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Break in transmission

Jamie Donald | 17:12 UK time, Thursday, 29 June 2006

What goes through an editor's mind after his programme falls off air?

The Daily Politics logoToday on The Daily Politics, Jenny Scott gave a "big board" presentation on the troubles in Gaza - the kind of item where to tell the story we run pictures, graphics and clips into a big screen in the studio with a presenter, standing in front, linking them all together live.

Suddenly, in the middle of it, a picture of a bearded man in a studio flashed up, followed by the BBC Two caption saying there had been a break in transmission. We were back on air within two minutes; it was still a good show, and there weren’t loads of complaints; but there are two things I still think are worth talking about.

jennyscott.jpgThe first is about what went on in the studio. The problem was a straightforward bit of finger trouble: I won’t name names, but someone hit the wrong button in the gallery, was distracted by another problem and there we weren’t. The production team were understandably upset – all that work and careful preparation wasted. There was much grumbling. But to his eternal credit, the un-named button man, immediately owned up and then sent an e-mail to the entire production team apologising to each of them. That was a great move. But it made me think...

We all make mistakes. It was unfortunate for him that this one was at the end of the production chain and immediately apparent to anyone watching. Mine are never so exposed, but might often be much more damaging. When I (or any of my producers) make a bad call on a story, miss a key fact, rubbish a reporter, or perhaps – whisper it gently, despite my devotion to the BBC guidelines – let something untrue hit the air, the consequence is not there for all to see. But the effect is long-term, rarely addressed, and almost never the subject of an e-mail of apology to those affected.

The other thing worth talking about is the effect on the audience. Though it may not look like it, we spend a bit of time in meetings at The Daily Politics to find and produce the angles on the day's stories that are political and will move the narrative on. Today, before we were rudely interrupted, the big board would have laid before our audience some important facts; on the nature of the conflict in Gaza, and on the limits to British political influence there.

So the instant calculation when we went off air was this: to stop and reset everything so the argument could be followed by everyone once we returned to air – or to plough on with the big board regardless, unwatched, apologise once we came back on air and hope people picked up the gist anyway in the interviews that followed. I chose the latter course.

As I said we didn’t get many complaints, and I don’t think the viewing figures were affected. People either didn’t notice, haven’t written or rung yet, or were as engaged by the Auntie’s Bloomer unfolding in front of them as by the original story. So I’m inclined to think it was the right thing to do, and have told everyone we handled it brilliantly. But I’m still not sure. And it may prove to be another mistake which, unlike the one by my much appreciated technical colleague, will remain unnoticed and undiscussed. Perhaps I should apologise to him.


  • 1.
  • At 06:38 PM on 29 Jun 2006,
  • Gennean wrote:

It is refreshing to hear, from the ears of a young American woman, that I as the reader am actually recognized apart of a story that has nothing in common with my own microsystem of life. That is to say, thank you for recognizing that the news does not just end with the story, but we as readers carry it on by our own internalized thoughts and subtle conversations, and are greatly affected by your "calculations".

I appreciate the fact that you have weaved in one line of implicit hope for us viewers in a time of mostly troublesome news. And though I am put off-balance by the daily events of this world, I can be assured to know that at least one editor has the courage to care about a little thing I like to call 'character'.

  • 2.
  • At 07:18 PM on 29 Jun 2006,
  • Matthew Burdett wrote:

Well, who was that bearded fellow? And what was the room we were seeing? It seems the BBC is in the business of giving minor people an active say in politics - wotness the recent News 24 gaffe with Guy (the taxi driver, actually interviewee.) Oh, and add to that liost Blue Peter's recruitment of the gafferboy.... the BBC is making stars out of Z list celebrities -- the true all out commoner!

  • 3.
  • At 09:23 PM on 29 Jun 2006,
  • Adam wrote:

Yes, there are two competing and equally "valid" (let's not get into so-called "truths") narratives in the Israeli-Paletinian conflict, but your choice of "captured" and "detained" borrows only from one. (Actually, there are myriad competing narratives, both between and within the sides of this trgic conflict.)

