Newsnight’s Inexorable Decline


Few people tend to remember Tonight. It was a predecessor of today’s BBC Newsnight, which has been on air since 1980. It’s funny how shows which run out of public love and then end up on the TV scrapheap are so easily forgotten.

Newsnight was also once the BBC flagship news and current affairs programme. It housed cherished presenters like Peter Snow, distinguished journalists like Martha Kearney and grand inquisitors like Jeremy Paxman. Now it’s notorious for giving a leg up to Ickesque Trotskyite Paul Mason and is fronted by veritable radio-faces, the luvvie Evan Davis and Marmite Motormouth leftie James O’Brien.

Watched by 1,068,000 in 2001, by 867,000 in 2008, Newsnight’s audience slipped to just 590,000 in 2014 and now sits close to a meagre half a million. While the audience has been dropping IRO 5% a year of late, Newsnight has a team of around 12 dedicated reporters and has maintained an annual spend of around £7m in spite of its inexorable ratings slide.

Newsnight came close to being axed, when it lost public faith in its judgment, after shelving the Savile scandal. Failure to get rid of the programme then now seems like a missed opportunity.

Frankly, who needs it? Why the hell should we, the public, have to pay for it now that it’s hit rock bottom? Andrew Neil manages more on a shoestring while Sky blows it out of the water with its non-stop news and current affairs coverage.

Since Paxman left and Ian Katz, the former deputy editor of the Guardian, took over as its Editor, Newsnight has increasingly become a gravy train for Labour-minded progressives unrepresentative of the viewers who pay their wages. It fails because it is run by an introspective elite increasingly talking to itself. The licence fee should ensure balanced reporting rather than ‘one-sided propaganda’.

Evans was plain wrong when he stated in August 2015 that the adversarial style of grand inquisitors, such as Paxman and Today’s John Humphrys is ‘not a public service’. Speaking to the Byline conspiracist website, Davis acknowledged his fellow presenters are ‘brilliant’ interviewers – but added that trying to trip politicians into gaffes is a style that is ‘worn out’ and ‘overdone’. The brutal reality is that Evans’ interviewing style is fine for Dragon’s Den but makes him look like an ineffective wimp on Newsnight.

As for Kirsty Wark, the late Donald Dewar’s Labour-friendly pal, one almost feels sorry for her. She’s always getting side-stepped by interviewees and seems permanently behind the beat; regularly attracting public controversies and putting her foot in it. How she has lasted so long as a Newsnight Presenter beggars belief.

O’Brien – unlike on his radio show where he benefits from the significant wake of the ever-popular Nick Ferrari breakfast show audience – is not someone of sufficient gravitas or interviewing talent who can revive Newsnight. His problem on Newsnight as opposed to radio is you can see the dreadful uncertainty in his eyes. Even before he’s asked the first question to a Tory politician, you as the viewer know he daily displays his leftie bias on LBC and all you think is here we go … more prejudice and partisanship.


James O’Brien & the dumbing down of Newsnight as the Guardian’s George “Moonbat” Monbiot chops up a squirrel. Now imagine Paxman doing that.

Yes, Newsnight still has some stars attached to the programme – Emily Maitlis, fearless investigator Richard Watson, and Mark Urban also makes the odd appearance. But mostly, as Jeremy Paxman whined, it is a show being run by idealistic “13 year olds”, on a “fool’s errand” to change the world.

Even the politicians it is supposed to keep in check, like Conservative former Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, openly admit they don’t bother to watch it anymore, politely blaming the departure of Paxman rather than Katz’ failed attempts to modernise the show.

After Savile and McAlpine, Newsnight needed to regain public trust and instead it employed the likes of Secunder Kermani – suspiciously frequent scooper of British jihadis and comrade of Channel 4’s resident Britain-hater Assed Baig. Kermani’s fascinating background and family history Newsnight should investigate and publish for those who pay the license fee. Kermani only last year was arrested by counter terror police.

Even quality broadcast news and current affairs shows are challenged by websites nowadays. Sites like The Huffington Post are less costly to produce, quicker in response times and unburdened by broadcasting codes on impartiality and balance.  Social Media fora like Twitter and Facebook are more familiar to people in their forties and under than any slow-moving studio-based comment show.

Put bluntly, Newsnight has become a leaky, old, left-leaning tanker in a media sea full of manoeuvrable pirate ships. Run by a crowd of Guardianista/BBC progressives out of touch with the viewers.

When Newsnight’s forerunner, Tonight, was floundering on BBC One in 1976, Today’s John Timpson was persuaded to come to the rescue and present the show. Unfortunately, Timpson turned out by then to have lost his TV face in his old age and, like Evan Davis, was best suited to radio. In 1978, Timpson returned to Today and began a long stint as Brian Redhead’s other half.

Mr Davis, history has a funny way of repeating itself. Today misses you. You are Timpson.

Goodnight Newsnight.


