This is very odd

Those of you without a life or a job (or who work shifts) may be aware that on BBC1 at 1058 or so, in between the end of ‘Homes Under the Hammer’, and the start of ‘To Buy or Not to Buy’, there’s a very brief round-up of the news.  It covers only the top three or four stories, plus a brief look at the weather, and is really nothing more than the headlines.  Today, one of the stories included was that Dame Stella Rimmington, a former head of MI5, had said that in recent years the government had been using the fear of terrorism as a means to increase surveillance on the whole population, and that we were now in danger of living in a police state.

I could immediately see why the editors and journalists in the BBC newsroom had decided this was a significant story.  A former head of MI5, the state agency responsible for protecting the UK’s national security, saying the kind of things that usually get said by organisations like Liberty.  Not only this, but also apparently insinuating that the government was using the fear of terrorism as a pretext for introducing measures it wanted to see in place for other reasons.  Clearly, this was incendiary stuff, and of great concern to a lot of people like me who worry that the UK is sleepwalking into a police state.

So imagine my surprise when I looked at the BBC News website a little while ago, and couldn’t find the story.  I scanned the whole front page, and I couldn’t find a mention anywhere.  Not one of the picture headlines; not mentioned in the ‘Other Top Stories’ section; not appearing under any of the subsection headings (‘Around the UK’, ‘UK Politics’ etc).  It wasn’t even in the list of most popular stories, meaning that this wasn’t an example of a big story moving precipitously down the food chain because of a rapidly changing news agenda.  It just wasn’t anywhere on the page.

Eventually I did find the story.  It was on the ‘UK Politics page‘, where it was ranked as the fifth most important political story, after the chancellor’s decision to limit bank bonuses, the conviction of Tessa Jowell’s estranged husband for accepting a bribe from the Italian PM, a Conservative proposal to increase the number of directly elected mayors (something which, as far as I can remember, has been party policy for a long time) and a comment from Peter Mandelson arguing that President Obama has to hold his nerve:


(Sorry for the low quality of the screen grab.  The story is second in the ‘Other Top Stories’ section at the top right, entitled ‘Ministers “exploit terrorism fears”‘.)

Now, it strikes me that this is very odd.  What exactly has happened, I found myself wondering.  Is this one of those very rare occasions when the editorial team for the website and TV news take a different view on the significance of a story?  It’s not as though this is a minor disagreement about significance – the TV identified the story as one of the most significant across the whole range of news, national and international.  The website, on the other hand, classified it as the fifth most important story within the sub-genre of politics.

I tried to think what other reasons there might be for the discrepancy.  Perhaps it’s because the story is based on an article appearing in the Daily Telegraph.  The Telegraph might take a dim view of the BBC grabbing net traffic by making a big splash on a story it considered its own, but the same concern wouldn’t apply to TV news, as the Telegraph doesn’t run a rival TV news service.  But, then again, I thought, once a story has been printed in a newspaper, it’s usually considered fair game by other news providers.  If anything, high-profile coverage on the BBC’s site (which is, by a huge margin, the most popular news website in the UK) would help to raise the profile of the Telegraph’s website, and hence increase its advertising revenue.

Then I started to wonder if the BBC had been ‘got at’ in some way, and had been ‘persuaded’ to move the story down the agenda.  It’s a matter of public record that when Alistair Campbell was the government’s Director of Communications he thought nothing of delivering messages and ultimata to BBC editors about stories he didn’t like, sometimes by several means simultaneously – phone, email, fax, and couriered letter.  So I watched the headlines on the BBC News Channel at 1530, and found that they still had the story as fourth on the agenda.

In some ways, this was very reassuring.  It looked as though I had been wrong to worry about the BBC being ‘nobbled’.  But the fact of the huge discrepancy in the significance of the story online and on TV still bothered me.  It’s such a huge difference.  So now I’m wondering if the BBC is in fact coming under pressure to ‘re-assess’ the significance of the story, and its just that the duty editor on the News Channel is standing up to the pressure more effectively than the online editor.  Or if the BBC has decided to give the story high-priority on TV at those points in the day when very few people will be watching in order that, if they are accused of succumbing to political pressure, they can mount a defence saying the story was treated as very significant on the News Channel throughout the day, and so brush aside that the means by which most people access BBC news during the day (the website) was massively under-playing it. 

It’ll be interesting to see how prominent the story will be on the evening news programmes when people will actually be watching.

Or, on the other hand, am I just getting paranoid again?

Edit: Well, I watched the Ten O’ Clock news on BBC1 and – guess what – no mention.  I’d like to say I’m surprised, but I’m not, really.

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11 Responses to This is very odd

  1. Doesn’t sound paranoid to me. Sounds all too familiar. Thanks for pointing this one out. D

  2. Lucy McGough says:

    It wasn’t on the 9pm news on Radio 4, but it is the top topic on ‘Have Your Say’ on the BBC website.

  3. norm says:

    I read the story on the BBC news website and at the time it was just a link in the main news section – the links move around a lot – and the story basically had Stella Rimmington accusing the US Government of torture and our own Government of playing the Fear card in its war on terror in a way that undermined not only citizens rights but also the fight against terrorism itself.

