Less can mean more for flagship tv news

I used to attend a lot of conferences in Prague. As one Czech minister gloomily remarked at the time, the only thing that has increased in his, and my, sector were conferences.

The good news for him is that he survived the recent government reshuffles and stayed in his post. The bad news, for me, is that he has an irritating habit of running away whenever he sees me.

And it was at one of these conferences that I witnessed one of those small incidents that are sometimes worth remarking on. Part of the conference was to be broadcast live on Czech public television’s news channel, a fact which had I known it in advance would have encouraged me to save the expense of two metro tickets.

During the broadcast preparations one of the tv team meticulously turned the bottles of mineral water on the officials’ top table so that they could not be seen. Such dedication to the battle against product placement or discrete advertising is to be applauded.

The state regulator hosting the conference also got in on the act as well and decided that it was not too ethical that the logo of a large energy company in the premises they were using be caught on camera as well. But the only way to block out that logo was to perch their own, rather flimsy banner, on a table in front.

Ad hoc preparations ensued with the banner eventually weighed down by one or two of the earlier mentioned bottles of mineral water. In spite of that anchoring, the banner still flapped menacingly in the wind for the next 40 minutes or so threatening to take out the star of the show and totally undermine the serious message at stake. Luckily for all concerned, the worst did not happen.

I have rather diverged here from my main message. Like Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, I come here mostly to bury Czech Television, or at least one annoying aspect of it, and not to praise it. As a professional obligation I usually feel compelled to watch the main evening news which was some time ago extended to an hour. That hour counts five minutes for the weather at the beginning and around 15 minutes for sport at the end.

The programme extension does not seem to me to have been the best bit of architecture. On bad news days you get the clear impression that everything has been thrown in to pad out the programme.

Like ill fitted travelling companions, the public service obligation to broadcast the boring bits about politics or some other turgid, but worthy, matter jars with the obvious instructions to seek out a wider public by brightening things up and making them digestible. Bathos is often the result as serious dispatches, usually from the handful of outposts abroad, look out of place besides some ‘light’ item about latest Czech shopping trends or consumer habits.

Lately, there has been a trend to ‘pull in’ a politician or personality appearing on an interview slot on the public broadcaster’s rolling news channel. He/she is given a, usually confrontational five minute grilling. The result fairly often is guest and moderator talking over each other and a minimum of knowledge imparted to the public as a result.

Perhaps it seems I am unfairly picking on a relatively small broadcaster with limited resources. Not so, the main fault seems to be that the tv bosses can’t seem to understand that less could be more and a shorter flagship news programme might do everyone, and my stomach in particular, a favour.