In his Lothian Lecture, seasoned Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow will argue that demand for instant pictures by television news is undermining the ability of journalists to report accurately and in depth. Scottish TV news editors don’t necessarily agree, discovers Eddie Gibb.
In Berlin last weekend the major players in television news gathered together for their first international conference, demonstratingjust how electronic media has shrunk the world into a global village. As video cameras get smaller and the technology for transmitting pictures gets cheaper. events happening anywhere in the world can be beamed into our living rooms within minutes.
News gathering. almost by definition. is about getting the story as quickly as possible, so you would imagine these technological advances would please the reponers and editors who put television news together. But there are those in the industry who warn that the ability to report news quickly is undermining its quality. as analysis is left trailing in the scramble to bring pictures to the screen.
Channel 4 news anchor Jon Snow was a high- profile pessimist at the conference about the impact of new technology on the content and quality of television news. Following Berlin, he arrives in Edinburgh to deliver a Lothian Lecture on the same theme. Snow's argument. in the kind of soundbite he would probably deplore. is that rapid turnaround of pictures has squeezed out analysis.
Snow uses the example of the coverage of Greenpeace's Brent Spar campaign. when most news programmes broadcast video pictures of fearless activists taking on multi-national might which had been supplied by the environmental group itself.
‘Brcnt Spar is an illustration of how Greenpeace dished out buckets of spectacular video which they said proved their case.‘ said Snow. ‘lt‘s difficult for TV to resist pictures of a helicopter being shot at by water cannon. Channel 4 news is not perfect. We got Brent Spar badly wrong and ourjudgement was swayed by the ability of an outfit with money to peddle their case in a seductive way.‘
That a journalist as distinguished as Snow, who fronts the longest and arguably :nost analytical news programme on British terrestrial television, should voice these worries publicly suggests a cause for concern. However. his alarm is not shared by a younger generation of news editors working in Scotland. who have spent most of their working lives using rapid electonic newsgathering techniques.
Tim Luckhurst. the 32-year-old head of news for BBC Scotland TV and radio, is proud that he was the only editor to send a reporter to Brent Spar. ‘Jon Snow has a valid point when he talks about the way video news releases can lead to journalistic judgement being suspended.' said Luckhurst. ‘The reason I made sure we had our own man there and spent a fortune on helicopters to bring the pictures back was to avoid this. Technology is not the threat »— the threat is underfunded editors who take pictures
Snow‘s particular concern is over the kind of instant news generated by a new breed of video-journalists —- the reporter also operates the camera — who are starting to replace news crews. The VJ is central to new cable station Live TV which was launched earlier this year by Janet Street-Porter (she subsequently resigned). It uses swarms of VJs who the station claims become the ‘eyes and ears of its
This is the form ofcheap and cheerful television
Information revolution: a young VJ heralds the future of ectronlc newsgatherlng,
‘threat to TV news’
and (Inset) Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow
despised by journalists like Luckhurst and Snow. However BBC Scotland docs occasionally deploy reporters trained to use a video camera (mostly on foreign stories), while the role of the VJ has been thoroughly embraced by Scottish Television. Scott Ferguson, head of news and current affairs at Scottish, believes the rise of the VJ represents a positive force which could lead to ‘democratisation' oftelevision. VJs are already occasionally used on the flagship bulletin ScoI/um/ ’lbz/ay. while a new youth series called simply VJs screened next y ‘ar. aims to give young people direct control over the
‘It would be foolish to run any news organisation made up of teenagers with camcorders and we don‘t do that.‘ said Ferguson. ‘We‘ve always used correspondents who can do analysis, but I don't believe in John Birt's [BBC director general}
philosophy that you set the agenda for news before
you leave the office. That way you get think pieces fromjournalists. not news. ln many ways analysis is code for editorialising. The only people who shout about the VJ are old establishment figures protecting entrenched positions. The down-side for establishment figures like Jon Snow is that there are not as many jobs for them.‘
Jun Snow is [.(H/lfall I.cc!urc is on Monday 27
November at 7pm in illrn'nmgsirlr' (‘lrurc/I.
Edinburgh. 'Ii'ckcr [Ii/brnmlimr (m 0/3] 220 434‘).
AND FINALLY . . . 3
The fortnight’s news reviewed
Stephen Hendry's undisputed crown as golden boy of Scottish sport was clearly tarnishing after the Daily Record referred to him as a ‘spotty youngster'. The paper was reporting the snooker star‘s comments on the so- called ‘tartan tax'. the additional extra tax the Conservative party has been warning everyone would be levied by a ; Scottish parliament. :
The Tories admitted they were playing on fears ofthe tartan tax as a deliberate pre-election scare tactic. ‘It is a label we intend to stick to the Labour Party . . . The tartan tax is a revenge upon the poll tax.‘ stated a new Conservative party propoganda sheet Scottiin Leader. to be distributed free to homes around Scotland.
Alarmed at the implications for his reputed £10 million fortune. Citizen Hendry threatened to follow high profile Scots such as Rod Stewart and Sean Connery into tax exile. Rather than Beverly Hills or Marbella.
Bafta boy: Robert Carlyle
however. it seems Hendry was only considering a move to England. Meanwhile the SNP announced it would introduce tax breaks to
1 encourage businesses and wealthy
individuals to invest in Scotland.
Another Scot threatening to stop working in Scotland was former BBC
television drama chiefand acclaimed
theatre director Bill Bryden. He was furious that a £13 million grant application by his company Promenade '
Productions to the National Lottery arts
; fund had been turned down. The money ; was to have been used to create a film
and theatre centre in the Harland &
\\oolf shipyard in Govan. where Bryden staged The Big Picnic last year.
Meanwhile. the week's biggest lottery
‘ winner was Glasgow‘s planned
Alexander Gibson Opera School which ‘. picked up a cool £25 million — half its ; fnndraising target. While Scottish
()pera welcomed the school‘s good fortune. the announcement came at a time when the company is looking to the lottery to help solve its own financial headaches. Perhaps it should
3 seek sponsorship from Coca—Cola.
which announced it would be pumping £100,000 of fin into Glasgow's Christmas street festival Shine On.
Another early present was received by
Brian MacKinnon. a.k.a. Brandon Lee. the former Bearsden Academy pupil who relived his school days. Rob Roy producer Peter Brougham is keen to develop the bizarre Peter Pan-style story into a feature film. However. MacKinnon said he has no plans to
play himself ~ he still wants to be a doctor.
Facing a less cheery Yuletide is Central Scotland‘s newest radio station. Scot FM — its managing director Tom Hunter left for the ubiquitous ‘personal
reasons'. The station has failed to generate the listening figures backers Grampian Television had hoped for in
its first year.
Coincidently Grampian hosted the Bafta Scotland Awards. Hamish Macbeth was voted best TV drama in a David and Goliath battle that pitted wee Robert Carlyle against the bulk of Robbie Coltrane in (Trucker. ()ff screen
another battle brewed. as the .S'cntsmrm described the Scottish media bunfight as a gathering of ‘l)-list celebrities and
nonentities‘ highlighting the ‘essential provincialism' of Scotland’s film and television industry. Bafta chairman Colin Cameron hit back at the ‘mean- minded miseries who make the Connerys and Connollys think twice before returning to the land that made them.‘ That, and the tartan tax. of course. (Eddie Gibb)
The List I730 Nov I995 5