09/08/2012 - 11.01
Paul Brighton, Head of Department of Media and Film
Tricky times, these, for the rolling news channels: especially for BBC News’ 24-hour channel.
The Olympics are clearly the biggest story in town: but the biggest by what margin?
Already, there have been complaints – including a letter in the Radio Times – that the BBC News Channel has effectively become another BBC Olympic channel, in addition to the all-day coverage on BBC One, BBC Three, the other two Freeview channels, plus the single-sport extra new channels available online and on some satellite packages (though not Freeview).
Time will tell how decisive the events of the last two weeks have been in the Syrian conflict; and the lasting significance of the Cameron-Clegg disagreement over Lords reform and boundary changes will take a while to play out.
But of one thing we can be certain: these news stories would have received much more coverage had they not clashed with the Games.
During the extended Diamond Jubilee weekend, there was also criticism of the BBC News Channel for broadcasting essentially the same material as the BBC’s main terrestrial channel.
The criticism was intensified because the rolling news coverage was not only identical to what was being shown on terrestrial TV, but was also, frankly, not very good.
It was therefore included in the larger mauling the BBC received, especially for its coverage of the River Pageant. Sky News, meanwhile, was praised for its much more straightforward, less celebrity-based approach.
The Olympic coverage has not, as a whole, attracted the same amount of criticism on quality grounds; although the TV commentary on the otherwise excellent Opening Ceremony added little to an event which spoke for itself with genuine eloquence.
However, in the infamous phrase of a former spin doctor, the Games have almost certainly been a good time to bury bad news: maybe so good that we haven’t even found it yet!
The question some are now asking is whether the BBC stands accused of burying not just bad news but all non-Olympic news.