Monday, February 18, 2002
The world is going to hell in a handcart, and you’re just sitting there watching. But at least if it’s Channel 4 News you’re watching, you know there’s some hope for us.
Captain Jon Snow and his able lieutenants, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Kirsty Lang, sail the seas of the early evening schedules in the UK in their nippy destroyer, giving us attitude and accuracy in equal measure.
The programme achieves the difficult task of giving us a round-up of the news of the day at the same time as offering deeper analysis and debate on a range of issues. It’s the best Kirsty Wark grilling from Newsnight combined with Peter Sissons’ straight-ahead Ten O’Clock News style, and it shows Sky News that continous coverage is completely worthless without some joined-up thinking.
With his sharp ties and even sharper mind Jon Snow appears to be less combative than Paxman, but he elegantly fillets sophistic spinners, and asks all the necessary questions. The man who shrugged off a fatwa against him during the Satanic Verses episode is not going to be fazed by a junior minister trying to be economical with the actualit?.
The program’s correspondents are equally trustworthy. Elinor Goodman’s no-nonsense knowledge of the political world is matched only by her quietly stylish clothes.
David Smith, their correspondent in the US, seems daily more disillusioned by life in the capital of the one remaining superpower. As he reports on yet another example of US knavery and small-mindedness, his hangdog expression shows you he’s enduring a long night of the soul to bring you the story.
Providing good basic news and excellent analysis of the big stories would make Channel 4 News reliable viewing on its own, but what really impresses is the way they cover stories that no-one else is reporting.
They have the courage and vision to launch investigations into issues that aren’t currently high on the agenda of the chattering classes. For example, a recent expose showed how US companies were implicated in widespread human rights abuses in China. Prisoners were being forced to work as slave labour in factories, producing goods for the export market. The US importers denied any knowledge of this, but some good honest sleuthing threw up customs documents signed by executives of the US companies, which clearly identified the source of the goods. Gotcha.
This type of story takes a lot of time and money to produce, and it’s a lot easier just to cover the obvious stories that everyone else is running with. Not to labour a point, it’s the sort of thing Sky News should be doing, but their claim to be ‘First with the news’, just means they’re first to report the carefully-controlled press conferences and staged interviews that everyone else has. Deciding to cover a story that no-one else was doing would seem like madness to their editors – there’s a banal safety in numbers.
With the profound changes happening at ITN – the company that produces Channel 4 News, as well as ITV’s woeful news coverage – there’s some doubt over the future of Snow’s good ship. Let’s hope they’re left alone to keep up the great work – may God bless her and all who sail in her.