July 03, 2006

BBC News headline writer should be sacked

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/5138294.stm

Do we all remember "comprehension" questions in GCSE English? They usually took the form of a very simple paragraph, followed by a multiple choice list of statements, one of which summed up the paragraph. I'd like you to see if you can correctly answer the following GCSE English question:

Q5. [2 marks]

In its report, the committee says no recent cases provide justification for a longer detention period.

But it adds: "The growing number of cases and the increase in suspects monitored by the police and security services make it entirely possible, and perhaps increasingly likely, that there will be cases that do provide that justification.

"We therefore believe that the 28-day limit may well prove inadequate in the future."

Which of the following statements best describes the paragraphs above?

  1. The 28 day limit is too long
  2. The 28 day limit is sufficient, but may have to be extended
  3. The 28–day limit will almost certainly need to be extended

If you got the right answer, then you did better than the buffoon who writes headlines and summaries for the BBC News page.

The BBC article linked to above is entitled:

28-day terror limit 'inadequate'

In case we were in any doubt about what the headline writer thinks, the one line summary of the article reads:

The 28–day limit for police to hold terror suspects without charge will almost certainly need to be extended, an influential committee of MPs says.

Are we dealing with an idiot or an ideologue?


- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. idiot.

    03 Jul 2006, 13:17

  2. Well, after I sent them an email last night berating them for their lack of basic literacy skills, they have changed the article today. The title is still the same (and misleading in my opinion), but the one line summary now reads:

    The 28–day limit for police to hold terror suspects without charge may well need to be extended, an influential committee of MPs says.

    I guess that's something…

    03 Jul 2006, 13:28

  3. Having actually had a chance to look at the report itself (although I've only read the Home Office press release here along with a bit of the full report), I can quote it as recommending: "Any new legislation should not propose longer than 28 days detention unless the evidence is compelling..." The bottom line of the report is so far at odds with what the BBC report says that it's quite difficult to see how they came to write what they did. This seems to be a distinct failing of the BBC, see my entry on how the BBC misleadingly described an independent review into its Middle East reporting.

    04 Jul 2006, 03:17


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