07/02/2014 Newswatch


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It is News watch with Samira Ahmed, and the art of the television news


obituary. Hello and welcome to News watch with


me, Samira Ahmed. An actor dies of a drugs overdose, how much news


coverage does that warrant and her respectful fit the tone of victories


the -- how respectful. Should the tone of obituaries. Viewers ask, do


BBC staff need to be in the eye of the storm? And fake or fortune, why


viewers of that BBC One programme knew the answer to the question


before they had even watched it. News of the death of the actor,


Philip Seymour Hoffman, broke early on Sunday evening. It led the BBC


bulletin with a report from Nick Bryant in New York. Celebrated in


Hollywood, the life of Philip Seymour Hoffman ended in the


seclusion of his New York apartment, where he died following an apparent


drug overdose. His body was reportedly discovered with a needle


in his arm. What is believed to be heroin was also found at the scene.


Not everyone approved of the coverage.


We asked BBC News for a response to those complaints and were told...


When reporting the death of public figures, we do take into account how


they will be received among our audience. On Sunday night we also


reported a number of other stories. This is not the first time the


reporting of a death has provoked controversy among viewers about the


amount of attention and the tone of obituaries. Two stories which


resulted in some of the biggest complaint of recent years were the


death of Michael Jackson in 2009 and of Amy Winehouse in 2011. Both


resulted in widespread outpouring of grief. The controversy surrounding


the death led to accusations of excessive focus on celebrities and


overly sympathetic reporting. Political depth, such as that of


Baroness Thatcher last year drew equally divided responses. Thousands


complained about the blanket coverage of Nelson Mandela. There


were complaints about the tone of the obituary of Ronnie Biggs and


that of Lord McAlpine in January. Should one speak ill of the dead or


should one always be respectful in obituaries? Joining me to discuss


all those issues is Nick Higham. He has looked back on the lives of many


figures in the news. Thank you for coming on the programme. Let's start


with Philip Seymour Hoffman. It was interesting that the number of


viewers felt the coverage was too prominent and he did not warrant


that much attention. What did you make of that view? He led the


bulletin at 10pm on Sunday evening. That was largely because there were


other stories but they were not as strong. I think you need to


distinguish between conventional obituaries, when somebody dies at a


great age are to a long and valuable life, and we look back and celebrate


that life and those people who die in other circumstances. That makes


them news stories. The treatment of the Philip Seymour Hoffman story was


much more of a news story than an obituary. There were complaints


there was an outhouse bias. Many might not have seen his bills and he


was not a very famous actor. -- his films. They say that scientists do


not get proper obituaries but actors do. Actors, appearing on television,


screen and films, there is a lot of material about them. Scientists


often do not make television programmes. They work away from the


public eye so it is much more difficult to craft an obituary about


them. I did an obituary the other day of Christopher chat away. He was


a middle distance runner in the 1950s. He was a world record holder


who ran with Roger Bannister when he broke the four-minute mile. He was a


pioneering television reporter. He was a Conservative MP and the


minister who produced commercial television. Many came up to me who


had not heard of him and said, Goss, wasn't he interesting! There is a


sense there is an implicit danger of glorifying a celebrity drug abuse


death. I understand why people say that. To shy away from the cause of


death would be dishonest. You have to say he died in the prime of


life. Why? He was a drug user. Where someone has been controversial and


private lives have been difficult, where they have done things which


are perhaps reprehensible, it would be wrong of us to shy away from that


and not to talk about it. The BBC does prepare profiles in advance. As


someone who has done it a lot, how does it work? How tricky is it


preparing films about people who are still with us? There are many people


about whom we would want to run obituaries. You are looking for good


pictures and someone who has lived an interesting and significant


life. They have had a significant impact. It helps but is not


essential that people recognise them and know them. If there is some


element of controversy, you want to reflect that. You must not shy away


from bad news. My biggest failure many years ago in obituaries was


when Robert Maxwell died. We ran an obituary, because we were not


certain he was dead at the time. We were always afraid he might come


back and sue us for libel if he were not dead. I knew he was a crook but


I think we short-changed our viewers. Thank you so much. You can


let us know your thoughts on TV obituaries by phone, e-mail or


Twitter. Details coming up later. First, some of the topics which have


caught your attention this week, starting with the attention given to


the trip of Prince Charles to the flood hit Somerset Levels.


This week 's floods also prompted comments with or familiar ring.


There were concerns that BBC staff might be endangering themselves and


setting a bad example to others in the wet and windy locations from


where they were reporting. We were told that BBC staff or undergo


safety training. Now complaints have resurfaced, following reports this


week, such as these. People are offering each other places to stay.


Cattle are being taken to auction. You get the sense that the time is


up and the water is encroaching that bit further up all the time. It has


really taken a turn for the worse. Their ways are starting to come over


the wall. It is very damp and windy. -- be waves. It has been a ferocious


night. Have you done enough to protect communities like this? Very


much so. I think we will leave it there because it is starting to


become unsafe. We are going to move. There is one message from the


Environment Agency to be ballooning in these areas, do not come down and


take a look. Finally, the strange Case of the


businessman who paid ?100,000 for a work of art by the artist Marc


Chagall. The discovery was made on BBC One programme shown on Sunday


evening. Before that, BBC Television, radio and online news


had already carried the story that it was indeed a forgery, thus


upsetting 150 or so viewers who contacted us.


Thanks to those who got in touch this week. You can telephone us, or


e-mail. You may feature your message or even invite you to appear on the


programme. You can search the topics we have previously covered on the


website. That is all from us. We will back to hear your thoughts


about BBC News coverage again next week. Goodbye.


Hello. The coast will be a dangerous place to be again over the next


couple of days. More storms heading in from the Atlantic with the


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