Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Media: Better off without


It has been a very very long time since I received any television channels. I don't feel I'm missing out on anything. It's certainly not useful for news or analysis and from what I see vomited on to Twitter, it gets worse all the times. I think the rot started when newsreaders exchanged their desks for sofas, losing any sense of seriousness or formality.

Particularly loathsome is the rise of the anchor person, spawning a new breed of A-lister lobby hacks and pundits who continually try to make themselves the centre of the story. They're smug, smarmy, condescending, out of touch and their output is inane.

There has long been a debate about media bias. I was once part of the anti-BBC crowd complaining of pro-EU bias. Undoubtedly there is an institutional pro-EU bias but that is born of its more serious metropolitan bias. As it happens I'm not that bothered by it anymore. You can take or leave it and I choose to leave it - and encourage others to do the same.

Where the media is most problematic is its inanity. I can tolerate the bias because I, like most, have my own system of critical faculties and my own opinions derived independently from book learning through to lived experience. What bothers me is the low quality. Instead of informed debate we get uninformed debate between the two polar extremes of any given issue where usually both sides are parroting carefully crafted slogans and factoids without challenge, largely because the interviewers tend to be empty vessels who have never worked outside of London and have never worked outside of media.

As much as the make up of the media is wrong, being largely Londoncentric, it wouldn't actually matter if you moved them all out to Manchester. They still exist within a bubble of their own making. The fundamental problem is their arrogance believing that viewers are incapable of grasping nuanced debates, and don't have the attention span to absorb in depth exploration of issues. Everything is fighting for a sliver of air time where we get only surface level discussion where they even manage to get the basics wrong.

What pisses me off the most, though, is that our A-list hacks are complete wastrels. By way of having privileged access to politicians they have repeated opportunities to ask intelligent, probing questions that could easily show the politicians up as being out of their depth, lacking a clue, and dishonest. Instead they play their own inane little "gotcha" games that the public are sick of, failing to add anything of value and leaving people no better informed for it.

We saw this during Brexit where the media was more interested in the soap opera than the actual issues. Journos didn't have the first idea what the difference between a customs union and the single market was, but had they even half a clue, they would have understood the implications of what they were being told which would have generated more and better questions that could have steered us to a viable, sustainable outcome.

With Corona we see more of the same, with the focus on PPE and human interest stories, unable to interrogate vents intelligently - when they could have asked why Corona was being allowed into hospitals when we had Nightingale hospitals up and running and ready to take patients. Effective media has the power to change government policy yet here we are some weeks into the lockdown and the government is only just getting to grips with the basics with the media lagging behind.

As it happens I don't think the media can be reformed. It cannot reclaim the seriousness it once had. With media now being an internet driven partisan battleground, and with a media unable to bring any depth to the issues, the media itself has become a participant in our politics but one that is largely concerned with its own brand prominence. It's not going to improve until news consumers vote with their feet.

But here we have a problem. There is presently some public pushback. It has not gone unnoticed that the media is dire over the course of Corona. But I don't think it's genuine. They'd be happy with a fawning and subservient media that told them what they like to hear. The right on Twitter seem to regard it impudent to question government at all. They are no more interested in an effective media than the media themselves.

I don't know if it's the lockdown that has changed my habits but lately I'm not even interested in Twitter news. Good analysis is rare as hen's teeth and the questions I have remain unanswered. If I want answers I'm going to have to get them myself. I certainly have no interest in the opinions of Twitter denizens and I'm not interested in playing by their rules in what is essentially a sordid popularity contest among insular tribes who are barely even aware of each other.

The only news yesterday of any particular interest to me was the release of a new set of Notices to Stakeholders, which I will revisit over the next week, but that came to me by way of a mailshot from the EU Commission. It seems I just don't need the media and I suspect a great many more don't either. We are better off without them. Whatever function it serves, it isn't news.

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