Speaking as part of the “Journalists Speak Out on Journalism” series, Byrne discussed some of the obstacles that Channel 4 has to overcome in the reporting of the Arab Revolution. She said: “One of the challenges with the reporting of the Arab Spring is to try to keep analysing, but also to keep people interested. It’s through human stories that we will keep interesting the viewers.”
Byrne continued: “Viewers want to watch the simple story of the people rising up to overthrow the evil dictators. But when the evil dictators were overthrown or, in the case of Syria, the person who many people see as an evil dictator was not overthrown, then viewers tend to turn away because it’s all so depressing, negative and incomprehensible.”
Despite viewers switching off, this isn’t essentially a problem for Channel 4. Byrne explained: “Channel 4 is not afraid to tell a complicated story, and with more coverage than the BBC. We are not affected by viewing figures. We’re not going to bury a story because it is boring to the viewer.”
As well as Channel 4’s own reporters, Byrne demonstrated the importance of user-submitted content by showing footage of the Syrian government forces’ assault on Homs. The footage was filmed by amateur filmmakers, determined to bear witness to what was happening in the country. Commenting on the video, Byrne said: “User-submitted content is great, but we must tell the viewers that it is citizen journalism.”
In addition to user-submitted content, Byrne believe it is important to send reporters into the heart of the story. Byrne explained: “Eyewitness reporting is vital. You only see what is in front of you. It’s important to have as many eyewitnesses as possible.”
Byrne also offered some advice on producing balanced and accurate journalism. Using the UK riots as an example, Byrne said: “You’ve got to very quickly make sense of events without jumping to conclusions. If you don’t know something, don’t say it.”
She added: “I don’t think we have to be duly impartial, but we do have to be duly impartial about other people’s views.”
The Journalists Speak out on Journalism series takes place every Monday at the Jackson Lecture Theatre, University of Lincoln. Further details are available on The Linc website.