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Is it just me..

.. or is there something really, horribly wrong with the first three paragraphs of this news story? Reproduced below in case it (hopefully) gets changed:

BBC News

Just to be clear: the lede’s OK, if a slightly tacky sensationalist way to report a serious crime (rape is rape, no matter where, or in which fast-food chain, it occurred). The second para could really do with some further explanation (found further down in the story), but then there’s the third, which starts “The 33-year-old who is an asylum seeker from an African country”.

As far as I’m concerned, this is completely extraneous and should have been struck down with a red pen (or on screen, in this case) by the first editor that happened across it. Unless the writer is about to contend that the man’s immigration status or continent of origin are somehow relevant information to the crime – and I’d love to know how that could be – it shouldn’t be here.

Now, I hate complaining. Completely fucking hate it. Don’t do it. But, in the hope that an editor might see the complaint, take a look at the article and update it accordingly, I made my first ever complaint to the BBC. Here it is, as formatted by the BBC’s automatic email thingy:

{Feedback Type:} I would like to… Make a complaint

{Summary:} Identification of nationality and asylum seeker status is
unwarranted

{URL:} http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/northern_ireland/8350714.stm

{Complaint:} This is a story about an alleged rape. The third para
begins:

“The 33-year-old who is an asylum seeker from an African country”

This is utterly irrelevant to the story and has no place in the article,
let alone in such a prominent position.

And, credit where it’s due, I got a reply. Sadly, though, it comprised of the following:

It is the only information we have about the identity of the suspect in this case; if it been said in court he was a candlestick maker from County Tyrone we would have reported that too.

So, here’s the thing. These are the conclusions I’ve come to:

1) This story shouldn’t have been published as-is. Leaving aside all other complaints for one second, the information given in the third para is unrelated and should be cut.

2) identifying the accused as “an asylum seeker from an African country” just barely skirts around clause ten of the NUJ’s code of conduct:

A journalist shall only mention a person’s age, race, colour, creed, illegitimacy, marital status (or lack of it), gender or sexual orientation if this information is strictly relevant. A journalist shall neither originate nor process material which encourages discrimination, ridicule, prejudice or hatred on any of the above-mentioned grounds.

.. and, code regardless, I’m amazed that any journalist or editor’s sense of ethics would permit it.

3) The response I got from the BBC doesn’t address the complaint, instead making an unrelated comparison – it’s standard court reporting to print the gender, age and approximate location of the accused unless this is restricted in some way, but not to mention immigration status or a “continent of origin”.

4) The story should be fixed or pulled.

Would welcome any comments on whether you agree or not.

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