Captive: Mosey’s decision over Ken Bigley’s plea fuelled controversy
A decision by the BBC not to broadcast the video of caged Iraq hostage Kenneth Bigley begging the Prime Minister to help free him caused “consternation” among some of the corporation’s journalists.
They disagreed with the ruling that only a still image, showing Bigley behind bars, should be used on air.
Head of television news Roger Mosey, who recently called for a debate among broadcasters and newspapers about their role in covering hostage-taking in Iraq, emailed BBC staff telling them not to use the video when it was released by Bigley’s captors on 29 September.
The decision caused the rolling news channel, BBC News 24 to change tack as it had already used a clip of the film that had been broadcast over the internet.
Despite protests of some programme editors, who were said to be “outraged” when they met him that afternoon, Mosey stood by his decision.
With the backing of director of news Helen Boaden, it was decided that the Six O’Clock news bulletin would also use a still.
One journalist said: “He was saying that we shouldn’t give the terrorists the oxygen of publicity, but people were arguing that if we are doing the story, we are still giving them the publicity, we’re just not using the video.
“There was a feeling of great despair in the newsroom; everybody else was using it and we were going out on a limb without understanding why.”
Senior figures on the Six O’Clock News were said to have been furious that no explanation was given on air as to the decision.
After a conference call among BBC’s news managers, that included erstwhile deputy director of news, Mark Damazer and deputy director-general Mark Byford, who also chairs the BBC’s Journalism Board, it was agreed that the 10 O’Clock News could use between 10 and 12 seconds of the video but no sound.
“People are a bit worried as obviously there is going to be lots more of this sort of thing and are we never going to show any more videos? We don’t know if it’s a permanent thing or not,” said one senior journalist.
Mosey said in The Observer recently that broadcasters and newspapers should engage in debate about the ethical dilemmas raised by the Beslan school massacre in Russia and the terrorist videos of hostages facing murder in Iraq.
In an internal email to staff Mosey defended the decision of “broadcasting much less than ITN or Sky”.
Roger Mosey told Press Gazette: “We debate editorial issues everyday within TV News: it’s our job. On the use of the Kenneth Bigley video, views varied across the department, which is entirely and completely normal. After the Six O’Clock News, we collectively decided that we should show slightly more of the video in later outlets after the watershed. We would then revert to a still the following day. The overwhelming consensus of editors at the following morning’s editorial meeting was that we had got it more right than other broadcasters.”
By Julie Tomlin