The war will be televised 

1 January 2002

Back in 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait, which led to the Gulf War, and UK broadcasting was forever changed by that event.

The general public at large were introduced to the concept of rolling news, something that a select number of people had been able to watch on Sky News for the previous 2 years or so.

For those without access to satellite or cable TV, this phenomenon of rolling news was a new experience, and one that initially the public seemed to lap up. But it wasn’t the only change that happened when the first bomb dropped on Iraq.

BBC1 practically took out most of their schedule to concentrate on covering the story. Even prime time was affected as the main bulletins lengthened, pushing back the regional news, and altering even what would normally be regularly scheduled, fixed programming in the schedule

Because the BBC didn’t have News 24 at the time, BBC1 became the prime source for News from the BBC. BBC Breakfast News was extended to 6am to 10am, relegating the usual Business Breakfast programme that was part of Breakfast News at the time to a long bulletin format in the 6.30 half hour

BBC2 became the BBC’s major entertainment channel for a while, with a lot of regular BBC1 programming shifting over to BBC2, but BBC2’s own news coverage was altered as well.

The early-signed bulletin at 8am was basically unaffected, but the daytime summaries did get an extra minute each, with the 3.50pm main afternoon update getting an extra 2 minutes. Newsnight, which was usually a 50-minute programme at the time got extended to 60 minutes, but still didn’t get any kind of regular slot

ITV extended most of their bulletins. The News at 12:30 was initially incorporated into ITN’s own rolling coverage for ITV, forcing This Morning off the schedules for a short while.

Even Children’s ITV was a casualty of the initial extra coverage. It ended up with a severely reduced schedule in the early going. There would be about an hour break from the coverage, before an extended ITN News at 5:40, now beginning at 5:30 and just called the ITN News, but using the same style intro and theme tune

ITV being only one channel at the time, it saw itself as having to provide entertainment as well as news, so while BBC could relegate some of the entertainment material to BBC2, ITV had no such option.

They decided to introduce a 10-minute bulletin at 8pm, and move the rest of the schedule back 10 minutes. This 8 O’clock Gulf News Report was introduced by the News at Ten anchor for the night, usually Trevor MacDonald.

There was only one occasion when the bulletin was not known as the Gulf News Report, but just as the 8 O’clock News Report, and that was when the Gulf War was rivalled in the headlines by two other stories, both of which merited Top Story status themselves, and on any other news day, either one would have been the top story by a long way.

This 10-minute bulletin was really levered into the schedule with a crowbar, and the rest of the evening schedule would be delayed by 10 minutes or so that meant that News at Ten would start at 10:10 pm and the bulletin itself was extended to 40 minutes, further pushing the regional news back to 10.50pm. ITV would then run a continuous news service overnight, which incorporated the hour long ITN Morning News.

Channel 4 did have a very news based breakfast programme in the Channel 4 Daily, which was an ITN produced show, with segments produced by other companies. ITN also produced the Channel 4 News, and other news programming for Channel 4.

When the bombs began, Channel 4 introduced “Midnight Specials”, which were 2-hour news programmes, dedicated to covering the single story that was dominating the news.

Channel 4 also extended their main evening news to a full hour, and sometimes replaced their parliamentary programme at lunchtime with a half hour edition of Channel 4 News

On the radio, almost every station extended their bulletins, and increased the frequency of them. Radio 1 started broadcasting regular bulletins every half hour, except for Breakfast, which remained every 20 minutes.

Regular Radio 1 bulletins were usually 90 seconds in length, but were extended to 2 minutes 30 seconds during the campaign

Radio 2 extended their bulletins to at least 5 minutes at a time, instead of the usual 3 minutes in length. Radio 4, quite famously, replaced their regular programmes with a rolling news service, which the newspapers immediately christened “Gulf FM”.

The new Radio 5, which before the Gulf War had no news bulletins, only sports bulletins, suddenly pulled together a team of journalists and equipped them with the BBC’s General News Service, the same service that provided bulletin copy and actuality to the BBC’s local radio stations, and thus began Radio 5’s original news service. The bulletins were quickly incorporated into Morning Edition and Five Aside, with additional stand-alone bulletins at 1pm, 10pm and Midnight

Local Radio from both the BBC and ILR increased the length of their bulletins, as more material was supplied to them. IRN’s network bulletins increased to 5 minutes, which also reflected the general increase in length of the ILR bulletins too.

