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The BBC has consistently brought us almost unequalled news coverage, but if you thought the corporation’s 24 hour news service would water-down the quality may think again, because BBC News 24 has become one of the Beeb’s greatest assets in its short life.
Because it’s paid for by the licence fee payer, it is not interrupted by advertising like Sky News or CNN (despite Sky’s court case that challenged this a couple of years ago, showing that even they know everyone hates adverts). This is a truly 24 hour news and current affairs channel, offering the main news, weather and sports news every half an hour.
To be honest, it is not easy to review this channel. Most of its output is just news bulletins that closely resemble the Ten O’clock News in style and focus. This means that there is a large concentration on foreign news as well as news closer to home, a reference to the fact that the channel can be accessed via satellite across the globe.
The 6:30 pm news UK Today is an interesting offering because it takes the interesting snippets from the local bulletins and compiles them into one programme. This is by no means essential viewing because it tackles only regional issues, but its main interests lie in the way you can compare the output of the BBC’s regional offerings. When I lived at home it was refreshing to see that the rest of the UK’s regional news wasn’t as shoddy as BBC Northern Ireland’s. The problem with UK Today is that it clashes with your local news bulletin.
This brings me on to 24’s only real flaw, because it does not offer any programmes from the regional broadcasters. There is no BBC News 24 version of Reporting Scotland or its other regional cousins like Newsline 6:30. For regional news you have to watch BBC One, Two or Choice. But with those other three options to look to, it is a small flaw for a great TV station.
During the extended summer of 2000 when I left school to ‘revise’ for A-Levels until I left for uni in late September, I didn’t always spend my mornings quite as productively as I should have. Many of them were invariably spent in front of the TV watching 24 for about 3 hours straight. This taught me a valuable lesson, that the news of the day is very slow to change and there is only minor differences in editorial output if you watch bulletins back to back.
But 24 is not just bulletins and more bulletins from BBC News’ second-string list of presenters like Gavin Esler and friends, it offers interesting political discussion programmes like Dateline London, although the array of international guests on this show can sometimes ascend into intellectual pretentiousness. Sportsday at 7:30pm is a good sports digest but cannot compete with Sky Sportscentre, largely because it cannot show much in the way of actual action and has few real interviews. It also seems to report a lot of cricket scores, again forgetting that cricket isn’t really a sport and no one outside of England likes it anyway.
World Business Report is an excellent business digest, taken from a London and New York perspective. Its live output in the late evening is lively and echoes Working Lunch with its laidback style. Its slant on business makes this serious and sometimes expensive issue almost fun to digest.
Hardtalk, the interview programme can be interesting at times, but is stuck in limbo between being Jeremy Paxo and Michael Parky and there always seems to be interviews with people you’ve never heard of. But the odd time it can throw in someone really interesting.
The main beauty of 24 is its reliability. Like a metronome it offers the main news headlines and weather at exactly the same time every hour, meaning that for those in a rush, you can be informed of the latest news without much real effort. You can catch up on the day’s news during an ad-break in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? if you want.
Plenty of people complain about the licence fee, even I think that students and pensioners should get it subsidised (vested interest?!). But these people are largely Tory misers who care nothing for what the corporation brings to society at large. If there is one good reason for public service TV, look no further than BBC News 24 on your remote.