Several television broadcasters in the UK and around the world marked “Brexit“, the moment the UK left the European Union. Here’s my view on how they covered the historic date and time.
The main British broadcasters all covered the moment live at 23:00 GMT on 31st January, which marked the end of the UK’s 47-year stint within the world’s biggest political project, with the exception of Channel 5, which opted to air a documentary giving viewers a tour of a Nestle factory in Italy.
The BBC aired a “BBC News Special” encompassing the usual 10pm news bulletin, and extending it beyond the regional news update at 22:25 GMT to include the moment the UK’s membership expired. As the moment arrived, the BBC’s Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg was in Downing Street, and the BBC’s marking of the moment was the Government’s projection of Big Ben onto the facade of 10 Downing Street, accompanied with recorded bongs of Big Ben.
Of course, the real Big Ben is undergoing restoration works and was not able to bong for real on Brexit night.
BBC Two’s news magazine show, often seen as the BBC’s most serious journalistic show, Newsnight was also live at the time of Brexit, and it’s coverage was far more stated than its counterparts over on BBC One, with audio and video from Parliament Square, most notably the sound of Nigel Farage counting down to the crowds. Newsnight even included an on-screen countdown clock, something their counterparts at BBC News obviously deemed unnecessary.
ITV, the UK’s leading commercial terrestrial broadcaster, extended their normal late evening bulletin to cover the moment the UK left the EU, although it came across as more of an after-thought and chasing the pack, rather than a concerted effort to broadcast the event in any meaningful way.
On Channel 4, as has been their way in recent times, marked Brexit in an alternative, comedic way. Adam Hills, Josh Widdecombe and Alex Brooker hosted a special edition of their popular “The Last Leg” late night chat show.
Sky News, by a significant margin, took the night with well planned, and well executed coverage from across the country. The pinnacle of Sky News’ coverage came at the precise moment the UK exited the EU, with a giant projection onto the White Cliffs of Dover counting down, and then saying good bye to the remaining member states in each of their own languages.
A very poignant moment, marked in a way that had just the right balance in the historical scheme of things. Sky News had clearly made the decision that the image of cheering crowds in Parliament Square would not play well with 48% of the country, and that was the correct decision to make.
It wasn’t just Sky News at the Brexit-hour that puts them head-and-shoulders above the rest however, their presentation teams were on exceptional form. Even with technical difficulties clearly causing issues, those on air and behind the scenes flawlessly pulled off what was beyond any doubt, the best coverage of the night.
Meanwhile, over in the USA, with cable news and the major networks consumed with the Trump Impeachment trial, only the CBS Evening News made a fleeting mention of the fact that their partners in the “special relationship” had indeed exited from the EU.
CNN International did come belatedly to all matters brexit once their sister network CNN/US had gone into political analysis-mode, with Richard Quest and Bianca Nobilo anchoring from Downing Street, and Anna Stewart live at an event marking the occasion.
Ultimately, when it comes to summing up the night’s coverage, a few things become very clear;
1. There is a clear divide within the BBC on the subject of Brexit. The coverage by BBC News was understated and lacklustre. In contrast however, BBC Newsnight was balanced, and covered the events with at least some semblance of effort, including live pictures from Parliament Square as well as Downing Street and elsewhere.
2. ITV seem to have been caught looking on this one. Their coverage was mediocre and had the feel of something that was cobbled together at the very last minute.
3. Sky News was the stand-out performer on Brexit night, not only with its projection onto the White Cliffs of Dover, but also the breadth of its coverage as a whole.