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‘When something big happens, people turn on the TV and start watching’: BBC’s Mathew

Matthew-AmroliwalaWhile there has been a lot of debate lately on the future of TV as a vehicle for news dissemination in the era of social networking and short-format news consumption, BBC news presenter and senior journalist Mathew Amroliwala says that TV news is here to stay.

In a tête-à-tête with TelevisionPost.com’s Gaurav Laghate, the 53-year-old journalist spoke about the future of news, credibility, and his show ‘Crimewatch’.

Edited excerpts…

Q. There is a debate going on the future and format of news. What are your views?

Despite the absolute trend towards a shorter, more direct form of news, it’s not necessarily the end of all other forms. I have been doing news for 17 years, and by the third year, I heard people say that television was dead along with those watching this form. And here we are years later still driven to TV news.

Q. So you see a future for TV news?

When something big happens, people turn on the TV and start watching. I think despite all the progress happening currently and the consumption trends on BBC.com, there is a new form of writing and nearly everybody has to evolve in response to it. But this does not mean all the other stuff just goes away instantly.

Q. When one curates a lot of stuff, credibility becomes an issue. Don’t you think it is a problem with the new form?

Indeed, when you have got so much stuff out there, how do you navigate it, how do you know what’s true or not true? Thus, it’s all about credibility, all about trust, accuracy, which are the key pillars of BBC.

It’s interesting even with Twitter, as Twitter will tell you that they see their traffic spike when the BBC confirms a story that’s already been posted on Twitter. That’s why the BBC is the most shared news item on Twitter and once the BBC has established that a story is true, it has an enormous amount of punch.

Q. You believe that TV news is going to be there. But most of the channels in India are doing studio-based TV in the primetime. In that scenario, would a person interested in news not switch to digital?

Perhaps the answer lies in not switching to digital. Switch to the BBC if you think you are not getting the news that you want.

Q. But BBC content in India is only international feed. You can’t cover all the stories…

Part of the reason for my coming here with increased regularity is to increase focus on India and not just stories about India.

Of all the voices and stories that we have been hearing, there aren’t enough voices from India. I am talking about stories we do as magazine programmes. We have a strong strategic idea about what we want to achieve and to get all of that onto the screens.

Q. You can invest in newsgathering because BBC is state funded. But private broadcasters don’t have that kind of backing here.

I think it’s a tough climate wherever you are, whether you are in a commercial climate or a BBC sort of model. They had a freeze on licence fee for a number of years, and with the spiralling cost of everything, that in itself has been a tightening of the financial belt.

The BBC, like everybody else, is in a tough economic climate, but newsgathering is the critical part of the equation and that’s why we have the largest number of correspondents all around the world.


I think it’s a tough climate wherever you are, whether you are in a commercial climate or a BBC sort of model. They had a freeze on licence fee for a number of years, and with the spiralling cost of everything, that in itself has been a tightening of the financial belt’

Q. How big is your staff strength here?

We have two bureaus—one in Mumbai and one in Delhi, with correspondents who serve all of the outlets of the BBC. It’s a large team. Everywhere around the world, there are these bureaus. They give us a basis to put these stories to context and have that analysis very quickly.

For example, there was an attack on a Tunisian museum last week, and within 15 minutes, we were talking to our correspondent on the ground in Tunisia.

Q. You are also a presenter of ‘Crimewatch’. How different is it compared to other crime shows?

It’s totally different. It’s a show that’s been around in the UK for 30 years and is almost the DNA of the country. If you ask anyone on the streets about ‘Crimewatch’, they will know what you are talking about. They have an affinity for it because it’s a programme that tries to solve the toughest of crimes. The only crimes that make it to the programme are the unsolved ones.

Q. So how does it work?

It’s a monthly show. We have a live audience of detectives from all of those cases and we make very emotive films. We reconstruct and tell the audience about the crimes mostly from the perspective of the victim or their family.

I go out and make the films with the team. The films are then broadcast and the police take the audience through the case and tell them what the bits they need help with are.

It has an extraordinary success rate. One in every three cases that come onto the show gets solved.

Q. Are you looking at taking this format to other countries?

It’s a format created by the BBC. I think there is a version of it in Germany and Holland, but not other places elsewhere. I think it is unbelievably effective.

The ethos of ‘Crimewatch’ is integrity. Everybody who works on the programme understands it and works towards getting the details absolutely right. They do not do anything the police are uncomfortable with.

It’s a real collaboration. In news, sometimes there can be a friction between those elements, but on this show, we try to get to the same place.