By Paul Charman
With rumours the BBC and Sky might close their 24-hour news operations, the spread of digital ‘fake news’ channels worldwide presented “the biggest editorial challenge of our age” according to “the face of Sky News”, Jeremy Thompson at The Media Society/London Press Club Christmas drinks gathering at the Groucho Club.
“Right now, 24-hour news is almost as much under threat as the terrestrial channels” with “rumours that the BBC may not continue its 24-hour news channels and merge them into a digital service,” the veteran Sky anchor told a packed audience as he talked about his new book “Breaking News – An Autobiography”, out this month.
“It may be a bluff but I wouldn’t be surprised if they kicked it into touch”, Thompson said referring to the “tactic by Fox/Sky to threaten to close down Sky. Things are moving incredibly rapidly. What comes next?”
‘Fake news’ had “considerable influence in the Trump election”, he recalled from his coverage, and although “misinformation and propaganda were nothing new, it can now be delivered in digital fashion around the world in seconds.
“We have a battle on our hands to retain the faith of the listening public – our journalists must continue to fight the good fight”, urged Thompson.
On career peaks in answer to Michael Cockerell, the BBC’s political documentary film maker, Thompson told how he had got to know Nelson Mandela, whom he described as “the most charismatic man I have ever known”, while covering “the biggest story of the first half if the 1990s” as South Africa underwent “the growing pangs of democracy.”
Earlier, Thompson joked that he was often mistaken for the zombie-hunting character in ‘Shaun of the Dead’, and that he did sometimes fell “like a walking museum piece” after “a career that’s been fantastically fun and a career that “no doubt a very few people will have the chance to do.”
He told how his journalism began at the Cambridge Evening News before joining BBC TV’s Look North in the early days, covering the Yorkshire Ripper story for Radio Leeds.
He recalled how he realised how new technology had arrived when he was able to transmit two hours of live broadcasting after the Paris attacks on an iPhone.
“It’s an extraordinary leap. Crews used to travel the world with cases full of gear but nowadays you can do it on a cellphone.”
Also in the audience were Carole Stone CBE and her husband Richard Lindley, the former broadcaster, Doug Wills, chair of the London Press Club and managing editor of the Evening Standard, Paul Connew, former editor of the Sunday Mirror, now a media consultant and journalist, as well as many members and directors of The Media Society and the London Press Club.