Friday, June 12, 2015

In support of Kay Burley

Kay Burley is currently the subject of a petition aimed at having her sacked from Sky News, as well as the subject of over a thousand complaints to OFCOM. She's also been called many names in social media posts, usually in terms reserved only for women. The trigger for this was an interview on Sky News with Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainment, following the dreadful accident on a roller coaster at Alton Towers.

I've watched the interview several times. As a fellow journalist who specialises in training CEOs to cope with crisis interviews, I think Ms Burley did nothing wrong. The interview could have been shorter, but that's not Ms Burley's fault, since she was no doubt being directed from the gallery, and being told to keep going.

Mr Varney spoke well, and expressed his concern and sympathy for the victims. However, he also referred to introducing "another level of safety", which begged the question as to why that wasn't already in place. Any professional journalist would have probed him on that point.

However, I suspect this is more about another issue - Ms Burley's gender. If the interview had been conducted by a male journalist, Paxman-style, I don't think there would have been a similar outcry. The fact that many of the insults refer to her as a "bitch", "cow' or even worse, indicate that people feel that being a woman and being an assertive interviewer is unaceptable.

It's perhaps telling that when Jeremy Clarkson admitted to punching a member of his production team, a million people signed a petition to have him reinstated. In 1997, Jeremy Paxman was widely praised for asking former Home Secretary Michael Howard the same question fourteen times in a row. However, Ms Burley's repeated questioning of safety standards following a serious accident is seen as intrusive.

It seems to me that the wave of criticism has more than a whiff of sexism about it. Sky News should express their confidence in Ms Burley, and ask her to get on with her job of holding public figures to account. 

Image credit: Creative Commons

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Prior to the poor young lady having had her leg amputated ---


In the interview, Burley pressed Varney to reveal whether a report that one of the victims had lost a leg was true. “We are deeply sorry for the accident that happened,” he said.

Burley replied: “I’m sure they are not interested in your sympathy at this stage. They went to have a fantastic day and they have potentially lost a limb – you won’t tell us if they have or not.”

He responded: “With all due respect, to be telling you stuff like that … That is absolutely personal information to those individuals and their families.”

Breach of medical confidence and effectively trail by media as the HSE are still investigating.

Anonymous said...

In the interview, Burley pressed Varney to reveal whether a report that one of the victims had lost a leg was true. We are deeply sorry for the accident that happened,” he said.

Burley replied: “I’m sure they are not interested in your sympathy at this stage. They went to have a fantastic day and they have potentially lost a limb – you won’t tell us if they have or not.”

He responded: “With all due respect, to be telling you stuff like that … That is absolutely personal information to those individuals and their families.”

So trying to illicit medical in confidence information is acceptable then? Announcing that the poor young lady has lost her leg prior to amputation is acceptable then. Portioning blame before the HSE has investigated is acceptable then?

Alan Stevens said...

Thank you for your comments. Is it fair to ask a question about injuries? I think it is. Is it reasonable for Mr Varney to say that he's unable to respond? I think it it is.

Asking about responsibility in the event of an incident is a question every journalist would ask.

Simply asking "What do you think caused it?" and "What were the injuries sustained?" are hardly intrusive. That's what we do as journalists.

Stuart Bruce said...

Well said Alan. I actually don't rate Kay Burley as a reporter, as she has had more than her fair share of poor interviews. However, the irony is I don't think this was one of them. On the contrary I think it was perhaps one of her stronger ones. I think you're right about the veiled, and not so veiled sexism, behind much of the criticism.

Anonymous said...

Stuart so half an answer ------- Announcing that the poor young lady has lost her leg prior to amputation is acceptable then. Portioning blame before the HSE has investigated is acceptable then?

Alan Stevens said...

No one is apportioning blame. It's a perfectly reasonable question to ask about injuries. It's also perfectly reasonable to deflect the question on the grounds of family privacy.

Furthermore, asking about the cause of the crash is the question everyone would ask, which is a journalist's role.

Allister said...

I don't buy your assertion that sexism is fueling the backlash against Ms Burley. There's no evidence for this, nor should we assume that the criticism being laid against her is related in any way to her gender. To do so is perhaps itself an act of sexism.

You're right that the interview was overly long, but it was also unnecessarily aggressive and confrontational. The interview left me feeling more sympathy for the interviewee than for those who really deserve our sympathy: the victims of this horrible accident.

And there lies the line that Burley should not have crossed. The true public interest resides in establishing the cause of the accident and expressing every sympathy for the victims. When that translates into journalistic bullying, from a journalist of any gender, to score points from an interviewee who is clearly working hard to serve the public interest, I think viewers have a right to politely express their discontent.

Alan Stevens said...

Allister,

Thank you for your comment. The terms in which Ms Burley has been criticised - "bitch", "cow" etc are sexist to my way of thinking. Also, I am far from alone in noting that her gender may be relevant. Articles in several newspapers have made exactly the same point - that had the words come from a male journalist such as Jim Naughtie, there would probably have been few complaints.

I believe that Ms Burley has crossed the line in previous interviews, with Peter Andre and the wife of serial killer Steve Wright, for example. In this case, I believe she was doing her job of holding a CEO to account.

I agree with you that viewers have every right to express their discontent. As a fellow scribe, I have every right to express my support.