BBC criticised for failure to report 'human torch' story

The Bristol Evening Post has criticised the BBC for failing to report that a man had doused himself in petrol and threatened to commit suicide outside the corporation’s Bristol studios.

The Evening Post featured the incident on its front page. The paper then followed the story up in its The Mole media column, saying: “News values are always a strongly debated issue, but sometimes the way one set of journalists handles a story can leave the opposition bewildered. “This was certainly the case after BBC Points West failed to report a man who threatened to turn himself into a human torch on the doorstep of its Whiteladies Road studios.”

The drama unfolded at 10.45am in the morning – just in time to make the Evening Post’s late edition. A man shouting in Farsi poured petrol over himself and began brandishing a lighter.

Evening Post photographer Stephen Lewis captured the scene as the emergency services dealt with the situation without the man being hurt.

A BBC Bristol spokesman defended the decision not to cover the incident: “In editorial terms you have to look at every case individually – in this case it was unclear what he was doing and why he was doing it.

“We were unable to establish the reasons behind that incident. Nothing was run because it was very unclear what we would run. “The Evening Post felt it had a strong picture to put on its front page and it wrote about it in a factual way.”

Evening Post managing editor Rob Stokes said: “We look at every story individually as well and by anyone’s standards this was dramatic. “A man doused himself in petrol, threatened to set himself alight beside a busy main road in Bristol, in broad daylight, in view of scores of people and prompting police in riot gear to be deployed.

“Just because we didn’t know his motive or identity didn’t lessen the story. You can make an excuse to ignore any story, but good journalism is about having the courage to report events, even if they are unpalatable and close to home.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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