Thursday, 17 June 2010

Dumb and dumber BBC

SOMEONE really needs to get a grip on standards at the BBC.
In an increasingly complex and multi-faceted media world there is surely a place for a state-sponsored (but not controlled) broadcaster which is not totally focussed on commercial considerations.
Without the profit imperative, the BBC ought to focus on its Unique Selling Point: Quality. Instead it just gets dumber.
What evidence do I present? I will give just three examples: The World Cup, Springwatch and the News.
The quality of football at the World Cup has been a little disappointing, but that is nothing to the standard of the reporting. We sort of expect ITV and the satellite channels to be riddled with hyperbole.
But the BBC is just as guilty of talking up the latest genius of the beautiful game, who turns out to be incapable of kicking a ball, or catching one if a goalkeeper.
This interpretation relies on being able to understand what the pundits are saying. Over the years I have just about learned to translate the Scottish burr of Alan Hansen. But his English is crystal clear compared to Emmanuel Adebayor, the Togolese professional footballer who plays as a striker for Manchester City in the Premier League.
I am lost in admiration for the fact that he can babble on about a specialist subject like football in what is probably his third language. I couldn’t begin to match this feat.
But that is not the point. The point is that his accent is indecipherable.
In a desperate bid to get away from the World Cup, I switched over this week to watch Springwatch, which ought to be full of fluffy, cute creatures battling with tooth and claw to get a grip on life.
Instead it is full of the ridiculous twitterings and obscene gestures of Kate Humble and Chris Packham. When Packham first took over from Bill Odie he appeared quiet, knowledgeable and very much the junior partner to the veteran presenter Humble.
How the roles have reversed. She has gone from alpha female to whimpering, eye-lash fluttering, and archetype dumb blonde. He has become domineering, intrusive and outlandishly arrogant. He was actually massaging Kate’s thighs when I switched over. If I was Mr Humble I would be very concerned.
We were promised an explanation of the wonderful variety of flies and instead were given a token, short and largely uninstructive couple of minutes on flies, with large chunks of the hour-long show devoted to inane padding.
Even the normally worthy Simon King, who was undersea off Dorset, was reduced to buying crustaceans off the local fisherman to justify his expensive scuba-diving. Local sea creatures seemed to be keeping well away from the BBC cameras. How wise of them.
The BBC news, once so respected round the world, just goes from bad to worse. There was a headline introduction this week saying President Obama had compared the BP oil spill off Florida to the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Centre twin towers.
I was just un-dropping my jaw about his stupidity at mixing up a tragic accident which killed 11 people with a deliberate act of sabotage that wiped out more than 3,000, when the story started.
Of course he did no such thing. He said that the oil spill was to the environment what 9-11 was to terrorism, in that it was a multi-site event that would take a long time to deal with. That is not the same thing at all.
So BBC, when the cuts come your way, stop worrying about technology, and ratings, and hyperbole. Instead focus on standards, and accuracy, and helping the nation wise up, not dumb down.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Unholy trinity: Public, police and the media

NEWS today that Derrick Bird was followed by three police officers as he pursued his trail of death through the streets of Whitehaven and surrounding villages will no doubt ensure that media interest will continue.
Together with the opening of inquests into the thirteen deaths, there will be renewed impetus to the coverage, which will upset those residents of West Cumbria who want an end to the focus on such a distressing and negative view of their beloved area.
The three-way relationship between the local population, the police and the media is always a strained and complex one.
When the rampage started last Wednesday, there was a very real need for the media to pass on the message from the police that a dangerous gunman was on the loose. Great swathes of the Lake District were warned to take cover, which in such a large area in such a short time, could only be achieved with the help of professional communicators.
After Mr Bird was found dead at Boot, the media interest was roused by the scale and sheer bemusement at his awful deeds.
The speculation by the national dailies was about his parents’ will; his relationship with the more successful twin who was best friends with the family solicitor; his resentment at taking the Lion’s share of the care of his ailing mother; and his strained relationship with certain fellow cabbies.
The speed with which the media picked up on these details and reported them in an even-handed and amazingly accurate manner were all to the credit of the standard of reporting.
It was aided by the people of West Cumbria who are largely a helpful and uncynical bunch. They shared the need to know what on earth had happened to the psyche of one of their own.
This was obvious on the day after the events when I was helping a team from the National Broadcasting Corporation to understand and interpret what had happened for their American audience.
They had sent a team of five to Whitehaven and spent half a day compiling their one-minute report for breakfast TV, updating for lunch and knowing that by the evening news it would be swamped by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
They had two challenges. The first was the need to sub-title the West Cumbrian accents. The second was the lack, as they saw it, of help from the police.
In the land of the first amendment they have come to expect total and immediate co-operation from the law enforcers. Why wouldn’t the police confirm names? Why wouldn’t they give interviews outlining the innermost details of Bird’s life? Why no CCTV film or photographs of the actual shootings to broadcast live?
It has been a feature of the events of the last five days that the media has seemed to be at least one step ahead of the police.
But this isn’t really fair. The police have different priorities: gathering cast iron evidence; care for the victims; ensuring health and safety of the public to name just a few.
The media just wanted news, although their part in helping the wider community come to terms with what had happened was no less valuable.
By the time the Sunday newspapers came out, it was difficult to know what they could add to the story. But there were several genuine exclusive angles: Notably the Sunday People’s exposure of Bird’s failed relationship with a Thai girlfriend; and the Sunday Telegraph’s revelation that he had spent the night before his rampage watching a violent film and wondering about his own mental condition.
And so it goes on. Whitehaven and the rest of the area probably wish it was all over and they could return to carry on their lives.
But Derrick Bird’s actions were so extreme, morbid fascination with why he flipped so spectacularly is unlikely to end any time soon.