Leading Article: And, finally, it's time for some good news

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The Independent Online
THE SIX readers' letters printed on these pages yesterday were a reminder of how deeply people wish to see more good news on their television screens. Yet Martyn Lewis, the presenter whose statements on the subject have provoked such controversy, did not argue that the BBC or anyone else should actively choose good news over bad. That is a recipe for the Sovietisation of British television: endless reports on bumper potato crops, successful five-year plans and celebrations of leaders' birthdays. What Mr Lewis suggested was that the media should 'treat bad and good stories with equal seriousness and enthusiasm'.

Most television news producers and newspaper editors believe that they do so already - and see the question instead as how to attract as many readers or viewers as possible, subject to that constraint. Advances in satellite and camera technology in recent years have encouraged change only in one direction: by allowing live video pictures to be beamed across the world, they have enabled news programmes to shock their viewers by putting them face to face with the horror of war or starvation. Although few people like to see such pictures, many are gripped by them.

That tide may now be turning, however. Horror is a debased currency; viewers are crying out for something less stomach-churning. Whether the correct response is to give them carefully packaged 'good news' stories, relegated to a single light-hearted slot at the end of the programme, is a different matter.

Choosing what to cover is harder for television, which has time for only a dozen or so short items - as in a restaurant's table d'hote - than for newspapers, which can offer readers a choice a la carte with a novel's length of words every day, and allow them to be their own editors. But the aim in both should be the same. Readers cannot be informed about the world without coverage of conflict and politics - and particularly the human suffering and profound events that result. Too much attention to those things, however, and the result is a modern equivalent of the worst history lesson, with its predictable wars, treaties and dates.

That is why the Independent has tried to give more attention to the broader forces that shape our lives, whether economic, political, technological or social; and why it has tried to cover more closely the industrial countries of Europe, North America and Japan which have problems similar to our own. Ultimately, however, our news editors must decide what should go in today's newspaper and what can wait until tomorrow. We may feel happy for having published on Monday some unaccustomed good news from Africa, a report on the successful Eritrean referendum; but we must admit with shame that the report was held for a couple of days while other, more pressingly bad, news was published first.