Blair speaks and the BBC tells you what he said

Yet again, the producers and journalists of BBC Television News have demonstrated their superiority complex when it comes to covering important speeches, giving far greater coverage to their own mediated reportage than to the speech itself.

Last night's news that Tony Blair had made his first political speech since standing down as prime minister took up 188 seconds of the BBC 10 o'clock News - which seemed fair enough

Except for the fact that only 19% of the coverage (36 seconds) was of Blair actually speaking.

The other 81% was devoted to telling us what he said and/or what others thought about it.

Most important in all this, of course, was the BBC's political editor, Nick Robinson, who had more to say than Blair, Cameron and Clegg put together and managed to bag almost half the coverage (48%) for himself.

Does it matter that the BBC increasingly prevents us from hearing what our politicians have to say, preferring to give far more weight to its own reporters telling us what they said?

Regular readers of this blog will know that I think it does - for reasons touched on in some of the posts referred to below.

But am I alone in being irritated and worried by this kind of reportage?

Related posts on UK media coverage (or lack of it) of speeches


cynicalHighlander said...

The BBC is Labour's propoganda machine and has been in Scotland for decades using there press releases for headlines sad end for a once widely respected news reporter.

Anonymous said...

This expression of opinion taking precedence over presenting the evidence for the audience to evaluate is but an expression of the times. The BBC does not lead but merely follows. Two examples might illustrate this point.
1. On climate change, there is no coherent presentation of how the theory closely correlates the data, and how contrary views are not verified. Rather, it is the collective, consensus, opinion of expert scientists in the field that matters.
2. The cause of the current crisis is due the greed of the bankers taking huge risks. These risks were hidden from the regulators. The implication is that regulators were powerless to act, and governments had no influence on the turn of events. It is obvious that this analysis is right, as the vast majority agree.

Max Atkinson said...

cynicalHighlander: Not sure this sequence supports the view that the BBC is a Labour propaganda machine. If they were, they'd have done better letting us hear more from Blair and less from Robinson.

manicbeancounter: You may have a point about climate change and the financial crisis. But, when it comes to deciding how much to feature speeches in news programmes, I can't see whom the BBC would be following, other than, perhaps, ITN and Sky.

My point is that there seems to have been a collective decision by the media, including the broadsheet newspapers who no longer report parliamentary debates in any detail, to reduce (massively) their coverage of speeches.

There was a time, when party conferences were covered live and continuously on BBC and Channel 4, whereas now you have to tune in to the BBC Parliament channel to see them.

During the 1979 general election BBC 2 ran a nightly half hour programme called 'The Hustings', which featured lengthy excerpts from 2-3 of the day's main speeches. It was abandoned in 1983 and, since the 1987 general election, it's become more and more difficult for anoraks like me to collect video clips of election speeches. That's why, in an earlier post, I suggested that the 2010 election could be the first one that leaves us completely speechless:

pintosal said...

Max, I agree. The BBC's presenters and commentators spend more and more time telling us what they think, and not just in the area of News events.

The gaps between programmes are getting longer and longer, filled with irrelevant clips and other trivia.

But, even worse is the intrusion into the programmes themselves, for example,Fiona Bruce's forays in the Antiques Roadshow. She adds nothing and only wastes time which should be devoted to the antiques themselves and the opinions of real experts.

Worst of all though, is how many programmes are padded out. Consider Mastermind, with 4 contestants and 2x2 minute slots each. In all, 16 minutes of real programme are padded out by 14 minutes of trash. For example, we get at least 1 minute of 6 different angled shots of the black chair.


Max Atkinson said...

Sal: Thanks for this - and thank goodness I'm not alone!

And, though I hadn't really thought about it until you pointed it out, extending the complaint to other programmes strikes me as being absolutely spot on.

Maybe the likes of Fiona Bruce are exported to programmes like the Antiques Roadshow in an attempt to get a bit more back from them in exchange for their inflated salaries (or maybe she gets a bonus for being on the show).

But the BBC is not alone in this. You may remember that Sir Trevor McDolittle made such a song and dance about ITN's abandonment of News at Ten that ITV compensated him by letting him front a half hour 'Tonight' programme that would start with him telling us what was going to be on before handing over to 'our reporter ....' to do all the work.

Then, at the end of their report, cue Sir Trevor again to tell us what gripping topic he (i.e. some other reporteer) had in store for us for tomorrow night.

As for the BBC's masterstroke in getting David Dimblebore to enlighten us about the Seven Ages of Britain, long words fail me!

BlairSupporter said...

Hello Max,

I agree entirely with your thoughts regarding the Blair speech. I realise you are not liekly to be a supporter of his (I am not a Labour member, but I DO admire Blair) so you were making a general point about presenters.

If that was all it was - a kind of talent contest - where such as Robinson like to show off their dexterity with language and analysis (hah!) that'd be one thing. As far as Tony Blair is concerned it is something else, imho. They are fighting the Gilligan battle, which they still feel came down on the wrong side. As a result they give Blair as little publicity as possible. To be blunt I think, like the Daily Mail (strange bedfellows perhaps) they fear his return. I don't think they should worry on that score, sadly. H's happier out of it, for some inexplicable reason.

Anyway, there is now a kind of Democracy by way of The Press. We see it everywhere, in print and on broadcasts. Too much opining, too little reporting.

I linked to your post here at my recent post on the Blair interview with Rentoul and McElvoy: