Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

"And Here Is Today's News of the World." (BBC2's 'Breaking the News' Program)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

"And Here Is Today's News of the World." (BBC2's 'Breaking the News' Program)

Article excerpt

On Sunday night BBC2 got halfway through its four-part history of television news. At nearly four hours, if it had stuck solely to Britain, Breaking the News could have aspired to being comprehensive. Instead it chose to cover Russia and the US as well. Meet Yuri Folkin, the Soviet anchorman, and Dan Rather from CBS, but please not to mention Robert Dougall or Alastair Burnet. ITN is not referred to at all after the first programme. As for the contribution of Channel 4 News and Sky News - what contribution was that?

What you lose in detail, however, you gain in context. Having seen the whole quartet, I can report that it cumulatively delivers a theory of broadcast news that casts television journalists as fierce pursuers of objectivity, who are perpetually hounded, on the one side by governments, on the other by ratings.

In this construction, TV news in the Soviet Union becomes a tableau in which the journalist is cowering beneath the fist of the state. Since the nightly news show Vremya (Time) was shown simultaneously on both channels, ratings were not a problem, but: filling the programme was. There was so much about grain production that the show was nicknamed Tractor News. More than one parapraxis while reading the glad tidings about the leader's health, and the newsreaders (news bimbskis employed for their looks) could lose their jobs.

In America the opposite problem prevailed. Politicians were never a match for television: Ed Murrow on See It Now slayed Joe McCarthy; Walter Cronkite himself sounded the long retreat from Vietnam, as surely as Woodward and Bernstein, NBC's John Chancellor and David Brinkley impeached Nixon. The threat came instead from what CBS's resident cynic Don Hewitt called "Our Father who art in Chicago, Nielsen be Thy Name". In terror of the advertisers who memorised the ratings company's figures, the networks shifted the cynosure of the world from Washington to Beverly Hills. For weeks on end O J Simpson was the news.

Which catastrophe would befall the news in Britain? Would it be sucked dumbly into the demotic whirlpool, the Charybdis of the ratings, or be devoured by the Scyllas of our elected dictatorships? The way the series producer Colleen Toomey sees it, the BBC's current affairs department fought pluckily for decades against the government, little helped. by its news division (which was a write-off until the two rival kingdoms merged under John Birt). It irked Anthony Eden by granting Gaitskell the right of reply during Suez and incensed Wilson by letting the young David Dimbleby quiz him on Yesterday's Men about his book royalties, succumbing only when Thatcher sacked its director-general, Alasdair Milne, an iconoclast in a grey suit who embodied the traditions of the first programmes he worked on, Tonight and That Was The Week That Was. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.