Must we have our news at 10?

Debate: A journalist and a politician mull over the future of the BBC


Jeremy Thompson: 'What we see with the BBC and ITN is a scheduling war between two terrestrial dinosaurs'

Jeremy Thompson: 'What we see with the BBC and ITN is a scheduling war between two terrestrial dinosaurs'

Peter Ainsworth: 'The question is, should we pay a licence fee for the BBC to act like a commercial station?

 

JTThe truth is, the number of people who wish to watch traditional news bulletins is declining. The old-style, one-off "appointment-to-view" format is growing old with its audience. At Sky we're trying to show that you can present rolling news and make it accessible to everyone. We want to appeal to those people who are going to miss the Nine O'Clock News. When they turn to us to fill that hole in their viewing lives we will be introducing them to a new form of television news. Instead of a limited appointment to view they will be able to carry on as the news develops, and will learn that good-quality news is available throughout the day.

PA I applaud the way that Sky has increased choice, and I welcome the advent of other 24-hour commercial news services, like ITN's, which will increase it further. But it's not just choice that's growing, it's competition between broadcasters. This should be beneficial, but it is important that television companies compete on equal terms. This is where questions about what the BBC is up to come in.

Unlike the Government, I accept that politicians should not seek to influence the scheduling of commercial news bulletins. Frankly, it's none of our business. The audience for terrestrial news bulletins has fallen steadily for the past five years, and it's up to TV companies, and the independent regulator, to decide how to react to this trend.

JT But surely flexibility is what matters. We have a nine o'clock news and a news at 10. The BBC stops when the programme slot is over. We carry on. If there's a vital vote in the Commons or a crucial statement by the PM, we'll stay with it. But it's also a rolling programme of record. Last week, after the events in Ramallah, we had Tony Blair live, we had Ehud Barak, we had Shimon Peres and we had Bill Clinton live. You didn't have to wait until the end of the day and see them in a cut-down version.

People turn to us when there's a big, running story. During the fuel crisis, Sky viewing increased by an average of 400 per cent. It went up from a norm of 100,000 at any one time during the day, to a peak of 500,000. We beat BBC News 24 by two to one - and our figures were on average 10 times higher than for ITN's news channel. Our overall daily viewing figures during a crisis are up to between 2 and 3 million. There's a huge market out there that traditional broadcasters aren't meeting.

PA But the BBC is a special case. First, it is funded by the licence fee and, second, it operates under a royal charter approved by Parliament. As part of its public service remit, the BBC is required to maximise the audience for its news service. Only last July, Sir Christopher Bland assured a select committee that the BBC would move a news programme only if it thought the audience for news would be greater as a result. So how come this sudden decision to schedule its main bulletin at 10pm from next week?

There are around 3 million fewer people available to view at 10pm than at 9pm. The reality is that the BBC's move is not about news, but about competing for non-news viewers at prime time. If anyone doubts this, take a look at what BBC1 has in store between 7pm and 10pm next week: soaps, comedies, lifestyle, American films and chat shows. No art, no current affairs, no documentaries, no religion. It's all good family entertainment, and any commercial company would be proud of it. The question is whether we pay our licence fee for the BBC to behave like a commercial station.

JT What we are seeing with the BBC and ITN is a scheduling war between two terrestrial dinosaurs. Their approach is a thing of the past. They have already admitted that the future lies with rolling news. In the transition period, we're very happy to provide a home for traditional terrestrial viewers. But cable and satellite are the future. It's all about choice. Politicians - especially Tories like Mr Ainsworth - should welcome choice and not seek to restrict it.

Having 24-hour news has changed the political landscape and the political perspective. Politicians have craftily learnt to use and exploit the new media. We'll notice that particularly at election time, as issues and policies unfold during the day rather than at pre-scheduled moments which suit party bosses.

PA I don't know why Jeremy thinks I want to restrict choice. I don't. The time when politicians and committees of the great and good could sit in judgement over what the public was allowed to watch may not quite be over, but it's on the way out. Multichannel and digital technology is handing power to viewers. Of course, somebody needs to keep a firm eye on offensive material and bias. Viewers, though, are voting with their zappers and it would be a foolish politician who tried to stand in their way.

The BBC will argue that its other channels do, and will, provide the sort of programming that public service broadcasting is all about. Fair enough, but it is hard not to notice that as far as its leading channel is concerned, news and current affairs are being pushed to the margins. I suppose Jeremy can take some comfort from the fact that one long-term effect of the latest changes may be to speed up the migration to digital 24-hour news services. Even here, though, the licence fee has been put to busy use, and BBC News 24 stands ready to benefit from the decline of appointment-to-view news.

JT We welcome the competition.

 

Peter Ainsworth MP is the Conservative spokesman for culture, heritage and the media. Jeremy Thompson, a veteran foreign correspondent, presents the 9pm bulletin on Sky News.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst - High Wycombe - £30,000

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Junior Business Systems Analyst role...

Guru Careers: Talent Manager

£30-35k (P/T - Pro Rata) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienc...

Sauce Recruitment: New Media Marketing Manager - EMEA - Digital Distribution

£35000 - £45000 per annum + up to £45,000: Sauce Recruitment: The Internation...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing / PR / Social Media Executive

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A thriving online media busines...

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003