35 thoughts on “Newsnight’s Inexorable Decline

  1. The BBC are now in meltdown.
    They have not really recovered from our daring to vote for the useless Tories, rather than the even MORE useless (and more dangerous) Labour Party back in 2015.
    Since then, they have seethed at our impertinence-and we more that reciprocate the disdain for their lying, lazy, liberal lotus eating 24/7 B.S
    The Brexit vote set them into a tailspin, and Trump just about wiped out any pretence that they speak for anybody but the unions, the Gramscian segments, the ritually stupid left and the fey green liberals. The welfare wallahs and public sector pimps, the agitprop losers and the third sector quangos, academics and luvvies.
    The BBC has forfeited any right to speak for the nation-unless it`s Islington or Morningsides. Time to stop propping them up with a compulsory telly tax to fund a Lineker or a Norton, Hall or O`Brien.

  2. All MSM is controlled by left liberal agenda, newsnight is just one crap part of it. All MSM are in trouble, exposed in not reporting the facts about abject, inane and corrupt foreign policy. The Guardian has become a shambolic, symbolic pile of bolics. Is it any wonder we don’t take the MSM seriously anymore.

  3. What’s ‘progressive’ about invading a country on a false pretext and murdering hundreds of thousands of civilians? The moniker ‘progressive’ raises a smile among most people these days.

  4. Completely agree! What once held the politicians to account and pushed them to explain their actions ( admittedly difficult, but it did show you there true colours by evasion technics ) is now a cosy chit chat with no real account. The stories flip flop about with no fluididity and the so called journalists just stand on the nearest roof top to give a weak watered down account of things they have read from the internet. Sadly journalism in print and tv has been dewindling for years. Since the event of 24hr news the budget and will for anyone to investigate something has gone, because within 5 minutes the topic has changed in a continual rating war to keep up with the other channel. News to day is ‘gossip’ and then we’ve moved on to the next trashy headline. When something does get the time to investigate then the lawyers are hovering like hawks to pick the bones and get a siliencing injunction. Some stories do get through and then we get it for months … news fatigue sets in and everyone resorts back to the flashy flip flop 5 minute gossip rubbish that’s the United Kingdom appear to be able to digest. Nitty gritty on location news has gone. That’s left up to social media world wide people filming and then the big news sites just home in , take (or pay) for the footage that they couldn’t be bothered sending a reporter to go and report.
    So many great reports and presenters in the past had you involved in the news. Now the passion to report has all but gone.

  5. Why do the BBC not ask the Wark woman to blow her nose? Every Scotch person on the damned BBC has a blocked-up nose.
    No wonder people like can’t be bothered to pay the TV tax.

  6. Katz made a guest appearance last night, boring on about something or other. Then there was a low powered discussion between 3 historians Sebag M, Tim Sebastyian, and the obscure Jane Kaplan, about 2016 with Davies bowling soft questions afterwards to the ghastly champagne socialist Mary Kaldor of the LSE. For the second time, (e.g. Frank Furedi the night before) the contrary position (an American radio host) was cut off by sound problems. A bit Soviet that even for Mr Katz. Newsnight is just a forum for Guardian leftists. It would not know a radical thought if it slapped it in the face. The programme should be scrapped and in view of this blot on his record, Katz should never be let near Radio 4 Today.

  7. Haven’t watched it for years.
    Never mind who needs Newsnight, more to the point who needs the BBC.
    Even Radio 3 presenters can’t keep the lefty politics out if it.

  8. Jo Coburn never seems to be listening to her interviewee, she’s busy shuffling paper and thinking about what she’ll ask next. Also she keeps interrupting and talking over.

    O’Brien disgusts me too. Wark should have been retired a decade ago.

    I stopped paying my license fee years before my 75th birthday.

  9. Way too kind Alexia.
    You are so right to say that a stake should have been stuck through the shows black heart after Savile and MacAlpine.
    So why wasn`t it?
    Because the pretensions, arrogance and hubris of the BBC elite and their Westminster sock puppets and empty suits needed that 10.30 spot.
    And they desperately try to get us to go over with them at the end of every 10pm news bulletin.
    As for Maitlis and Kearney?…come on!
    Susan Watts was the last woman on the show who seemed to know anything.
    I myself would give that dead hour after the News over to Andrew Neil and Bridget Kendall;both of who seem to have kept their minds open and brains engaged amidst the LibLab loafers and spongiform of the execrable Newsnight pedalo of pap.

  10. The left-wing bias of Newsnight has been apparent since the early 1990’s, on account of the partisan attitudes of “journalists” such as Wark. I stopped watching this programme when Newsnight did a rather vicious and poorly researched item on Michael Howard when he was leader of the Conservative Party. I am surprised that any sane and sensible person would still wish to watch this leftist drivel. The same complaints can be made against Question Time, chaired by that old leftist bore, David Dimbleby. Isn’t it about time that the airwaves were rid of the Dimbleby brothers? If the licence fee was abolished these so-called “journalists” would quickly disappear from our screens, never to re-appear. Ms. James, Martha Kearney was never a “distinguished” journalist, as her reports were always biased on account of her closeness to various ministers in the Blair Governments. You have obviously been watching Newsnight for far too long.

