BBC News: Murdering the headlines

Today Scottish homicide figures were released and they show that the murder rate in Scotland has risen by a statistically insignificant amount.

The story here, as the STV headling correctly signifies is that the:

Last year, in the whole of Scotland there were only 61 murder cases compared to 58 the year before.  In 2007/2008 there were 115 cases.

There were 6 more murder victims last year compared to the previous year, as 3 of the murder cases involved more than one victim.

However, it doesn’t take the world’s greatest mathematical mind to work out that this rise is just a blip. A stat going from one small number to a slightly larger number is not a cause for concern when the long-term trajectory is moving in the opposite direction.

To quote from the actual report the headline is based on, last year was the second lowest year for murder cases since at least 1976.

Between 2015-16 and 2016-17, the number of homicide cases recorded by the police in Scotland increased by 5% (3 cases) from 58 to 61. This is the joint second lowest number of recorded homicide cases for a single twelve month period since 1976, the first year for which comparable data are available.

Given these facts it was disappointing to see the top headline on the BBC Scotland website is:

A headline, that doesn’t outright lie, but that is alarmist and gives people a false impression as to the bigger picture

This is bad because millions of people will see the headline on the BBC website or on social media without clicking on it. Potentially giving them the impression that Scotland is a far more dangerous place than it actually is.

This is in the context of BBC political correspondent, Nick Robinson, having a go at alternative media for running a witch hunt against the BBC.

In a previous article, we argued as to why the BBC is far more of a culprit when it comes to spreading fake news than many alt sources. The BBC reaches far more people than a blog could ever hope to and therefore, any shoddy reporting it does has a much more negative effect.

A headline, like the one above, that puts an unnecessarily negative spin on a good news story, is very damaging when carried by a massive news organisation like the BBC.

Millions of people will see the headline but never get beyond it. So in a story about something as serious as murder rates, a misleading headline is going to have a very negative effect if written by a major news source. Instead of feeling safer, many will feel insecure, many will think the police and government are failing on serious crime, many will get a negative impression about the type of country Scotland is.

Nick Robinson’s article talked about the decline in trust in the mainstream media. Headlines like this on the BBC website don’t do much to restore my faith in the BBC’s ability to use their immense power to convey the truth.

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Bobby Hainey

Joint founder of Autonomyscotland. In my spare time I enjoy Road Cycling, Munro bagging and beer.

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