Media Viewpoint: While Europe votes, the BBC stays at home

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The Independent Online
Did you notice anything peculiar about the BBC television coverage of the Euro-election results on Sunday night? No, I don't mean Peter Snow cavorting in front of multicoloured hi-tech graphics; he is a one-man election tradition by now. What I have in mind is the almost complete absence of anything 'Euro' - beyond the gold stars and blueish backdrop.

Otherwise, this could have been a British general election. We swung from the Midlands to Basildon, from Yeovil to London North-West and back again, with hardly a nod to the fact that the other states of the European Union were counting votes at the same time or that the winners would end up sitting in the same parliament - and it would not be Westminster.

On the platform, David Dimbleby chaired a pedestrian discussion in which most participants were Westminster MPs and UK ministers. Predictably, all the conclusions related to questions like 'the future of John Major' and whether support for the Lib Dems had 'peaked'. That 15 per cent of the supposedly Europhile French had voted for anti- Europe candidates, or that the Socialists were doing far worse in Spain and Germany than here, warranted not a mention.

Other, unaccustomed, flaws in the BBC's coverage supplied the only hints that this was not a general election. The discussion studio seemed somehow disembodied from the graphics, and the candidates' names were often missing when a result was first announced. Why shouldn't we know who was elected, not just for which party? We incognoscenti might even recognise one or two.

And where were the turnout figures? An average figure was given occasionally, in passing, somewhere around the 30 per cent mark, but not for each constituency as it declared. It wasn't even as though the calculation had to be a rush job. There had been three whole days in which to fathom out how many people had voted. Was the BBC afraid that viewers might start to question the validity (and cost) of the hi-tech wizardry in the studio?

Still, the most egregious fault remained the Euro-absence. It was both unnecessary and irresponsible: unnecessary, because the BBC has one of the most comprehensive foreign correspondents' corps of any media organisation anywhere; irresponsible, because on Sunday night the BBC had a terrestrial television monopoly: neither ITV nor Channel 4 had chosen to cover the results at all.

This time, though, the monopoly was not quite total. Anyone with even the most basic satellite dish could have watched (without subscription) Sky News, one Dutch station and at least two German ones. All put the BBC to shame.

Each placed the emphasis on their own national results, but ranged far across the continent, beaming exit polls, trends and results to a Europe-wide audience. As well as a joyous Chancellor Kohl, the Germans offered dispatches from London explaining how the results were seen in Britain, and from Paris, and from Madrid . . . . So did Sky. They even sent a senior political correspondent to report from Brussels - which she did, with verve.

Britons without a dish or cable connection would have been well advised to switch to the much-

derided Radio Five Live. If even Five's hard- pressed producers could pick up the phone and call the BBC's European correspondents, why did the Dimbleby/Snow show, with all its technical back- up, find it so difficult to do the same? Or would the pan-European picture have been just too big, even for the giant screen that BBC Television uses to define our island's politics?