3. The tougher the reporting challenge, the more creative BBC correspondents get. Imagine you were Beijing correspondent James Reynolds a couple of years ago, drawing the assignment of covering the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Did Reynolds do a “where are they now” piece about some of the key players? Or a documentary with file footage, recapping the main events? No, he did not, perhaps because we’ve all seen those stories already. More than once. Instead, on June 4, 2009, he took a crew down to the square, and, in two minutes of marvelous footage, told a graphic story about the deep paranoia of Chinese leaders. You see all you need to know here to understand that the Tiananmen anniversary remains the most sensitive date on the calendar for the Chinese regime. (I once showed this clip to some Chinese broadcast journalists visiting the U.S. They tittered the second they saw the umbrellas go up, but stayed silent at the end, too uncomfortable to offer any opinions about it.)
And here’s a piece of pure ingenuity: When BBC’s Sue Lloyd-Roberts got a rare visa for North Korea for the celebration of founder Kim Il-Sung’s birthday, she used every opportunity to look past her minders to reveal glimpses of another regime too paranoid to let reporters show real life. Don’t miss the octopus and bananas on the farmer’s lunch table.
Notice what I have not mentioned: BBC World News America’s coverage of America. In the program’s early days, it didn’t always live up to its title. I recall an evening when the show led with the tale of a plane that went off a runway at London’s Heathrow Airport—and no one was seriously hurt! It ran for several minutes—seemed eons at the time—to an American audience. Yawn.
I haven’t seen that kind of misstep in quite a while, though. The show’s coverage of the U.S. is fine—on a par with what’s produced by American media. But that’s not the reason to tune in. No, you want to watch BBC World News America for the foreign report, drawn from “the best of BBC journalism from all around the world,” as executive producer Rome Hartman describes it in a note to viewers about the show’s move to PBS.
Much of Hartman’s show is not produced originally for an American audience, so it’s not unusual to hear financial amounts given in pounds or see the chyron under Robert Gates identify him as “Defence Secretary.” But for those who want to know what’s happening in the world, those stories are as relevant here as they are to their audiences elsewhere in the world.
The Peabody Awards jury honored the program last year, calling it “a nightly newscast like none the United States has ever had. It places our actions and concerns in a global context.” If your public TV station isn’t carrying BBC World News America next week, send the Peabody quote to the managers and ask them, Why not?