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Feedback: Good news in the news

Roger Bolton

"A barrage of bleakness" providing a "negative image or real life".


"News is essentially negative" providing an "Old Testament version of the world" which "leads to anxiety, fear and helplessness".


Those are quotes from Good News is No News presented by Prof Charlie Beckett on Radio 4 this week but they represent the views of many Feedback listeners, so this week I brought Prof Beckett, a former TV news editor, together with the Editor of the PM programme, Joanna Carr, to discuss some of the issues involved.


I tried to be objective but I have form in this area, having spent many years in the BBC’s TV current affairs department, where I was rather suspicious of 'good' news, thinking too often it was the product of public relations departments and government spin.


News was what someone did not want the public to know. Get digging.


However I began to be troubled by the lack of thinking that went into the selection of news; so much was instinctive, so much was driven by available pictures, so much was determined by what we thought the public wanted to watch even if we were in part feeding prejudice.


This came to a head for me during the 1980s miners' strikes when the Glasgow Media Group began to ask some uncomfortable questions about the coverage. I thought they were rather partisan but nonetheless they made some shrewd points. BBC News management at that time, however, did not treat them seriously.


Then around the end of 1990, the TV News presenter Martyn Lewis asked what had happened to the 'good news'. Unlike the Glasgow group, Martyn could not be described as Marxist, indeed some thought him right wing, but his initiative was widely criticised. His BBC bosses promptly tried to shut him up. It was the wrong time for such a debate, they said. It nearly always is at the BBC!


Anyway, he was just a presenter.

What was equally disturbing was the reaction of some of his peers. As the then Chair of the programme committee of the Edinburgh International TV Festival, I decided to interview Martyn about his views. There was a lot of opposition from fellow journalists who derided both the man and his ideas.


Now, as it happens I disagreed with much that Martin said but I was shocked by the BBC’s opposition to intelligent debate and the narrow-mindedness of my colleagues.


At least until relatively recently, journalists have not been inclined to be self-critical and to question the nature of the news agenda. At the BBC in particular they worry about perceived political bias, but do they question the broader agenda itself, with its diet of disaster? That is one of the things I wanted to find out in or discussion. You can hear the discussion and the rest of this week’s programme here.


Feedback is now back on the air for the next eleven weeks. Do let us know what you want to be in the programme.


You provide the bullets. I just fire them.


Happy Listening,


Roger Bolton


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