Archive for the ‘Media & Journalism’ Category

Right wing rants about the alleged liberal-left wing bias of the BBC are as regular as the healthiest bowel movements but they’re rarely if ever based on evidence-based fact, the academic equivalent of roughage. There’s no content analysis, no scientific methodology, just this knee-jerk reaction to alien opinions. This kind of reaction is nothing more than an ideological rod to beat the back of a public institution, not least an institution that does something so dangerous as broadcast to the masses. It is interesting, however, to note that when my colleagues and comrades on Media Lens or Spinwatch produce something a good deal more evidence-based and scholarly, they’re dismissed by the media as just the same as the knee-jerkers on the right. Thus, the age old BBC excuse that absolves all transgressions from journalistic independence and integrity: that is, that if they’re getting attacked from the right and the left about something they’ve just broadcast, then they must be doing something right. This is nonsense! It’s the sort of two-wrongs-make-a- right sophistry that not even Machiavelli would contemplate. Unless, of course, he got a job as a BBC presenter.

But yet, I’m a left wing academic just about finished a 20-year teaching career in higher education and going independent! I’m on a roll and I feel like celebrating with a rant of my own. It’s not so much a rant about political bias. It’s more about the self-abasement the BBC has displayed in the last couple of days in its response to a triple whammy of events: the Queen of England’s 90th birthday and the deaths of Victoria Wood (20 April) and the Artist Formerly Known As Prince (21 April). (Listen now! I gave the Queen’s title capital initials as well so don’t quibble like a pedantic fool!)

Funny-Queen-Elizabeth-Moments

One wants to go to a gig!

The BBC got up a good head of steam with the Royal Birthday, when on Tuesday 19 April, they helped Prince William out of a public relations hole (regarding his work ethic) by handing him a deftly scripted interview in the course of which Royal Correspondent Nicholas Witchel asked all the right questions to all the right answers. Witchel didn’t get down afterwards and lick the royal boot but hey! I caught that glint in his eye!

Prince_William_February_2015

I’m in a hole!

Nicholas-Witchell-267259

A shovel, Sir?

 

william with shovel

Look at me work!!!

Now here’s the funny bit. The BBC ran the interview ad nauseum throughout the day and linked it to what it promised would be wall to wall, schedule busting coverage of the Queen’s Birthday celebrations the following day, Wednesday 20 April. Only, what happened? Victoria Wood died! Oops. The Beeb goes into a tailspin! Her Royal Majesty is 90 (shock!) versus National Treasure Comedian dies suddenly (horror!) What’s more newsworthy? Victoria Wood’s death, of course! It was a one-off news story opposed to an endless repeat!

And here’s the almost beautiful part! (Well, for me at least!) Just when the BBC gets back on track with its orgy of Royal obsequiousness (i.e. how did Her Majesty do while we were off yesterday mourning the death of our National Treasure, Victoria?) the artist formerly known as Prince only goes and dies suddenly! Shocker! What to do now? What to do? Yes! Let’s forget there’s nothing else going on in the country or the world and clear the schedules to talk about Prince and how much everybody loved him!!! Earthquakes? Forget them! Hundreds of lives lost? Forget them! Jobs lost? Forget them! Pope suffers constipation? Who cares? Let us BBC presenters sit in our stupid chairs and talk the biggest guff known to humankind about someone we never met, whose music we never listen to, and whose musical sensibility we neither understood nor really appreciated on any level resembling intellect or taste. Let us be very 21st Century BBC! Let us be stupid!! Let us show oneself up and let oneself down terribly!

prince

The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. RIP.

Ok. That’s my rant over now. A more scientifically grounded version of this blog post will appear in the very serious, academic, peer-reviewed journal, Nature…out soon in 2065! Only 9.99.

