Sky breaking news while it breaks the news

There is an amusing video on YouTube of a couple of people giving a running commentary over BBC News wondering why they haven’t mentioned the earthquake (via Media Monkey).

The people in the video make some amusing comments, although they do exhibit the worst of the victim mentality that a lot of people in this country have. An inch of snow has fallen and it is the end of the bloody world. A train is five minutes late and it is an abomination that would never have happened under British Rail. An earthquake has hit us, woe is me. Etc, etc.

Maybe the guys in the video were being ironic when they kept on shrieking, “There’s been an earthquake! Hellooo? BBC? There’s been an earthquake!” But it wouldn’t surprise me if a lot of people genuinely were enraged when the BBC didn’t cover the only interesting that has happened in their dull little lives. I have heard that Radio 5 Live has had a record number of text messages. That doesn’t surprise me, 5 Live being as it is the country’s premier forum for self-important people with anal passages in place of their mouths, wanting to phone in and describe how the world revolves around them.

Victoria Derbyshire’s programme in the morning was even worse than usual, amazingly enough. The callers I heard all said much the same thing. “My house was shaking! I thought a lorry had crashed into my house!” “I was lying in my bed and I was woken up. At first I thought it was a burglar. Little did I know that it was something even more serious!” YAWN

So parts of England got the shakes. Big deal. The stories about it on the BBC News website are a parade of mediocrity.

“The room just started shaking” Shaking?! How will you ever recover? “The quiet market town at the epicentre of the earthquake recovers”. Yeah, recovers from a few toppled chimneys!

The only casualty from the whole episode appears to be one poor man with a broken pelvis. While I certainly would not like a chimney stack to fall on top of my pelvis, it isn’t exactly September 11 in terms of casualties.

So I am not surprised that BBC News decided not to give it so much coverage. It is worth bearing in mind that after 0100 BBC News 24 ceases to be a UK service. What we get in the UK is essentially a simulcast of BBC World. As such, it reflects a global news agenda.

This is the way it should be really. UK news seldom breaks during the night, and there are few people in the UK watching at that time of night anyway. News channels are notoriously expensive to run anyway. I know certainly that Sky News makes a loss.

It would be difficult for the BBC to justify spending license payers’ money on a near-useless overnight UK service that would be watched by very few people. The BBC has a 24 hour UK news service anyway — it’s called BBC Radio 5 Live. From what I heard of their coverage, they did a pretty good job — as you would expect from the Up All Night crew.

If BBC News 24 / BBC World were to slavishly cover the earthquake like Sky News did, the majority of the BBC’s viewers scattered across the globe would have been equally indignant as the people in the UK complaining about the lack of earthquake coverage. I can just imagine people around the world uploading their commentary onto YouTube. “5 on the Richter scale? I have taken naps through that!”

People across the world look to the BBC as a source of authoritative world news. A piddly wee earthquake in Lincolnshire just doesn’t cut it. If it was an exclusively UK service like Sky News then you would indeed expect them to cover it. But it isn’t, so you wouldn’t (or at least shouldn’t).

I did actually watch a bit of Sky News’s overnight earthquake coverage and it was indeed execrable. In fact, the video I have embedded above highlights the completely different approaches of the two channels and why Sky News falls flat on its face so often.

BBC News might have been late to mention the story, but notably they got it right. They did not spend longer than required on the story, and they got the important details such as the epicentre correct. Meanwhile, Sky News were showing a map with Birmingham and Manchester pinpointed. Why? We don’t know. Sky don’t care about getting it right, as long as they can convey that something is happening — NOW!

In fact, Sky News’s coverage of the earthquake highlights everything that is wrong with 24 hour news. Media Monkey highlights their typically insightful coverage:

Sky News interviewer Faye Barker: “So, what were you doing when the quake shook?” Eyewitness, or should that be earwitness, from Lincolnshire: “I was in bed.” Barker: “Oh… [Pause]. And would you say it felt more like a juggernaut or a freight train going past?” Woman: “Er… a freight train.”

Sky News is also rightly being criticised today for a truly disgusting interview conducted by the diabolical Kay Burley. She was previously famous for her measured response on September 11: “If you’re just joining us, the entire eastern seaboard of the United States has been decimated by a terrorist attack.” This week she asked the wife of recently convicted serial killer Steve Wright the following question:

Do you think if you’d had a better sex life, he wouldn’t have done this?

What a vile question to ask. Not surprisingly, the interviewee burst into tears upon being asked that question. Imagine having that thought running through your head — “If only I had sex with my husband a bit more, those five prostitutes wouldn’t have been murdered.”

Unity, Jennie and Mitch Benn say all that needs to be said.

If BBC News lost respect for its slow response to the earthquake, goodness knows what Sky News must have lost.


  1. I thought pretty much the same thing – it was put into perspective when somewhere mentioned that 5 on the richter scale sounds quite close to 7 or 8, however 5 is actually thousands of times less than 7, sure some chimneys fell off but there wasn’t all that much to get upset about!
    I don’t know if you watched the late edition with marcus brigstocke.. I thought he had a pretty good take on it!

  2. Yeah, the Richter scale is a base-10 logarithmic scale so 5 is quite moderate whereas 7 is rather destructive. In fact, according to Wikipedia every year there are around 800 earthquakes between 5.0 and 5.9 in the Richter scale, which rather puts Wednesday morning’s earthquake into perspective.