THE BBC was under fire last week for granting "excessive" coverage on its flagship news programme for an item concerning the theft of entertainer Bruce Forsyth’s daughter’s dogs.
Writing in the Daily Mail on May 11th, reporter Ian Drury set the tone for an article devoted to a bit of BBC-bashing and picking up on the ‘large number’ of complaints registered by disgruntled viewers who accused the BBC of not only abusing the news programme in favour of one of its highest paid stars, but also of "dumbing down" its news coverage.
Drury relates how, in the news bulletin, presenter Natasha Kaplinsky was sent to interview her former Strictly Come Dancing co-star about the theft and how "Corporation bosses faced immediate questions about their news judgment and the use of licence-fee payers' money."
One BBC journalist, who did not wish to be named, said reporters were fuming. ‘We were all furious, as licence-fee payers,’ he added. ‘In the last hour a story has come out that 1,000 Iraqis have been killed in a month and they didn't even mention it.’ But a BBC spokesman defended the story. She said "dog-napping" of pedigree pets was on the rise and therefore ‘important’."
The report, which was placed at the end of the bulletin, said pedigree dogs are stolen and sold for thousands of pounds on the black market or held for ransom. Miss Kaplinsky reported that animal charities were concerned about the rise in ‘dog-napping’, with police saying up to 250 are stolen each month.
The BBC admitted there had been five complaints about the story. To read Drury’s feature, you’d have thought there’d been five hundred.
As a reporter and also a campaigner against dog theft myself, I found myself seeing both sides to this story. At face value, it’s another example of a right-wing rag indulging in a sport of ‘lefty BBC bashing’, and highlighting the "dumbing down" issue, as well as drawing attention to important news items being dropped in favour of a story about the distress of the daughter of a high-profile BBC employee. Looking at it another way, it was highlighting an important issue – the growing tide of dog theft. Despite the ramblings of some columnists who consider this to be no worse now than it was in the dim and distant past, it IS a growing problem. There have always been dog thefts, of course, but now there is a marked increase in such thefts, because petty criminals see stolen dogs as an easy way to make money – ostensibly for buying drugs, which is the root cause of most petty crime.
And it was hardly the headline story – to be placed eighth story in a news programme is hardly hi-jacking the news for a mate or dumbing down. Okay, why not devote a story to showing the distress caused to an ordinary dog owner who is the victim of dog theft? Yes, it would be effective, but – and here is the simple truth – a story about a celebrity’s dog being stolen (or the dog belonging to a member of their family) highlights the issue very effectively – even the great, the good and the famous can be victims of dog theft.
Perhaps the best summing-up of the issue is a reader’s comment on the Daily Mail’s website following the story, from Janet Stiles of Carshalton, Surrey:
"Dog owners are also licence payers and tax payers. Theft is theft and thieves are criminals. Crime is committed when the dogs are stolen and the dogs are not stolen because the thief desperately wants a dog of his/her own to love! The dogs are stolen for financial gain, so that the thief can extort money from the owner or so that the dog can be used in some way to perpetrate dog fighting, an illegal activity. People who excuse criminality because "it's only a dog" and object to any news time being allocated to a crime that causes people torment and suffering shouldn't be shocked at the lack of public response when they themselves are the victims of crime. "
Nicely said Janet. And finally…