Movies and Film, News, Politics

BBC videos: sentimentalising the news


— BBC News videos are often no more than sentimental manipulation of its audience —


In idle moments I sometimes make the mistake of watching short videos on the BBC News website. You know the sort. They’re usually only a minute or so long, but can occasionally be up to ten. They can be about anything, from the plight of displaced people during times of famine or war, to some silliness like a policeman in some far off place, dancing at some traffic lights. They can give an added dimension to the news website, bring it more alive, or just provide a diversion from thinking about more serious things.

Increasingly however, in recent years, I’ve noticed something about them which is annoying and patronising.

photo of xylophone

Worn-out by the BBC
(photo: Tomasz Sienicki)

They’re almost always accompanied by music. It’s now hard to find one which doesn’t have cloying, sickly plonking on the piano, plucking at a harp or – their favourite – someone hammering away on a xylophone. I sometimes think the BBC must have an army of composers whose speciality is producing, on demand, a torrent of insipid tunes for the masses. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of sentimentality, but this is a incessant barrage.

Accompanying music can of course be a helpful tool with which to communicate. Good documentaries make careful use of it, whether original or licensed, to create a mood and get a message across. I know that many of the documentaries I’ve enjoyed would have had far less impact on me if the music had been absent or misjudged.

But there’s a difference. Music in a longer format film evokes empathy in the hearts and minds of the audience by earning its trust. The confidence of the viewer, with regards to music, can only really be achieved by them knowing they’re in this for the long haul, usually about an hour. They’re content, often right from the start, to place themselves in the hands of the director, who will take them on a journey. Very short BBC films, which often are merely clips, are quite unable to do this. There’s no lead-up, no development, no rising towards a dénouement. You’re straight into it, listening to some sugary nonsense, which the BBC editor thinks must be necessary to tug at your heartstrings, otherwise you will not be sufficiently moved. Then the video’s over. We want you to feel this emotion, the music blatantly shouts at the viewer. It’s very unsubtle. If a person in a video has suffered, most are quite capable of knowing, without being prompted, that they may be deserving of our sympathy. Never watch three or four of these videos, back-to-back. You won’t want to hear a single note from a harp or a xylophone ever again.

The BBC should let each video speak for itself. They should make only very limited use of music, depending on the length and subject matter. In short, they should rein in their condescending and extravagant use of music.

photo of Charles Pathé

Charles Pathé
© British Pathé

Its use on the BBC News website is now little more than poorly-disguised manipulation. What are these videos but miniature, modern versions of the British Pathé newsreels of the 1930s and 1940s, which we look back on now and find somewhat ridiculous? We are astonished by their grand, dramatic music, by the bombast and full orchestra. By how they helped instill in the public a specific worldview. Perhaps in a generation’s time, people will look back and wonder whether the BBC’s videos were produced only for children, for the gullible or just for the plain self-indulgent. Perhaps they’ll also realise, as some do today, that they were mere symptoms of something much wider, of an organisation lead by people in the grip of a feel-good culture of sentimentality, people helplessly obsessed with everything they deem hapless and weak, in which they wallow, like hippos in mud.


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