Pick and choose journalism and the Fogel murders

If you have a few spare hours, actually, make that days, you could fill them by reading the huge number of comments below MP Louise Bagshawe’s piece on the Fogel family massacre in Thursday’s Telegraph.

The piece has attracted quite a reaction – 1955 responses at the time of writing – and as well as the usual stream of frankly antisemitic bile, there’s a few more reasoned queries about why this murder should be different.

It’s a discussion I’ve had more than once since the murders. Yes, this was undoubtedly a tragedy (to refresh your memory, five members of the Fogel family including a three-month-old baby were slaughtered in the most gruesome way), but the world is a place where truly horrible things happen all the time.

Where is the coverage, say, of the five people killed by a Sudanese militia in Abyei, this week? Where in the British media is there any real sense of outrage at the million people displaced by fighting in the Ivory Coast?

I’d absolutely agree that I don’t read enough about these places. Yes, it’s nice to know what Cheryl Cole did this week, or just how skilled Kate Middleton is at flipping a pancake, but I’d be quite interested to hear more about the brutal violence perpetrated by the drug lords of Mexico.

We’ve heard plenty about the oppression in Libya, but why only now? Gaddafi has been doing such things for decades. And it’s happening all over the world, not just in places the UN decides to take an interest.

But the fact is, not every story can be covered. The British media simply doesn’t have the manpower, the British public simply doesn’t have the energy.

So, in the scale of things, with natural disasters in Japan and Libya escalating, why did the BBC need to devote space to one gruesome murder?

Firstly, because the BBC is not one newspaper, but a vast media conglomerate with several television stations, an enormous website and a vast reach. Maybe it was too busy a news day to keep the story central on the front of the web or even in the daily news bulletins on terrestrial channels.

But BBC News 24? Isn’t the whole point of rolling news to use it as a platform to cover more, and in more detail?

More than that though, is that the British media cannot on the one hand cover Israel with a fanatical, forensic zeal 99 per cent of the time, and then, when something of genuine public importance happens, take the day off.

I remember a few months ago the story, highlighted on the BBC website, of the IDF using Facebook to catch army-dodgers.

I’m not saying the BBC doesn’t have a case for covering human interest stories like that – I love to read them – but I’m saying, as a publicly-funded institution it shouldn’t get to pick and choose. If you make the commitment to have an enormous Middle East emphasis, with a concentration of staff and resources in and around Israel, then you have to use it.

The day after the murders, the BBC was happy to write about the Israeli government announcement about settlements. In my opinion, that should be reported, and good for the BBC for covering it. But it’s bad journalism to tell only a part of the story.

That’s why this was different, why it mattered. But beyond that, beyond the point about balanced journalism, bias, and whatnot, there’s another point that should be made.

On Friday March 11 2011, three young children were slaughtered in their beds, throats cut, a tiny baby decapitated – in cold blood. Whatever the politics, whatever else is happening in the world, I’d like to think that Britain’s national broadcaster could have found the time to mention that on the news.

I’d like to think we live in a world where such brutality still merits a headline.

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