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June 19, 2024updated 04 Jul 2024 1:21pm

ITN election diary: Inside Channel 4 News on the day a rain-soaked Rishi Sunak set the date

"So much of television is logistical as well as editorial."

By Stuart McTeer

The call was early and unexpected, its message brief. “We think Rishi Sunak might call a General Election this afternoon.”

With that single sentence, my plans for a day off, on Wednesday 22 May, were scrapped as I joined colleagues who had dropped whatever else they were doing to consider how to rip up the day’s news agenda.

The rumours of an imminent election had been swirling for a while and there had been a few false alarms before. It meant that, like other news outlets, our plans had been worked on for many months and we had started briefing our staff about their roles the week before.  

We knew our presenters and on-air teams would be sent well away from London and Westminster to search out the conversations being held in communities across the country and cover them in a distinctly Channel 4 News way. It would allow analysis of the tough issues facing the next government, so our social affairs editor Jackie Long would continue her powerful work on the state of the country’s prisons, the nation’s finances would be rigorously assessed by economics correspondent Helia Ebrahimi and our health and social care editor Victoria Macdonald would dig into the challenges facing the NHS.

Debate would be at the heart of our coverage, as typified by our immigration, law and order discussion in Colchester on Tuesday (18 June). An opportunity for senior politicians from the seven major parties to have their policies challenged and assessed by an audience of voters and Krishnan Guru-Murthy.

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Alongside this, we would be hearing from voters of all ages and backgrounds. We designed programming strands to record voices in coastal towns and at locations as varied as a dance floor, a steam train and a circus. We were also looking forward to the first election in which our Leeds -based Factcheck and Data team would be deploying their statistical expertise to drill into the detail of the parties’ pledges.  

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But would this Wednesday afternoon be the moment when those plans would finally be activated? 

The Channel 4 News team at Millbank, through political editor Gary Gibbon and Westminster news editor Dani Isdale, continued to message us regular updates through the morning. Word of a Prime Ministerial podium moment was spreading, but was Rishi Sunak wavering over whether to actually press go? 

Back at our Gray’s Inn Road offices, we began the first of what would be many, many meetings to discuss which teams needed to be deployed and to where, as that night’s programme editor Jane Kinney began the unenviable task of planning for very different two programmes.  

One running order would be presented from Downing Street and cover the start of a six-week election campaign, with all the energy and expertise that our viewers on television and online would expect. The second programme reflected a very different news mix leading with the appearance of former Post Office boss Paula Vennells at the Horizon Inquiry. Equal amounts of work went into both shows, but we all knew only one of these shows would be broadcast at 7pm. 

Prime Minister’s Question Time in the Commons came and went with expectations rising, but there were no new clues. However, by the afternoon, the Westminster consensus was moving towards the view the General Election would be called in just a few hours’ time.  

Confirmation eventually came of a podium moment, allowing us to activate our plans to present that night’s programme from Downing Street. We also began discussing with Channel 4 their requirements for a newsflash to reflect the Prime Minister’s statement.

So much of television is logistical as well as editorial, so conversations with planning editor Faye Clark and head of regions Sunita Bhatti began to focus on the freelance journalists and camera crews we would book for the campaign and how many colleagues had holiday plans that would now need to change. Many, thankfully, were happy to rearrange existing arrangements so they could be part of our election coverage.  

Confirmation the election would be called came in the Prime Minister’s statement just after 5pm, finally offering certainty on a day in which there hadn’t just been Plan A, but Plans B, C, D and E.  

As Krishnan set off to present that night’s Channel 4 News from a rather soggy Downing Street, to be joined by Gary who would offer his sharp insight, our thoughts were already focussing on the days and weeks ahead and how to deliver the unique journalism that can only be found on Channel 4 News.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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  • Head of Department/Function
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Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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