No News is Good News

What has become of TV news reporting? A look at the sham and shambles by UKR columnist, Dave Randle

by Dave Randle

It’s almost impossible these days to completely escape Newzak 24, if only because it is regularly provided to irritate and intrude upon those who have obediently taken a break at motorway services. Its achievement in reducing world affairs to wallpaper is best observed in these circumstances, where all else is as timeless and meaningless and it doesn’t matter when you come in or when you get back on the road.

There’s no great difficulty in these days of the iPlayer and DVDs in missing packaged TV news programmes however.

Even before the BBC moved to that shopping centre in Salford that looks like Cité Europe during a ferry strike, it had become formulaic and gung-ho to a degree that made it unwatchable. But the loss and betrayal neither started nor ended with them.

Back in the mid-fifties, ITN pioneered the idea of genuine news gathering, and of asking politicians actual questions, rather than feeding the official line via newsreels. I watched the ITN news recently and was saddened to discover it is now not much better than the Beeb’s. 

I thought never to see the spectacle of a journalist and newscaster of Alistair Stewart’s experience acting as a dialogue coach for an earnest young reporter delivering a pre-scripted ‘report’ in the phony US TV manner which enables news presenters to appear to interview each other (and often to appear to like each other) without the dangers of unpredictability that make the news the news.

If this process is ludicrous and only slightly nauseating, it also has much more serious liabilities, as also demonstrated on the newscast I saw. 

The next person to come in for a cosy chat was ITN’s ‘medical correspondent’, Lawrence McGinty. To encouraging nods from Alistair, he announced a pharmaceutical ‘breakthrough’ with allegedly wonderful predicted results, without ever once even using qualifying terms, such as ‘hoped’ or ‘claimed’. In fact, what he did was deliver straight to camera (or to the nodding Alistair) an outright advert for the medico-pharmaceutical monopoly.

The prepared script did not permit the seasoned ITN newscaster to ask any questions: “What is the evidence for this?”, “What is the breakthrough that has caused the change in treatment?” “What independent studies have been done?”, or even, “Do you believe what they tell you?”

In fact, it looks like the wonder cure is another sordid attempt for the pharmaceuticals to flog an existing drug ‘off-label’; a product for which the patent for its original claimed purpose has expired, and for which the producers would dearly love to create a new profit stream.

I appreciate that ‘reporters’ benefit in all senses from ‘relationships’ with politicians and interest groups and that they are very reluctant to overstep the mark and have their loyalty cards revoked, but TV news is not (or should not be) about acting, pre-scripting or propaganda, and it’s not about state service either. It’s supposed to be a public service.

With the completion of the move of what is left of once vital, diverse and wide-ranging television networks into sheltered accommodation, I guess the need for contact with the outside world will cease altogether.

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UKR Columnist Dave Randle is an author and journalist

Blog: THE RANDLE REPORT therandlereport.blogspot.co.uk

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