I spent an evening watching Sky News the night Theresa May faced a vote of no confidence. Long before the vote began there was a clock in the bottom right corner, counting down to the big moment.
The coverage was constantly being interrupted to give us even the smallest update on how things were developing in some attempt to hype up the vote.
Then, numerous pundits with differing views appeared on the screen. Sky News knew what they were doing – it would inevitably lead to an argument. It did.
Whenever I watch Sky News, I feel there is always that bright yellow bar at the bottom that informs me there are ‘BREAKING NEWS’. They seem to now build up any political event, no matter how small.
Sky Sports News do it best: hype up any event and make the audience feel like they’d be idiots to miss out on it. You’d be a fool to miss the Wednesday night match between Dundee and Hibernian. A That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch perfectly encapsulates it. (Source: BBC)
They even have a show called The Debate. It features two football pundits whom are likely to have differing opinions on managers, tactics, or Paul Pogba’s latest haircut.
So, I feel like presumably reliable news channels are trying to encapsulate their sports counter-parts in a bid to attract more viewers.
I began noticing this during the 2016 Presidential campaign in the US. Anytime I looked at a channel like CNN there was a countdown clock for some debate or primary two weeks away.
Pundits repeatedly come on these news shows, 24 hours a day seven days a week, obsessing about Trump or Brexit. CNN has even been accused by journalists of normalising Trump’s mis/disinformation through their fascination with pundits that religiously defended him no matter what he does, since it made great television.
CNN Worldwide president Jeff Zucker has even gone on record in a New York Times Magazine interview stating that, “The idea that politics is sport is undeniable, and we understood that and approached it that way.”
The article went on to discuss how Zucker even made suggestions for CNN to take inspiration from ESPN daytime talk shows.
The treating of politics as sport seems to be a phenomenon that hit us hard in the lead-up to the EU referendum. It has now managed to seep into almost every topic that channels such as Sky News report on. As tension within parties and voters has risen, news channels have sought to take advantage.
Channels love to bring on guests they know will argue. The best example in the UK being Good Morning Britain. Whenever I watch it, it seems to feature two nutters having a screaming-off over Brexit. God forbid they have guests on who are actually civil because, in that case, the duty falls on Piers Morgan to rile them up, or he himself will go off on some rant about vegan sausage rolls that somehow ends up in my YouTube suggested videos. To my shame, I may have watched more than one of these.
In the age of 24-hour news channels, it is no surprise stories get sensationalised. Channels (I’m looking at you Fox News) are consistently telling their viewers there are ‘breaking news’ every chance they get in order to keep viewers enticed.
But a big part of me can’t blame the networks. There is no denying it does make for better programming. In the age of vast amounts of digital content, news channels desperately fight for our attention.
Why watch Jacob Rees-Mogg explaining the complexities of an Irish backstop when you could be watching Danny Dyer calling David Cameron a twat on live TV?
That’s not to say there aren’t news channels that still uphold the more traditional format. Newsnight continues to be a popular programme which remains somewhat civilised even when it has two guests on with differing views.
Events such as Brexit and May facing a vote of no confidence are serious and we should be paying close attention to them, but my worry is this hyped-up coverage of every single political event dilutes the importance of real issues.
The news has become about sensationalists bickering with each other, desperately trying to be heard. It can often turn ugly. That’s what makes it great television. Not news.