I’ve just been watching this news video – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-south-east-wales-29957977
It covers the appalling murder of Cerys Marie Yemm by Matthew Williams – and I’m finding it hard to believe that it’s the work of the BBC.
There is a hint of what’s to come when the reporter says, ‘Angelina Cossy lives across the road to the hostel…’ This isn’t English, but the story is an upsetting one, and it’s fair to make allowances.
Then comes an interview with a woman who feels ‘physically and mentally sick’ and who ‘can’t believe that anything like this can happen anywhere.’ This woman, it turns out, has nothing whatsoever to do with the incident, and as I doubt anyone feels physically and mentally enhanced by it, I’m not sure why she’s featured.
But the real problem comes at the end – and it isn’t just sloppy journalism, it’s dangerous. Williams had recently served a prison sentence for assaulting an ex-girlfriend, and was living in a half-way house, a hostel for people returning to the community. The reporter says:
Tonight questions are being asked about why a man with such a violent past was living in this residential community.
The point of a half-way house is to return prisoners to normal life. It has to be in someone’s residential community. And when he was placed in the hostel, he hadn’t committed a murder. He had a conviction for assault, like many tens of thousands of others around the country. Does that automatically qualify him as someone ‘with such a violent past’ that he shouldn’t be allowed near ordinary people? This journalist is using hindsight to make an invalid and irresponsible point. The story is terrifying enough without making it seem even worse than it is. That’s what tabloid newspapers do. The BBC – usually – doesn’t.
Williams’s crime was vicious and appalling, and I certainly don’t want to appear to minimise its seriousness. But that seriousness is no reason to lower our expectations of how it is covered.