Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bloody BBC

For all that Auntie is the nation's favourite, I've got to add my voice to those, including Iain Dale and Mark Pack on LDV, who have criticised their coverage of the US elections last night.

I don't disagree with the decision to send so many staff over for the coverage. I think that it was justified given the importance of the US, the historic nature of the election due to Obama's candidacy and the excitement about the result. In fact, I think that the BBC should be putting more effort (not quite as much as this, but significantly more than they do at the moment) into covering the elections of our other major partners - France, Germany, Japan and so on. People accuse the UK of being too US-minded. I think the understanding that comes from following elections, and in particular the debates over policy, informs the UK public about those countries and increases both their understanding and their sympathies.

But what a disaster the coverage was. Jeremy Vine couldn't remember how to get his screen to work and at times ended up prodding wildly at it. He had clearly got a crib sheet to tell him where to press when he wanted to highlight a particular county on the map but the insight we gained was minimal. He never explained why we should see this little bit of Ohio as being more significant than that little bit of Ohio. As ever, the BBC demanded 45 second segments and so we never got into the meat of it.

The studio guests were largely terrible. Larry the psephologist was ok, but most of the others had so little to add as to be a waste of space. Christopher Hitchens and John Bolton both made me want to throw stuff at the TV but as it was my brother's new 32 inch plasma I restrained myself. But at least they said something vaguely interesting and better than the blandness of most of the others.

The outside broadcasts were the worst. What is the BBC fascination with talking to ordinary people? You never hear from enough of them to make it worthwhile as a scientific poll and, because they are not Brits, we have little chance of feeling empathy for them. Better to stick with experts on the ground. But even these were strictly mediocre. It was good to hear Jesse Jackson - I presume the US networks wouldn't touch him - but most of the rest were so 'toe the line' partisan as to be not worthwhile. I don't want to hear that the Chair of the Bumfuck, Oklahoma Democratic Party thinks that Obama is great - I think I could have guessed that this would be their view. And it is historic that the US has elected its first non-white President. But we learn nothing from hearing endless African-American (or indeed white) voters simply telling us that it is so. We need more depth than that.

The bloggers were so useless and uninteresting as to provide a chance to go and get another beer. There are many great US bloggers out there and I'm guessing that they weren't all (if any?) taken up by the US networks. Why couldn't the BBC find a couple who knew how to string a sentence together and had something to say. Even if they represented fairly singular points of view they would have added something. I don't have a clue what the two bottle blondes were supposed to be doing. Were they meant to be giving their own opinions or reporting what others were saying. We certainly never knew from the 20 seconds an hour each was given to speak.

I felt it was fair enough for much of the concentration to be on what an Obama Presidency will be like once it became clear he would win - even before he got 270. Some people were using these discussions to accuse the BBC of bias. But various reporters were embarrassingly over the top well before that. I heard Richard Bacon on 5Live watching Obama vote and the screams he emitted when the guy's car came within 15 feet of him would have done a 60's Beatle fan proud. Get a grip man - you're supposed to be a professional.

And the producers should be shot. Not just for the failure to link properly - and that was bad enough. But it was always going to be the case that the first couple of hours would need filler discussions. So where was the in depth discussion of how the Electoral College system works. Better to do something once and well than take 20 seconds explaining it badly every hour. What about the fact that the US is a two party system. Let's discuss why the third party candidates are a sideshow this time (and also about the time Ross Perot wasn't) and what the two party system means for the way the election works.

And, fundamentally, let's have proper discussions about what each result means and a proper debate between people from each camp. Interrupt if there is genuinely something useful or new to say, but otherwise why not let a debate or segment run on for 5-10 minutes. You've got the tickers to keep people up to speed on the nuts and bolts of what has already happened.

I was lucky enough to have my laptop with me while watching and kept up to date with Dale's live chat (and thus what the different networks were saying) and with the Betfair markets (although I wasn't betting). These provided blessed relief from the most inane segments of Auntie.

The whole 'calling' thing was the subject of much debate on Dale. The BBC took the difficult decision to go with what ABC said (or AP and one other network) and I think, on balance, that was fair enough. It would have got a tad confusing if they had simply taken what the first network said about any state and there was no way they could justify seeking to put in the infrastructure to call for themselves. But they managed to foul up royally with the whole Fox/Ohio thing. They mentioned that Fox had called the state for Obama but failed to note that this was a mistake and Fox immediately retracted. Instead they simply kept schtum until the state was actually called for Obama some 20 minutes later - clearly they just made the assumption that it would come good in the end. Isn't that a form of misinformation of the kind that the BBC are supposed to be stamping out?

Side note - I await the first politician or commentator to bemoan the fact that in the UK we don't have 3 hour queues outside polling stations, isn't it terrible etc etc. Well if you cut the number of polling stations in half and have 25+ contests on the ballot we might well do so!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good copy.
I have only read one positive blog message of the bbc coverage of the US elections.
I did not bother to watch it as I got rid of my TV 3 years ago for their dumbing down and bias.