Ben Rayner

Right to reply: How we beat the Beeb

Right to reply: How we beat the Beeb
Text settings

A slight change to the normal rules of engagement for this latest post in our 'Right to reply' series. Whereas these posts normally take issue with what your Coffee House baristas have written, this one takes issue with the post by the BBC's Jon Williams that we put up yesterday. It's by Al Jazeera's Ben Rayner:

In wars reputations of whole news organizations can be made or broken very quickly. And the spin on the result is almost as important as the reality.

Undoubtedly the BBC took a fearful kicking in the press over its coverage of the fall of Tripoli in August. To the British papers, Sky's Alex Crawford had won the day at the expense of slow moving Auntie. One thing was clear, the BBC couldn't be seen to lose again when Gaddafi was killed or captured and BBC execs knew it.

Hence presenter Sophie Raworth being told to trumpet that the BBC were the only "British broadcaster in Sirte," on Thursday night. That's somewhat true. But the emphasis is on the British. Sure Sky and ITV were nowhere to be seen; seemingly unwilling or unable to maintain the cost of keeping multiple teams in Libya. But aside from them, the BBC lost on all counts to Al Jazeera.

The semantics and technicalities about British broadcasters do not matter to British viewers. Those that tuned into Al Jazeera would have seen that the veteran RTS-winning British journalist Tony Birtley was the first into Sirte; we were first with the news that Gaddafi had been killed; we were live in vision in Sirte while the BBC's man was on the phone; and, most importantly, we were first with the gruesome moving pictures of Gaddafi after Birtley got hold of them on the ground.

In fact the BBC rang us asking to use those pictures.

Maybe the BBC got one over on Sky with the killing of Gaddafi — Sky's reliance on a freelance reporter miles from the action in Tripoli was hardly their finest hour. However, to viewers around the world and in homes across the UK, where the channel is available on Sky and Freeview, Al Jazeera was the channel giving them the real scoop: those terrible pictures of Gaddafi.

Ben Rayner is Executive Producer of News at Al Jazeera English.