Chris Shaw: More bad news for TV news

From a speech by the Senior Programme Controller at Channel Five, at the Edinburgh Book Festival
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The Independent Online

The view that conviction or a particular set of political values inevitably pollutes a reporter's work is wrong. It is perfectly possible to approach a story from a point of view without corrupting the facts. Journalism is about communication and explanation - television journalism is also about presentation and performance. If the TV journalist doesn't engage the viewer then he or she has failed.

Unlike newspapers, television news is regulated to prevent bias. On any matter of public policy, TV news programmes are required to be balanced and fair. But being balanced and fair is quite different from being neutral or impartial. The idea that television should or could communicate the bald facts and only the bald facts is clearly wrong. The audience simply won't stand for a set of uncontestable statements delivered by an automaton without any analysis, evaluation or context.

Each night Andrew Marr and Nick Robinson, political editors of the BBC and ITV news respectively - compete with one another to express the most trenchant opinions. Their editors want them to stick their necks out as far as possible because they believe this is what viewers increasingly want and expect.

In this crowded market-place, it's not surprising that each service is trying to offer something distinctive to the viewer; what's extraordinary is how similar and convention-ridden most output is.

TV news is losing viewers and it is losing a certain type of viewer. TV news is becoming the ever-more exclusive preserve of the educated and elderly middle class, whose value system it most closely reflects.