Saturday 2 January 2016


Matthew Parris of the Times - and BBC Radio 4 - isn't usually the sort to accuse the BBC of being biased. 

His thought-provoking piece in today's Times, however, makes a few criticisms of the BBC along the way.

(It was prompted by an interview he took part in with one of Today's guest presenters, the severely disabled Lady Campbell...not to be confused with Lady Colin Campbell from I'm a Celebrity.)

Here's a short extract:
There’s an easy, lazy habit into which (especially) our news media and (particularly) the BBC have slipped during my lifetime. We make an identifiable, flesh-and-blood individual — a “victim” — the centrepiece of any report on questions of social policy and public spending. The victim — the social housing tenant whose elderly mother will be unable to visit if he loses his spare room; the flood victim who has lost everything; the mobility-impaired mother calling for buses adapted expensively to her needs — are presented as cases in point. They make appealing witnesses. The audience’s sympathies are engaged on the side of the victim. 
A politician is then interviewed and repeatedly and aggressively asked what he or she is going to do about it, why they didn’t make provision for it, and how they can live with themselves in the knowledge of it. We may be given a picture of the politician’s own comfortable circumstances. The audience’s sympathy for the victim turns to anger against the politician. Nobody points out that it is not the politician’s own money the victim is asking for, but the audience’s. 
Something approaching a media convention has arisen, that the interviewer or reporter doesn’t beat up the complainant, but only the politician. On the BBC’s Question Time panel I once contemplated asking a wheelchair-bound member of the audience who (to applause) was berating a (Labour) minister on the underfunding of the NHS, why she had been smoking in the car park twenty minutes previously — but I thought better of it, probably wisely.
The media interviewer who grills the politician on the government’s housing priorities wouldn’t dream of asking the social housing tenant why he doesn’t go to visit his elderly mother rather than demand the right for her to stay with him. I have yet to see a roving reporter interview the drunks clogging up an A&E department and demanding to know what right they have to prolong the wait of everyone else. To ask a flood victim whether they’d thought of the risk when buying a house on an estate that has flooded often before would seem below the belt.
That's a very interesting series of points - and the ones about the media and, above all the BBC, are spot on...

...but I suspect I'm not alone in being a bit uncomfortable with his main point - whilst, at the same time, both understanding and largely agreeing with it!...

...the idea that the media, especially the BBC, should 'go after' those without power as much as those with power would ring alarm bells with most people - so it's a good thing former MP Matthew Parris isn't actually saying that. 

What he's actually saying, as I read it, is that the difference in treatment shouldn't be quite so stark or quite so rigid as it now is, with no questioning whatsoever of those without power - especially if those without power have behaved irresponsibly, and particularly if they then go on to demand that their fellow countrymen compensate them for the rotten fruits of their own irresponsibility (out of public taxation). 

I can't remember quite where I read something the other day but it was an online report on one of the top UK media outlets (not the BBC, but possibly Sky). The story involved a Lancashire man with a megaphone going to a neighbouring village and  yelling about the lack of media attention and government assistance he felt his own village had received during the recent floods (in comparison to other villages nearby)....

....a reasonable point (if true, as it appeared to be)...

...except that he then went on to demand that the government - i.e. the taxpaying British public - should cough up the money to compensate him, despite him (as the report mentioned in passing towards the very end of the article finally mentioned) not having any home insurance!

Many a deeply unsympathetic commenter below the line at that website pointed out that the man with the megaphone had brought his own financial losses on himself by fecklessly choosing not to take out home insurance. He'd done nothing to help himself, they said, so why should he expect us - people who do pay our house insurance and our taxes  - to pay for his fecklessness?

And those commenters, however 'below the belt' it might seem to others, were entirely correct about that, weren't they? The man was deeply remiss in opting not to take out insurance, wasn't he? If he'd paid a few hundred pounds each year to protect himself, his family and his property he wouldn't be in the financial mess he's now in, would he?

Yet would the BBC or Sky ever point that out? Ever challenge the man over that? 

Shouldn't they be doing so?

It is a good question, I think.

1 comment:

  1. Except for the cigarette, Matthew - with his newly untidy hair, vague beard and unexpectedly aged look - bears a slight resemblance to Jeremy Corbyn there, don't you think?

    I just thought I'd point that out. Someone needed to.


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