Saturday 9 March 2019

Three Takes on the Same Story

Daniel Sandford

Comparing last night's 10 o'clock news bulletins, both the BBC and Sky led with the death of Shamima Begum's baby son while ITV led with Brexit. ITV placed the Shamima Begum story third in its running order, giving it only one-and-a-half minutes. 

Several things struck me about the three broadcasters' respective coverage of the Shamima Begum story:

Firstly, as far as balancing non-BBC 'talking heads' goes, ITV didn't feature any, Sky featured a supporter of the UK government's role (Bob Seely MP) and the BBC featured a critic of the UK government's role (Dal Babu), so the BBC's was the most tilted towards the supporters of Shamima Begum in this respect.

Secondly, the BBC was the only one of the three broadcasters to refer to her as "Shamima" (twice), while both ITV and Sky stuck to the more formal "Shamima Begum" throughout. 

Thirdly, the illustrative images from the Syrian camp shown on Sky focused on the fully-veiled Islamic State women of the camp while the images shown on the BBC focused (to a remarkable degree) on images of the children in the camp. Thus, Sky (in the report by John Sparks) illustrated life in the camp with the following footage:

...while the BBC (in the report by Daniel Sandford) illustrated life in the camp with this footage:

A manipulative choice of accompanying images/footage, especially if it involves vulnerable children, is often a telltale sign of bias.

Fourthly, the BBC's main reporter, Daniel Sandford, went much further than his ITV and Sky counterparts in editorialising rather than merely reporting the story:
At first, it seemed politically convenient to make life difficult for Shamima Begum, there were a lot of political downsides to helping her and her baby to come home and a lot of political upside for the Home Secretary to be tough and say we are not going to help these people that went out to join Islamic State. The problem is that now this little boy has died, there are some quite strong political risks. Save the Children are saying these people need to be treated much more humanely. And the Government's position that it is impossible to get people out of these camps because it is too dangerous, is repeatedly shown to be not entirely accurate because British journalists and other foreign journalists are able to get to these camps relatively safely and go and see people, and working with the Red Crescent, it should be possible to get people from the camps if there was the political will. I think tonight, there is some sign the Government knows it is in a little bit of a problem, a government spokesman statement tonight said that the death of any child is tragic and deeply distressing for the family. So some acknowledgement that there has been a tragic event here. 
Of the three broadcasters, the BBC was (by some margin) clearly the most critical of the UK government and sympathetic to Shamima Begum. 


  1. The death of Begum's child is, of course, highly convenient from the point of view of the IS propaganda machine. Given that, as Quentin Somerville said, "the camp is full of highly dangerous IS women," I should want to see an independently conducted post mortem report before I accepted the alleged cause of death.

    Reeta Chakrabarti and Sandford were clearly relishing the "little bit of a problem" in which the government finds itself. Sadly, May's response is likely to be, "OMG, no - the BBC is cross with us, we must do a quick U-turn & allow the girl to come back."

  2. Last night's News Night was beyond belief - a British citizen had died in a camp in Syria.

    Nearly 200,000 would-be British citizens are killed every year with the consent of their mothers.

    What is so special about 'Shamina' (note the familiar rather than the formal used to describe the BBC's enemies).

    1. Yes, lots of 'Shamima' there - including from Katie Razzall, whose heart bled - and 'talking heads' and interviewees who all were on the 'bring-back Shamima' side.

      To sad music, James Clayton's report began:

      "Shamima Begum understood the dangers of raising a newborn in a refugee camp. It was in part why she wanted to return to the UK. This evening, reports that her fears had been realised. Medical sources told the BBC that her child had a lung infection and died yesterday."

      It is very said that the baby died and we certainly, as a country, would have been right to have rescued him from his situation - and especially from his family - but this 'Newsnight' was all pushing in one direction. It was agenda-driven journalism, with pretty much everything contributed to making the same point: that Sajid Javid got it wrong, UK policy needs to change and the UK needs to bring back people like Shamima Begum.

    2. The child has a father as well as a mother. I don't see why it's automatic that child should come here especially as Islamic religion or law or culture seems to claim male ownership of children, not to mention wives - or even 'brides'. Is the child not a citizen of the country of its birth or the country of its father's birth as much (or more?) as the mother's?

  3. The BBC is really pushing this one now, it is after a cabinet resignation ahead of the Brexit vote.
    This week we've had Karen Bradley defending the British Army, Amber Rudd's perhaps ill-judged but in no way offensive use of the word coloured and now Javid being targeted due to the (alleged) death of a male child in Syria.

    1. The BBC certainly is really pushing it.


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