Our complaint on BBC's scaremongering
report is upheld
We complained to the BBC in November 2005
that a BBC1 Ten O'Clock News report of a "significant
rise" in violent crime was erroneous and misleading...
Later (21 February 2006), we received a letter from the head
of BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU), saying that
our complaint was upheld. The ECU has found that BBC1 news
breached editorial guidelines on "truth and accuracy",
and that there was "no basis" for claiming
a significant rise in violent crime. (Full
Our Original Complaint to BBC
We sent the complaint on 4/11/05, after
BBC1 TV news claimed (wrongly) that violent crime had "significantly"
Dear BBC Complaints,
I wish to lodge an official complaint about
a misleading news report (BBC1 news, 10.00 pm, 20/10/05).
Fiona Bruce announced that violent crime had "significantly"
increased (by six percent).
The Home Office Statistical Bulletin, 'Crime
in England and Wales' (published 20/10/05) in fact makes
it clear that the "increase" in violence was not
"significant", but resulted largely from continued
effects of changed recording methods [see note*, below].
To quote the Home Office Bulletin:
"... there was
a six per cent increase in violence against the person but
increases in recorded violence continue to reflect the improved
police recording of crime and more proactive policing of violence
problems. [...] evidence from the BCS on reporting and recording
changes suggests that the continuing increases in the recorded
violence figures is largely due to these changes in recording
BBC1 news failed to mention this crucial
qualification. It also failed to mention the authoritative
British Crime Survey's finding that violence had decreased
by 7 percent (also reported in the Home Office Bulletin).
This selective, misleading approach to reporting
statistics has potentially destructive consequences. The Home
Office Bulletin states that the level of worry about violent
crime has increased. A responsible news organisation would
not exacerbate these worries with unfounded reports about
"significantly" increased violence.
(You can access the latest official crime
figures in full at: http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs05/hosb1805.pdf).
Brian Dean [Media Hell]
Initial BBC Reply (dismissive)
Dear Mr Dean
Thank you for your e-mail regarding 'The
Ten O'Clock News' on 20 October...
I note you found the report on violent
crime "misleading" although I can assure you this
was not the intention of the piece. It is worth noting that
the main body of the report was on the measures being introduced
to try and tackle violent crime rather than the figures themselves.
These are street-level initiatives being introduced by the
Government itself in an attempt to take the 'glamour' out
of gangs and gun crime.
to any report is necessarily often a very short summary of
the issue in question and it was not the intention to explore
the figures in depth. Our wider reporting has pointed out
the Home Office's belief that the increase of 6% is a result
of improved crime recording and more proactive policing. In
addition we have also covered the findings of the British
However, I am sorry if you were concerned
and can assure you that your comments have been registered
and added to our daily log which is made available to programme
makers and senior editorial staff.
Thank you again for contacting the BBC.
Our follow-up (sent 5/12/05)
Dear Mr McCullough,
Thanks for your reply to my complaint on
BBC reporting of crime figures.
One matter is left unaddressed by your response:
Does the BBC acknowledge that it was incorrect to state
that violent crime had "significantly" increased?
Given the importance of this issue, and the
BBC's responsibility to correct mistakes, it would be useful
to see a direct admission of error on this occasion.
Second BBC Reply (dismissive again)
Dear Mr Dean
I am sorry that you continue to have concerns
with the 'Ten O'clock News' bulletin from the 20 October and
the piece on violent crime. However, there is not a great
deal I can add to my previous response.
If you do wish to escalate your complaint
you should now contact the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit (ECU)...
BBC upholds our complaint
After the above email from Stewart McCullough, we escalated
our complaint to the BBC's Editorial Complaints Unit.
As we mention at the top of the page, they formally
upheld our complaint (after a long investigation)
the Head of Editorial Complaints, Fraser Steel, wrote to us
about their ruling on 21 February 2006:
News (10.00pm), BBC1, 20 October 2005
I'm sorry to have been so long in
coming to a conclusion on the points you raised in your
letter of 7 December. They gave rise to a good deal
of discussion within the BBC, which I wasn't able to
draw to a conclusion as quickly as I would have liked.
However, although the process has
been a long one, the outcome can be fairly quickly stated.
Bearing in mind the requirement of the BBC's Editorial
Guidelines in relation to truth and accuracy, I believe
there was a breach of editorial standards in this instance.
To explain why, it may help if I quote the most relevant
part of the item:
Overall crime in England and Wales has fallen two percent,
according to the latest quarterly figures from the Home
Office. But the reduction masks a significant rise in
violent crime, which is up six percent...
Clearly, this is true to the extent
that it means the figures for violent crime in that
quarter's Recorded Crime Statistics (RCS) were up by
six percent. However, I think viewers would inevitably
have taken Fiona Bruce's introduction to mean that this
reflected a comparable increase in the actual incidence
of violent crime especially as the introduction
went on to say, without qualification, "Gun
crime is also up five percent". Both for the
reasons you gave and for other reasons, I don't believe
the RCS should be presented in terms which suggest they
can be taken without qualification as a guide to the
real incidence of various kinds of crime, and I accept
that there are considerations relating to crimes of
violence which leave no basis for saying that the increase
in the quarter's RCS means there has been "a
significant rise" in its actual incidence,
or indeed any rise at all.
So, although I take many of the points
which have been made to you in previous correspondence,
I am upholding your complaint in this respect, and I
hope you will accept my apologies on behalf of the BBC.
A summary of my finding will be posted on the complaints
pages of bbc.co.uk, together with a note of the
action to be taken as a result, and I shall send you
a copy when it is published. Meanwhile, thank you for
giving us the opportunity of investigating your concerns,
and for your patience while we did so.
Head of Editorial Complaints
[Letter sent by Fraser Steel
to Brian Dean, 21/2/2006]
However the wording of their ruling
seems to play down the seriousness of their error, as we show
in our case studies
Changes to recording practices have inflated the figures for
violent crime, especially with minor offences. Certain "yobbish"
behaviours (eg minor scuffles) have been reclassified as crime;
a violent crime with many victims is no longer recorded as
a single crime an incident with 3 victims is now recorded
as 3 crimes; a higher proportion of violent crime is recorded
eg the proportion of common assaults (without injury)
recorded rose from around 50% to 68% between 2002 and 2003.
(Sources: Guardian, 22/4/05, Panorama BBC1, 17/4/05, quoting:
Home Office, Association of Chief Police Officers, British