Last week I pondered over whether BBC One news programmes should still be curtailed between Christmas and New Year.
In recent years there has been a gradual trend towards a more normal news schedule over the festive period and on Bank Holidays.
But the duration of bulletins is still shorter than normal and the timing is not set in stone.
I would contend that the evidence of the past week shows that normal network bulletins could and should have been shown.
Now, of course, there are important issues to contend with.
First and foremost, the period might be quieter than usual: Parliament and the courts are not sitting. But news is about so much more than this.
On Tuesday, the curtailed BBC News at One led on a series of missile strikes across Ukraine. There was a good package from Ukraine but no two-way with a correspondent to help assess the significance of the attacks.
Presumably this was a timing decision and not about resourcing or the availability of reporters and correspondents.
Indeed there has been no shortage of other important news over the holiday period from the death of Pele to the severe weather in North America.
Without giving away confidential information, it is reasonable to suppose a rota is worked out for news staff. Some reporters will have been in the office ready for deployment, some correspondents will have been at work or on standby in case there was a story in their field of expertise.
In short, BBC News could almost certainly have provided normal bulletins of the normal duration and quality at no significant extra cost.
Of course, there would also have been pieces left in advance or examples of stories which might have been put on the shelf on a busier day – but that happens on quiet days regularly. Indeed quiet days can often provide the opportunity to cover worthwhile issues that can face being squeezed out.
But would the public welcome this? Would the news team simply look like party poopers during the holidays?
Well the ratings for the curtailed bulletins were all in line with the normal news viewing figures. The curtailed Six was often the top rated BBC One programme.
In the late-80s, all three main bulletins ran as normal on weekdays between the 27th and the 30th. Until 1998, the Nine o’Clock News returned although the One and the Six were shortened and shifted around the schedule.
It is time to get back into this habit. It is the right thing for a broadcaster with news at its centre and would appear to be what its core audience wants.
But there is one legitimate downside to explore.
Since the main news moved to ten o’clock in 2000, it has been difficult to schedule post-watershed programmes which are of more than 60 minutes in length.
Tuesday provided a perfect example. It was to BBC One’s great credit that it broadcast the remarkable film 1917.
It is a powerful, harrowing and demanding watch which deserved a good slot on a major channel. It could not have started before 9pm and interrupting it at 10pm for the news would have been crass.
The solution though is simple. Occasionally on a Sunday or Bank Holiday, it should be considered perfectly acceptable to delay the Ten for an exceptional programme such as a one-off drama. (Tuesday’s delay was a prime example.)
This is not the same as delaying the news to allow an agreed overrun of MasterChef or to slot in The Apprentice: You’re Fired.
Over on ITV, the normal mid-morning line up pleased regular viewers and got bigger ratings than festive fillers.
It’s time for the public service broadcaster to fully commit to a normal network news schedule. It may not be quite as hard as you might imagine.
PICTURED: BBC News Studio E. COPYRIGHT: BBC.