In an age of 24-hour news, major breaking stories can pose a dilemma. When should a major, developing news story lead to fundamental changes in the schedule? This dilemma has been brought into sharp focus by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
In an era of fake news and deliberate disinformation – not to mention simple junk on the internet – the importance of reliable reporting by reputable news organisations cannot be overstated. But how should the schedules of a major channel change?
Simply inserting a news report into a junction is one thing and it is easy for BBC One to join the News Channel when a major story is actually unfolding. There are also protocols for events such as royal deaths.
Yesterday, while the news from Ukraine was of vital importance the actual developments as the day went on were gradual and sometimes confusing. BBC One kept with its normal daytime schedule. The News Channel, as usual, was being broadcast on BBC Two at the time.
This was probably the right practical decision at this point. When a news story which some may find alarming, is developing maintaining normality can help reassure those prone to undue concern – a concern stoked, no doubt, by sensationalist nonsense in some parts of the internet.
On the other hand, it did mean that BBC One was the only major PSB which did not show the Prime Minister’s recorded statement when it was released at 12pm.
Of course “addresses” by the PM have become common in recent years. They are part of Number 10’s communications strategy. Theresa May would often try to address the public directly from a lectern in Downing Street.
Yesterday’s statement by Boris Johnson was newsworthy and important but it was not, and should not, be compared to Prime Ministerial broadcasts at grave moments in Britain’s history. In other words, there is no requirement for such a statement to be shown live by all channels.
However are the old BBC daytime summaries missed? Even with the News Channel on BBC Two, would their return be appreciated?
That thought seems to have occurred to ITV which has been running hourly updates during its morning schedule. But maybe this actually highlights a problem for ITV?
When a big story breaks, those who want to watch ongoing coverage will switch to the BBC News Channel or Sky News. ITV News – despite excellent programmes and journalists and a superb website – is not part of the world of 24-hour news broadcasting.
Yet, the chances are more people were watching the updates during This Morning than either of the two reliable UK news channels or the routine simulcast on BBC Two.
These ITV bulletins may have played a role in preventing disinformation simply because they would have been seen by people who are not news junkies.
Later in the day, the two main BBC One news programmes were extended and ITV changed the planned edition of the Tonight programme. As the situation in Ukraine develops, there will no doubt be more changes to the schedule – some at short notice.
But this sort of story highlights a dilemma for major general channels. On the one hand, they are THE most important source of reliable news for many people and help temper disinformation elsewhere.
On the other, they also provide friendship, entertainment and diversion.
These two roles can be contradictory and the equilibrium can shift. But maintaining it when big news breaks is vital.
PICTURED: large explosion over Kyiv. COPYRIGHT: @OSINTtechnical.