Magazine article The Spectator

Back to Basics

Magazine article The Spectator

Back to Basics

Article excerpt

So Huw Edwards has settled in comfortably with the BBC's re-vamped Six O'Clock News. Trevor MacDonald struts his stuff half an hour later for ITV. Jon Snow leads his merry band at seven for Channel 4, and so on - and all's right with the world. Or is it? No, this is not another diatribe about the dumbing down of television and radio, although do not be under any illusion. Of course John Humphrys, Melvyn Bragg, Polly Toynbee and all the others got it absolutely right with their criticisms. And of course the various sensitive channel controllers, poor dears, used the usual defence tactic of belittling critics `approaching the end of their careers', talking about rosecoloured glasses and the golden age that never was. Well, they would, wouldn't they? That is what they are paid for.

This is about the news reporters and correspondents who appear on the above mentioned TV news programmes, as well as Today, World at One, PM and others on radio, who simply cannot read scripts sensibly. They read their words in a silly singsong fashion. They overproject and emphasise the wrong words at the wrong times. They do not know when to lift or lower their voices to give an authoritative edge to their delivery. They are unable to read their words with a natural rhythm. They clearly never really listen to the sound of their own voices. Or, if they listen, they do not hear. They imitate each other, and the result, as far as listeners and viewers are concerned, is that the sense of what they are saying is often lost because of a growing irritation with the whining delivery of their lines. And there is a huge gap between how the presenters of the programmes talk to us and how many of the reporters and correspondents tell their stories.

This has nothing to do with regional accents. It has nothing to do with reporting ability - many of the journalists are fine, experienced and talented people. It is specifically about how they read a script for pre-recording over film or for a radio item. After all, the inability to read a script properly may be deemed something of a handicap to a broadcaster. I emphasise all this carefully because, as a former BBC correspondent myself, I know how badly many of these sensitive souls react to criticism. They really resent it and would reject any suggestion that a little guidance might be helpful. What is particularly interesting is that, in many cases, even the worst offenders begin to talk like human beings when they are being interviewed live by the programme presenter and can take their eyes away from a script.

So who are the main offenders? Name names, I hear. Well, let us examine my last point first. A classic example is the BBC defence correspondent Mark Laity. Laity is an immensely capable and assured correspondent and his nightly appearances, live from Kosovo throughout the crisis, were a model of calm authority. But sit him down at a microphone with a linking script to read and he reverts to a sing-song delivery, wrong in emphasis, wrong in phrasing, wrong in shading, that should have been trained out of him years ago. Similarly, ITN's science correspondent Lawrence McGinty - fine when he is talking to camera but, like Laity, loses his feel for emphasis, phrasing and shading when he is pre-recording voice over film. The same can be said, too, for the BBC economics correspondent Ed Crooks, and the foreign affairs reporter Orla Guerin.

Some of them sound unremittingly bad all the time like ITN's consumer affairs correspondent Chris Choi and reporter Terry Lloyd, and the BBC's reporters Rory Cellan-Jones and the strident Laura Trevelyan, political correspondent Guto Harri, science correspondent Palab Ghosh and, surprisingly, the media correspondent Torin Douglas. …

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