“It’s almost like whoever shouts loudest wins, even if what you shout about is blatantly bollocks,” mourns ITV News’ Tom Bradby.
As the face of ITV’s flagship news programme and the moderator of ITV’s political discussion programme The Agenda – an experience he sometimes compares to “refereeing a really bad tempered football game”, Bradby is in the driving seat of television news.
“We have a lot of really high quality people,” he begins. “I am effectively a conductor, saying ‘I’ve got this brilliant cellist, this brilliant violinist.’”
The News at Ten, which recently became the 'News at 10.30', has been reimagined under Bradby’s leadership, and now, after only one year on screen it has been nominated for, and won, its first RTS award – RTS Network Presenter of the Year for Bradby.
“I really didn’t expect it. It’s very nice. Very encouraging,” he says.
The new-look News at Ten has been focused on “providing added value in the same way as something like The Economist does,” and in an effort to do that, Bradby has amassed an arsenal of heavy hitters: the Roberts (Moore and Peston), Allegra Stratton and Penny Marshall.
“If you look at the News at Ten now, I think we’ve got as intelligent, as thoughtful, as compelling a selection of correspondents as you will find on British television,” Bradby proclaims. “We’re at least at the level of the BBC and Channel 4 News, and maybe even above,” he adds proudly.
It has taken 26 years for Bradby, who joined ITN in 1990 as a trainee, to make the top job, after serving 10 years as the programme’s Political Editor. “I never wanted to be a presenter. I actually thought I’d be Political Editor until I went off and did something else outside of the industry.”
However his passion for the programme, and for ITV on the whole remains undimmed. “I think ITV News is an extraordinary thing that doesn’t get much comment,” he says. “ITV spends £50m a year – or thereabouts – on national news, and no one ever ever ever has told me what to say, what line to take.”
“I think it is a fantastic thing for democracy that there is a big commercial station with a mass audience that is an alternative to the BBC that is completely free of any kind of proprietorial or editorial interference.”
“I think democracy and British public life would be infinitely the poorer if we weren’t here,” he concludes. “Do I sound messianic again?”
It is for that reason that he is so unconcerned with resurrecting the ‘News at When’ moniker now that the programme has been shunted back an hour to make way for The Nightly Show.
Speaking before the launch of The Nightly Show, Bradby explained, “If you take as a start point that ITV News is a fantastic thing, which I do, and a really important thing for British public life, then of course the commercial health of the channel behind it is critical.”
“In this day and age, the exact time of a bulletin is less important than what kind of audience it gets. I view the new development as a bit of a win-win situation for us. If it works, we’re on later but with a steady inheritance of roughly the same kind of people every night. If it doesn’t work, then things go on as they are,” he said.
The aims of ITV as a whole are, he believes, the same as his aims for ITV News. “I think [The Nightly Show] is a clever idea, and you’ve got to give clever ideas a go. That’s what we’re trying to do here: trying to do things differently, trying to shake things up, trying to do things we really believe in,” he says.
The News at Ten, Bradby maintains, is perfectly situated to provide what is needed in an era of fast news. “Politics can be very dry and distant. One of the things that I tried to do…was talk about it in a different way.”
“I guess that felt a more arresting change than I anticipated it would.”
Although affable, anyone who has watched Bradby keep his panel of politicians in line on ITV’s The Agenda knows that he is far from a soft touch.
“What I hope the audience want is someone who is always going to be asking questions,” he explains. “That’s essentially what this job is about: having no side to you and being prepared to ask any question of anyone at any time.”
“You have an obligation to the viewers to take a no tolerance approach to people lying to you – because it’s lying to them! It’s not lying to me,” he explains.
“It’s an egregious insult to British public life when public officials lie or don’t tell the truth.”
The decisions that the public must make every five years at the polling booth are complex enough, he maintains, without public figures lying.
“Look at something like the referendum – boy, what a complex issue! You’ve got David Cameron on one side predicting World War Three practically, and the £350m claim all over a bus which is total bollocks as everyone knows. That was a really difficult judgement.”
“I think we did a creditable job refereeing that. I think that’s what the audience wants when they come to you. They know the news. They want something they can hang their hat on: is this claim fair? Is it not fair?”
Bradby was up against Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis and BBC Two’s Victoria Derbyshire in the RTS Network Presenter of the Year category at the Television Journalism Awards 2017.
“They’re both brilliant” he says. “Emily is a great and interesting presenter. She does great interviews. Victoria is think is great [too]. Every time I've seen her over the years I think she’s fantastic!”