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Last Updated: Monday, 1 August 2005, 07:43 GMT 08:43 UK
When pictures aren't perfect
John Benson
John Benson: Some pictures are just boring
Viewer John Benson says TV may well be about pictures, but sometimes they add little to what it is trying to tell us.

Whenever I look at the news on TV, I sometimes wonder why is it we have to be subjected to the same old pictures illustrating news items which don't need pictures.

The pictures don't enhance the item, they don't tell us anything we don't know already. They are themselves part of the old news rather than the news of today.

When we are presented with items on people like Shipman, Huntley or the prime minister we get pictures which are banal.

It's the same old picture of Shipman, the same old picture of Huntley or the front door on Number 10. Do we need it? Not really. I think the same old pictures are terribly boring.

A house, filmed recently
Supposing we have an item on house prices, we get a picture of a house as if we don't know what houses look like or estate agents' boards in a row.

Supposing we have a spy scare or security threat, immediately we go to the front of the M16 building as if anybody knows - how many people do know - what the M16 building looks like.

Are we really so stupid we need to be told what we're looking at.


It mustn't be supposed that I think that pictures are unnecessary because TV after all is concerned with pictures but we want pictures that are relevant.

Natural disasters like the tsunami or a volcanic eruption, anything of that sort which we can see and understand and appreciate what is happening, those are valuable. But anything that is irrelevant is not what we want.

I think it might be sensible if producers were to take the hint and decide that there are some items which are picture worthy and some which certainly are not and that the presenter could do the item without any messing around.

The BBC's head of newsgathering, Fran Unsworth, responds to Mr Benson's comments.

I think he has got a point in some circumstances but I think we have to remember that television is a visual medium after all.

Fran Unsworth
Fran Unsworth: Some clichés could be avoided
The point about the grammar of the television package is that it is the pictures, the sound and the script of the reporter all coming together to tell the story.

And you do need to illustrate what you're talking about. Quite often that includes using images that might actually have been used before, especially in the case of, say, Harold Shipman and Ian Huntley.

They were people who were prominent in the news and the trouble there is that we don't have many pictures of them. That's why the same pictures end up in the package and tend to get a bit overused.

It's not a question of laziness but if you want to put something on the air quite quickly you need to go to your library with some speed to find something that's going to illustrate it.

Obviously if you are going to go out and shoot new pictures it's going to be several hours before you're going to get that material to air so it's often just a matter of practicality.

I agree that we do slip into a bit of cliché from time to time, and I think there is massive overuse sometimes of those estate agents' boards to tell the house price story.

But I'm not quite sure that if we were to follow Mr Benson's strictures to the letter whether we would get anything terribly visually interesting on the air. If you were to limit it to pictures of major events, most news isn't like that.


There are some stories that don't have terribly interesting pictures that are nonetheless important stories that need telling - and we have to think of imaginative ways of illustrating them and sometimes that that can be quite difficult.

I think there are certain stories which are possibly given more prominence because the pictures are very good but if the story is important and worth telling, then we have to work hard to find ways of doing it without the pictures.

The grammar of television is changing all the time and we increasingly use, as a way of imparting difficult facts and information, the big board in the studio where the presenter stands in front of it to give information and that's an illustration of the way the format has changed in the last five to 10 years.


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