  • 4.
  • At 09:48 PM on 29 Jun 2006,
  • Q Hussain wrote:

very brave


  • 5.
  • At 10:11 PM on 29 Jun 2006,
  • David Firth wrote:

I only saw your article on The Daily Politics interruption after reading the article beneath on the Gaza issues and I quite liked the fact that you hadn't taken the time out to write about something that would normally be brushed away.

I do, however, have to disagree with what you said.

Just because someone does not write or phone in to complain does not mean that they haven't left dissatisfied. Indeed, I was very dissapointed when there was the interruption but held to the belief that the programme would continue at the point where it was cut off at. Unfortunately, it was not, as it was quite obvious that Jenny Scott had simply continued with her presentation on Gaza during the interruption. This was a shame for the viewer because we missed information that is important but also, I felt it was a shame for Jenny Scott and the whole process that went behind the presentation. The presentation being brushed casually aside meant that, not only did the viewer miss the facts, but the effort and time expended on it was trivialised as not important - despite it being on a potentially explosive current world-issue. I wonder, would the same decision have been made had Andrew Neil been giving the presentation?


  • 6.
  • At 10:41 PM on 29 Jun 2006,
  • Bill wrote:

Although I didn't see the programme, it's nice to see that you feel able to discuss things like this. Well done. An interesting blog. Please keep it going.


Personally I found it odd - maybe even 'rude' - that when the feed was restored the programme had carried on without the audience.

Not to be (too) sarcastic but I thought programmes were there for the benefit of the audience but the willingness to carry on without us prompts me to ask:

"Is there a parallel schedule of programmes which we viewers don't get to see?" ;-)

  • 8.
  • At 12:24 PM on 30 Jun 2006,
  • max wrote:

Congratulations. At long last, an issue about the Middle-east you don't blame Israel for. But how can you be so sure? Maybe the finger guy is a Mossad agent? You can never be too sure with those rude Israelis.

who was that bearded fellow? And what was the room we were seeing? It seems the BBC is in the business of giving minor people an active say in politics

The room was in the BBC's Taunton studio, and the "Z-lister" was Antony Jay, writer of Yes Minister.

"Just because someone does not write or phone in to complain does not mean that they haven't left dissatisfied. Indeed, ..."

Indeed. I imagine people just get tired of assuming that all communications to the beeb just go into some digital trashbin. They'll give up after a while.

As for general quality: Note we have an *editor* here spewing choice snippets like: "What goes through an editors mind after his programme falls off air?" and "The problem was a straight forward bit of finger trouble"...

  • 11.
  • At 06:27 PM on 01 Jul 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

"I won't name names but someone hit the wrong button"

It happens all the time on BBC. The wrong button, extended periods of dead silence when the listener doesn't know if you are off the air, poor phone connections to pre-arranged live coverage reporters and interviewees, and a host of other technical problems. Rank amateur BBC, rank. It's rare when this happens on an American radio station, especially one associated with a large network. Even college radio stations are usually run better. You can do a lot better...or maybe you can't.

  • 12.
  • At 09:13 PM on 01 Jul 2006,
  • Matthew Burdett wrote:

I take my comments about the "Z" lister back... the creator of Yes Minister is far from a "Z" list celebrity... but thank you for putting the record straight (and being prepared to actually view our comments.)

  • 13.
  • At 03:29 AM on 05 Jul 2006,
  • stephanie wrote:

"Today, before we were rudely interrupted, the big board would have laid before our audience some important facts; on the nature of the conflict in Gaza, and on the limits to British political influence there."

I doubt very much that you "would have laid...some important facts on the nature of the conflict in Gaza" before your audience.

I don't know your show in particular but the BBC as a whole is an inept, naive, uninformed, myopic and sometimes downright (when it comes to Israel) vicious reporter of Israeli/Palestinian conflict news.

Insofar as it never really told the truth about the corrupt dictator Yasser Arafat when he was alive the BBC has blood on its hands. Then network, in effect, collaborated with a murderous, thieving dictator.

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