    But it wasnt an isolated story it was a follow up to one posted the previous day about an international panel of judges and lawyers that had been researching the human rights cost of the war on terror around the world for 3 years basically saying the same thing about the war on terror seriously eroding rights. I’ve included a summary of the panel’s report below.

    Why dont people take more notice of these reports?

    Because they dont care just as most MH bloggers really dont care that much about the worst abuses of the MH system although they are pretty quick to holler stigma and discrimination over trivial things when it suits them to.

    So if you are realy concerned about this issue and think people should take more notice stick something more permanent up on your site to draw peoples attention to it , add a few links connected to this issue including those that encourage people to contact their MP.

    Change doesnt happen overnight or because people go out on a demo now and again and if you are really concerned about the threat the war on terror poses for civil liberties and human rights you’ll realise that we all have a choice, to make it our ongoing business to oppose these type of abuses or simply go back to sleep.

    “The United States and other countries that used torture in the so-called war on terror seriously damaged respect for basic human rights, an international panel of legal experts said Monday.

    The eight-member panel, led by former Irish President Mary Robinson, said the three-year investigation found that the damage to human rights law was more severe than they had expected.”

  4. Lucy McGough says:

    “most MH bloggers really dont care that much about the worst abuses of the MH system although they are pretty quick to holler stigma and discrimination over trivial things when it suits them to.”

    That’s a bit of a sweeping statement, and in my opinion it is unfair. Just my opinion, though.

  5. norm says:

    Yes , it’s a sweeping statement from someone who has spent a lot of time blogging about MH issues , reading other MH bloggers , watching which MH blogs the mainstream media tends to push and noting what MH services and MH charities tend to write about online. I also subscribe to Google alerts using a variety of MH related keywords and phrases , including ‘disability discrimination’ which allows one to notice trends over time so I’m sorry but I don’t think my opinion is unfair or misleading at all.

  6. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    abysmal musings – well, the fact that the story wasn’t mentioned in the 10 o’ clock inclines me to believe that it maybe wasn’t all paranoia, i must say. :o)

    Lucy McGough – i agree with you.

    norm – i am concerned about the issue, but i won’t be adding links to my site recommending people contact their MP because, frankly, it’s pointless. Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs will vote against any further restrictions of civil liberties because their parties are aware this is one of the ways they’re most likely to secure a defeat for the government. As for Labour MPs, they vote in accordance with their personal conscience, as happened, for example, in the vote on extending the detention of terror suspects without trial.

    I am afraid i never have been, and never will be, convinced that writing letters or emails to an MP makes the slightest bit of difference. What matters to politicians is media coverage, and this is why i have used this post as an opportunity to highlight issues about the coverage of this in the media. It is very likely i will return to the various aspects of this issue again, as i think this is one way i can do my (very small) part to push it up the agenda.

    I think your criticisms of the MH blog community are misplaced. Stigma has a huge effect on people’s lives, and when they write about it they are, emphatically, not ‘hollering’ over ‘insignificant’ or ‘trivial’ things.

    Being denied access to education and employment isn’t trivial. Being treated with fear and suspicion by people you thought were friends isn’t trivial either. Trying to get treatment out of a service that is chronically under-funded because no-one really cares about the mentals – not compared to the ‘really ill’ cancer sufferers,anyawy – is most definitely not trivial. All of that flows from stigma.

    Clearly your experience of the MH blogosphere differs from mine, but i have to say i don’t recognise your description of us as a group of people who ‘don’t really care’ about abuse. Certainly, MH bloggers write about bad treatment in the MH system more often, and with greater persistence and commitment, than anyone else does.

    As you are very concerned that abuse is going under-reported, it occurs to me that one way for you to be sure it gets more exposure would be to run a blog of your own in which you talk about it, and then to do everything you can to raise the profile of that blog. For all i know you already keep such a blog – but i do notice that you haven’t linked to it in either of your comments here. That’s a shame, because i agree with you that people who are suffering abuse desperately need people to speak out on their behalf, and you would seem to be well-qualified to do that.

  7. norm says:

    Hi Aethelread,

    Well I’ve had a few MH specific blogs and websites including this blog

    which ran from June 2006 to 2007 and displays the last post first.

    Its a campaign blog and the final blog entry ‘ The End’ somewhat mirrors your disillusionment about our ability to change things for different reasons but it wasnt pointless we – as other service users contributed to and supported the blog – acheived our aims , the Trust in question reversed the unjust decision we complained about ,it publicly apologised and admitted making a mistake – a first surely- and made back payments to its service users in an effort to put things right.

    The blog and its easy to use ‘take action’ links helped focus the campaign and keep the issue in the spotlight and proved what a few determined people can do if they set their minds to it. At one point a leading US University picked up the blog and used it as part of its 21st century democracy syllabus because it was a model of grassroots initiative using technology to take on a powerful institution on its own terms. The campaign cost nothing to run , it wasnt supported by any of the MH charities – in fact 4 of them were actively involved in making the discriminatory decision we helped get reversed.

