I realise I am my own worst enemy at times, but stick with me.
I tuned in once again this morning to Breakfast on BBC1 in the vain hope of getting some informative and insightful coverage of the main news of the day.
As ever, however, the big stories were rather airbrushed and so superficially handled that they tended to simply wash over you. There is often very little factual or informed content to absorb. If you want an example of the creeping spectre of “info-tainment” in our supposed news coverage, then Breakfast offers all the worst features.
Another annoying trend was also well to the fore, self publicity masquerading as news coverage. One of the few vaguely interesting and entertaining stories to be covered – the type that inspires you to find out a little more – was cut short because the programme had run out of time.
And why had it run out of time? The answer is simple – too much time had been dedicated to “covering”, or rather blatantly plugging, two other BBC programmes. In this case, the dancing Z-list celeb-fest that is Strictly Come Dancing and the Doctor Who spin-off series Torchwood.
Admittedly, I might well be tempted to watch Torchwood – not least because it is set in the Welsh capital and this time not a Cardiff made to look like London.
But dressing up a free, 10 or 15 minute trailer for another BBC programme as a serious news item on one of the main factual programmes of the day is unacceptable. It would also appear to be standard practice these days. Breakfast and News 24 both carry lengthy reports on BBC programmes as a matter of course and what makes it both maddening and intolerable is the fact that it is portrayed as a news item and as fact, rather than the unsubtle advertising it actually represents.
It happens in other ways too. During one of the local news bulletins on Breakfast for viewers in the Midlands, every news item was followed by the presenter saying: “You can hear more about this story on BBC Radio WM” for the Birmingham story, or “…BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester” for an item from that part of the region and so on. Why can’t they tell me more about the story during that bulletin instead of plugging another BBC service?
The advent of 24-hour channels has done little to improve the quality of television news. The “never wrong for long” attitude it has created has led to watered down news coverage and items that report comment rather than fact. There are few honourable exceptions, Channel 4 News being one of the obvious. The BBC can produce insightful and informative news programming aimed at a specific audience, it is done five days a week with Newsround, but many adult-orientated news and current affairs programmes fail in getting even the basics right.
The facts, just the facts. It shouldn’t be too much to expect from a news programme, especially one produced by a public service broadcaster.
(For the record, the interesting item cut short on Breakfast that prompted this particular outpouring can be found in more detail at http://arts.guardian.co.uk/features/story/0,,1924884,00.html – happy reading).