Why the BBC is screening mini-documentaries in its news bulletins
Watching the main TV news bulletins in recent weeks has been a truly informative experience. Viewers have been treated to lengthy feature-style reports that have cast extra light on arenas of conflict around the world.
Tuesday night’s 10pm bulletin was a fine example because of two segments in particular, one by special correspondent Fergal Keane and another by Middle East correspondent Jim Muir.*
They were like mini-documentaries, telling the news behind the news so to speak, and offered valuable insights into running stories.
Keane’s report from Turkey, which ran for more than five minutes, highlighted the activities of the people-smuggling mafia who charge Syrian and Iraqi refugees large sums to put them aboard small dinghies bound for ,
We are used to seeing the end of this perilous seaborne journey but not its beginning. Here was a chilling report, with secret filming of a man enticing the refugees to part with their money followed by that fateful moment when they are cast off into the Mediterranean.
Muir’s report, from Fallujah and Ramadi as Iraqi troops fight to free the cities from Isis, was a little more straightforward in news terms, but its length and the fact he was filmed at two locations illustrated the BBC’s willingness to allow the item to “breathe.”
Recent reports from inside Yemen were somewhat similar, as have been items on China by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes, notably about the people abducted from the bookshop and the construction of islands in the South China Sea.
This change of direction is not the result of a whim. The decision to devote valued airtime in news bulletins to such items has not occurred by accident. So what is the reasoning?
There are two very different answers. In narrow terms, it could be cast as part of the battle of the bongs, with the BBC seeking to differentiate itself from ITN after the revamping of ITV’s main nightly bulletin, newly anchored by Tom Bradby and with BBC renegade as political editor.
But , the BBC’s head of news, is surely conscious of a much more important battle - the one for the hearts and minds of politicians.
The emphasis on showing the scale and quality of the BBC’s foreign coverage alongside its range of knowledgeable correspondents is aimed at showcasing the value of the BBC’s news service.
News-gathering is all about budgets. Ask newspaper editors across the world who have been forced to cull their foreign correspondents due to falling revenue.
The BBC’s unique funding by licence fee has given it a measure of protection from instituting cutbacks. But it is under pressure as never before.
With a review now under way, it is of vital importance that its news division shows just why its output is of real value to its British audience (and those served by its world services on TV and radio as well).
It is true that newspapers have been reporting from , Iraq, Yemen and China. But none of us who work in print would dare deny the extra impact provided by television news.
For those of us who wish to ensure that this government does not degrade public service broadcasting, this initiative by BBC news should be encouraged and applauded.
*: at 13.30 minutes in for Keane’s report followed at 19.10 by Muir’s
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