Ex-BBC man attacks 'gratuitous' rise of piece to camera

A former BBC TV reporter has accused his former employer of over-indulging in ‘gratuitous and usually utterly redundant’pieces to camera.

Michael Cole, who worked at the BBC between 1968 to 1988, said the piece-to-camera style of reporting had become so dominant that ‘future historians seeking coverage of what is going on now will search the BBC archives in vain for moving pictures of some events”.

Writing for the June edition of Press Gazette he described how one recent episode of the BBC’s flagship 10 O’Clock News contained only one minute of new moving pictures – not counting a two-minute package from America that was predominantly footage from the US networks – with the rest dominated by reporters’ pieces to camera.

‘There were 11 of them, and three reporters even managed to appear twice in their own reports,’he added.

ITN‘s News at Ten on the same day carried more than 13 minutes of new film and there were only four pieces to camera, Cole said.

‘On the BBC, such coverage is now the exception,’argued Cole. ‘Pictures are being forced off the screen… BBC TV news has lost sight of its original purpose: to let the pictures tell the story.”

He added: ‘Every BBC news show is the same: presenter outlines the story and introduces the reporter, in the field or, more frequently, in the studio.

‘The reporter repeats what the presenter has just said. A few random shots are punched up as illustration and quickly dispensed with so we can return to the reporter who, with a furrow of the brow or slight shake of the head, delivers a summary of the three facts we have just heard.

‘This is not television news, it is radio on 625 lines… now it is rare to see a well crafted film report in a BBC bulletin, and extremely hard to find one that is not replete with gratuitous and usually utterly redundant pieces to camera.

‘These do nothing to advance the story and usually act as a brake.”

He cites a BBC report on Tony Blair’s farewell visit to his constituency of Sedgefield, claiming the reporter described in great detail what the former Prime Minisiter had done but that ‘ we did not see Blair or what he had been doing”.

‘Today, almost every television news bulletin consists of very little except people telling us things – but showing us little,’said Cole.

‘Almost every report begins, not with the key images of a story, but with the reporter talking, and almost always ends with the reporter in vision, still talking.

‘This must give great pleasure to the mothers of some on-screen journalists, but it is not news.”

To read Michael Cole’s full piece: Subscribe to Press Gazette magazine (and when speaking to our sales staff specify that you want your subscription to start with the current edition).

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