The editor of BBC Radio 4’s Today has said the programme needs to find new ways of covering “bad foreign news” stories after the summer of conflicts in Ukraine, Syria and Gaza proved a turn-off with listeners.
Jamie Angus said some listeners had stopped tuning in to Today and had told him they could not take any more of “this terrible thing that I can’t influence”. This follows a period when the news has been dominated by the escalating civil war in Ukraine, with the threat of Russia and Nato being drawn into a wider conflict, the Israeli assault on Gaza, and most recently the rise of Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The difficulty in getting BBC journalists in to the conflict zones, he added, resulted in “a lot of argumentative phone interviews with angry people on either side”, which also proved a turn off.
Angus, a former acting editor of Newsnight who has been in charge of Today for a year, said the programme would not stop covering foreign news but had to investigate different ways of doing it at a time when BBC News has faced across the board cuts in funding.
“The confluence of Gaza and the Ukraine over the summer was a difficult listen for audiences,” Angus told a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch on Thursday, adding that the conflict in Syria posed similar problems journalistically.
“There was a burst of rather difficult foreign news and a lot of listeners who stopped listening said they stopped because of the preponderance of really difficult and distressing foreign news.
So, it is all the fault of the listeners; the news is just too difficult for them. Nothing to do with supercilioua presenters, incompetent interviewers or patronising editors.