Ian Hislop vs Swindon Town

AMID all the analysis on Allen Stanford’s financial adventures, the latest issue of Private Eye contains an intriguing snippet which was intended as a pop at the BBC, but which may inadvertently end up annoying an awful lot of Swindon Town fans.

The article appears on page eight, just above the Dumb Britain column (aka the latest series of daft answers given to questions on The Weakest Link). And it goes like this:

“The BBC’s commitment to accuracy is a core editorial value,” says the BBC guidelines bible. Except when reporting football matches, it seems.
It is routine, particularly for regional news and sports programmes, to exaggerate the size of crowds by the clumsy use of audio dubbing, designed to give the impression that a larger number of people give a toss about the footie than is the case.
A match last month between Swindon and Scunthorpe, which attracted a few dozen fans, was given an audio track by BBC South that added the roar of a capacity crowd to pictures of an almost empty ground.
On the same day, the very same “large crowd cheering wildly” library clip was also pasted on to a sparsely attended Southampton-Preston tie, a Reading-Bristol City game and matches between Chesterfield and Bournemouth, Morecambe and Aldershot and a Millwall-Brighton tie which featured stands full of… empty seats!

It’s a bit dangerous, perhaps, for Private Eye to start harping on about misleading sports coverage, when Colemanballs 13 – published in 2006 – opened with a David Coleman quote that was 16 years old.

Nonetheless, they are on to something with the suggestion that regional news programmes are very bad at dubbing crowd noise on to goals round-ups. The only problem is that I’m pretty sure they’ve got the BBC’s motives wrong on this one. I don’t think it’s anything to do with trying to make lower-division football matches seem more important than they are.

The dubbing, I suspect, has something to do with the Sports Access Code, an agreement between broadcasters that allow them to use each other’s sports clips in news bulletins, even if they don’t have the rights.

It means that BBC News can show clips of Champions League and Football League matches (to which Sky and ITV currently have the rights), and that ITV News can show clips of Premier League matches (to which Sky, Setanta and the BBC currently have the rights).

The rules are that a clip of any match shown under this agreement mustn’t exceed 60 seconds, and must include an on-screen credit to whoever holds the rights (for instance, “Pictures courtesy of Sky Sports”).

TV news organisations using footage in this way will generally have recorded it straight from whichever channel had the rights to show it – which means it will still have the original commentary on it, which some stations choose to dub over. That’s why BBC South will have stuck new crowd noise on the Football League clips mentioned in the Private Eye article.

Unfortunately, it sounds as if they only had the crowd scene from Ben Hur in their audio library – which you could just about get away with over a Champions League match at the Nou Camp, but sounds ridiculous if married to a mid-table League Two clash at Saltergate.

Private Eye’s assertion that Swindon’s game with Scunthorpe attracted “a few dozen fans” is disingenuous, though. Five minutes on the internet would have told the story’s writer that the crowd was 6,852, or – to put it another way – exactly 571 dozen.

Not quite as many as “the sparsely-attended Southampton-Preston tie”, which attracted a crowd of 14, 790. Or even as much as the “Millwall-Brighton tie which featured stands full of… empty seats”, where the attendance was 9,226.

Nonetheless, Private Eye’s cricket-loving editor may be interested to know that all three of those games attracted crowds far bigger than the average daily turn-out for a County Championship match. And far, far bigger too than the studio audience for any recording of Have I Got News For You?

The stuff on Stanford and the banks in the latest issue is brilliant, though. And you really should read the spoof Max Clifford diary, too.

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