The political drama of recent weeks has placed enormous demands on journalists and broadcasters.
Political journalists have never known a time like this. There has never been a period in modern British politics when the authority of a new Prime Minister whose party has a substantial majority has been in question.
Meanwhile those whose specialism is in the fields of business and economics have been charged with explaining the reaction to the mini budget.
All this comes against the backdrop of the cost of living crisis, everyday politics and the recent escalation of the war in Ukraine.
Perhaps this is a reminder of one of the key differences between the BBC and the main commercial public service broadcasters.
Is news and current affairs at the very centre of the organisation? Or is it simply a public service obligation?
The BBC is a unique organisation. One of its strengths is the diversity of its output and how it means different things to different people.
It would not be the organisation it is without Strictly, Frozen Planet, Doctor Who or hidden gems like Thursday’s brilliant BBC Two documentary on TS Eliot.
Nor would it be the same without Radio 2 or Blankety Blank. And it is vital that EastEnders should either be restored to its former glory or retired with dignity.
All those programmes in their different ways mean a lot to different people.
The BBC would be the weaker if it did not try to provide a full range of programmes but there is no doubt about where the centre of gravity lies.
Ultimately news and current affairs can bring down the director general as we have seen twice in recent years.
But news cannot be a niche service – it has to be at the heart of BBC One. The BBC One bulletins tap into the expertise of so many specialists who might otherwise be contributing, say, to the BBC website or those niche programmes.
The enormous audiences following the death of HM The Queen were proof of this.
In recent days, Breakfast and the main BBC One bulletins have really lived up to the old adage of making “the good popular and the popular good”.
It’s worth remembering that the main news programmes on BBC One all get some of the highest audience shares of the day and a significantly bigger audience than their rivals on ITV – the BBC News at One beats its ITV counterpart 3-1.
Generally the ratings pick up when the BBC One bulletins start. This is still despite the long-term decline of linear audiences.
Meanwhile on ITV, is the news the centrepiece? Or is it merely a PSB obligation which also buys ITV credibility and respectability?
The excellence of ITN’s journalism and the quality of the main ITV News programmes is in no doubt. Indeed some ITV News journalists – notably Paul Brand – made the running on some stories and left other broadcasters playing catch up.
Earlier this year ITV took many by surprise by doubling the regular duration of its main evening bulletin. The longer format has been a success.
But twice this week the programme returned to a half hour duration – despite the incredibly busy news agenda.
This risks giving the impression the longer news was simply opportune and a sensible commercial move – an excuse to streamline the early evening schedule and avoid weak points.
As is normal on a Friday, the bulletin only lasted 30 minutes outside England.
Meanwhile – as ever – News at Ten can float around the schedule.
ITV really needs to fully commit to maintaining the duration of the 6.30pm bulletin if it is to fulfil its true potential.
An hour on a quiet day? Half an hour in the midst of a political crisis? This isn’t fair on excellent journalists.
The late evening news needs a fixed point too. It might even be better to abandon News at Ten and provide a reliable berth at 10.30pm.
Meanwhile on 5, the main news runs outside peak time and attracts a modest audience.
A PSB obligation fulfilled but it hardly looks like the living heartbeat of the channel.
The main news programmes on the two main channels though are all very special and should never be taken for granted. They attract wide audiences and are central to democratic life.
But there is no doubt that on BBC One the news is far, far more than a legal obligation or an exercise in corporate responsibility.
ITV the channel (not I stress ITN the news provider) needs to be careful to avoid inadvertently giving the impression that its bulletins are not always cherished quite as they should be.
PICTURED: BBC News and ITV News logos. COPYRIGHT: BBC and ITV plc.
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