BBC Olympics' shuttle balls-up

 

 

 

 

THE BBC must be smarting slightly after newspaper columnists gave its Olympic coverage a bit of a slagging.

As audience figures surpassed expectations, they could just put it down to print hacks having their usual swipe at their more glamorous and better-paid colleagues on television.

But before they do, it might be worth ignoring the nasty tone and taking some of the comments to heart.

I had no problem with Irish smoocher Craig Doyle’s presence, apart from the fact he had clearly been told to turn towards his fellow presenter and chat on – as if the audience was not there.

While this may have been a great idea on paper (‘makes us look chatty and friendly as if we were talking to a mate in the pub’) I was jumping up and down at the screen screaming “What about me?” I did wonder if my reaction was just an extension of one of my less pleasant personality traits, but having taken soundings from a variety of other normal licence fee-payers (ie no bitter hacks), I can confirm it was universally irritating.

What we were after was some fairly straightforward reporting of the events of the day (with eye contact) and not some chummy flirting and mediocre banter between people who had met on the plane over to Athens.

My market research also discovered we were all embarrassed by how little attention the BBC paid to winners of events where Team GB had been edged out of medal contention.

I’m not suggesting that the great British public does not want to have more focus on our contenders – but this was a world event for God’s sake, and a bit of impartiality would not have gone amiss.

We were also disappointed by the lack of knowledge some of the commentators had about the sport they were watching.

A perfect example of this was the commentator of the badminton mixed doubles’ final (with GB interest) on Five Live who apologised without a whiff of embarrassment for continually calling the shuttlecock ‘a ball’. He explained blithely that he had probably done too much tennis commentating recently, and continued to call it a ball thereafter.

This lack of basic knowledge was often contrasted with people who were so knowledgeable about some of the less well-known sports that I was left struggling to know what was going on.

The little video sequences of the various sports the BBC put together was a brilliant idea, but if you happened to miss them you were often at a loss to understand basics such as the scoring system.

I could also mention Steve Cram’s toe-curling interview with Paula Radcliffe, but that might look like I was really laying into the coverage.

In fact I loved the Olympics, watched many hours of it and am now at a loss to know what to do with all those hours.

The same must go for the hundreds of BBC staff who worked really hard behind the scenes, both here and abroad, to get the event aired.

I hope they don’t feel undermined by the criticism which is understandably being handed out to those more in the public eye.

Most of the newspaper journalists who have had a go at the BBC have pointed out the problems of using former sports stars in prominent presenting positions – and the Cram/Radcliffe interview was a case in point.

Former experts in any field are always going to be useful at events such as these, but in the past they have been more likely to be used to add colour and knowledge -rather than anchor a show.

The upside of having former athletes interview current stars is that they may well know them and should have an understanding of what they are going through.

But the downside is that this doesn’t always manifest itself into journalistic interviewing skills.

That’s not to say these skills can’t be taught – Gary Lineker does a perfectly fine job hosting Match of the Day, but acknowledges his very shaky start.

And love her or loathe her, Sue Barker has slipped fairly effortlessly into her new media role with the BBC.

But for every one of these there are countless other retired sportsmen and women who eventually realise they cannot hack it in front of a microphone.

The professionals are so good they really do make it look easy – and it is far from it.

This is why I was intrigued to read a throwaway line in the many column inches devoted to Sir Bobby Robson’s abrupt departure from Newcastle United.

Alan Shearer was mentioned as a possible successor (no surprise there then) but he was apparently wavering between going into management or the media, having signed a contract with the BBC.

I have had a few dealings with Shearer over the years and he has never struck me as someone particularly comfortable with the media, preferring to do his talking on the pitch.

On the occasions he has been a match pundit he has had interesting insights, as you would expect from a man with his club and country record, but he is simply not able to project them in an interesting way.

I suppose I am saying he is knowledgeable but dull – and unless the BBC can give him a personality implant if I were him I wouldn’t give up the day job just yet.

Conservative Party leader Michael Howard knows how to target an audience, as he showed at the recent Newspaper Conference annual lunch.

He told the umbrella group for regional press journalists working in Westminster that they are “arguably more influential than any other part of the media”.

Few there would have fallen for the flattery, I suspect, for although they would wholeheartedly agree with Howard’s view they see little evidence of MPs and Ministers backing this up in any meaningful way.

Although the elected few cannot fail to ignore the regional press’ circulation and penetration figures, and their trustworthiness when compared with national rivals, they appear to do very little about it.

It is as if the lure of national exposure sucks them into this strange twilight village or bubble where they can only co-exist with London political hacks.

Even when they do make efforts to break free they are mocked by the national press – ever keen to keep the favourable situation (to them) as it is.

When Howard and Tony Blair decided recently to appear on This Morning and Steve Wright’s Radio Two show respectively, The Daily Telegraph accused them in its intro of snubbing the Westminster village.

Apparently they were speaking to these lowlifes in a shock bid to “boost their popular appeal”.

As The Daily Telegraph has been trying to boost its own popular appeal for many years, why did it choose to take this tone? And how arrogant to then go onto describe it as a dumbing down exercise.

The Daily Telegraph can’t possibly think that Radio Two’s and ITV’s enormous audience are not intelligent enough to listen to a political view, can they? So are their political correspondents being snide in a bid to keep the stories and scoops shared out among themselves.

Surely not? 

Alison Hastings is a media consultant and trainer and former editor of the Evening Chronicle, Newcastle.

Next week: Chris Shaw

Alison Hastings

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