  11. Emily Maitlis wears some very sexy outfits – for example short skirts with boot covering her knees.

  12. and because i’m not ‘progressive ‘ i must be ‘regressive’? back to logics class for you methinks.

  13. Do you watch it live or on Iplayer? If you watch it live did you see Newsnight on the evening Jo Cox was killed?

  14. Good article. I used to be a fan of newsnight and listen to iplayer recordings in the car. I would agree that ‘adversarial’ interviewing a la Paxman is unnecessary – the late great Jimmy Young showed that, also Jo Coburn is able to be civil while exposing jugulars, I cannot see why it should be so difficult to get informed incisive interviewers of this ilk rather than the present sorry performers.

    Eg, Evan Davies has nothing but benign luvvie schmooze while James O’Brien is an ignorant uncouth Marxist from LoutsRUs. Tried listening to them a few times but gave us, Davies can bore with excruciating obsequiousness and O’Brien disgusts me. Meanwhile some of the interviewees are barely articulate, have achieved/experienced almost nothing, but would appear to be there in homage to the PC gods. ‘News’ or intelligent debate of same it is not.

  15. The sad decline of Newsnight can clearly be measured by the strength of the interviews it carries out with politicians of all colours, Andrew Neil and Jo Coburn put them to shame, and I don’t understand this notion that the public don’t want confrontational and hard inquisitional questioning, that seems the only way to get answers, Emily Thornberry and her ilk thrive on being fed Lines by James O’Brien, but then when he questions a Tory he seems to become this talking head, the question he’s asking seems to take up half the program ( he also has this annoying habit of moving his head constantly from side to side when asking a question, like some demented dog). The whole show now seems to be kept on the air so as those sacked or made redundant in the latest Guardian clear out have somewhere to go to earn a crust.

  16. It’s because the left have used a positive sounding word to describe themselves and no-one has challenged them on it. The left is not progressive in any meaningful way. It has a collection of inconsistent and ineffective policies and has marketed them cleverly. Who would not want to be progressing rather than regressing – but calling yourself something doesn’t make it so.

  17. The relationship between the BBC and the Guardian is altogether too cosy.

    Being “progessive” today means being a hypocritical judgemental bigot.

  18. “Progress is merely a metaphor for walking along a road, quite possibly the wrong one.”

  19. Newsnight like most BBC News output is not about serving the public with true information about reality, but rather serving as a free advertising platform for their mates : politickers and NGOs. It’s like a platform for SJW missionary work, where opposing viewpoints must be pilloried or hidden.
    Bit of news headlines then they use that as an excuse to go into what is essentially 5 minute advertising slot for their mate. “Oh look here’s our mate Elon Musk his magic self driving electric cars are going to save the world” ..No difficult questions will be asked about subsidies etc.
    And if you watch it seems like Team Hillary had bought job lot of 1,000 advertising slots which they are still using.

    BTW the budget cost of £7m doesn’t sound right ..It must mean that a lot o resources like video and studio are not covered in that cost and only the salaries of the newsnight team are.
    0.75hour*5days *50weeks= 187.5 hours of TV
    £7,000,000/187.5= £37K/hour
    which is exceptionally cheap TV

    Yeh it’s true that AF Neil produces miles better programmes.

  20. Progressive used to be good
    BUT It has evolved so that when people who call themselves “progressives” act the action these days is mostly REGRESSIVE eg it’s about closing down free-speech and challenging of ideas
    or re-nationalising things which failed under past nationalisation etc.

  21. why is “progressive” a bad thing to be? Why would you aspire to be “regressive”?

  22. Isn’t Nicholas Watt now involved? My favourite Lefty journalist by a long way I thought he might add a little gravitas to the programme but I’ve yet to see it.

  23. Was Kirsty Wark not close to former Labour First Minister Jack McConnell rather than the late Donald Dewar?

  24. Agree. It’s time to close it down. There’s space for a replacement with investigation as its key driving force rather than chat and interviews. Newsnight is punch drunk after savile and will never recover.

  25. The forerunner of “Newsnight” was not “Tonight” but “24 Hours”. The actual “Tonight” programme was an early evening magazine programme which fell victim to the BBC’s obsession with news & current affairs in 1965. Fronted by Cliff Michelmore it largely consisted of journalists exiled from the defunct “Picture Post” – Derek Hart, Kenneth Alsop, Fyffe Robertson, Alan Whicker, MacDonald Hastings, father of Max, Julian Pettifer many of whom became star broadcasters in their own right. The BBC’s attempt at a substitute – “Nationwide” – fronted by first Michael Barratt and then Sue Lawley – a collection of news stories & magazine items presented by regional newsrooms at a frenetic pace lacked “Tonight’s” charm and reflectiveness. “Tonight” proved that television journalism could be both popular and of high quality. Sadly, the BBC has chosen not to repeat the experiment.

  26. Alexia, I actually watch Newsnight. I agree with your premise that the show has declined as an offering. But I believe it is salvageable if they sack Katz and bring in someone who understands appealing to the market.

  27. This is a very accurate piece but these BBC people are so out of touch they will keep using OUR money to fund something no-one watches. Stop paying the license fee until the BBC shapes up or ships out.

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