At the time of posting, the suicide bombs in Brussels on 22 March have so far claimed 35 lives, 15 at Zaventem airport and another 10 at Maelbeek metro station, and injured over 200 people. As expected, the events received extensive media coverage worldwide, coverage that, as usual now in this era of conflict between the west and the Islamic world, raises questions of accuracy, sensation and propaganda. To illustrate the problem, this limited case study analyzes the coverage across a sample of six British daily newspapers over the two days following the attacks, 23 and 24 March: The Guardian and The Daily Mirror on the centre-left; and, on the centre-right, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Sun and The Daily Star. The coverage tells a story of a seemingly unprovoked terrorist attack on innocent civilians that the ‘bungling’ Belgian intelligence services were unable to prevent; an attack that was set against a background of unchecked immigration and Belgium’s large Moslem, population; and, on the domestic, UK front, one that cast the current Brexit debate into sharp relief in relation to security and immigration.

The headlines

Some commentators expressed puzzlement at first as to the tactical purpose of the attacks, guessing it was meant to simply sow terror among soft civilian tactics. This was certainly the angle taken by the British press the following day:

The Guardian – ‘At least 31 killed after terror attacks rip through Brussels’

 The Daily Mirror – ‘The Death Squad’ (with photo, below, of the 3 suicide bomber suspects at airport)

The Times – ‘Bloodbath in Brussels’ (Ditto photo)

The Sun – ‘Primed Suspects’ (Ditto photo)

The Daily Star – ‘UK Alert As 34 Killed In Terror Hell’ (small inset with photo of armed, British police officer)

brussels suspects

Instilling terror for terror’s sake was an undoubted objective of the bombers, thought to be linked to Islamic Sate (IS or ISIS). But it also seemed clear that as home to the EU Commission and NATO Headquarters, Brussels held symbolic significance given the involvement of both organisations in the Syria and Iraq. Yet the newspapers barely referred to such a political rationale or to linkage to western military operations in the Middle East (though on TV, the BBC did acknowledge the possibility):

The Guardian – ‘Brussels Killers Linked To Paris Terror Attacks’

The Times – ‘Blunders By Belgium Let Bomber Slip Through Net – Warnings About Airport Terrorist Were Ignored’

 The Sun – ‘Terror In Brussels – 5 Bombers On Loose’

The Daily Mail’s front page story that day was about the latest “immigrants found on lorry” story so beloved of that newspaper, while the big front page splash for the Daily Star was the news that footballer, David Beckham, had sealed a deal for his own TV show. A small inset on the left hand corner of the page referred to the fate of a possible British victim of the metro bombing in Brussels – ‘Last text of bomb Brit’. (According to the Star, editorial priorities like these make it a better, brighter paper than the ‘dull, sinking’ Sun.)

On day one of coverage, most of the newspapers devoted several pages inside to detailed and graphic accounts of the bombings, including some quite intrusive images of casualties at Zementev airport. Simon Jenkins in the Guardian (24 March) criticized the broadcasters for their rolling coverage of the bombings, particularly for its hysteria and inane speculation, but the newspapers were just as guilty in those respects. And unlike the broadcasters, the press were able to give full vent to editorial comment and opinion about the bombings. Some of it was variously unwarranted, confused or just plain wrong.

How could the bombings happen and what Europe should do?

The editorial comment and opinion pages in most of the newspapers on the first day of coverage (The Daily Star had none) were dominated by the immediate security and intelligence issues that the attacks had raised and the implications for the wider Brexit referendum debate in the UK. In this sample of newspaper editorials at least, the ideological dividing line appeared to be between left and right. But as normal in the comment and opinion pages of the British press, space is given for debate between opposing viewpoints.

On the right, prescriptions for an apt military or security response were largely mixed with a good dose of Euro-scepticism and pro-Brexit sentiments. The Times was perhaps the most neutral when the day after the bombings it called for a united international stand and better sharing of intelligence (‘After Brussels’, p.31). In the same issue, Roger Boyes lay ultimate blame for the Brussels bombs and the recent attacks in Paris on US President Obama and his military retreat from conflicts in the Middle East. A decisive blow could have been dealt to ISIS before it grew and expanded to the point where it can now launch attacks on western interests anywhere in the world and at times of its choosing (‘Terrorists have filled a vacuum left by Obama’, p.28).

