Ranjona Banerji: Sober & Sensible Scottish referendum coverage

19 Sep,2014

By Ranjona Banerji


Watching the coverage of the results of the Scottish referendum, mainly on the BBC World News, there are two possible takeaways for Indian TV. The first is that the BBC’s coverage – and that of CNN – was sober and sensible. The anchors, analysts and panellists, which represented all sides of the political spectrum in the UK, did not scream and shout at each other, they did not jump up and down (with one exception – Jeremy Vine, while discussing figures), they did not say, “Let me speak, let me speak, I didn’t interrupt you when you spoke”, they did not aggressively interrupt (with one possible exception, David Coburn of UKIP, but in a very low-key and polite way)… In short it was dull and boring but gave you all the facts and information and opinion at the same time.


All right, when I say “dull and boring”, I am comparing it to the circus that is election results day in India. We have highly pumped up anchors (jumping, jumping whatever in fact like that IPL song from a couple of seasons ago went), we have reps from political parties who don’t even bother to wear gloves before they step into the ring, we have millions of colourful graphics all over the screen. In other words, we have a full-scale jatra melodrama performance.


What the BBC gave us – and remember, this was a highly emotionally charged vote for splitting or staying together – was an accomplished, polished performance, more like chamber music than Bollywood bhangra. Indeed, when I saw Hardeep Singh Kolhi appearing on the panel for the Yes campaign, I made a terrible cultural generalisation and assumed he would add some ethnic colour to the panel. Sadly, I picked the wrong culture and made the worst possible assumption – he wore a kilt not a lungi, he was nothing more than passionate.


Could these international channels learn from us? Well, CNN got very snarky flak when it used holograms during coverage of a presidential election a few years ago. But surely, we could have a little more excitement – am I being serious?  Who knows? But we did get more sense than sensibility in this coverage.


But to get back to the beginning, the coverage was in fact excellent. It told you everything you wanted to know, it gave you informed analysis and diverse political opinion, it concentrated on the issue and did not look to create division just for the sake of it. Most importantly, the coverage did not venture into that deplorable “should” territory that Indian news anchors are so fond of. So there was no: “Should Gordon Brown now be made head of the Labour Party” or “Shouldn’t David Cameron be pacing about Downing Street” or “Should Alex Salmond resign” and other such nonsense.


All in all, a pleasure to watch from the BBC. CNN also offered extensive coverage but took a slightly different route by ditching the panel for an “at the event” policy. The graphics were more exciting though with lots of red, blue and white and a photo-montage of events through the campaign.




To make a slight segue, why don’t Indian news channels now insist on top leaders of political parties making concession of defeat or acceptance of victory speeches. This job cannot be dumped on the lower rungs of leadership and our insistent media needs to make a few demands here!


Both Alex Salmond (Yes) and Alistair Darling (No) gave excellent speeches, particularly Salmond. Food for thought there.


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