For all the access to the Trump-of-the-day afforded by my mobile, I still like to watch the TV news for twenty minutes of an evening. Old Faithful – the term that has replaced ‘Auntie BBC’ – is reliable in that her left wing leaning is predictable and not totally out of sympathy with my own.
Technically, the BBC is brilliant, bringing the voices of warrior reporters like Lyse Doucet and truth diggers like Stehen Sackur from places no other group can reach. Since the days of Richard Dimbleby’s Royal coverage and David Webster’s Panorana to today’s potpourri of talent, the BBC has a place in our lives and a corner of our hearts.
Why then am I getting increasingly uneasy with it? What is changing that I think is counter-productive to an organisation where, when it produced radio only, the news readers were compelled to wear dinner-jackets to read the news even though they could not be seen? What do I fear is making Lord Reith, the first Director General of the BBC revolve hysterically in his grave? Has the Beeb lost some of its mission to inform, to educate and to entertain?
Of course reporting must change and at least the BBC hasn’t ‘gone Murdoch’. The Times, that former paper of record for Britain, was gobbled up by Rupert and re-emerged in a form we are not allowed to describe in print. And yet, I find myself slipping across to Bloomberg and – perish the thought – to Sky, even while watching my first love BBC. Why?
The answer is in the ads. I am happy to devote a little of my viewing time to being sold useful things, even toothpaste, if it pays for quality TV. But do I really need to sit through so much BBC self-aggrandisement every time I switch on? Being repeatedly told how good they are by the person you are paying attention to is boring beyond belief. “Hello BBC, I’m watching you! Be happy, not insecure.” Self-praise is a scourge of our age. Passed off as assertive marketing it is nothing of the sort. It is an admission of weakness, of fear of loss, of poor self-image. Even Trump will probably understand that before long, though nothing in this life is certain. ‘My BBC’ is stronger than that, surely.
Then there are the interviewing techniques of some of the newer reporters and newsreaders. Having found a really knowledgeable source they ask good questions with the denouement probe as the last one. Before inviting an answer from their experienced and professional source they then say “In a very few seconds, please, as we are running out of time…” End of good interview, start of imbecilic soundbite.
I wouldn’t mind this so much if what followed was real news but, lo and behold, we immediately just get more BBC preening. I find that sickening. Worthily, the BBC feels that we should know and remember history. I agree. Too little attention has been paid to it in our education system, we know no more about the value of history in our decision making today than we did when I was born. There’s a whole Daily Paradox in history’s value alone.
But I don’t want my history plonked in the middle of my news, thank you. To go from Syrian drought and destruction to Nelson Mandela’s passing without any explanation that what comes next is not news, is disruptive and potentially even somewhat dangerous.
Let news be news. And let the best news reporting organisation in the world (my words, not the BBC’s) report it with Reithian standards and good English.
The best of British can still be the best in the world.