The hallmark of the BBC was its news coverage.The world's largest news-gathering organisation with a staggering array of journalists (over 2,000 worldwide) and facilities (41 foreign news bureaux) available at its disposal, I always took BBC News to be a trusted, impartial and articulate voice in the world of news. Sadly, the high regard which I always held for the BBC and its news coverage has taken a precipitous decline over recent years. I think BBC News has dumbed down to such an extent that it is about on a par with The Daily Mail, or in other words prone to hysteria, unbalanced and illiterate reporting. The BBC used to be distinctive and better for it, now it seems to be clamouring for the same base level as its main competitors.
The decline in BBC News seems to be no more apparent than on TV and there are further changes afoot this year, which I am sure will damage its TV coverage further. Basically, the BBC has to save money and News is no exception. It is cutting its staff by around 350, while another 500 or so will be lost in the BBC Nations & Regions, which produce the regional news (for England) and national news output for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. How can the BBC hope to maintain the current quality let alone aim for higher standards, if it is losing so many staff? Furthermore, I read that the BBC has axed plans for 4 new BBC Local Radio stations. Presumably included in this is the new station that was designated for Milton Keynes and I doubt now that we will get the new BBC Centre in MK that was promised or the regional television service for Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire. Instead, we will have to endure the current BBC provision of radio from Luton, which is heavily Bedfordshire-biased and regional news from Cambridge, which is biased to that region. Indeed, the local BBC radio station has recently cut back on its broadcasts for Milton Keynes and I wonder how long it will be before a seperate opt-out service will be abandoned altogether.
But returning to the TV news and this is currently undergoing another reshuffle. Essentially, in an effort to save money, I understand the current BBC World studio and facilities is to be moth-balled.To enable this, BBC News 24 and the BBC's One & Ten o'Clock News are all moving to share the same studio facilities. Currently, BBC News 24 already simulcasts (shares) the main news output from BBC 1 - so much for it being an independent rolling news service. However, at the moment News 24 does continue its own coverage during a major or breaking story and doesn't take the BBC 1 output, how this will be possible with the changes proposed is not clear. At the same time there are suggestions that BBC News including the English regions will all be rebranded, a quite extraordinary waste of money, which could surely be invested in improving the current news provision. Then in 2012, all of BBC News will move from Television Centre to the new Broadcasting House complex, which will be the largest live broadcast centre in the world. No doubt to pay for such investment, more jobs will have to be lost and the news dumbed down further, to ensure that there is a large enough audience to justify this wasteful expense.
Perhaps the most insidious development in news over recent years is so called 'citizen journalism' where viewers are asked to send in their reaction to events or pictures. Nearly every news programme now and the BBC News web site, invites people to share their comments and often what is said is not put into context and thus we have a deluge of ill-informed or crack-pot opinions priveliged to the same status as the actual 'news' itself. Local radio excels in giving people a voice and allowing everyone an opinion on the issues of the day and this where it should remain. I believe the job of news, whether it is on television or radio, is to report the facts. News should tell the viewer or listener what is happening in an intelligent, informative and literate style without editorialising or dramatising. I don't want other people's opinions about the news; I want considered and informed analysis.
It seems to me that good news reporting and in particular BBC News is in terminal decline. It still amazes me how with all the resources it has, the BBC can produce such squalid and atrocious news coverage. About the only bastion of decent news coverage I've been able to find is the BBC World Service, which does what BBC TV News used to be about, report the facts; tell the audience the news. It does so in an intelligent and sober manner. The BBC can and should do better, much better.