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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

October 26, 2006

Has ITV gone to(o) far?

This site has now moved to Salut!

When you have a biggish decision to make, as in whether to stay in France jobless but undefeated or go back to Britain jobless but undefeated, little things suddenly - and maybe irrationally - mean a lot.

If I were to reach a verdict based on the past few days, when I have found myself by accident watching an awful lot of ITV (and yes, you can move the "awful" along a couple of words), the choice would be simple.

Cancel those P&O shares that bring concessionary fares, throw away the Eurostar Frequent Traveller card and forget that Easyjet ever existed.

Is it just me? Or has today's equivalent of News at Ten become a televised caricature of tabloid journalism at its most wretched?

Since the end of last week, I have watched enough to make me feel grateful for the gentle restraint of French TV news, which - like the French press - is not always hugely impressive but at least tries to present itself as an intelligent digest of what's going on in the world.

On one evening, ITN had a report on a despicable child abduction and rape in which there was a garish reconstruction and the reporter actually spoke of the day "the nasty man" came to call.

Then there was the bizarre spectacle of an honest political correspondent undermining a shrill lead item about immigration curbs by trying to inject a little realism into the detail. He'll need to watch his step.

And did anyone else catch last night's report on the possibility that the world's first full face transplant will take place soon in the UK?

Clever strokes were pulled to change the science reporter Lawrence McGinty's own face several times as he spoke to camera. It made you look, but it also made you think how damned hard it was to follow his analysis of the likely psychological effects of the surgery.

As if to enrage literate viewers, someone had also composed a slogan to flash up on the screen asking if it wasn't all a case of medical science "going to far".

The tragedy is that in each case I have cited, the subject was serious enough to overcome any jumped-up executive's desire to make viewers feel they were being shouted at.

I appreciate the "And finally......" items, offbeat tales that give essential balance to the news diet, whether in broadcast or printed format. But is it so old-fashioned and unrealistic to expect proper news to be handled as if those presenting it are taking it seriously?

It was so appalling that it made me, for a while, stop thinking about the horrors of a two-part ITV drama that ended last night and might otherwise have dominated this posting.

Bon Voyage it was called, and it was about a nightmarish family on holiday in France and having a nightmarish experience even they didn't deserve. The script and plot were so bad that the cast looked as if they were embarrassed to be involved; M et Mme Randall found it impossible not to laugh while watching the supposedly tense and thrill-packed climax.

But back to the news.

Once, when some Telegraph wag sent me (a Sunderland supporter) to Tyneside to report on a Newcastle United boardroom crisis, I met a lovely man who worked for the Daily Star.

He was educated, intelligent and sharp. But all he'd ever wanted in life was to work for the Daily Star. His mildly dubious reasoning was that while announcing yourself as being from the Sun was likely to produce either a torrent of abuse or an instant demand for money, the worst he'd ever had to endure, as the Man from the Star, was laughter and pity.

That, it seems to me, is fine. No one expects the Star to be other than what it is. Wasn't a recent advertising jingle Ooh aah, ooh aah, say ooh aah Daily Star ?

But if a flagship television news bulletin does not aspire to greater things, then even I will begin to despair that my trade is, well, Going To Far. The phrase could catch on.

This site has now moved to Salut!


At October 26, 2006 7:11 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

One truly frightening question to emerge out of all this is: Do we get the media we deserve? The corollary being: What have we done to deserve it?
The Toronto Sun, as close as Canada comes to a Brit-style tabloid, one day recently pulled its Page 7 girl (a very mild version of the Sun's Page 3) as an experiment. The outcry was instantaneous and overwhelming. The fact that the paper's staff and news coverage have been shrinking steadily has prompted nary a word of protest.
From a professional standpoint, having spent four years on a tab in Philadelphia in the late '70s/early '80s, I can say that that kind of relentlessly tight, bright writing is the hardest to pull off effectively. Any tabloid journalist could write serious broadsheet stuff standing on his/her head. Vice-versa? Not so much.

At October 26, 2006 8:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Bill Taylor, I've always had the highest admiration for the craft of tabloid journalists - especially those who write those editorials - crisp, cogent, emphatic - even if one disagrees with the views expressed, recalling as I do the famous quotation, attributed I believe to George Bernard Shaw, that he made to one of his many correspondents, in which he apologized for having written far too long a letter, his excuse being he did not have time to write a short one.

That's about 80 words by my reckoning, way off-scale on the Fog Index. That would probably qualify me for instant dismissal on any self-respecting tabloid.

(Long-winded non-RT tabloid reader)

At October 26, 2006 10:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I don't understand is why everything has to appeal to everyone when 'everyone' is usually pretty stupid, has a short attention span, and loves the Daily Mail.

Surely one of the news bulletins can be devoted to those with an IQ over 94 who have a capacity to understand complex stories without juvenile computer graphics and infantile titles.

Mind you, on the French news, if you can call it that, you get stories of people caravanning around France, with other 'fait divers' which, at the end of the bulletin seem to have provided all the 'fait actualites'.

News is crap in France, and PPDA is a news-reader who thinks he's the bee's knees. Give me David Frost any day!