The Daily Mail acknowledged the words of President Hollande, that the bombings were an ‘attack on Europe’, it blamed the attacks on Belgium, ‘a country that has difficulty governing itself and, by common consent, a very poor intelligence service.’ Britain, it said, had to put its own security interests first, take back its borders and close them to free and open movement of people (‘An Attack on Europe’, p.10). In his column on page 11, Michael Burleigh reinforced the ‘blame Belgium’ line, saying that the ‘security failings (were) a damning indictment of a nation whose capital is home to both the European Commission and NATO HQ. How ironic, considering recent events, that the city prides itself on having the nickname, “Spy Central”’ (‘Lethal failures of the Bungling Belgians’). The paper’s guest columnist was John A Bradley, described as an author writing on Middle East issues. He agreed with the Mail’s editorial line but he went much further by insisting that ‘as a result (of immigrant and homegrown Islamic extremists in UK and Europe), we are facing a full-blown, internal Islamist insurgency – and that is exacerbated in tangible ways by the migrant crisis’ (‘With each new atrocity, ever more British voters will feel we MUST reclaim control of our borders’, p.16). The Sun’s editorial took a familiar chauvinistic line when it stated that Britain was safe not because of its membership of the EU but because its security and intelligence services were ‘second to none’ compared with their ‘shambolic counterparts across the channel’, i.e. those in Belgium and France (‘Safety Myth’, p.10). The paper’s political editor, Trevor Kavanagh, put it in balder terms when he argued that a Copycat attack here will push (UK voters) to Brexit’ (p.10).

On the left, The Guardian urged the EU to ‘maintain some perspective and keep a cool head’. Talk of war engulfing Europe, as per French PM Manuel Valls, ‘sets dangerous traps while offering no convincing solutions’ (‘Face Up To This Terrorist Threat. But Don’t Mistake It For War’, p.32). The Mirror argued that ‘any (security) response must be calculated to isolate and defeat the deranged (terrorists) […] So the response must not be knee-jerk. And we must challenge those who seek to exploit what happened in Brussels for their own political ends, preaching nationalism and spreading Islamophobia’ (‘Terrorism Won’t Win’, p.10). Yet elsewhere in the issue, ‘terrorism expert’, Hamish De Bretton-Gordon, urged an immediate military response. ‘Hard and fast surgical attacks by western forces (on IS in Iraq and Syria) backed up by local troops can defeat IS’, he said. ‘Then out fast, letting Kurdish and Iraqi forces take over. Russian President Vladimir Putin showed how effective fast, sophisticated military action can be’ (‘We Must Strike Hard And Fast To Wipe Out IS Evil’, p.9).

Comment and opinion on the second day of coverage, 24 March, turned the focus on the question of how the west should respond to the Islamist threat but for most of the newspapers the question was tied up with the wider Brexit debate. The Times editorial kept its focus purely on the need for a NATO-led military response to ‘fight hard against the very idea of jihad’ (‘Unholy War’, p.37). The Sun on the other hand took a rather more isolationist line. ‘We’re safer out’, it declared, pointing again to ‘Belgium’s catastrophic…failure’ as proof that jihadists simply ‘run rings around MI5’s continental counterparts’ (p.10). This is a reductionist argument, of course. The EU may have its new Europol agency to facilitate cooperation between member police forces but national intelligence services act (as they have always acted) purely in the national interest. So whether or not the UK stays in the EU, whether or not it closes its borders to the free movement of peoples, it will always have to deal with external and domestic terrorist threats.

