The close-run US Presidential election delivered far more spectacle than most of us could have expected.
For those glued to their TV screens, Joe Biden’s triumph proved that even from the nation that brought us the extraordinary West Wing and Netflix’s outlandish House of Cards remake, there can be no substitute for the drama of real-life politics.
The drawn-out nature of the vote count meant that there was plenty of opportunity to take in coverage from the American networks and get a flavour of the domestic reporting as the results came in.
John King, CNN’s stalwart chief national correspondent, quickly emerged as a household favourite for his tireless stints of analysis. Meanwhile, tuning in to Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News provided a sharp reminder of the partisan nature of some of political broadcasting stateside that remains unfamiliar and often uncomfortable to British viewers.
However even Fox was eventually censured by Donald Trump and his supporters along with his other more familiar ‘fake news’ targets, after being the first network to call the state of Arizona for Biden and then later cutting away from White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany for a lack of integrity in her claims of election fraud.
Reflecting on the coverage, it’s fair to say that we often take our own news for granted in the UK. In the evenings we can switch on a bulletin and, with a healthy degree of confidence, safely assume what we’re being told is a balanced account of the day’s events.
This markedly contrasts with the experiences of family and friends living in parts of South America where much of the media is state-controlled and independent outlets suppressed. It’s very striking that the question they always ask themselves before digesting any information is: what is its source?
It’s a healthy practice that we all may have to get used to, particularly as we become increasingly aware of the power of videos published on social media aimed at influencing our attitudes and opinions – often with dubious and misleading content.
Despite a long-term trend in falling levels of trust, traditional media – if not financially – has had a positive year. The Covid-19 pandemic has meant we’ve tuned in and logged on much more than in recent times to access critical information and public health advice.
The Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report 2020 supports this pattern, noting that the reach of TV news has bounced back during the coronavirus crisis – with broadcasters including the BBC and ITV having higher levels of trust than most digital-born brands and tabloid newspapers.
However, intensified attacks on the BBC by its critics, many now embedded at the heart of Government, mean the future of our traditional broadcasters is potentially far from certain. Alongside this some of the plans for new opinionated-led news channels, including a Fox News-style service and the Andrew Neil-chaired GB News, are well advanced.
Whatever the future of our broadcast news landscape, we shouldn’t lose sight of the value of having access to fair and balanced reporting we can trust to shape our opinions and help us hold our politicians to account.
Giles Venn is a senior account manager at Camargue