Tuesday 20 April 2010

Let everybody see the debate live BBC (or C4)!

Neil Moss, formerly BBC Political and Parliamentary Officer, writes in Marketing Week about the rational for the 'Crown Jewels' listed events, which must be available free-to-air.

a ’listed event’ is “one which is generally felt to have special national resonance” and which contains “an element which serves to unite the nation, a shared point on the national calendar, not solely of interest to those who follow the sport in question”

So what about the Prime Ministerial debates?

Moss thinks the second debate should have gone to Channel 4 or Five, but not to Sky News in order to serve the analogue only electorate.

Yet Sky have made Thursday's debate available for live and simultaneous transmission to all of the broadcasters in the UK, and around the world too: the BBC will do the same thing too the next week.

Thursday's debate will be live on the BBC news channel, BBC Parliament and also on Radio Four.

As Moss writes:

However, not everyone has access to Digital TV ... According to Digital UK, 23m UK households already have digital TV on their main set - but that means that about 10.5% are still without. This no doubt includes a disproportionate number of senior citizens who rely on ’old media’ television and radio, rather than the Internet for their news.

The Sky news blog reports that BBC 2 plans to run it in full after Newsnight - so from 11.15pm until nearly 1am - in preference to running it live: it seems almost worse than pointless (for non-insomniacs) to run the full debate only after the news bulletins have covered it.

So why not cover it live?

The terrestrial Thursday night schedules look far from unassailable. BBC1 would have to reschedule the following:

20:00 Watchdog
21:00 Have I Got News for You
21:30 Outnumbered

BBC2 and Channel Four have major documentaries scheduled: it might have a knock-on effect across the next few weeks to move them back.


20:00 Museum of Life
21:00 Welcome to Lagos

Channel Four

20:00 The Landscape Man
21:00 How the Other Half Live

It may difficult to guess how the audience would divide between, say, BBC2 and the digital news channels.

But is another 90 minutes, once every four or five years, for democracy so much to ask from our public service broadcasters?


And, finally, we interrupt this broadcast with a plea for expats too.

My brother, having gone out to live in Canada to exacerbate the problem of Indian-Irish parentage, really ought to have surrendered his British passport to Mr Dacre quite some time ago.

Yet he remains keen on this active citizenship thingy - and so was trying to watch the first debate online, and found that both ITV and the BBC iplayer were restricting the footage based on his not being in the UK.

As he has a professional interest in the interwebnet and computing more generally, he was able to watch the broadcast easily enough. But he blogs to say:

Access to our democracy should be as wide as possible, and should certainly try and reach all eligible voters. A good number of those are overseas, so we should avoid using technological 'speed-bumps' that never forestall pirates, but do get in the way of reasonable users.

Are there really rights holders who feel very strongly that they cannot air this globally? Does anyone really expect there is money to be made syndicating British political debates overseas?

Several people have watched the debates overseas: the LibDem leader's wife was reportedly interrupted by adulatory phone calls from Spanish relatives. I was amused, after the extraordinary level of British interest in the US debates, to see Andrew Sullivan and other leading US bloggers musing in depth on Brown, Cameron and Clegg.

It would be interesting to know if the BBC or other broadcasters have any advice for overseas viewers about how to watch the debates, or should be doing something different for the next two.

And why not put future leadership debates online under a creative commons licence?


Crock1701 said...

I wouldn't exactly call Andrew Sullivan an "American blogger," as he's a British expat.

As for how overseas people can watch the debate, in the US, I used C-Span, the official congressional cable channel that will broadcast daily business in the House of Representatives and the Senate, as well as other public events. The debate was broadcast live on C-Span 3, as well as streamed from (and still available at) www.cspan.org. I don't know if C-Span comes with any international restrictions. In addition, it was broadcast on C-Span 1 Sunday night in the spot usually reserved for PMQs. Hope this helps!

Sunder Katwala said...

Thanks. Yes, I had a reference to him being an ex-pat - I looked it up and he's not yet a US citizen, and cut it.

And thanks for the info too.

Crock1701 said...

Also, having the debates on one channel only is a tad weird to me. Here in the US they're broadcast on all the over the air broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, PBS), all the cable news networks (CNN, MSNBC, CNBC, Fox) C-SPAN, and even the ethnic networks (BET, Telemundo and Univision [in Spanish]). This happens even when the moderator is from one of the specific networks. In 2008, the moderators were Jim Lehrer of PBS, Tom Brokaw of NBC, Bob Schieffer of CBS, and Gwen Ifil of PBS. In 2004, you again had Ifil, Lehrer, and Shieffer, with the addition of Charles Gibson of ABC. Having it on only one network with their own moderator is bizarre.

truthmonkey said...

The real shame is that because Sky News is associated with the Sky satellite platform a good portion of the 89.5% of people who receive UK television digitally (Freeview, Virgin Media, Sky, the Sky News website) aren't aware the channel is there. This is especially true for Freeview-ers.

Incidentally the number of channels that simultaneously carry the Us presidential debates seems high to us in the UK. However because of the model of partially syndicated content, ie where stations opt-in an out of national programming like a more advanced version of the ITV regions, some of these channels would ordinarily carry the same programming as each other.

Unknown said...

Sky will also be showing it on Sky 3 which is available to everyone with Freeview (like Sky News is), but is higher on the EPG - in an effort to make it as accessible as possible. The hope is that more people will be able to find it that way!