This conflation of security issues with the Brexit debate simply muddies the waters at a time when voters need a clear understanding of the salient issues. In his regular column for the Times, David Aaronovitch argued that the ‘Terror attacks have nothing to do with Brexit’ (p.33). And the Guardian editorial observed that, ‘What makes the slowly unfolding events in Belgium more unusual (than the Charlie Hebdo and Paris attacks) is that there are some people who want to use the Brussels terror to fuel wider political causes and agendas (that) however unfounded or debatable (may) find a ready audience‘ (‘To claim Britain is safer out of Europe is dangerous and wrong’, p.42). Finally, in the Mail, columnist Yasmin Alabhai-Brown blamed the whole thing on the parents (‘Why will no one admit the way some western Muslims rear their children is fomenting terror?’ (p. 14). But perhaps the most troublesome theme to emerge from the overall coverage of the Brussels bombings was the treatment of the Brussels district of Molenbeek, with its population of 90,000, the majority of which is Muslim.

The ‘problem’ with Molenbeek

In the first day of coverage in particular, the British press seemed to be in doubt that Molenbeek had a lot to answer for as a harbour for Islamist extremists. Elite and popular newspapers on both the right and left sketched a composite picture of the district that left little room for nuance. Much of it was prejudicial if not outright racist in tone.

Among the mid-market, popular papers, Molenbeek was:

‘Jihadi Central’, ‘an extremist ghetto’, ‘a jihadist hotbed’, a ‘hotbed of Islamic extremism’ and ‘home to Europe’s highest concentration of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq’ (Mirror)

‘a hot bed of young, radical Islamists’ and (with reference to description in Le Monde), ‘a clearing house for jihadism’ (Mail)

a ‘Belgian hotbed of terror recruits’ and a ‘Jihadist ghetto’ (Sun)

The elite papers, the Times and the Guardian, described the district as:

‘a borough…where some neighbourhoods are up to 90% Muslim, (that) is seen by many as a particular problem’, a ‘fertile ground for ISIS recruiters’ and a ‘jihadi centre’ (Guardian)

a ‘suburb where jihadists can be sure of sanctuary’, a ‘nest of terrorists’, ‘a hotbed of radicalism’ whose ‘role in international terror was underlined in 2004 when it was the base of one of the key suspects in the Madrid train bombings’ and that ‘has since been linked to the Charlie Hebdo attackers’ (Times)

The use of sweeping generalization and prejudicial language in these descriptions is bad enough but there is also a problem of proportionality. Using statistics dated 2015 and sourced to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR), the Guardian (23 March) charted the number of nationals from EU countries per million of population who ‘joined Sunni/Islamist organisations in Syria and Iraq. Belgium came top of the table with 40 compared with 27 from Denmark, 18 from France, 17 from Austria, 9.5 from UK and 7.5 from Germany. Alas, the paper did not extrapolate from these statistics the concrete numbers they represent. The figure of 40 fighters of Belgian fighters per million of a population of just over 11 million equals 440, or 0.004% of the population. The figure of 27 Danish fighters per million of Denmark’s population of 5.6 million equals 151, or just 0.002% of the population.

I could go on but the point is this: these tiny percentages hardly justify the kind of hysterical reactions we see in the newspapers everytime they report terrorist attack like those in Paris and Brussels. Furthermore, as we have seen in Northern Ireland, and in Gaza and the West Bank, the classification of whole peoples into ‘ghettos’, ‘radical hotbeds’, ‘hardline estates’ and ‘nests of terrorism’ only precludes public understanding and makes a violent state response seem justifiable and reasonable. As senior Guardian journalist Simon Jenkins observed, the hysterical reaction of media and public opinion in the west to terrorist attacks is just what organisations such as ISIS and Al Qaida want. They will look upon the coverage and think, ‘job done’ (‘The scariest thing about Brussels is our reaction to it’ (24 March, p.43).

