To readers outside the UK, I apologize in advance. This may be of little or no interest to you.
I am an avid watcher of TV News. Ever since dedicated news channels arrived in the UK, I have been a fan. I like to be aware of what is going on, and to keep up with world events, and home news. This is even more important since I retired, as I do not have the benefit of chatting with work colleagues, and the usual discussions and opinions that are the result of general conversation. I can think of many occasions when constant news updates are important, and even some where it is acceptable for the coverage to be uninterrupted, as happened with the events of 9/11 in New York.
At the moment, there are many things going on around the world, and here in the UK, that are of interest or concern to me. The ongoing war in Syria, which could destabilise the whole region. The situation in Ukraine, that could lead to a limited war in Europe. At home, we have the forthcoming EU Parliament elections, the economic problems, and issues over benefits, and the NHS. So, what do the BBC News broadcasts offer us? Unlimited coverage of the trial of a South African man, accused of killing his girlfriend. This trial, and the murder that preceded it, may have been of more than usual interest, as the accused is a well-known athelete, who has appeared in the Paralympic Games. Perhaps a short overview, followed by news of the eventual verdict, would have been in order. However, the court ruled that parts of the trial could be televised, and the BBC jumped on the bandwagon, becoming part of the media circus that wanted to show us these proceedings.
For those of you that know nothing of the Pistorius trial, here is a brief outline of the events. On Valentine’s Day, 2013, Pistorius and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, were together in his house in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. He shot her dead, as she hid in the shower, firing many times through the glass door. From the beginning, he admitted the shooting, but claimed that he believed that she was an intruder. Despite the fact that he realised she was not in bed, that an argument preceding the shooting was heard by witnesses, and that she could be heard screaming behind the shower, it never occurred to him to ask if it was her. He just shot through the glass. Surely one of the worst defences ever presented in a murder charge? It is so obvious that he killed her following some sort of jealous argument. Given that he had to put on prosthetic legs, get his pistol from the bedroom (all in the dark) and then shoot through the door of the shower cubicle, who could possibly believe that this was an accidental shooting, in fear of an intruder? If he was not a well-known athelete, and backed by substantial funds, this laughable case would have never been presented.
Trials in the UK are not allowed to be shown on television. Even photographs are not allowed, so we have long tolerated sketches of accused persons, and notable Judges, in our media here. From TV and Cinema, we are all well-aware how these trials proceed, and the technicalities that surround them. We are conversant with the system of defence following prosecution, how witnesses give evidence, and how juries make their deliberations. We do not need to see it played out in its entirety on TV news. It is just pointless. What makes the Pistorius trial even more ludicrous to show on news programmes, is the fact that he is not allowed to be shown. There is a delay in transmission as well, presumably to allow for ‘editing’. What we are left with, are views of the judge, the barristers, and an occasional witness who does not object to being televised. We hear the answers from the accused, as well as his crying and whining, but do not see him in the court. We are deprived of seeing for ourselves, being able to judge his sincerity, or otherwise.
Instead, we have a succession of journalists paraded before the camera, offering their interpretation of his behaviour, and their version of those parts of the trial we are unable to see. Pundits are wheeled on, to offer speculation, background detail, and such minutiae as how long a tea break will be, or what the accused had for lunch. I can see no justification for the tedious and blanket coverage of this trial, other than the ‘excitement’ of being able to show events ‘live’ from a court. The BBC is a public service, funded by a licence fee which we all have to pay if we own a TV set, whether we want to or not. It should be more responsible with how it spends that money, and not waste it with this interminable coverage of a foreign trial, in a country thousands of miles away. For balance, I should add that Sky News also broadcasts exactly the same output, at the same time. But this is a satellite channel, and we do not have to pay for it.
Many of us, myself included, have written in to the BBC to complain. They defend their actions by stating that there is huge public interest in the case, borne out by visits to their website, and audience figures for the trial reports. What they conveniently forget to mention, is that if you turn on the news, or visit the website, this is the lead story at all times, so we have no other option but to unwittingly become part of those audience statistics.
The BBC was once an institution to be proud of. Compared to some other countries television, it still is, in some respects. Sadly, in seeking to be more populist, less intellectual, and to gather audience figures, it is now just playing the game of telling us what we need to see, instead of allowing us to make up our own minds. It needs to get back to reporting the news that is happening, instead of becoming part of the institution that creates news that they want us to watch.
I suspect that the film and TV rights have already been sold, and the book launch will quickly follow the verdict.