BY ALEXIA JAMES
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.