We take 24-hour news for granted today with two high quality British news channels together with 5 Live and the internet. But there’s a distinction between the news being available 24-hours-a-day and an individual consuming it 24-hours-a-day.
The work of many UK journalists in Ukraine over the past week has been outstanding. Reporters, producers, satellite engineers and camera operators have shown incredible calm and courage in a dangerous, unpredictable environment. The measured tone of the reporting – when the reporters and their colleagues are bound to be nervous or on edge – has been impressive.
Inevitably though this is a story which some people watching find more than upsetting. Some find it worrying.
The context provided by specialists back in London has been particularly valuable – ensuring people understand why NATO will not agree to Ukrainian calls for a no fly zone or direct military intervention.
The problem with 24-hour news is that it provides a stream of information – by its nature it gives a particular prominence to the latest developments or what is happening at this very moment.
There’s nothing wrong with that of course – especially when the experts are also on hand to explain when developments are truly significant.
But those people watching who don’t understand the context or know how to process information as regular news junkies do may, through no fault of individual journalists, find current events unduly concerning. Mental health charities are offering advice to those who are worried.
One suggestion is that people who are nervous might be better to catch up on a trusted source of news just once a day. That does not for a moment mean 24-hour news should not be available for those of us able to process the information calmly.
For the past few nights, the main news programmes on BBC One and ITV have been around their normal length again. However few stories unconnected to Ukraine are currently getting on the air. Monday will see the pre-planned extension to ITV’s main evening bulletin.
But what about disruption to the schedule? As we’ve said before, television offers companionship for people in difficult times.
ITV took the decision to reintroduce daytime summaries at the start of the crisis and they do play a role in countering fake news. But, of course, the actual news audience will be watching the BBC News Channel or Sky News.
Is there an unintended risk that some of those watching This Morning for diversion could actually have their anxiety increased by these summaries? No matter how responsible the writing.
The problem is not the journalism or ITV’s attempts to showcase excellent work from Ukraine. After all, almost every radio station has hourly news. The problem is that the very existence of these special ITV bulletins sends out the signal that the story is exceptionally big.
The same dilemma applies to ITV’s special breakfast programme on Saturdays and Sundays which replaces part of the CITV simulcast.
Children may not watch the news and get their shows by tuning to the CITV channel or going online. But kids will see the news is there instead of cartoons and this could add to the playground rumours. Newsround – now shown in the early mornings – has done excellent work explaining the crisis calmly on CBBC.
All in all, news is the first duty of a public service broadcaster. That is especially true just now.
But if an individual doesn’t feel the need to watch it constantly, that is no bad thing. And extra news output can risk adding to the worries of some.
PICTURED: Ukraine map graphic. COPYRIGHT: BBC.