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March 2, 2023

RTS Awards: Jeremy Paxman warns of f**k all budget reporting, drug-assisted Dan Walker ribs Piers Morgan

Jeremy Paxman claimed there was "f**k all" coverage of Parliamentary debates.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Jeremy Paxman raised concerns about areas of public life that are “effectively unscrutinised” as he picked up the Outstanding Contribution Award at the RTS Television Journalism Awards on Wednesday night.

Paxman, who spent 25 years at Newsnight and who stepped down as University Challenge host last year, told the crowd of hundreds of broadcasters that “journalism matters to me and it should matter to all of us”.

But he warned there would be “f**k all” reporting of the upcoming debate on the Spring Budget and there is not enough reporting of councils and courts.

[Read more: AP’s journalism from Mariupol ‘saved tens of thousands of civilians’, RTS Awards hear]

Paxman said journalism was the “perfect career for the flibbertigibbet mind. One minute you know all about the British PSBR. The next you’re an expert on Central Africa. You don’t of course know anything much about anything but luckily most of the time you’re only up against people who know even less. I’m referring of course to Ministers of the Crown.

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“Journalism is the ideal career for anyone with a smattering of curiosity. I’ve never been able to look at anything without wondering why it’s the way it is and if you have the same problem you’ll do well in our trade. That and a love of words… But, my friends, something has gone wrong.”

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He referred to an incident in which a young person told him they wanted his job, and when pressed whether they meant the interviewing or the University Challenge they said “I don’t care. I just want to be on television”.

Paxman said this “floored me”. “There is no denying that the tube offers reassurances you are alive. But to treat it as such, like a blood pressure machine, is a bit of a waste. People want to have a career in television they ought to want to use it.

“Large areas of life now – court proceedings and council meetings are two obvious ones that are effectively unscrutinised. Even debates in Parliament are barely recorded. We shall have the budget in a couple of weeks’ time – there’ll be two days set aside for the debate in Parliament and there’ll be fuck all reporting on it. If politicians can get away with… maintain[ing] that white is black, they will do so.

“I like to think of a reporter on a beach rockpooling with a shrimping net. The moment that the child casts its shadow on a rock pool you can see crabs scurrying for their shelters all over the pool, back into the shelter. Public life is a bit like that and there are far too many pools in which crabs are free to gobble up whatever fish or crustaceans they like. It matters and we will suffer for it.

“The excuse ‘that isn’t what we meant’ won’t do. Journalism matters to me and it should matter to all of us.”

5 News and former BBC Breakfast presenter Dan Walker presented the awards despite having “nearly died” just over a week earlier when he was knocked off his bike. He had not yet returned to his 5 News duties, but made it through the RTS awards as he was “up to my eyeballs” on drugs. “My face hurts,” he said. “I can’t feel my lips.”

Walker used the opportunity to revive his former rivalry with Piers Morgan, with whom he often sparred online over ratings when they presented BBC Breakfast and ITV’s Good Morning Britain respectively.

5 News presenter Dan Walker at the RTS Television Journalism Awards 2023
5 News presenter Dan Walker at the RTS Television Journalism Awards 2023. Picture: RTS/Richard Kendal

Morgan, who left GMB after walking off set when weather presenter Alex Beresford’s criticised his comments about Meghan Markle, has now moved on to present an evening show on TalkTV.

Walker said: “I’ve lost all my inhibitions. It could be a fun night everybody, okay. I’d like to apologise in advance for anything that I might say that is near the knuckle. My idea of where the knuckle is has completely changed within the last ten days.

“To give you an idea of my mental state, let me put it this way: if a weather presenter were to question me in any way, shape, or form, I’m liable to storm off stage in an enormous huff. I might even go as far as to start a new TV channel based entirely on my ego, which no-one will watch.”

Meanwhile outgoing head of Sky News John Ryley, who will step down this spring after 17 years, told the crowd “change is good. Innovate or die.”

He was collecting the News Channel of the Year award with almost 40 Sky News colleagues joining him on stage, including newly appointed managing director and executive editor Jonathan Levy, director of content Cristina Nicolotti Squires, political editor Beth Rigby, chief correspondent Stuart Ramsay, special correspondent Alex Crawford, presenter Mark Austin and correspondent Inzamam Rashid.

Ryley said: “Wherever you work, whatever your organisation, you should be really proud to work for British television news. Wherever you work, whatever your organisation, you should be proud of the professionalism and courage of the way British television news has reported the war in Ukraine.

“And wherever you work, whatever organisation you’re in, it is time to change. Remember, this: change is good. Innovate or die.”

Head of Sky News John Ryley at the RTS Television Journalism Awards 2023
Head of Sky News John Ryley at the RTS Television Journalism Awards 2023. Picture: RTS/Richard Kendal

Sky News also won Network Television Journalist of the Year for Stuart Ramsay, who was shot during an ambush on his team in Ukraine near the start of the war last year.

The BBC was the big winner of the night, with ten wins including Network Daily News Programme of the Year for News at Ten, Network Presenter of the Year for Clive Myrie, News Coverage – International for its work in Ukraine, and Network Interview of the Year for Steve Rosenberg’s head-to-head with Belarus president Lukashenko.

ITV News won three awards for its work on Partygate – home news coverage, scoop, and political journalist for Paul Brand.

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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.
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