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Tuesday, 23 January, 2001, 02:41 GMT
Ten O'Clock blues?
A viewer watches ITN's News At Ten and BBC's Ten O'Clock News
Duel at Ten: The battle starts here
The UK's first experience of head-to-head news had mixed results, says writer, musician and commentator Pat Kane in this personal view.

So did it turn out to be Battle of the Titans? Or Collision of the Muddlers?

Last night's first head to head between the BBC's Ten O'Clock News, and ITN's revived News At Ten has undoubtedly come about through petty means - a scheduling clash produced by corporate egoism, political meddling and good old-fashioned professional rivalry.

And it is safe to say that no British citizen is properly served when the two main national news bulletins are jostling against each other like cub reporters on the court steps.


A good exclusive, but unashamedly tabloid in its subtext: look at the crazy man, from a faraway country, who nearly killed precious Brits!

Pat Kane
But at least amateur deconstructionists (like myself) got the chance to compare and contrast two classic approaches to television journalism. And what was surprising, in the end, was just where the differences lay.

As far as the fighting weights of the combatants were concerned, the BBC was almost in another division.

Their show was around 10 minutes longer than ITV, started earlier, and had at least three more substantial items.

And there is no doubt that the Beeb started landing punches straight away, with an exclusive interview (all the way from Kenya: just feel the muscles of that extensive foreign news network!) from the bedside of Paul Mukonyi, the man who attempted to bring down the British Airways flight last month.

A good exclusive, but unashamedly tabloid in its subtext - look at the crazy man, from a faraway country, who nearly killed precious Brits!

'Bizarre'

By comparison, ITN - supposedly hounded on all sides by rapacious advertisers and bottom-lines, and following the crass temple of Millionaire - was almost dully responsible in its initial salvos.

It actually felt more mature for ITN to lead with the revelations about Railtrack cracks and the possible "corporate manslaughter" charge, and a bit frivolous of the BBC to run it second.

There were other moments when ITN - bizarrely, given their time constraints - seemed like the more concise and authoritative voice.

Although the BBC bulletin trumped ITN by including news of the result of the Lords vote on cloning in the last seconds of the show, the ITN report was much more informative about the issue - using graphics and choice excerpts from the speakers in the House.

Peter Sissons
Peter Sissons: Monday night's anchorman for BBC
With its extra minutes, the BBC seems to enjoy giving its big political correspondents - Andrew Marr (especially impish tonight) and John Pienaar - the chance to do their star turns on domestic politics, rather than construct a decent news item.

If a longer bulletin merely allows major reporters more time to elaborate their own prejudices, then perhaps ITN's compelled concision might be preferable.

In other areas, the two bulletins matched each other easily, especially in foreign coverage.

Again, the BBC came over as slightly more pushy than ITN.

The latter's report on Bush's first day in office was a conventional political round up; the Beeb had Stephen Sackur heading the march with some anti-abortionists, sticking that mike where the quotes hurt.

Loser

And where ITN had a very decent "don't-forget-the-disaster" story about El Salvador from Bill Neely, the BBC was roaming across the globe with its cameras, bringing footage of oil-covered seals in the Galapagos (the aww factor) alongside that of the bloodied amputations of frozen Siberians (the ick factor).

Difficult to judge, as yet, whether ITN's more sober overall tone is due to choice, or lack of resources. But the difference is clearly there.

If anyone had decided not just to slither on from Millionaire to ITN, their channel hop would have been stopped by a BBC, busting its gut to make every shot watchable.

Sir Trevor McDonald
Sir Trevor: Delighted to be back
So between one mighty news organisation and another, who won on points between 10 and 10.30pm last night?

I make it a draw, actually, in terms of professional competence. In terms of being served as a news consumer, however, I definitely lose. And so do you.

Pat Kane is director of www.theplayethic.com, and is writing a book on the subject of play in the modern world.

See also:

23 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Duel at Ten for news bulletins
18 Jan 01 | Entertainment
BBC wants 'broader' news
20 Jan 01 | Entertainment
Battle of the bulletins
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