Friday, March 23, 2007

TV news criticized for 'dumbing down'

TV news is ‘dumbing down’ according to a number of reports in the British media. BBC London’s talk show ‘Vanessa’ was inundated with callers criticizing the banality and repetitive nature of TV news. One caller described looking at BBC 24 until 3am after the news broke about Bob Woolmer’s murder, saying that little information was imparted and that the coverage was repetitive. Much criticism revolved around the presentation of television news. Philip Norman, writing in the Daily Mail, spoke of the simplistic coverage of stories, “toy-town graphics and disco music” which dominate news media. Ever since Channel 5 in the UK had its presenter perched on a stool, other news media has employed a casual approach to presentation. A common feature in many programmes is the ping pong between a male and female presenter. This can be seen on Sky News, BBC 24, CNN and Al-Jazeera every day, and has often been satirized in news parodies. The ‘wandering presenter’ is another focus of criticism, as is the casual chat that follows stories. When it comes to rolling news, broadcasters have repeatedly been taken to task for speculation, but also for inaccuracy and repetitive coverage. At times, the viewers of 24 hour news stations are saturated with coverage of one leading story with little or no time being given over to other important stories. ‘In the field’ shots of reporters, standing outside the foreign office, in an empty field or outside parliament is another cause of annoyance for viewers and is cited as being pointless. These are issues that have been raised before and BBC journalist Michael Buerk has often criticised his own organisation as well as other TV news stations, which he has dismissed as "coarser, shallower, more trivial, more prurient, more inaccurate, more insensitive, with each passing year." [source]. A particular case in point was the Breaking News that Bob Woolmer, the captain of the Pakistan cricket team, had been strangled and did not die of natural causes. Although this was an important breakthrough into the investigations surrounding Mr Woolmer’s death, both Sky News and the BBC continued with saturation coverage until the early hours of Friday morning. The story was initially only covered by Sky who provided a Live link to a press conference in Jamaica. Minutes later the BBC’s midnight bulletin started with the main headlines, but after the beginning titles the continuing coverage about the Cricket manager’s death began. For several hours there was no mention on either of the two British news networks of other national or international news stories. The only escape from the repetitious and uninformative Breaking News was to switch to Al Jazeera, CNN, France 24, Russia Today or Euronews!
CCTV-9, in their World News Bulletin led with technical difficulties with the 6 party talks with North Korea. Money transfer issues equating up to $25 million had disrupted Thursday’s talks and threatened to destroy the deal made with the DPRK over its nuclear programme [BBC]. The dispute also threatened humanitarian aid from South Korea expected in the next few weeks as well as help to the country in fighting outbreaks of foot & mouth disease in cattle [BBC]. The news station, which broadcasts from Beijing in China, followed with Iran’s reaction to proposed tougher sanctions being placed on the country. It also talked about a series of naval manoeuvres and war games being conducted in the Persian Gulf [CCTV-9 / BBC]

CNN gave some coverage to the Bob Woolmer story, but did also give some time to the other major stories of the day. Three men had been arrested in connection with the suicide bombings in London on 7 July 2005, but only the use of interactive services would provide BBC and Sky viewers with any details of these developments. Two men, aged 23 and 30, were arrested shortly before 1300 GMT at Manchester Airport when they were due to catch a flight to Pakistan. A third man, aged 26, was arrested at a house in Leeds shortly after 1600 GMT. The men were held on suspicion of the commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism. Fifty-two people were killed by four bombers on 7 July. However even CNN gave scant coverage to this story. Developments in the 21/7 terror trial were also overlooked. New evidence presented at Woolwich Crown Court suggested that one of the alleged failed bombers had planned to ‘blow up a tower block’ [BBC]. Another story that was lost in the Woolmer coverage was the situation in Iraq. The new Secretary General perhaps wished he’d never taken up the post as he ducked for cover when a mortar bomb landed within 100 metres of a press conference in Baghdad. Ban-ki Moon looked visibly shocked as a loud explosion rocked the area [CNN].

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