So the BBC’s new editorial director, Kamal Ahmed, has said at the Edinburgh Book Festival that somebody coming forward from 1990 to view the News At Ten in 2018 would “pretty much recognise what they are seeing”. Too right Kamal! BBC TV News programmes – and especially the main BBC1 bulletins – need a radical overhaul to make them relevant and to attract and keep viewers.
When I started in BBC News and Current Affairs in 1979 the focus was on reporting the news of the day. Often production values were quite poor but when you watched the main bulletin in the evening viewers could expect a broad spread of stories. Then came John Birt and the “mission to explain”, culminating in the revamp under Mark Thompson of the news programmes; in 2000 the main news moved from 9 to 10 pm; in 2008 the BBC News branding (but not programme style and content) was refreshed; and in 2014 the BBC announced its intention to “define the fourth revolution in News – the age of interactivity – to enhance TV news coverage.”
Nothing of substance has happened since. The main BBC1 news programmes in my view have strayed away from their main purpose of giving viewers a duly impartial summary of the main news stories of the day. All too often the ponderous News at Ten follows a tired formula of too few stories (consisting of an intro, a news report, and a live update from a reporter on location or interview with the relevant correspondent in the studio which adds nothing to what we have already been told) interspersed with a ‘wipe sequence’ or two. And often the selection of stories is too narrow. Certain subjects get ignored. One example is defence. Although it uses our taxes and 2% of government spending I cannot remember seeing any serious reporting in 2018 on the News of Ten of the current debate (widely reported in newspapers) about the level of UK defence expenditure.
Recent Ofcom research has confirmed how most people on Britain rely on the BBC as their main source of news, although the young in particular are increasingly turning to other channels and media. To attract and keep viewers it is time BBC TV news stopped wasting time on more 2008-style rebranding and instead focussed its main BBC1 news programmes on reporting more stories on a wider range of subjects, with less tedious analysis and background.