Saturday, May 28, 2011

CBBC Newsround is usually quite good on reporting animal stories, but one item on Friday was less positive than usual about animal welfare.

With one notable exception, Newsround has been a very animal-friendly programme. Last week, for example, there was a series of reports by Leah on endangered species in the UK, as well as a report on attempts to save stranded pilot whales in Scotland. On Monday there was an item about caring for pet rabbits, and on Thursday about the new penguin enclosure at London Zoo.

So why the sudden out-of-character concern for the financial cost of helping animals in distress? Newsround Blog has been investigating, and I've come with some interesting background.

Newsround - Friday 27 May 2011 at 8.30am

Leah: Fire crews spend millions of pounds rescuing animals. But this morning we've heard they're being criticised by one campaign group who says saving animals isn't their job, and they're wasting taxpayers' money. Fire crews say they'll always help animals in trouble because they see it as part of their job. Call-outs have included: rescuing a cow from a tree, a snail from a wall and a duckling from a drain.

At 5pm the same day -

Ricky: Hello

Sonali: Yes, happy Friday. Ricky and Sonali here to get you in the know before you start your weekend.

Ricky: Yeah, got a packed show today. Here's a taste of what's in store: Firefighters are told they're spending too much time rescuing animals.

Sonali: And we ask Simon Cowell's bff what's really going on with Cheryl and the American X Factor.

In the report proper, Sonali told viewers that "a BBC investigation found UK fire services spent three million pounds rescuing 17,000 animals in the past 3 years. One emergency involved reuniting a duckling with its mum."

The BBC investigation was covered in detail on Friday's Radio 4 You and Yours programme.

Newsround Blog has found out that the origins of the "BBC investigation" goes back a few weeks. Look at this on the Taxpayers' Alliance website and you'll note the nascent story about fire crews being kept busy rescuing animals dates from early in April 2011. But now also look at this Taxpayers' Alliance press release and note that it was embargoed until the start of Friday 27 May 2011. Both these news items appear to have their origins with the Taxpayers' Alliance.

So what's going on? First of all, bear in mind that many of the BBC's traditional supporters - the sort of people who believe public service broadcasting exists for the greater good of society - would be shocked to learn that even one penny of licence fee money is being channelled into private healthcare. And the BBC would have become aware that the Taxpayers Alliance had got hold of the story as soon as they received Freedom of Information requests asking for details.

The BBC was, quite rightly, embarrassed about this information being made widely known, and Newsround Blog posits that BBC bosses decided news management was needed to preserve the Corporation's public service reputation.

The Taxpayers' Alliance story about BBC private healthcare costs was embargoed until 27 May 2011 - the very same day that the BBC pushed their spoiler story about the cost to taxpayers of firefighters rescuing trapped animals. It beggars belief that this was a pure coincidence. And we shouldn't forget that the BBC has form when it comes to burying unwelcome news items.

Newsround Blog can report that the BBC's news management achieved its aim of minimising, and in fact almost drowning out, news about staff private healthcare costs. No major sites went with the BBC private healthcare story.

Newsround's take on the animal rescue story was shaped not within the constraints of their typical editorial judgement, but presumably by a management edict that Newsround was to assist in helping to bury that day's Taxpayers' Alliance press release.

That's why, on this occasion, the programme offered less than wholehearted support for the animals.

No comments: