Nicholson attacks ITN for showbiz approach

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The Independent Online
THE ITN reporter and former newsreader Michael Nicholson, who gained international fame when he adopted a Bosnian child during the Balkans conflict, has made an outspoken attack on the quality of television journalism. BBC News is "boring and trivial", he says. ITN is "in debt" and is not covering all the stories.

In a frank interview to be published in the Radio Times tomorrow, Mr Nicholson, who has been with ITN for 36 years, blames ITV's director of programmes, David Liddiment, for not answering criticisms of the new current affairs programme Tonight - with Trevor McDonald, and laments the ending of News at Ten. He gives Sir Trevor only measured praise, saying: "He is unflappable, but can't do interviews."

Mr Nicholson is now working with Sir Trevor on Tonight. He says of the programme, which has been a flop in the ratings: "Tonight is not doing terribly well and we're all under fire, so I have to be careful what I say... All the mud rubs off on us, and I wish either the editor or people like David Liddiment would answer the criticisms." However, he adds: "I don't think everything is lost. It will settle down."

But on the general attitude to television news, he is more pessimistic. "News at Ten having its head chopped off without any plea of mitigation was quite traumatic for many of us... It was a defeat, and a lot of the heart went out of ITN. It's not a bad atmosphere and the new people are probably very excited because it's a different approach - showbiz, packaging, gizmos and things. But it's no longer the kind of journalism I grew up in, which was to forget the tinsel and get to the nitty gritty."

Mr Nicholson also defends reporters showing emotion when covering war. In 1992 he brought home Tasha, nine, from Sarajevo and he and his wife adopted her. "I was accused of breaking the rules," he says, "committing myself, being more important than the story, and all that crap. I don't need advice on how to behave as a human being or a journalist. If more reporters showed emotion, TV news wouldn't be losing so many viewers."

Mr Nicholson admits his own newsreading career ended when he made a dreadful slip. He announced Prince Andrew's engagement to Sarah Ferguson, and called him on air a "yucky" instead of "lucky" young man.

He concludes by saying he is deeply pessimistic that "every aspect of media is moving towards trivialising, showbizzing and infotainment... Lots of stories happen, but if no one's there to report them, they haven't `happened'... I'm pleased to be coming to the end of my career, rather than starting."

t A talent spotter starts work at the BBC today. Rob Warr is the first controller of talent management, to "find and nurture talent". The corporation has been hit recently by a series of high-profile departures, including Noel Edmonds, Des Lynam and Barry Norman.

Christopher Matthew, Review, page 4