Saturday, April 08, 2006


As journalism goes, I happen to like the BBC. I remember listening to Fergal Keane’s reports on the Rwandan genocide on the radio; being moved by the beauty he found, in the ugliest of circumstances, to bring to his reports in honour of those who had lost their lives. His remarkable book, Season Of Blood: A Rwandan Journey, is one of my all-time “you must read this” recommendations, for anyone who has ever reflected on the complexity of human nature – the good; the bad; and how we, as individuals, are impacted and shaped by the events we witness.

Clearly, not every report can compare to such high standards. But European news agencies are world-leaders in reporting global news. The roots of this go back, I think, to the same horizon-gazing outward-looking lust for geographic Discovery that led to European colonialism in the past, and global tourism today. (In contrast, American colonialism has tended to be export-economic; a far smaller proportion of the population has travelled beyond their own borders for leisure purposes; and international news coverage has a much lower profile.)

That said, Jo has been pointing-out to me an irritating trend on the BBC news lately. In the past, when a correspondent filmed an in-depth report on a current new story, to be shown, say, on Panorama, the early evening News would show an edited clip from that report and end the piece with the anchor wo/man informing the audience that they could see more on the story later that night. But more recently, the News has increasingly functioned as an advert for BBC journalism in other contexts. Last night, for example, one of the headlines was that the BBC had got an exclusive interview with one of the last remaining survivors of Hitler’s bunker. Now, fascinating social history that might be (then again, it might just be another example of raking-up voyeuristic entertainment from events that should not be forgotten but surely don’t need to be obsessed over…); but, over sixty years after the events, it isn’t news – and certainly not headline news. The News is becoming Closed-Circuit Television…

In other words, media coverage of “the news” has become the news. While news has always been reported – and, moreover, news coverage has always been “spun,” intentionally and unintentionally, on partisan and ideological grounds – this is a recent phenomenon, and an indicator of the current transitions variously described as Late/Hyper/Post-Modernism. For, when an economy has moved – as ours has – from a manufacturing/production-based economy to an information-based economy, the processing, packaging and distribution of information becomes news-worthy in-and-of-itself…Similarly, from Andrew Marr’s gesticulating arms to Nick Robinson’s geek-chic glasses (the BBC’s Political Editor regenerating, Dr Who-like, into his next incarnation), news reporters have moved from reporting events and offering speculative analysis on those events (itself an earlier development), to being a news spectacle in their own right.

Coming soon, I’m a Celebrity Correspondent, Get Me Out Of Here! [insert war zone of your choice], and Celebrity Strictly Come Reporting On Ice

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