For a number of years in the 1990s, but sadly not in the recent past, the BBC had an annual review of the year programme called Decisive Moments, in which key events from the preceding twelve months were illustrated via reference to still photos. I was always fascinated by the stories behind those images, how they came to be taken from the vantage point that they were, why that frame rather than, say, the next one taken, and so on.
When I finally got around to listening to a recording of the Radio 4 programme Inside Stories, I was captivated with the same fascination. In the series, Guardian journalist Steve Hewlett discusses with colleagues how and why the media choose to cover particular news stories and the angle that they take on them. In an episode on bird flu, first broadcast on February 5th 2008, Hewlett talks with Charles Clover (Environment editor at the Daily Telegraph), Sarah Mukherjee (BBC Environment correspondent), Simon Pearson (Times) and Michael Pollitt (Eastern Daily Press) and traces the unfolding history of UK coverage of bird flu from the 1997 outbreak of H5N1 in Hong Kong poultry, through to the infection at Bernard Matthews’ Norfolk turkey farm in 2007. They consider the conflagrations that occurred, with SARS, H5N1 and the overdue flu pandemic all rolling into one in the mind of the public, and how the over-the-top reporting of a dead swan in Cellardyke, Scotland and the mis-handling of the Bernard Matthews story may actually have brought us to a point where people are better able to distinguish truth from hyperbole. Throughout, the underlying issue is really one of how the media copes with uncertainty.
Sadly, no online recording of the programme is available, but a transcript of the programme can be read here. BUFVC member can obtain a copy via the back-up service, quoting TRILT ID 007CFCC7.