Leading Article: News presenters who arouse strong views

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The Independent Online
THOSE who present the news on television and radio are currently themselves much in the news. There is a brisk debate about the significance of shifting ITN's News at Ten to an earlier slot; meanwhile, the same programme's new one-man format continues to draw flak. Over at the BBC, Martyn Lewis, one of the two principal presenters of the Nine O'Clock News, was apparently derided by his colleagues, but not by the public, when he called for more good news on television.

It now seems he may be replaced on the flagship evening programme in a general reshuffle of the BBC's presenters, though not necessarily because of his plea. Finally, for the moment, there is speculation as to who will replace Brian Redhead as the fourth regular presenter of Radio 4's agenda-setting Today programme.

All this reflects the extent to which news presenters become part of the mental furniture of those who live in today's electronic village. Everyone will have their own more or less passionate likes and dislikes among individual presenters. For some, Martyn Lewis is a reassuringly solid and kindly figure. To others, he may exude self-satisfaction. Vocally, his colleague Michael Buerk has a lighter touch. But sometimes his evident concern at the state of the world reduces his voice to a near-whisper, as if from some emergency ward. Over on ITN's seemingly doomed News at Ten, Trevor McDonald insists on chopping up his sentences into bite-sized segments, as if viewers were too stupid to manage a sustained flow of words. As for Today's John Humphrys, to many listeners he is heroically tough with the evasive politicians from whom he seeks straight answers, to others he is, like Newsnight's no less pugnacious Jeremy Paxman, unduly sharp and abrasive.

Given the strong views that people hold on these personalities, it is odd that ITN should latterly have decided to stake all on a single presenter at 10pm. The Nine O'Clock News anchorman has tended to be just that: the link between the BBC's own heavyweight specialists. The success of the ITN programme was in large part due to the chemistry between two contrasting presenters, be it Sir Alastair Burnet and Andrew Gardner, the engagingly roue Reggie Bosanquet and Anna Ford, or Sir Alastair and Sandy Gall, of the lived-in visage.

It is true that the stock of presenters with viewer appeal as well as the requisite abilities seems to be running low. Yet that is no adequate reason to abandon a long and fruitful tradition. Trevor McDonald looks a small, lonely figure amid the trappings of that pretentiously futuristic set. It is not just the plans to change the timing of News at Ten that seem to show a loss of confidence.