Vast luxy Marriott hotel room with panoramic view of Baku. Plate of stuffed dates and a huge TV with my name on the screen (‘Welcome Anna Blundy…’ etc). I settle down into a white marshmallow cloud of duvets and pillows, stuff a few dates in and start watching BBC World. Now, it’s been a while. Fifteen years of children and scraping egg off the floor with my fingernails, weeping into wine glasses and schlogging musical instruments to and from schools have taken their toll on my…well…mood (and looks) since my last lavish hotel room and BBC World fest.
But increased cantakerousness aside – Jesus CHRIST, what has happened? Didn’t BBC World used to be better than CNN and all those odd French and Russian channels? This is the corporation’s international flagship, Britain’s main representative around the world (apart from the Queen).
I kept thinking it must just be a bad hour of lazy, boring journalism in a depressingly ‘70s format and that, surely, things would soon liven up a bit? There might be an investigative scoop of some kind, some information that hadn’t already appeared on every other kind of media days or even weeks earlier, a programme that showed off some sharp British wit, intelligence and journalistic brilliance. But it never happened.
A lot of exhausted-seeming newsreaders sitting behind (or, worse, perched on the front of) desks, droning out news that sounded as though it had been taken off Reuters, reworded into strange American (international?) English and dumbed down for people who have never heard of abroad.
Look, I know there ARE some brilliant reporters and presenters on BBC World and I was just unlucky that none (neither…?) of them popped up while I was watching in Baku. Mishal Husain and Zeinab Badawi are sharp and experienced interviewers – always challenging, clever, sparkling. [Someone, put them in charge, quick!]
What I did see was, for example, the staggering inanity of a ‘fun!’ item on Norman Cook doing a gig at the House of Commons and (the real low point) a piece about Shakespeare being performed by wooden puppets. Nothing especially wrong with the information in either case, but the style of the whole channel seemed to merge patronising with clueless in an amazing way. Even the graphics look tired and antiquated (perhaps in an effort to look authoritative and reliable?).
As far as real news is concerned there were correspondents standing around saying ‘here I am’ (great, lucky you) without providing any more insight into the news story in question than had already been regurgitated by the anchor. Then there were longer items in which the correspondent interviews some locals and/or goes for some ‘look at these funny people over here’ documentary-style angle [i.e. ‘I am on a free holiday in a faintly alien culture.’].
I was trained to do pieces to camera twenty years ago in Moscow by someone from CNN (I was hopeless – nowhere close to BBC World standard, I admit) and she said; ‘Think of the stupidest American you know.’ She herself was American and highly intelligent. ‘Then explain to him what’s going on here in language he will understand. You have twenty to thirty seconds,’ she said. Example: ‘Russia has been Communist for 70 years. Now they are having an election. Former Communist Boris Yeltsin looks set to win.’ She also gave me scriptwriting training. ‘Say what you’re going to say, then say it, then say what you just said.’ Example: ‘Exit polls show that X looks set to win the election here in X [where I am staying in a very nice hotel, thank you]. So far, 58% of votes counted have been for X. All the indicators suggest that the population of X will soon be governed by X.’
Pretty much everyone on BBC World is following the above tips. They have also incorporated all the ghastly American TV language like ‘set to’, ‘ahead of,’ ‘jetting off’, ‘the bard’ (at every opportunity), ‘penned,’ ‘stepped out…’ I could (and often do) go on and on.
The whole channel is without life or energy, a bad mock-up of CNN (which is saying something), programmes called things like ‘Click’ and ‘Global’ and lots of words like ‘focus’, ‘insight,’ ‘impact.’ Also, an enormous amount of business news and coverage that doesn’t contain much news and covers nothing not already covered to death.
Aren’t there young, independent and dynamic journalists all over the world, desperate to put together groundbreaking, investigative packages for the BBC? There is something sooooo lazy about the look of the whole BBC World product, the lack of real investigations, the banality of most of the content. Of course the channel has to be sensitive to the worldwide audience, but there must be a better way to showcase Britain and its journalists than this generally shoddy offering of tedious, repetitive and mainly contentless television.