The BBC didn’t supply a packaged bulletin to their stations, preferring to provide ample copy and audio material so that the local stations could package the national and international news with the local picture, and the increase in material being sent out by GNS pushed out bulletins to around 7 or 8 minutes generally

So, what can we expect this time around? Well, for a start, there are more channels now, providing different services, than we had even in 1991. Attention is not going to be entirely focused on the big four anymore, but on a myriad of channels and stations that are out there in the ether.

However, it will not surprise you to learn that we expect more of the same, just a greater variety.

The news channels will practically run nothing else but this story 24 hours a day. There iare already signs that they are starting to expand this story out and begin to give it the kind of rolling coverage that we will have to get used to when that first bomb drops.

Both BBC News 24 and ITV News Channel have put special programming in place. BBC News 24 has special briefing programmes at 12:30 pm, 5:30pm and 7:30 pm, whilst ITV News Channel has updates at 9.30am, 1.30pm, 5.30pm and 9.30pm.

ITV News Channel have brought in Angela Rippon and Carol Barnes to boost the presenter line-up on the channel once full 24-hour coverage begins

BBC1 will undoubtedly run special coverage of this story, produced by BBC News 24, as they have done in recent years. One of the most notable examples of BBC News 24 produced special coverage was the attacks on the World Trade Centre and Washington D.C.

Most of BBC1’s other output will either be taken off air completely or moved to BBC2, which will most likely become the main entertainment channel during the war. A limited amount of BBC1’s schedule will remain firmly fixed on BBC1, to provide regular breaks from the coverage.

Amongst the shows that are likely to stay on BBC1 are Kilroy, Bargain Hunt, Neighbours, Eastenders, Holby City and Casualty. But the CBeebies and CBBC afternoon programming strands and shows such as Top Of The Pops, Watchdog and This is Your Life will get incorporated into BBC2 for the duration of the war

ITV1 will most likely link up with its own news channel for this story, with initially the daytime schedule being transferred almost en masse to ITV2, with This Morning being the first programme likely to make a return to ITV1.

Only in primetime will the schedule seem less affected but there is likely to be changes. ITV1 have announced that they intend to move the News at Ten to 9pm should war begin.

This might also leave room ITV News Specials at around 11.30pm or Midnight. Overnight programming will probably be replaced with a continuous news service, being shown on both ITV1 and the ITV News Channel.

Channel 4 have recently had problems with their breakfast programming with The Big Breakfast being cancelled, and its replacement, RI:SE, falling in ratings terms, and even achieving a zero rating recently.

When 11 September 2001 happened, Channel 4 decided to drop the regular breakfast programme and replace it with a special 2-hour morning edition of Channel 4 News. It is anticipated that the same thing will happen again.

One thing we do know though is that Channel 4 will replace their 12 Noon programme, usually ITN produced Powerhouse, with a lunchtime edition of Channel 4 News, which will be anchored by either Krishnan Guru-Murthy or Alex Thomson.

It’s practically a given that the main bulletin at 7pm will then fill out the entire hour, but it is also an almost certainty that the “Midnight Special” a Channel 4 News format that hasn’t been used in years, may just get dusted down and brought back into use, as due to the time difference between the UK and Iraq, most of the breaking news is likely to happen between about 9pm and 3am UK time.

Channel 4 rarely runs continuous coverage of breaking news, usually preferring regular updates, and I don’t expect Channel 4 to do much different here, with News Reports through the day outside of the extra programming that I expect will be run.

I do not expect Channel 4 to run a continuous news service overnight; this is not something they have ever done before. I also do not expect to see any regular programming appearing on E4.

I do though expect to see a quick launch of Channel 4 Extra on both Freeview and Sky Digital, with some normal Channel 4 programming turning up there, and possibly extra editions of Channel 4 News as appropriate.

The only channel of the main terrestrials where I have little idea what could happen is Channel 5. They do have an option to switch to Sky News coverage rather than using their own commissioned coverage from ITN.

Five News has been notable in being slow to get breaking news on the air; witness the events surrounding the Death of Princess Diana. Whilst ITV and Channel 4 had had coverage going all night, Channel 5 stuck rigidly to their schedule, even for 2 hours after the official announcement came out of Buckingham Palace.

It wasn’t until after 7am that they dropped their cartoons and Kirsty Young finally appeared to tell us the news.

There is another complicating factor here. Live NHL Ice Hockey and Major League Baseball coverage is usually anchored from a re-dressed Five News studio at ITN, despite the fact it is produced by Sunset + Vine.

