Normal service will be resumed shortly. In the meantime watch this kitten playing with a ball of wool.
The climax to BBC2’s The Hour sees the idealistic young journalist, Freddie Lyons, make an impassioned plea for public debate and the right to question political leaders. These things he sees as integral to a healthy democracy. And he is not wrong.
But as Freddie speaks directly to camera, during a live broadcast, the show is abruptly censored by his superiors, who literally pull-the-plug on him, leaving television screens all over the nation showing the apparently reassuring message that ‘normal service will be resumed shortly’. With nothing else to broadcast the BBC switch to an ‘interlude’ of a kitten playing on a chair.
The Hour is a drama about a pioneering news and current affairs programme struggling to provide accurate news coverage, comment and opinion in the stifling atmosphere of 1950s Britain during the Suez Crisis. In essence it’s a story about the heroism of journalists and media producers, but it all appears a little self-aggrandising given that the BBC and many other media outlets frequently leave us staring, metaphorically, at the cat playing on the chair and the promise of normal service to be resumed.
I’m going to offer a gross generalisation here but I think it’s called for: most of what is broadcast and printed is fucking atrocious and it is poisoning the democracy that The Hour’s Freddie Lyons stands up for. We saw this recently with the inclusion of David Starkey on a Newsnight panel to discuss the recent riots in English cities.
Nothing qualified Starkey to appear on the programme other than his ability to guarantee controversy. He brought no insight to the debate and indeed he served only to mystify the issues; his idiotic comments subsequently taking up more time that they deserved on the show and for days afterwards. But it’s not really Starkey who deserves a kicking over this: it’s the wanker who thought it appropriate to invite him on to Newsnight in the first place.
If Starkey was there purely for his value as ‘good TV’ then we must conclude that in the midst of a serious crisis Newsnight forsook public debate for a bit of Punch ‘n’ Judy. I think it’s symptomatic of how the media are increasingly disinterested in the real world of things and institutions and people and social relationships, and instead pre-occupied with media ‘product’, which is something that the real world is refracted through and then obliged to adjust to. I’ve seen it first-hand.
Occasionally I get invited to comment in the media about one thing or another and I’m always struck by how apparently disinterested broadcasters are in the actual content of their output. To be honest, I’ve been invited to speak about things that I have no real knowledge or expertise about, but being a bit of a media-whore I always say yes. I’m surprised that I get away with this, but I do, because it really doesn’t matter what I say once on air, providing I don’t curse or cause obvious offence (only well-established controversialists like David Starkey get to do that). The bottom line is that as long as I can talk and there are no embarrassing silences – no ‘dead-air’ – then it doesn’t matter too much what I say. The interviewer isn’t really listening. I’ve been tempted to recite The Lord’s Prayer, or a shopping list, or deliver the shipping forecast in reply to some inane question, just to see if anyone in the studio would notice, which I doubt.
In short, it seems we’ve reached a crisis point where the media is staffed by people who are skilled in filling up a massive and expanding range of media, and do so with noise, nonsense and bullshit. The priority is not to inform, educate and entertain but simply to keep the noise turned on at all costs.
So here are a few proposals that might return the media to the sort of democratic ambitions so eloquently expressed by Freddie Lyons.
1. Let’s have less media – especially, do away with 24 hour news.
2. Expertise and specialist knowledge are a premium – why should anyone be commenting or reporting on issues about which they know fuck all. Just because you can talk uninterrupted shit in front of a microphone for two hours a day doesn’t mean you should.
3. End the practice of temporary and unpaid work. Get people into positions, keep them there and let them learn how to do the job properly.
4. Don’t employ media studies graduates for anything but the most menial tasks!
Okay, the last one’s a bit harsh. But term starts soon and I’m getting my revenge in early…