Here is not the news

28 September, 2015 (20:58) | All articles | By: Stuart Fraser

WHAT has become of journalism?

Large swathes of it has been killed by money-men, and not very competent money-men at that, of course. Every time they cut back, they lose readers and business, but the loss of readers and business that follows every cutback comes, each time, as the most amazing surprise to the accountants.

But that’s a subject for another day. What’s getting my goat is the way broadcast journalism, already dumbed-down beyond belief, is forgetting what journalism is supposed to be.

They did it again this morning, on the Today programme, which once-proud institution has become radio’s equivalent of Good Morning with Richard and Judy.

For the better part of half an hour the new shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, answered questions with straight answers and tried to explain his position. The second – the split second – he stopped speaking, the presenter turned to the BBC’s political editor and asked her what she thought of what he’d said.

Dear God. For years now I’ve screamed at the TV or the radio: ‘It doesn’t matter what she thinks, she’s there to report the news, not tell us what she thinks.

‘I’ve just heard the man speak, I can decide for myself what I thought of it. I don’t need her bloody opinion. Who the fuck is she anyway?’

But this is what passes for news today. Journalists are celebrities who are invited to give us opinion as fact, live on TV every night. Poor Nick Robinson, Laura Kuenssberg’s predecessor as the BBC’s political editor, got into terribly hot water over this, especially in Scotland. (He was a Young Conservative, you see, and Conservatives are about as welcome in Scotland as Welshmen in an English rugby club).

And it’s not a political point – the same treatment is meted out to right and left, though the left has to grit its teeth while the usual tired old clichés are obediently repeated.

In the left’s case, it doesn’t help that these purveyors of opinion are completely baffled by Corbyn: so institutionalised have these journalists become that they can’t quite grasp the essential simplicity of what he’s saying: I’ve been elected on these principles; I’m now going to come up with policy proposals based on them, in consultation with my party; when these policy suggestions are ready, I’m going to ask our membership to decide whether they should become party policy.’

I suppose everybody’s become so used to policy being handed down by focus groups, PR consultants, marketing departments and, in the case of the Conservatives, whichever corporation has bought the latest initiative, that this ‘democracy’ thing has become challenging.

But the central point is this, and it’s serious: the BBC isn’t there to tell us what its staff think; the BBC is there to tell us what’s happening, and moreover, do it in an unbiased manner.

There are plenty of places to look for opinion – this blog, for example. But the broadcast news, watched or listed to by millions, produced by our independent public service broadcaster, is emphatically not the place for opinion.


I’m disappointed none of you – apart from dear Brother Fiddle – had the cojones to talk cojones, in our little tribute to David Cameron and Pig-gate.

In fact, I was sat beside Brother Pictures while he read it, and he said ‘no no no’ aloud.  The Coconut Eating Crab knows what he must have done with his to prompt such a reaction.

Nevertheless, the forum is still open for anybody brave enough to reveal ‘the worse place upon which I intruded my manhood’.

Meanwhile, I notice that Mr Cameron has now insisted he did not place his little pink todger into a dead pig’s mouth, which means one of two things: either he did not place his little pink todger into a dead pig’s mouth; or one of his very rich chums has bought the negatives.

Anybody but…

Thanks to my Scottish heritage, I’ve always been a member of rugby union’s ABE Club (Anybody But England), so you can imagine how pleased I was at Wales’s great escape on Saturday night in the World Cup.

This was tempered, however, by having to turn out Page 1 and 3 of the following morning’s Sunday Independent, bearing reaction to the outcome of the match, to a very tight print deadline which effectively meant the pages had to be finished a scant few minutes after the final whistle.

So, as old hacks, Brother Pictures and I employed the Queen Mum Convention: get it ready beforehand. (I wrote obituaries of, or edited memorial supplements about, the Queen Mum for a good 20 years before the Grim Reaper finally found a way past the gin fizzing in the old girl’s bloodstream).

The QMC usually serves us well, but not with a rugby game like that with the result in doubt right until the final second.

When we finally pressed the green button, we’d done at least four separate versions of two pages, starting with England romping to victory, continuing with England clinching victory after a spirited Welsh fightback; moving swiftly on to England getting away with a narrow win thanks to Wales running out of players; and finally, by now a gibbering wreck, finishing with England snatching defeat from the jaws of victory while Wales called up the cleaning lady to cover at full back.

If I wasn’t a member of the ABE club beforehand, that very stressful little interlude would have made me one.

And we have to do it all again next Saturday. I think I’ll start with ‘England comeback saves their bacon’, and anything else will be a bonus.



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