Monday 15 July 2013

Running orders

Following on from the last pair of posts, here's another way of looking at the BBC's unique set of news priorities today - simply by comparing the list of stories covered by BBC One's News at Six with that covered by ITV's News at 6.30. 

What stories were covered? In what order? And how long was spent on each story?

BBC News at Six

1. The benefit cap (over 4 minutes)
2. The Resolution Foundation's report on high rents (well over 3 minutes)
3. The benefit cap, again (over a minute)
4. The soldiers who died while training in Wales (over 2 minutes)
5. More charges against "former TV presenter" Stuart Hall (22 seconds)
6. A man kills the neighbour of a paedophile (20 seconds)
7. Liverpool Care Pathway (end of life care) is to be phased out (over two minutes)
8. A mother accused of starving and murdering her son (one and a half minutes)
9. Fuel - oil drilling in the U.S. & the fears of environmentalists (over 3 minutes)
10. The woman who died swimming the English Channel (2 minutes)
11. The hot weather (3 minutes)

ITV News at 6.30

1. The new NHS report into high death rates and unacceptable standards (over 4 minutes)
2. The soldiers who died while training in Wales (just under 3 minutes)
3. The woman who died swimming the English Channel (2 minutes)
4. More charges against "former BBC presenter" Stuart Hall (18 seconds)
5. A man kills the neighbour of a paedophile (15 seconds)
6. A mother accused of starving and murdering her son (over 2 minutes)
7. Liverpool Care Pathway (end of life care) is to be phased out (two and a half minutes)
8. The benefit cap (18 seconds)
9. The top athletes who failed a drugs test (15 seconds)
10. The Traynor Martin-George Zimmerman case (two and a half minutes)
11. The demise of the telegram (one and a half minutes) 

As you can see, ITV led with the big story about the Keogh report into thousands of 'needless' deaths in the NHS - the same story the BBC were avoiding until late yesterday evening after every other media organisation had been reporting it for hours (as a major story). The BBC's News at Six completely failed to mention it. In other words, the BBC ignored ITV's lead story completely. 

The BBC will have to come to terms with it when the report is officially launched tomorrow. Not even the BBC will be able to avoid it or downplay it then. (Or will they?)

ITV didn't totally ignore the BBC's lead story - the benefits cap - but they placed it well down their running order and spent a mere 18 seconds on it. The BBC not only led with it but, alongside the Resolution Foundation report (with which it was again tied), spent almost ten minutes (a third) of the whole programme discussing it. [ITV didn't mention the Resolution Foundation report at all.]

Why haven't the rest of the media been leading with the same story as the BBC?

Well, the benefit cap will affect some 40,000 households. There were 26.3 million households in the UK in 2011. By my calculation that makes those affected a mere 0.15% of all UK households - which, by my other calculation, that means that 99.85% of all UK households weren't affected by today's changes....

....and yet the BBC made this its main story of the day, and has been making such an enormous song and dance about it from dawn till dusk! 

Isn't that truly extraordinary when you think about it?

Yes, surely the Today programme should have been dragging Andy Burnham into the studio for an 8.10 grilling by John Humphrys instead of Iain Duncan Smith this morning? Ah well, maybe tomorrow, maybe tomorrow...

Away from that angle, I did smile though at the BBC describing convicted paedophile Stuart Hall merely as a "former TV presenter" whilst ITV called him a "former BBC presenter". You could have seen that coming a mile off!


Update 9.30pm: It's getting late on Monday evening.

Sky News is going big with the NHS report story. Their website has it as the lead story:

Report Slams High Death Rate NHS Hospital

Sky News can reveal exclusive access to a shocking report detailing a catalogue of failures at an NHS hospital.

The ITV News website also has the report as one of its top two stories:
'Hit-squads' to help failing trusts
Specialist teams are to be sent in to help up to 10 failing hospital trusts on the orders of the Health Secretary. The move will be announced tomorrow after a report by NHS England Medical Director Sir Bruce Keogh into trusts with high-death rates.
What of our reluctant-seeming friends at the BBC? Well, the BBC News website's home page, remains completely free of any mention of the story.

Their time for hiding away from this story is almost up though. The report will be published tomorrow.

Further updates: Ah, at least my local BBC news programme North West Tonight reported the story this evening, though not at any great length. We've got three of the offending NHS hospitals in our area.

10.00pm: And so it begins....