At October 26, 2006 10:36 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Complex stories? An IQ above 94? Would that it were so, Sarah. But I can think of very few TV news broadcasts that cater to that. The standard format is "tell the audience what you're going to tell them; tell them; then tell them what you've told them."
There's also political bias to contend with. In the U.S., Rupert Murdoch's Fox Network is almost the official voice of George Bush's loony right-wing. Not so much news as propaganda, with the word "liberal" being very much a term of abuse. Mind you, CNN is almost as bad sometimes. The "info-tainment" industry makes one look far more kindly upon newspapers.

At October 27, 2006 3:22 PM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Yes, the tabloid press has plus as well as minus points. It may do some rotten things but, at its best, is a class act.
At Lockerbie, for example, tabloid reporters led the way by a mile, setting the agenda for everyone else from broadcasters to broadsheet journalists. So I agree with Bill. The best tabloid journalists (newspapers) are as good and sharp as journalists get, and make the transition to broadsheet journalism much more comfortably than happens the other way round.
As someone else once said, they apply the same determination, cunning and care to stories that matter as to those that don't.
But ITN as a brash, wannabe tabloid is still difficult to stomach. Maybe it's just that tabloid tricks look so much worse on television when someone actually delivers the words and cliches out loud, reads the news in relay with co-presenters and generally makes you yearn for a programme that promises close-ups of paint drying.
PPDA, Sarah? Ah, there's a subject I should tackle soon if only because I interviewed him a week or so before I was shown the door.
PPDA is otherwise known as Patrick Poivre d'Arvor, perhaps France's best known TV face as presenter of TF1's main nightly news bulletin.

At October 28, 2006 2:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have long thought that ITV is the equivalent of a tabloid newspaper. ITV "drama" depends on a dependable household name, usually a family favourite, ie Ray Winstone or Caroline Quentin. Names that will guarantee a Daily Mail supplement cover. Helen Mirren and Prime Suspect really is the exception, which is both superbly acted and well written. Despite this I'm the first to admit enjoying the odd ITV two part drama, in the same way that at the weekends I enjoy reading a broadsheet and a tabloid. For good drama, try Spooks next on BBC 1. It's been playing for a while but it's great drama, well acted and entirely plausible story lines.
As for Channel 5....which is probably the TV equivalent of the Sunday Sport..and a very guilty pleasure!

At October 28, 2006 2:21 PM, Anonymous June Harper said...

I just left that comment on ITV drama and channel 5 guilty pleasures...didn't mean to sign in anonymously...june harper

At October 29, 2006 10:53 AM, Anonymous Guy said...

Can't think why you'd bother watching ITV news,any more than reading a tabloid.My problem is with BBC News 24,which I have watched when in France because the
BBC1 news is too late.Every item is spun out like mad to fill the void and Heaven help us if they get their teeth into some not very interesting but excitingly 'breaking' news.
BBC4 news attains a much higher standard and amazingly recently had several ten minute slots on philosophy.

At October 29, 2006 4:02 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

"Void" is absolutely the mot juste where 24-hour news channels are concerned. You almost have to feel sorry for their reporting and anchoring staff, driven constantly to find material to shovel into that gaping maw. Which is why they'll seize on anything that can be labeled "breaking news" and run and run with it, ad nauseam. Newspapers, alas, are beginning to go the same way with their 24-hour website coverage. The old journalism joke -- "Don't get it right, just get it written" -- isn't quite as funny any more.

At October 29, 2006 4:43 PM, Blogger anne gilbert said...

Getting it written is just about where it's at.
Watching the "Corfu" story I had a feeling the press were going to portray this as a murder/suicide story.
Not a decent interval later we see the hotel management off to prison etc.

But most fun is the Conrad Black story at the moment.I've written a ditty but am to frightened to post it.Litigation is sometimes around the corner.I know 'cause Mr.Black says so.

At October 29, 2006 7:31 PM, Blogger snowqueen said...

The re-enactment of the abduction was utterly shocking I agree - I was picking up a takeaway at the time it came on in the shop I was in so I saw it purely coincidentally. I had my 12 year old daughter with me and I actually found myself making her turn away and prevented her from watching it. So many of the visuals on the News (on all channels) are not things I want my children to view - I've been wondering for ages why there are no restrictions on what can be shown.

I should say that my children are 12 and 14 and I don't have huge problems with them watching most post-9pm stuff so I wouldn't say I am particularly sensitive. However, I stopped watching TV news some time ago because of the poor quality and now only get News from online sources. I listen to the Today programme and PM for the entertainment value mostly!

At October 29, 2006 10:42 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

ADVERTISEMENT (this commercial message will be repeated on a couple of other postings):

Since Colin and Sarah were kind enough to add a link (Bill's Art and Bill Taylor Photos, respectively) from their blogs to my fledgling website, I've been wrestling with the damned thing to make it more viewer-friendly. I think I finally have it where I want it.

If you've checked it out already, thank you. Please look again. It'll be much easier this time. If you HAVEN'T looked at it....what are you waiting for?


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