    So, yes I am aware of stigma and discrimination in the workplace but this example , the one campaigned against on the blog, was being carried out in pursuit of Government policy by the very forces pushing the nationally networked anti stigma and discrimination campaign only it was a self-serving campaign designed to always look outwards and away from their discriminatory actions .

    Government policy is the source of infrastructural discrimination. Of course it is. The public didnt lock down all MH sites and hide itself behind CCTV cameras and remotetly operated door entry mechanisms to deal with us – Britain’s Mental health system did in the human social policy equivalent of the Dangerous dogs Act..

    We basically cant be trusted Aethelread. So, the system doesnt trust us but the public and your friends must?


    Why should your friends be more understanding than the well paid MH experts so keen to tell us how the rest of society discriminates against us ?

    The MH charities treat us in the same security problem way – go pay your local Mind Office a visit if you dont believe me – while they accuse the rest of society of assuming we are dangerous.

    Hang on, I dont remember any members of the public discriminating against me recently….

    And employment.

    Why should mainstream employers bother with MH service users if the system wont employ them to do ordinary jobs itself?


    My Trust listed in an FOIA response that it employed 2 service users but none in non ‘ empowerment ‘ roles. One is the service Director of the borough I live in , has been for the lat 10 years so she’s a real empowerer of others isnt she? When I asked her why service users werent being employed in normal job roles she said the staff Unions hadnt agreed it yet. Presumably they are still struggling to get over working alongside gays and blacks…but hey, lets blame McDonalds, its safer and there’s no need to risk getting on the wrong side of real power derived from the state or biting the hand that medicates.

    And am I really being that unfair in suggesting that there is a nationally networked MH poverty industry that feeds off massively duplicated anti-stigma and discrimination funding – over £100 million to date – without improving the lot of the average person with MH issues one jot?
    A poverty industry that has no real incentive to take on the system itself because its become an integral part of it through state contracts and cross organisational links and funding.

    I dont think so. You may disagree.

    Am I stigmatising anyone by suggesting that money is being diverted away from basic treatment and care towards unrealistic mass employment schemes and to help charities heroicly brag about getting millions of people with MH issues into work as we sink deeper into recession and they have no real evidence of success at all?

    How unreal does the official bulshit need to get before people start to openly question it?

    I have an ongoing court case against my NHS Trust over one of its appalling community services – timely as the Healthcare commission just slammed them for having the worst community services in the country – , I’ve had all services withdrawn mid case and the systems Victorian obsession with deference , resisting accountability and saving face has also cost me my relationship with my longtime GP . Oh yeah, and I didnt get any help with training or employment either .

    Many service users find themselves in a similar situation or getting there just for questioning how they are treated by the system.

    What about them? Who speaks up on their behalf or mine for that matter? .Or do we only risk getting concerned about this really powerful form of discrimination when its unleashed on us ?

  8. cb says:

    I think they have different editors on the website and TV news and also at different points in the day. Interesting to follow how these things pan out though.

  9. Mandy says:

    I have heard, but have not seen it for myself, about a posting on the OUCH site (which is run by the BBC)

    It related to the man who walked out of a supposedly high secure unit.

    The posting and I repeat again that I only heard about it, was that he was highly dangerous and it was a disgrace that this man was allowed to walk freely being such a threat to society.

    Now, I haven’t looked at the OUCH site for well over a year but last time I looked it claimed to be a site focussing on people with disabilities.

    I think it is rather sad that the man was branded as some kind of brute and more sad that he killed himself rather less sensationalist ending to what was being written about him.

    Would like to get hold of the posting…so I could actually quote verbatum what was written but if that is what was written on a site dedicated to disabled pedole and their issues, I think Stigma is alive and kicking in places where it shouldn’t really have any place.

    I would also like to add that a fair few people at the day centre I used to go to were racist and bigotted so let us not think that ‘stigma’ is something people with mental illness aren’t party to.

  10. norm says:


    I think I misled people over the involvment of the BBC Ouch site. That post was on the main BBC news website’s main page not the Ouch site and concerned a patient named Paul Caesar who walked out of St Georges hospital in Tooting South London after being left unaccompanied in the hospital grounds . The first BBC posting covered an ‘escape’ talked up Caeser’s conviction for murder , what a danger he was to the public and how many dangerous patients had escaped from St Georges before providing a list anf gory details . Within hours the post had changed because police established that Caeser had jumped in front of a train at a nearby station .

    There is a balance to be struck as St Georges must have realised that this patient was a serious suicide risk and more likely to harm himself as he had been detained since 1996 yet the BBC decided to sensationalise the ‘Mad Axeman’ type of approach anyway.

    The BBC Ouch team should think about putting the BBC’s house in order
    as there was no attempt at balance or accuracy in reporting here and the authorities failed to as surely with the attention raised by this ‘ escape’ it wouldnt have required rocket science to have police cover local train stations in the area just in case unless this man was already dead by the time the alarm was raised in which case it makes the reporting all the more lazy and distorted and the whole situation even more tragic.

  11. This story did alarm me. She’s not the type of person who would make any statement to the press lightly, nor someone likely to have some sort of lefty wooly liberal attitude.

    At least the govt can’t smear her. They’d look pretty stupid trying.

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