In the early days of 5 News, this didn’t actually matter too much as there was a video wall area in the newsroom where bulletins and indeed programming could be anchored from, but that hasn’t been used since the original 5 News look disappeared. That area could be re-dressed to match the current Five News look and used again.

Options for Channel 5 include restoring their own breakfast bulletin, at 1 hour in length, replacing The Wright Stuff, with a Five News and Talk programme, extending the 5:30pm bulletin to an hour, replacing the talk based content of the 7:30pm bulletin with more news, creating a longer Five News at Nine Bulletin and creating a longer Five News Late bulletin.

They could also switch to Sky News overnight and at Breakfast, which would be the first time Channel 5 would have run an overnight news service at all. They have used EuroNews in the past as well.

During the war, attention will also be focused on what I call the “Second-Tier” entertainment channels. These are channels that have a limited news service, or in some cases no news service at all.

It will be most interesting to see if BBC3’s 60 Seconds service goes much past Midnight during this crisis, as the bulletins end at Midnight currently. Will we also see extended editions of The News Show? And what about BBC4, who currently only have 1 bulletin daily from BBC World?

Would we see extra bulletins or an extended BBC4 News? Sky One used to run 60 second bulletins, usually called “Newsbreaks”. Would they do so again? Would ITV2 start running short summaries? What about E4? Would they do the unthinkable and work in short news summaries, cross promoting the Channel 4 News?

FTN are relatively new in this game, making intentions known that they are looking to commission material for the channel directly, and not just through Bravo, Living TV, Trouble and Challenge.

Would they actually commission a short bulletin service? Then there is S4C, which has Welsh language bulletins produced by BBC Wales, who also produce Wales Today and 2W News and Sport from the same studio as S4C’s Newyydion.

What kind of service could BBC Wales provide to S4C in this situation? There isn’t that much room to extend Newyddion 6 or even the main bulletin at 7.30pm, and little room to add extra bulletins into the schedule

Without doubt though, most of the coverage will come direct from the news channels. BBC News 24 and BBC World will be sharing reports and could as well share bulletins and programming, both on their own and with BBC1. ITV News Channel, as I have previously discussed, will most likely be sharing programming with ITV1.

Sky News may well have their programming taken by Channel 5, and will be using all their various technologies such as the Video wall and the Virtual Floor to try and add to the experience.

CNN International will once again link up with their US domestic service to provide near continuous coverage and Fox News will be doing their best to provide continuous coverage without a Baghdad based team, who were thrown out of Iraq recently.

All of this is relatively predictable, but what isn’t so is working out exactly how CNBC Europe will play this. They have CNBC Correspondents worldwide, plus they also have the possibilities of taking material direct from MSNBC or the US NBC Terrestrial Network.

In fact, they can have access to so much material, that sometimes, it makes selecting your coverage very tricky. NBC had a pan-European channel that they bought in 1993, called SuperChannel. These days the channel is reduced to the German-speaking areas of Europe and basically acts as a host for Giga TV, which is a German computer channel.

Perhaps now would be a good time to re-expand the channel back into the rest of Europe, and let it act as a host for MSNBC, allowing CNBC to cover the business angle and only the business angle

EuroNews will be another interesting channel to watch as they provide voiced news over video footage. Because they provide news in many languages, they have no studio segments at all.

Watching them cover 11 September 2001 was an interesting experience and you wonder just how they would cover this story. Star News, the Asian sister channel to both Fox News and Sky News, went free to air when September 11th broke.

It will be interesting to see if they do so again. During the September 11th story, RTE News could be seen in the UK via Tara TV, a station that has since closed. It will be interesting to see if RTE put some kind of provision in for the ex-pat audience to follow the story via RTE.

On Radio, 5 Live will cover this story extensively, with the possibility of coverage passing over to Radio 4 during times when News and Sport priorities conflict. This exact kind of situation was predicted when 5 Live was first announced. Other stations will definitely increase their news provisions

Stations like Life that take news directly from IRN, will have their bulletin slots increased in line with the lengthier IRN bulletins. In a way, it is unfortunate that ITN closed their radio News Channel, as this would be a perfect opportunity for that station to shine.

Currently on Digital 1 DAB, there is no commercial news station, and the only talk station is a sports station, Talk Sport. It will be as interesting to see just what developments come out of this.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

Report an error


Ian Beaumont Contact More by me

Your comment

Enter it below

A member of the Transdiffusion Broadcasting System
Liverpool, Thursday 18 July 2024