Raging Against the World

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What has happened to the News these days?

I grew up with the BBC.  In my upbringing you were either a BBC house or an ITV house.  You chose your allegiance and stuck to it loyally.  Magpie?  Ugh, no, Blue Peter.  Tiswas?  Give me Swap Shop any day. 

It was also the way with news.  You’d pick ITN or BBC News.  In those days of course it made no difference which side you chose to watch your news except the hour.  9 O’clock for BBC, News at Ten for ITV.  The content was equally impressive.  The reporters had facts and would make damn sure you got them.  The presenter would be very knowledgeable and could interview anyone with ruthless efficiency and counter any politician’s evasion.

As Channel 4 came along ITN would do their news too.  You now had three great newsgathering/reporting channels.  Quality reigned.

But that was the past.   ITN have been going downhill since Alastair Stewart became Trevor McDonald’s stand-in.  He’s been the tabloid champion of ITN ever since McDonald started resting on his laurels and accepting himself as a news titan.  McDonald, keen to retain his crown, stuck with ITN as they became more and more the British equivalent to Fox News.  A typical ITN broadcast consists of shouting about the things that will frighten their viewers.  Be afraid!  Everyone’s trying to harm you, says ITN.  Watch us and we’ll keep telling you what THEY are trying to do to YOU.  It’s the TV equivalent of the Daily Telegraph.

You could always rely on BBC News to remain unbending and unbiased.  So much so that throughout the 90s they were consistently under attack from the Conservative Government who wished that they’d just stop questioning everything they did.  Why was the BBC standing up to the Government instead of being a mouthpiece for propaganda?  Look, here’s John Gummer feeding his child a burger.  See?  The meat is safe, that’s why we set up this for the cameras!  Just do our oublicity for us!

But BBC news has finally crumbled.  A new style is dominating, where reporters are telling you what to think and using more and more tabloid style bullying against those it would once report on fairly.  It may be as a result of the strife under the previous Tory government where it seemed that their backs were against the wall and real trouble was about to happen.  They got away with it then, now they seem to be on the side of the current government.

The recent student protests in London have been a glaring example.  The first major day of protest saw police, for once, not being heavy-handed and oppressive.  They were performing rather wonderfully, the minimum of force used and no serious damage.  Some protesters got a bit out of hand as will always happen in these events, a very small group of protestors pushed, shoved and some minor punches thrown.  The police dealt with the strongest disrupters and left the main mass of peaceful protestors alone.

But as some large windows were smashed at Conservative Central Office, the BBC chose to hype the violence.  It would show what was happening live, two images side-by-side.  They captioned it “Live” so that you could see it was happening Now.  The casual viewer would be appalled at the disturbing behaviour of the students.

Until they paid attention and saw the same things happening again and again.  If you paid attention you’d notice that the things on the right-hand side of the screen were a continual loop of the violence footage.  The left-hand side was the Live footage, not both sides as they wished you to believe.

As it got dark it became obvious that the footage on the right, in broad daylight, couldn’t possibly be live footage and the caption was changed to be more honest.  But by then the damage was done.  People assumed the students had been rioting for hours instead of literally a bit of pushing and shoving.    A fire had been lit outside in the street, presumably to keep the students warm in the freezing November temperatures.  Students were burning their placards as the only source of flammable material they had.  Somewhere a big pink flare had gone off, visually very captivating.  

So the BBC used the flames and smoke to hype up what was going on.  ‘It’s a WAR ZONE!  It’s chaos and destruction!’ was the rhetoric of the reporters, despite the fact that if you looked closely the students were mostly standing still, perhaps a bit of surging now and again.  The end result was a few broken windows.  Not enough to justify outrage.

The ‘riots’ have continued over the following weeks.  The Police have reverted to type faced with attacks from politicians.  They have now taken to jostling the students and the new horror of Kettling has arrived.  What this means is penning students into a small area where they are not allowed to leave until late at night where the freezing December temperatures are meant to dampen their spirits until the News at Ten has finished for the night.

The BBC and ITN have again done the misleading editing footage trick, showing the horrible students being horrible to the lovely kind befuddled policemen.  If you watched the Rachel Maddow show in the US the only footage you saw was of a policeman being pulled from his horse and another with an arm in a sling.  This footage was ‘helpfully’ provided by ITN.  I’d be surprised if the other news channels in the US saw anything different.  It’s hype, pure and simple.

If you were on Twitter however, you’d see the other side.  People in the demonstrations telling you what’s really happening.  Talk of the police’s horse charge was vehemently denied by the Police.  Until the Youtube video showed up proving that a group of peaceful ‘kettled’ protestors being suddenly without warning, charged.  The police changed their story to ‘a gentle walk’ and the news media lapped it up like they lapped up George Bush’s ever-changing “why we invaded Iraq” rhetoric. 

In 1994, the radio show On The Hour transferred to the BBC 2 show The Day Today.  One of the more memorable sketches showed the presenter bullying a feckless charity fundraiser who’d got famous people to make pots of jam.  In it his tone changes to a bully, telling her how pathetic she is until she starts crying.  It seemed absurd at the time, but 16 years later we have a BBC news presenter bullying a disabled man suffering from cerebral palsy who’d been dragged from his horse by aggressive police.

Starting with the weasel-word “appear” to the disgraceful question asked at 2 minutes 11 seconds in this is an appalling treatment of an interviewee.

The police are about to wheel out water cannons against the next (pardon the pun) wave of protestors.  In a usage of water cannons in Germany a man’s eye was pushed out of it’s socket.  In another protest the water was laced with chemicals which made peoples’ skin peel.  Expect the news to treat the forthcoming usage as nothing more than a bit of a soak with some water, like a fun day out at Alton Towers.

We live in a world where the BBC News 24 channel will spend all day on the Michael Jackson funeral concert instead of reporting news.  This is dumbing down all of us and I hope you are appalled.