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WHATEVER NEXT?

18-04-2007

Lynn Hawthorne on how the strange and sometimes insensitive ordering of news items can cause offence.

I’ve always been a staunch defender of the BBC and a loyal viewer: I naturally turn to BBC1 and BBC2, rather than any other channel. I prefer the style and feel that I am guaranteed a level of quality and intelligence. However, with the current ‘dumbing down’ debate, I am no longer sure.

Programmes like Castaway have moved away from their anthropological study brief to one of puerile reality game show and soaps take up more and more air time. Newsreaders no longer have a calm and measured approach, such as the magnificent Moira Stuart, but gabble and fail to pause between news items, so that I cannot tell where one sentence ends and another begins. The relentless drive to pack in as much meaningless drivel as possible seems paramount.

But there is another more disturbing feature I have noticed recently: the curious, even downright insensitive, juxtaposition of news stories.

Take BBC Breakfast on Wednesday 11th April. It featured two remarkable young men who were caught up in the Asian Tsunami. Without any thought for their own safety, they rescued a child and a young person in a wheelchair.

Having anticipated a huge wave from the earthquake they felt, they were mentally prepared to guide people to higher ground to escape the rising water levels. They then helped other people caught up in the tragedy.

They seemed self-effacing, claiming anyone would have done the same under the circumstances, and instead drew attention to the continued plight of the indigenous population, who still live in make-shift shelters, under tarpaulin, and have little or no access to medical aid or even basic sanitation.

To their credit, the young men have set up an aid foundation and intend to return to the region this summer. A heart-warming story to restore your faith in the nature of young people and a timely reminder that the situation in that area of the world is by no means back to normal.

And what was the next item on the programme? The rise in popularity of camping holidays. I ask you! It seems that the jolly middle classes have discovered that they can take their tribe, the dog and even the husband on even more jolly holidays than usual at a fraction of the cost of motoring in their 4x4’s to Tuscany. They can recreate the adventures of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five by living under canvas and having a cordon bleu barbeque and it can all be such jolly fun!

One camper, however, pointed out that it wasn’t actually that cheap: it costs her £20 per night for an electrical hook-up so that her little darlings can ruin the peace and quiet they claim to be seeking by watching the telly and DVD’s they insist they cannot live without.

Now just contrast that with the poor beggars of the tsunami region who are doing this for real, without any luxuries, and tell me if that wasn’t insensitive planning on the part of the BBC.

Then Friday’s BBC Midlands Today clearly didn’t contemplate the irony of two consecutive items during their broadcast.

They featured the current furore over Birmingham City Council fining residents for putting out their domestic refuse for collection on the wrong day. (Why exactly residents have to do this at all is beyond me, because I always thought that the service was back door to back door).

The reason the Council is kicking up the proverbial stink is on environmental grounds, apparently. Putting out rubbish too early encourages rats and that is detrimental to public health and if the bin bags are ripped open by cats and foxes, etc, the strewn refuse is an environmental hazard. If the residents had proper dustbins, that would be avoided, but that’s a different argument….

So, Birmingham City Council is talking up its environmental credentials, is it? Well, that’s debateable, because the next news piece on the programme was about an experiment with lighting on the entrance roads, designed to attract visitors to Britain’s Second City, making it more attractive. How many lightbulbs would that use? How much electricity? How big a carbon footprint would that leave? How environmentally-friendly would that actually be?

As I say, the BBC is falling prey to both insensitive and curious juxtapositioning of news items. Does nobody ever think this through? Am I being too picky? Better ask the victims of the tsunami and the polar bears, I suppose……

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