Is broadcast news facing an existential threat? It’s a complex – and potentially terrifying – issue.
The BBC’s chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet reflected on the issue at a recent Royal Television Society event.
You can read a full account of her speech in the current edition of Television magazine on the RTS website.
Lyse examines the issue of deliberate “news avoidance” – a current catchphrase in the industry to refer to those people who deliberately try to stay away from news.
This is a worrying trend. It is in this environment that fake news and deliberate disinformation can flourish.
Then, of course, there are those who simply do not engage with the so-called mainstream media.
It might also be that they seek “confirmation bias” – articles which reinforce their existing views.
They might be reading individual pieces which are fair but which only one part of a complex story – say an article which looks solely at the plight of an individual family in Gaza.
More disturbingly, there is simple fake news – lies, deliberate misinformation and conspiracies presented as fact.
It is all too easy for anyone to be taken in by this poison.
And this is where I would argue mainstream broadcast news has a vital part to play.
Think of the main news programmes on the public service channels as simple trusted sources of information.
If they get something wrong or an individual item falls short of accepted standards, there are consequences.
Is it time to build on the BBC’s recent “Trust is Earned” campaign to market individual programmes?
Should public service broadcasters work together to help the public understand the basics of what they do and why?
But perhaps there might be glimmers of hope.
TV news ratings have fallen in recent years. Apart from the more disturbing reasons I mentioned, some of this is simply down to multichannel TV and the popularity of streaming.
The days of Neighbours boosting the ratings of the One and Six o’Clock News seem like something from a distant age.
But ratings do seem to be stabilising. Last Monday the 6.30pm regional programmes on BBC One had 4m viewers – the highest ratings of the day.
The clocks went back last night, the nights are drawing in and the weather is getting worse.
Trends are not inevitable – just as the resurgence of vinyl records and the increase in the use of cash took many by surprise.
There are many who do not engage with broadcast news and it is important for reputable journalists to try to reach the public on a whole range of platforms.
But perhaps reports of its impending demise are, in part, wishful thinking by those who might see benefit for themselves in a failure to offer fair, balanced and objective news.
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