The dilemma of message control on live TV

A challenge for broadcasters during the election campaign that’s now well underway – the next UK general election takes place on May 6, in just under four weeks’ time – is controlling their broadcasts in terms of what you see on screen and the message being conveyed.

Take a look at this screenshot from a news broadcast at lunchtime today:


That’s the BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent Laura Kuenssberg reporting on events today among the campaigning politicians.

The interesting thing about this image is the blue poster just behind her right shoulder. It’s a protest banner someone is holding aloft at just the right position and angle to be in the lens capture area of the TV camera. There was another one just before that, behind her left shoulder, with a similar protest message.

I’ve noticed such things before, which shows how easy it can be to get your message on national TV (global TV, if you count the fact that much broadcast content is or will be on the internet at some point in some form, either original or mashed up) if you’re savvy enough to figure out things like angles and positions. And have the brass to get in position with your message.

Other than zoom the camera in tightly so as to keep out any undesired images, what can a broadcaster do when broadcasting from public areas and where you can’t really prevent anyone from doing anything that’s legal?

Choose a better position, perhaps. Do your outside broadcast in a place where you can exercise control over what’s in your camera view. Maybe do it all in the studio in front of a green screen and build-in the desired background: TV does this all the time. Difficult to work for live TV, though (but I bet someone solves that one soon).

Or recognize that you can’t control your message any more. At least, not the channel conveying that message.

What would you suggest?

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Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. Stuart Bruce

    I think one of the other potential implications problems is that in the UK, unlike print media, they have a legal obligation about impartiality and equal air time. It would be hard for them to claim it’s not their fault as often OBs aren’t actually done for any purpose. They simply want to film somewhere with something ‘interesting’ in the background. If this becomes a bigger problem they might have to reconsider that approach.

  2. Dave Briggs

    Stuart is right, the probably only answer is to stop doing outside broadcasts, as they are invariably idiotic anyway.

    By the way, Neville, none of the images in your posts are appearing in Google Reader for me at the moment – I get an image broken type message where they should be – but when I click through to the original, there they are. Most odd.

  3. neville

    Good points from both of you, thanks.

    I wouldn’t stop doing outside broadcasts for the reason of someone holding up a poster: I’d probably want to look at other ways of doing it that negate the opportunities for someone to do that.

    Dave, re images not showing, thanks for letting me know. I’ll look into that. I may have tweaked something that needs untweaking.

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