about twenty minutes of a broadcast it can be impossible to know which are the actual facts of the case and what is speculation handed to reporters by members of the public, many of whom are often seeking their five minutes of fame. 


And where there is Sky news there are the millions of viewers who watch it, taking in every detail and speculating about it all amongst their close friends and family. 


Whether we like it or not news has now become the new entertainment.  It’s almost like reality TV, except the participants are real people who didn’t actually apply to be there. 


Yesterday hundreds of complaints were apparently made to Sky News and Ofcom by outraged viewers, and #sackKayBurley was trending on twitter.  But today I don’t imagine those viewers will have switched news channels to the BBC in their outrage.  Some will, some won’t, and some new viewers will even go over to Sky to go and have a look to see what it’s all about. 


Broadcasters should have a responsibility to broadcast actual news in a sensitive way while at the same time still being informative.  However we as a society also surely have a responsibility to remember that the news is actually someone else’s life, which we have been given an insight into purely because of the factors that have brought them into the news in the first place, and not entertainment fodder created by the broadcasters for our own edification. 

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