Verdict brings BBC news its highest audience this year

By Caitlin Pike

The Jackson verdict came at the best possible moment for the BBC’s
Ten O’Clock News. The bulletin went on air with Huw Edwards in London
and Matt Frei in California able to tell viewers that the jury had
reached its decision.

They then held the audience for 12 minutes before the “not guilty”
verdicts on 10 counts were broadcast live from the courtroom in Santa
Maria.

Edwards told Press Gazette: “It was very chaotic but it’s
the kind of programme I like. A call came in at 8.30pm with an hour’s
warning [of the verdict] and I said, ‘It ain’t going to be an hour –
it’ll be an hour and a half.’

“I set about preparing scripts
coming from different angles so that we could pull a, b or c out of the
hat. As well as the scripts I wrote four or five different headline
sequences and had an hour and 15 minutes to do it in. There was a lot
of banging heads together.

“We went on air with no verdict. You
try and say to people right at the top of the show ‘do stay with us’,
but we had no idea it was seven, nearly eight million, although it was
clearly going to be a good audience.

“I did have a moment after I
had been on air with Matt Frei for five minutes – which is a long time
– but Matt is brilliant. I kept firing questions at him, I’m not quite
sure where they were coming from and then I had this moment when I
thought ‘What if this goes on for another 20 minutes?’

“At
10.12pm, we were thinking about whether to run a piece – it was a real
gamble whether to run it and crash out if the verdict came in.

Suddenly, a bit of audio came in from the court and I thought ‘Alleluia’. “And
then there was the incredible judgment – I don’t think anyone knew what
they had expected – and without making any judgment on the outcome, it
was just very dramatic.

“We then went to another news sequence
because we thought some people would be wanting Tony Blair and the
euro-budget and I was off air. I began writing the end sequence with
Jackson leaving the court and clips with responses to the verdict. I’m
a gloomy Celt but it was a nice
evening, a wonderful example of everyone pulling in the same direction,
very focused and alert to the potential to create confusion.

“Yes, there has been [criticism of newsreaders], but a breaking story like that is what the job is all about.”

The
audience for the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News peaked at 7.9 million just
after the Jackson verdict was announced at 10.15pm on Monday, giving
the show its highest rating so far this year. The programme has an
average audience of 4.6 million.

ITV’s News at 10.30 peaked with
2.9 million viewers. More than a million viewers were watching the
events in California on Sky News. Viewing peaked at 1,069,000 between
10pm and 10.15pm – the fourth highest rating since the channel launched
in 1989.

BBC News 24 peaked at 616,000 viewers.

● Martin Bashir may face legal action over the documentary Living with Michael Jackson broadcast on ITV in February 2003.

Bashir
was a witness in the Jackson trial. A Granada Television spokesman
commented: “Michael Jackson issued widely publicised proceedings
against Granada shortly after broadcast in February 2003, alleging
breach of contract and making copyright claims. Those proceedings are rigorously defended.”

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