There has been what can only be described as a hoohah during recent weeks over the defection of newsreader and presenter Natasha Kaplinsky from the BBC to five. Much has been made of publicity shots for five’s revamped news programme whish show Natasha about to deliver news of worl events in- gasp- jeans and- horror- on a sofa. The fact that Natasha a) has breasts b) blonde hair c) likes to wear a bit of slap and d) isn’t exactly the ugliest newsreader out there has incensed critics and led to the very boring, predictable accusations of a TV viewership subjected to the ‘dumbing down’ of news and broadcasting in general.
Fellow journalists have been particularly vicious in their attacks on Kaplinsky; Amanda Platell and Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail have been like rottweilers starved of steak who’ve suddenly been tossed an old bone and have ripped her to shreds. Criticism of Natasha is nothing new: she was vilified for her presenting on BBC Breakfast and practically lynched for appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. Commentators moaned that it was hard to take her seriously reporting on world issues in news bulletins because of her alleged relationship with her dance partner and her stints on light entertainment shows. Her propensity for wearing bright pink lipstick saw her branded a bimbo, incapable of the gravitas and journalistic skills necessary to read out a script someone else had written anyway.
I haven’t seen five news; I’m guessing I’m not in its target audience as I don’t watch news much anyway. From most of the reports I’ve read about it- and there have been a lot, only royal weddings and Winehouse get more coverage- it was a fairly run-of-the-mill news programme interesting only because of its presenter and an only slightly different method of presenting the news.
I’m not sure why journalists love to turn on other journalists, women in particular. I’m neither an expert nor a fan of Kaplinsky, but I’m not aware of any massive clangers she’s dropped or hateful opinions she’s had. Perhaps good old-fashioned envy is at the heart of this very public execution.
Those who complain about the dumbing down of news are being naïve and snobby. Who says that the news has to be presented by a dour-faced, suit-sporting main with grey hair spouting long words? Why shouldn’t five target a news bulletin at its audience? Their viewers watch US and Australian imports, their comedy shows and reality and light entertainment. Isn’t it better to have an accessible news programme that speaks to people ordinarily put off by what they might consider stuffy output elsewhere. In a world where commentators bemoan young people’s lack of interest in world events, why complain when a news show tries to be inclusive and inform? Is it better to alienate?
Viewers who are unable to make a distinction between a newsreader participating in a dancing reality show and commenting on atrocities in wartorn Iraq are the current affairs equivalent of soap fans who truly believe that if they head down to east London they’ll find themselves in Albert Square and bump into Peggy Mitchell.