“Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.”
– Rudyard Kipling
Television and radio news programming, just like newspapers, ought to inform their audience. As a minimum requirement, the media should endeavour to tick such a box. That journalism is a gig with many frustrations is hardly this trade’s sole preserve. And let’s face it, we’re not nearly as precious as we might sometimes perceive ourselves to be. Staying true to the tenets instilled in me from an early age in journalism: to decry sensationalism, to seek out both sides of an argument (even if arguments are imbalanced) and to write clearly and simply, has served me pretty well over the past 19 years. If, for whatever reason, you’re interested in what I think, then this is the only page in this particular section where I’ll share my opinion: my own view on the events of the week have no place on any page labelled ‘News’.
In my 14 months presenting two shows on WLR, a job I enjoyed enormously but couldn’t maintain due to a lack of hours in the day, I strove to leave my opinion outside of the studio. As far as I was concerned, I was there to ask my interviewees questions, then retreat from the microphone, listen (as if I was tuning into the show myself) and let the guests talk. I didn’t feel I was there to cut off a guest, to kick off an argument or to take my lead from a listener’s provocative text message or Tweet, the provenance of which I couldn’t verify with absolute certitude. Nobody in a broadcasting context can, for that matter. And quite why radio programmes increasingly devote such credence to text message ‘opinionistas’ escapes me because here’s the scoop: the vast majority of radio listeners never, ever, text in. They listen and that appears to be enough for them.
Those who text or Tweet into radio programmes don’t have to give any consideration to the Broadcasting Act or, with a print sensibility in mind, the guidelines laid down by The Press Ombudsman.
Journalists have a responsibility to, well, be responsible, and that includes filtering deliberately loaded, inaccurate and even offensive texts, reminiscent of the guff one hears from the end of the bar at the crusty end of a night out. So why give oxygen to ignorant comment? From the journalist’s perspective, even when posting on social media, there has to be a professional sensibility applied to a form of communication which may be more widely read than any work of theirs which may have taken hours or even days to piece together.
Which is why I am astounded that fellow professionals working at a much higher level than I have ever operated in are now routinely entertaining unqualified clickbaiters on national television and radio with little if any expertise on the issues they’re spouting about. The accents and communities which Vincent Browne regularly brought onto his TV3 programme (a slot greatly diminished in his absence) which, until then, had been largely the preserve of ‘gritty’ TV dramas, have largely disappeared again.
In part, they’ve been replaced by people whose reputations have been largely established by their own online provocation, most of which is entirely devoid of depth or reason – and for the life of me I cannot understand why they’re being tapped into. The platform that national media continues to provide some of these chancers is inexcusable and represents an insult to the intelligence of the watching audience. One can only hope that diminished viewership figures might lead TV producers in particular back towards delivering genuine insight, considered analysis and reasoned argument. Someone who genuinely believes the universe was created in six days does not deserve equal column inches or airtime as a NASA official who can, on the basis of painstaking research, estimate that it’s at least 13 billion years old. Evidence and fact ought to be pre-eminent.
As for the supposed ‘outrage’ over the lyrics of certain Christmas songs, there are a great many things in the world worth getting offended over, but for me, Christmas songs do not rank among them. And if you don’t like a song, don’t call for its banning: just turn the dial. Remember, most of us still have the choice that’s denied everyone working in retail at this particular time of the year.
Nobody but the most vain, self-indulgent and self-obsessed journalist would declare themselves as the supreme tribune of social and civic virtue. However, as Jamaica Kincaid put it: “The truth is important, but it’s a certain kind of truth.” If anyone in this business reminds themselves of this maxim on a regular basis, then hopefully they’ll stay the journalistic course and remember how important it is to remain compassionate and how important it is to listen. The ignorant flat earthers who have found a cosy echo chamber in the internet, some of whom have bizarrely morphed into TV talk show panellists, simply aren’t worthy of our attention. Yes, news can be hard work at times but it sure beats pedalling nonsense and passing it off as some form of truth. A war on bullshit needs waging.