The BBC’s reputation rests on its journalism. The breakdowns during Laura Kuenssberg’s interview with the Prime Minister this morning will be taken seriously.
What went wrong? Could anything have been done differently? Or was it, sadly, just one of those things which happen in live television?
The fact the programme DOG remained throughout the debacle suggests the programme was being routed to a gallery at New Broadcasting House.
From here, it would have made its way to what we still like to think of as Network Control aka Playout.
But the public don’t know or care whether the mess they witnessed was the responsibility of News or Presentation – they just care that a shambles went out on air.
In the days when breakdowns were much more frequent, Presentation protected the BBC’s integrity and sovereignty. After a few seconds of black screen, up would pop the programme slide or an apology caption.
The basic procedures were clear to every network director and announcer. The announcer calmly apologised, played music if the problem persisted and – when appropriate – kept viewers across the situation. It was taken seriously.
During a high-profile breakdown, one experienced announcer couldn’t get the standby music to start and made a joke about it. It may have seemed human but such was Presentation’s concern for the BBC’s reputation that he got told off.
Sadly, this morning on BBC One the situation looked awful.
Problems can arise during any live programme but problems like these during an interview with the PM are a conspiracy theorist’s dream.
If only the breakdown had been handled smoothly by the announcer.
No doubt behind the scenes, efforts were being made to resolve the situation and work out what to do. There is no question of a lack of professionalism.
But the editorial procedures for handling breakdowns during live programmes would seem to be in need of review – even if, thankfully, serious breakdowns are now rare.
It’s true that the output of the gallery at NBH was still reaching playout but does that excuse the shambles that viewers to the nation’s premier channel witnessed?
Imagine it’s 1992. A live OB during Grandstand goes down, Des Lyman has nipped away for a few moments – the black screen from the OB goes to air.
The network director would have quickly established with the Grandstand gallery if they could resolve the situation quickly or if it was time for a slide and music.
A full steward’s inquiry into the breakdown would have taken place in the sports department. But Presentation would have ensured there was no risk of reputational damage.
Breakdowns happen and live programmes can fall off air for many reasons.
Questions will be asked about why the line from Birmingham went down to try to stop the same thing happening again. The issue will no doubt be taken very seriously.
But perhaps a review of the role of Pres in these situations needs to take place too.
PICTURED: PM Liz Truss being interviewed on Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. COPYRIGHT: BBC.
The strange thing is that during both issues, the News Channel and BBC1 did different things. During the first issue, the News Channel went to the News Channel countdown, but BBC1 remained much longer on just the black screen and logo. Then during the 2nd shorter issue, BBC1 did nothing and the News Channel again played in the countdown, but took much longer to rejoin the programme. Is it automated on the News Channel or was it just the fact that their presentation team were actually paying attention to what was going on?