THEY are among TV’s greatest virtues — forces for moral good that enlarge our understanding and expand our sympathetic imagination, helping us to know more of the world and our neighbours, however distant, thereby helping us to know more of ourselves, and spurring us on to pray and to act.
It is a cliché that TV news bulletins bring the world into our homes — but they do. And, at times of acute crisis, our frequently heard criticisms — for example, that the BBC is either (according to your political allegiance) a toadying Establishment lapdog of the Government, or the covert tool of international socialist conspiracy, bent on the destruction of capitalism — are shown to be, at best, second-order issues, to be set aside until later in the face of the big truth: that, whatever bias our TV news channels might demonstrate, they are, above all, actuated by shared high standards of journalism, courage, and truth-seeking.
And every bulletin covering the Ukrainian crisis reminds us what the opposite looks like: a vicious authoritarian state where the only “news” permitted is state propaganda, and all dissenting voices are silenced. Free, honest broadcast information and, above all, the right to express dissent and opposition are not theoretical, abstract ideas: live TV footage shows us that, for some people, they are worth fighting for — and dying for.
Might the hourly depiction of this war lead us to recalibration of our own national values, a new seriousness and respect for truth? As this column must be filed on a Monday, the latest I can report on is last Sunday’s output; so, as I compare and contrast the main channels’ main bulletins, I am very conscious of how different the situation will be when you read this.
The strongest impression given by switching between BBC1, Channel 4, and ITV is not difference, but a common approach and values: direct reportage from the actual scene of conflict, eagerness to find the personal human story, the fielding of star reporters well used to war zones and the horrors of conflict. Matt Frei, of Channel 4, is perhaps the most personal and informal, finding a scoop in Ukraine’s youngest MP’s demonstrating the automatic weapon that he will use to defend his city, and clearly exasperated by our own government minister’s weaselly prevarication about whether we, like the EU, would actually welcome Ukrainian refugees.
All channels took up this humanitarian theme: on BBC1’s Sunday Morning, the editor of The Spectator called (somewhat surprisingly) for them all to be let in. ITV showed powerful, affecting images: children picking through the piles of clothes donated by Polish citizens; the liturgy in the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Dormition, in Manchester. BBC1’s splendidly diverse team — Clive Myrie, Lyse Doucet, Orla Guerin — broadcast the 10 p.m. bulletin entirely from Kyiv, the odd technical blip merely reinforcing the message: TV takes us to the heart of the action.