The fight-back to restore trust in television has begun in earnest after Channel 5 announced it was scrapping the use of edited-in "staged shots" showing presenters walking past the camera or nodding gravely in an interview.
So-called "cut-away" shots – in which presenters are filmed in mock reaction to interviewees, traditionally to cut a bit out of an interview – are a regular feature in news packages. Other formulas include "walking shots", when a guest is filmed striding from one spot to another to set the scene, such as, say, on College Green in Westminster, or – if someone is filmed at home – he or she could be seen entering their house or doing domestic chores such as washing up.
But news editor David Kermode sparked a mini-revolution yesterday after describing such thinly disguised methods as "ghastly". "They are artificial, so we should ban them," he said. His 70-strong team at Channel 5 News, produced out of Sky News, had "enthusiastically embraced" the step, Mr Kermode said. It comes after an unravelling of serious television's credibility after media scrutiny moved from day-time quiz scandals to documentaries, revealing a string of discrepancies including doctored footage of the Queen.
The move by Mr Kermode, who came to the commercial channel from BBC Breakfast in June, sparked introspection across TV news last night. BBC2's Newsnight discussed the matter on its programme and website while Sky News said it was already reviewing use of the concepts. The American news network CBS has long banned use of the shots.
Adam Boulton, the respected Sky News political editor, said the move was "a step forward". "We all want to try to be more honest and direct in our programming." He pointed out that the step had been made possible by modern technology allowing for multi-camera shoots for less money.
BBC insiders pointed out that interview inserts – in which questions can be asked afterwards if it fits with the editing – save money because they enable one, rather than two, cameras to be used.
Announcing the move yesterday, Mr Kermode said he wanted to move on from "hackneyed" old tricks of the trade. "The time has come to wake up and understand that actually some of the things we used to do can't really be justified any more," he said. "There are some TV news tricks that have been used for many years that date back to the way people used to have to edit things," he said. "But technology means we can be more explicit about things now."
Mr Kermode claimed bulletins broadcast by his former colleagues at the BBC were "full of" the shots. But BBC sources last night pointed out that it was easier to ban them on a channel which reduces news to small "bites", a swipe at Channel 5 despite its recent announcement that it was extending its 7pm news bulletin to 30 minutes from 3 September, from a quarter of an hour.
The Newsnight editor Peter Barron admitted he was "not fond" of "noddys" – inserted shots of interviewers nodding in approval – but said walking shots were already out of bounds. The whole area was "certainly something we have debated ourselves, but there is a risk that if you make a hard and fast rule you are tying yourself in knots", he said.
John Ryley, the head of Sky News, said he too was limiting use of the shots, while the BBC head of television news, Peter Horrocks, said focus groups were being consulted. "We have been doing a lot of thinking about this already, as part of [director general] Mark Thompson's previously announced plan to train all of the BBC's editorial people in trust issues," he said. "The key thing is not to do things that run a risk of deceiving viewers."Reuse content