Firstly, I want to make it very clear: I do not watch The One Show. It was only by pure chance I saw the horrendous and deeply offensive piece of TV described below (at approximatly 7:10pm on Monday 19th November 2012, for those who are interested). This was due to the lovely Jessica Hynes (co-creator of comedy genius, Spaced) appearing on The One Show to promote her new TV show as I was sitting down to have some food. That I neglected to change the channel once that particular segment was over, is my responsibility and mine alone.
For those of you who are unaware, The One Show is a primetime (7pm) light entertainment program shown on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship channel BBC 1. It basically consists of interviews with celebrities looking to promote their new products and pre-filmed segments on topics of general interest. It is horrendously mundane.
So perhaps it isn’t their fault that when they tried to do something vaguely interesting they failed miserably.
Following false accusations of a public figure on social networking sites such as Twitter and the subsequent lawsuits resulting from that, The One Show decided to run a feature on prosecutions resulting from using online services to be abusive.
What this consisted of was asking people to show what sentence they thought two crimes should get; an online crime and a face-to-face equivalent. So for example, the first question asked for sentences regarding racial abuse via social networking sites, compared to face-to-face verbal racial abuse. So far, so good.
But by the final question, things went absolutely insane. They asked people for a sentence for online abuse and a sentence for the sexual assault of a seven year old child!
Now, not only is this comparing two completely unrelated cases, and therefore completely irrelevant, but they actively picked a case which was completely unrepresentative of sentencing in the UK to make a sensationalist non-point.
They chose a case where someone guilty of online abuse got one year in prison and the child abuse case resulted in a sentence of seven months. True, they followed this with a disclaimer of “mitigating circumstances” in the latter case, but there was no attempt to explain the sentencing for any of the cases. This was particularly jarring as child abuse s a highly emotional issue. In fact, one of the people asked during the segment suggested capital punishment as the appropriate sentence.
To be clear, this is not a comment by myself on the appropriateness (or otherwise) of the sentencing. Nor is it a general criticism of the underlying theme of the segment, which is an interesting and relevant topic for investigation. Rather, it is a criticism of the horrendous decision to compare such disparate and unrelated cases in such a methodologically flawed manner.
There is no way such shoddy journalism and bad methodology should have appeared on the BBC (or any other channel for that matter!), but especially not on their flagship channel at primetime. So outraged was I at the inappropriate nature of the segment, that I was compelled to write my first ever letter of complaint to the TV regulator Ofcom. That letter is printed below.
I should also point out that I am a big supporter of the BBC and the general level of it’s output. I also think produces some of the greatest journalism within the mainstream media. This is one of the reasons I complained. That particular segment was something more akin to something you would expect to see in certain daily tabloids than as output of a respectable and generally reliable establishment such as the BBC.
I hope my complant wll be recognised as valid and that future programmes will pay more attention to creating high-quality, rather than high-shock programming.
Now, Ofcom do not normally reply to indivdual complaints and expect it to be no different ths time. However, they do release a fortnghtly document called the Bulletin Board where they publish all their decisions. The next one is released on 3rd December, so hopefully they wll have reached a decision by that point. Either way, I will print the findings here.
I am writing to complain about a segment on the above programme, ostensibly about sentencing for online abuse. Members of the public were asked to give their opinion of how severe they believed the sentence should be, based on a one-line summary of the case. For example, comparing racial abuse online to racial abuse in person.
The piece was inappropriate firstly, because it went on to ask the public to compare a case of sending abusive messages with a case regarding the sexual assault of a seven year old child. This in itself was wholly inappropriate and of no relevance to the debate.
Secondly, the cases were purposefully chosen to be not representative of sentencing in the UK. In this particular case, the jail time for online sentencing was more severe than the case of abuse, a clearly anomalous result.
These cases were picked specifically to shock and no attempt was made to explain the discrepancy in sentencing, beyond a vague disclaimer of “mitigating circumstances”.
By comparing unusual sentencing in unrelated cases, it carried out not only bad journalism, but bad research methodology and should never have got past the ideas stage. These flaws will have inevitably misled the public and can only have served to muddy the waters further regarding public perception of UK sentencing laws, therefore betraying one of the key tenants of the BBC to accurately inform the public.
It was, in short, bad reporting, bad analysis and bad journalism.