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Last Updated: Friday, 5 August 2005, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
The dominant medium of the age

By Roger Mosey
Head of BBC Television News

The outgoing chief of TV news talks about triumph, loss and the real meaning of 'fair and balanced'.

The 9/11 attacks demonstrate the power of television
The years since then have been an extraordinary time for news stories
It was in 1954 that the BBC first broadcast a television news bulletin, but in its latest form the Television News department has been going for only just over five years.

It was hewn from two weird and dysfunctional creations of the bi-media era: Daily News, which included the Today programme, and the Nine O'Clock News; and Continuous News - home to an exotic mix of News 24, Radio 5 Live, News Online, Ceefax and the Travel Unit.

So it was with some relief in January 2000 that I took over as head of a department that had the unifying theme of being about television rather than some notion of multi-platform synergies.

The years since then have been an extraordinary time for news stories. From 9/11 to the terrorist attacks on London, and from the death of the Queen Mother to the marriage of Charles and Camilla.

Peter Sissons, in burgundy tie, announces the death of the Queen Mother
Some stories have gone wrong, and some ties were the wrong colour

There were wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; two more general election victories for Tony Blair; and we're about to see our fourth Conservative Party leader.

Through all these events, BBC Television News has faced ever greater competition - and we fight on many fronts.

The big BBC One bulletins face the ITN operation on ITV1, while Breakfast takes on GMTV.

News 24's main rival is Sky News, and Newsnight squares up against Channel 4 News. BBC World is the principal competitor for CNN.

But we also face the challenges of the digital age: news on demand from your PC, information customised for you on your mobile - and the massive expansion of the internet and blogging.

For all that, television news remains the dominant medium of its age.

John Simpson filmed walking into Kabul
We remember the grand gestures like John Simpson and crew walking into Kabul

On London's day of tragedy, 7 July, more than 30 million people watched BBC News; and a typical week sees 10 to 15 million people viewing each of our major bulletins.

And we've had some notable recent editorial successes. Newsnight had a brilliant election campaign and the Ten O'Clock News has often set the agenda for bulletins - in July through its highlighting of the crisis in Niger, and last year by its attention to what was happening in Darfur.

The decision to move the main BBC News from 9pm, which happened in the department's first year, has paid off. We've aimed for high quality and this has won healthy audiences - with the bonus this year of awards from both the Royal Television Society and Bafta.

The news channels are in good health too.

News 24 had a difficult birth and for many years was well behind Sky News in the ratings; but in 2004 for the first time it edged ahead in weekly viewership.

Sky News now trails BBC News 24
Sky News spin noisily, but they know they're now number two for viewers

This trend has intensified in 2005. In July, 15 million people watched News 24 (excluding audiences who saw the channel's simulcasts on BBC One) while 13 million people viewed Sky News; and each week our lead over Sky News has increased - currently 5m for us compared with 4.6m for Sky.

Sky News spin noisily, but they face a relaunch this autumn knowing they're now number two for viewers. In the international market, BBC World has an audience of 59 million each week - up from 52 million last year.

All this reflects a collective enterprise in BBC Television News, which is full of people of talent and creativity - who also happen to be great fun to work with.

Amid the grimness of the modern world, you know that many times each day someone will go the extra mile to serve our audiences.

BBC Producer Kate Peyton who was shot dead in Somalia
We owe a lot to those who take risks to bring us important stories

We remember the grand gestures like John Simpson and his crew walking into Kabul; but there are a thousand smaller contributions to excellence, without which our service would be poorer.

This doesn't mean we haven't had bumps along the way. Some stories have gone wrong, and some ties were the wrong colour.

There was deep sadness at the death of Christopher Price, one of the most talented of the new generation of presenters, and the worst days have been when we have lost BBC colleagues reporting from locations around the world.

No story is worth a human life, but we owe a lot to those who take risks to bring important stories to our screens - and who witness horrors on behalf of viewers.

So I leave television news with a genuine sense of privilege to have been part of the department in remarkable times.

It has also affirmed my faith in what the BBC does, and why it matters that we still exist.

The Fox News channel
It would be a disaster if Fox's version of 'fair and balanced' became the norm

I salute our colleagues in ITN and Sky News for producing journalism that makes Britain home to some of the best news content in the world, whatever the obstacles thrown in our rivals' way by the nuttiness of their schedulers or the whims of their owners.

But there should also be concern about the strident noises being made by broadcasters like Fox News in the United States and the erosion of common standards by axe-grinders worldwide.

I have never doubted Fox's enlivening effect on a torpid American market, but it would be a disaster for the US and for the wider world if Fox's version of the words "fair and balanced" became the norm.

Partisanship from left or from right is fine in its place, but it never provides the whole picture: the BBC's values of trust and independence and impartiality matter more today than ever, precisely because there are those who seek to undermine them for reasons of commercial advantage or ideological spite.

In a medium which is by its nature transitory, some things should endure. I therefore wish my successor luck - and the resolve that excellence and high ethical standards should remain the hallmarks of broadcast journalism.




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