The World Tonight is discussing the story, interviewing Professor Brian Jarman, an advisor to the report's author. Ritula Shah is talking about "ministers" ignoring things (not naming any names, or parties, leaving listeners to make their own, possibly wrong assumptions). She's now interviewing Labour's Lord Hunt (defending the NHS, repeatedly attacking the Conservative Party) and Lib Dem free-marketeer Mark Littlewood (questioning the NHS, not engaging in party politics). Ritula is not raising Labour's record with the highly party political Lord Hunt, despite him continuing to attack the present government over and over again, without interruption. Is this the pattern of things to come?

10.30pm: Well, not necessarily, if Newsnight is anything to go by.

It's leading with the story and giving much of the programme over to it. Science Editor Susan Watts is presenting a report providing the background to the story and presenting some grim personal stories about treatment at one of the NHS hospitals. Questions for the CQC are being raised. The story of Joshua Titcombe, the baby who died so needlessly at Furness hospital, is being retold. Joshua's father, James, was Professor Jarman in the studio with Kirsty Wark.

Kirsty is now talking to Newsnight's Political Editor Allegra Stratton. The latter is angling the political aspect of the story as being about the Conservatives being "shocked" that no mud is sticking to the last Labour government. Their allegation is that Andy Burham "ignored" 1,500 warnings. Mr Burnham, who has been "dragged" into this, is denying the allegation. Why are the Conservatives so "desperate to land a glove" on him, asks Kirsty. It matters to the Conservatives because "they're never going to get the lead on the NHS", and yet "nothing has stuck to the Labour Party", replies Allegra. So it's all about the Conservatives wanting to sling mud at Andy Burnham for party political advantage, it seems. Poor Mr Burnham! This was a rather Guardian-like political commentary - and the bit that had the strongest whiff of bias about it.

James Titcombe and Professor Jarman were joined on the panel by Camilla Cavendish of the CQC board, former Conservative minister Stephen Dorrell, shadow health minister Andrew Gwynne and senior consultant Bernadette Garrihy. This was a panel full of people with deep concerns about the NHS - and, I think, a well-judged panel. A very interesting set of insights came from all the non-politicians. Kirsty hardly pushed Labour's Mr Gwynne very hard or for very long over Andy Burnham (and he defended his boss with vigour), but she did push him a bit and invited both Mr Titcombe and Professor Jarman to comment on Labour's record too. Stephen Dorrell didn't make any party political points.

Fraser Nelson of the Spectator then joined the discussion to talk about the economics of funding the NHS as time goes on - the "funding pressure". Whether this is the night for such a discussion might be questioned. Fraser didn't get to say very much at all on this, and hardly much more on the next question: What of Danny Boyle's NHS celebration at the Olympics? Do we romanticise the NHS? The non-politician panellists quickly returned the discussion to more practical matters.

So the story is unfolding now on the BBC....though, unbelievably, still not on the BBC News website!!

Final update (6.30am, 16 July): The eagle finally landed on the BBC News website during the early hours of this morning. Health correspondent Nick Triggle's article, Report focuses on high death rates at NHS hospital trusts, appeared at 01.24. As of 6.00am, it is leading the BBC News website (and leading the Today programme):
Standards of care at 14 hospital trusts with the worst death rates in England are to be laid bare in a report later.
An investigation was launched earlier this year after the public inquiry into the Stafford Hospital scandal.
The trusts all had higher-than-expected death rates from 2010-11 to 2011-12.
The probe, led by NHS medical director Professor Sir Bruce Keogh, has focused on whether the figures are indicative of sustained failings in the quality of care and treatment at the trusts.
Interesting use of dates there. Most other news sites have been talking about deaths "from 2005" or "from 2005-2010" - dates which have been making it all look quite bad for Labour. Nick Triggle's report only uses the dates "2010-11 and 2011-12", dates from after Labour's loss of power. Does this suggest that the pre-spin from the rest of the media has been biased (perhaps resulting from careful government leaks)? Or is Nick Triggle spinning now? We'll see when the report comes out I suppose.

At exactly the same time James Chapman was posting an article at Mail Online, '20,000 extra NHS deaths' on Labour's watch amid calls for on-site inspectors at struggling hospital, based on what looks like a scoop. The paper has "seen" an e-mail sent to Andy Burham by Professor Jarman in April 2010, warning of very high death rates in 25 NHS hospitals (especially in 2007-08):
In a reply to his letter, sent in April 2010 as the parties prepared for a general election the following month, a junior health minister, Baroness Thornton, told him [Professor Jarman] it would be more appropriate to take up his concerns with the Care Quality Commission.  

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