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In TV You Can Trust: The Facts that are Fit to Screen

By Dafydd Rees
03 September 2020

By Dafydd Rees, Partner

For UK television news the past few months appears to have been both the best of times and the worst of times. The COVID-19 lockdown brought both mass audiences and sky-high levels of public trust in broadcast news.

And yet, in the commercial news sector falling revenues have resulted in cutbacks. The UK’s public service broadcaster, BBC News has also been announcing significant job losses in its attempt to adjust to its new economic reality.

In the three decades I spent working in Broadcast News, budget cuts and existential threats have come and gone with the passing seasons. 

Whether at the BBC or Sky and over the period running Bloomberg TV news in Europe, the prevailing logic has been that TV and Radio News is living on borrowed time.

And yet. Live TV and Radio news and opinion still matters, and it matters a lot.

Whether it’s the UK Government seeking to control the onscreen narrative, the fractious row over impartiality and opinion underway on both sides of the Atlantic or the determination of new players to launch new news opinion channels, this is a medium we cannot live without.

In my view its influence is explained by its immediacy and trust. That powerful combination serves to shape and control the course of events before our very eyes.       

Next month, we can expect the launch of televised daily question and answer briefings from Downing Street. The Prime Minister’s chief adviser is now installed in a new Nasa style media mission control and keen to capitalise on the success of the lockdown TV briefings in writing the TV News headlines.

But it’s not just TV we trust. Radio’s renaissance is remarkable. The recent successful launch of Times Radio and the national audience appeal of LBC Radio underline the point.

In a partisan and fractious political environment, increasingly mirrored on both sides of the Atlantic, the issue of impartiality has never been more contentious or indeed more high profile. 

Thanks in no small part to the example of Trump and Twitter the market for strong opinions is growing and encapsulates all the various platforms audiences use. If you don’t believe me, ask Piers Morgan. 

GB News is a proposed new 24-hour TV News Channel hoping to tap, we’re told, into audiences disillusioned with the wet and woke approach of mainstream TV news. 

Rupert Murdoch has long harboured the idea of something similar. Former CBS news executive David Rhodes who spent his formative years at Fox News has been reported by the New York Times to be working on video news projects for Mr Murdoch’s News UK.

In this country the regulation of news broadcasting has been strictly defined for generations and wholly different in nature to the approach taken with the UK print media.

That distinction feels to me to be outmoded and overtaken by reality.

What we can expect in this fractious and febrile atmosphere is a period of sustained challenge to that division in attitude and approach to news and views from all sides of the political divide.