Leading Article: Out of tune at Ten

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RECENT surveys suggest that people with decent disposable incomes are watching less television than they did 20 years ago. The poor are watching as much, if not more, than ever. Much cultural speculation has ensued, and missed a more important point. People of all classes are watching less news. Some are not watching it at all. Others are catching the initial summary, the bits between the bongs, and then switching over or off. Why? The Martyn Lewis school says this is because the news is bad (but when was it not?). Sophisticates speak of 'information overload' boring the audience (though not, to judge from polls and exam results, informing it).

We offer another theory: the music that introduces news programmes puts people off. Consider the BBC at nine o'clock, or ITN at ten; neither of them good tunes, neither of them soothing or cheering. Television musicologists will point out that news, as we understand it, should not be the former and is rarely the latter. The composer's task is, presumably, to devise something neutral: not Vivaldi (too sprightly), not Mahler (too mournful), not Mozart (too beautiful). What they offer are ominous tension-inducing noises. Even titchy regional news slots are heralded by fanfares which suggest that Kent has been cracked by earthquake, when all that is revealed is a planning dispute in Bexleyheath.

They need to lighten up and quieten down.