29 Jan Some afterthoughts from the Sierra – Sky news
So, not great being back in Blighty. Glasgow is snowy, windy and bitterly cold. Feels like it doesn’t get fully light. But boy, it’s good to be back to the BBC. For all the criticism it gets, some of it justified, it sure beats the hell out of its commercial competitors. Our Spanish sojourn involved Sky, a viewing experience somewhere near the outer limit of acceptable.
They (sorry, one if those indeterminate ‘theys’) moved the satellite that, till recently, beamed the BBC and all the British terrestrial channels to the Brits terrestrially exiled in Spain. No licence fee, no service, so tough. Actually, rather fair, I thought. After all, they have the sun and the sangria, so why should we subsidise them for decent telly? Across the land there was, apparently, outrage and a run on absolutely enormous satellite dishes that take up the entire terrace in a desperate attempt to cling onto Auntie – East Enders, Masterchef, Strictly and, of course, penetrating analysis of current affairs.
So what’s left for Los Ingleses is Sky. The basic package is long on news channels, reruns of Mash and things you never wanted to see in 1990 anyway, but short on everything else. A much promoted rerun of ‘Who Wants to be a Millionaire’ the very first series struck me as especially ironic.
Sky News seems to carry this ‘rerun’ theme into current affairs. It has a kind of 1950s amateur and retro feel. On the whole, the presenters are a thoroughly uninspiring bunch. OK, there are odd exceptions; the chap hosting the finance and economics slot, looks relatively normal, seems pretty bright, knows his subject and, a rare quality, comes across as interested in what he does. The rest, mostly late middle-aged, square-jawed men, ex-military at a guess, conservative, colourless, home counties, uncharismatic, seem totally bored, with a style of delivery suggestig a recruitment policy ranking skills in hypnotism as ‘Essential Qualifications’. The odd female gets an outing, dwarfed by the obvious seniority and grim gravitas of the male; she is never middle-aged. Perish the thought. From time to time they run a little promo tape where these characters pop up on screen with little bite-sized pieces about the right-on coverage they offer, their slick, professional approach, up to the minute, informal, analytical, dee-dah, dee-dah, dee-dah. Please! Be serious!. There again, this may be black humour….. very post-modern!
We were clearly on the basic package because there was really only one news item. This goes round in a loop filling the time between the ads and the sports slot. This, we assumed, is because the budget available from all those Sky subscriptions only stretches to one roving reporter who obviously can’t be in more than one place at a time. So there are long reports from ‘our correspondent’ repeated and repeated and…… Aargh – are you getting the picture?
Continuity? ‘Room for improvement’ would be more than generous in the annual appraisal. Moving from one camera angle to another or from roving reporter back to studio there are awkward gaps and silences, slow rather than smooth segways. And that obsession with newsreaders moving around the studio between seated and standing, woodenly waving arms about is weird. The BBC does this too and it’s annoying. Just sit down and tell me the stuff. Is the average viewer’s attention span so tiny that they need to be prompted back to concentration by this kind of scene-shifting? Although, it does at least take attention away from the fact this is the third time we’ve heard this piece in about 20 minutes and, no, it’s not groundhog day and no, our short-term memories are not shot!