The Chances of Anything Going to Mars

At just after 6:30 this morning, history was made. NASA landed the Curiosity rover on Mars. That was undoubtedly the biggest news that was happening live at 6:30 this morning. I don’t think any reasonable person could question that.

The people scheduling the stories that would be covered on the BBC News Channel are obviously not reasonable people.

I woke up at 6:00 fully expecting to find live pictures from NASA available somewhere on British television, When BBC Breakfast (temporarily renamed “Olympic Breakfast”) started, they spent the first five or ten minutes reviewing last night at the Olympics. The Mars landing was briefly mentioned as about the fifth item in the summary of “other news”.

“Ok,” I thought, “that’s slightly disappointing; but surely they’ll go live to NASA as the landing approaches.” I was wrong.

As Curiosity landed at 6:31, the BBC News Channel was broadcasting a local travel bulletin. It was something like fifteen minutes before they got round to showing scenes from the NASA control room.

Here’s how I watched the landing. I found the NASA live stream on my Nexus 7 and had the BBC on in the background in case the editors ever came to their senses.

I understand that the Olympics are important to the BBC. Their coverage of the  event has been outstanding. But surely the point of having a 24-hour rolling news channel is that it gives you the ability to cover big news stories as they happen. There was no new Olympic news at 6:30 this morning. We were several hours away from anything happening in any Olympic event. Surely the BBC could have taken fifteen minutes out of its flagship news channel to show live pictures of one of the year’s biggest science stories.

Over the last week, the BBC has been broadcasting 51 channels that are dedicated to the Olympics (BBC One, BBC Three, BBC One HD and twenty-four special Olympics channels that are broadcast in both SD and HD). No-one can seriously argue that the Olympics aren’t getting enough coverage. It’s very disappointing that the BBC couldn’t find fifteen minutes to give this story the coverage it deserved.

I’m a big fan of the BBC. I will defend it against any ridiculous attack that the Mail or the Sun throw at it. It’s not often that the BBC disappoints me.

But I can’t remember ever being quite as disappointed in the BBC as I am right now.

Update: Through the power of Twitter I had a brief conversation about this with Kevin Bakhurst, the controller of the BBC News Channel.

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