Concluding remarks

I have argued elsewhere that the media in the west have to think about how they cover terrorist attacks on ‘home ground’, which is invariably less sober and objective than the way they report terrorism in North Africa, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. They have to ask why these attacks happen, not just how and by whom. They have to stop conflating the problem of terrorism with the problem of immigration in ways that make it easy for us to see every asylum seeker or immigrant as a potential terrorist. And they have to stop blaming the actions of a few on the communities in which those few live. Alas, the chances of that happening are slim because as we have seen so many times, large sections of the British press rarely let facts and the truth get in the way of a good old orgy of hysteria, sensationalism and xenophobia.

 

 

book coverThe War Correspondent-1

 

bloody sunday cover

On Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, British paratroopers killed thirteen innocent men in Derry. It was one of the most controversial events in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict and also one of the most mediated. The horror was recorded in newspapers and photographs, on TV news and current affairs, and in film and TV drama. In a cross media analysis that spans a period of almost forty years up to the publication of the Saville Report in 2010, The British Media and Bloody Sunday identifies two countervailing impulses in media coverage of Bloody Sunday and its legacy: an urge in the press to rescue the image and reputation of the British Army versus a troubled conscience in TV current affairs and drama about what was done in Britain’s name. In so doing, it suggests a much more complex set of representations than a straight- forward propaganda analysis might allow for, one that says less about the conflict in Ireland than it does about Britain, with its loss of empire and its crisis of national identity.

Interested readers can find out more at Amazon Author Central.

After watching Simon Reeves’ Cuba on BBC2, the other night (11 December), I imagined his next programme to be Simon Reeves’ Northern Ireland. Readers please note that I have no clue how to write a professional TV script so pedantic corrections are fruitless. Thank you! 

Pre-title sequence: LONG SHOTS OF A ‘PEACE WALL’ IN BELFAST.  CUT TO MEDIUM SHOTS OF SMALL CHILDREN IN BALACLAVAS THROWING PETROL BOMBS AT THE POLICE. PAN OUT TO A GRIM-FACED, SHIVERING SIMON REEVES IN HAWAIIAN SHIRT, SHORTS AND SANDALS (JUST OFF THE PLANE FROM GUANTANAMO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT).

Reeves:  Belfast. 14 years after the Good Friday Agreement and the tragedy continues. Behind me, little children repeat the mistakes of their parents and enter the endless cycle of violence.

CUT TO SHOT OF SMALL BOY THROWING HIS WEE SISTER’S PINK AND BLUE TRIKE INTO A BONFIRE.

I’m here to ask what happened to the peace? And will Northern Ireland ever see the light and join the civilised world? This is Simon Reeve’s Northern Ireland.

SERIES TITLE AND MUSIC.

LONG SHOT OF REEVES WALKING ALONG PEACE WALL.

Reeves: [V/O] This is a peace wall and I’m looking for an opening, some glimmer of hope that I can somehow bring these divided communities together in some kind of dialogue. It won’t be easy but since I visited Cuba last week, the government there gave up the ghost, announced free elections, opened the country up to global capitalism and appointed me as honorary El Presidente.

[CLOSE-UP REEVES TO CAMERA] So you see, nothing is impossible. You just have to offer people free choice and the right to consume.

LONG SHOT, REEVES ARRIVING AT A VERY LOCKED GATE IN THE PEACE WALL.  SMALL BOYS ON BIKES ARRIVE AND SURROUND HIM.

Small boy on bike 1:  It’s lacked mister!  [BBC STANDARD ENGLISH SUBTITLES (SES): “The gate is locked, sir!]

Small boy in bike 2:  Hi mister, lend us yer odds! [BBC SES: “Sir, have you come to free us from economic deprivation and the lack of consumer choice like you did last week in Cuba?”]

Small boy on bike 3: [OVER HIS SHOULDER AS HE SPEEDS AWAY] “I’m callin the boys on you!”  [BBC SES: “I’m going to report you to the proper authorities!”]

Reeves: [SHRUGS SADLY TO CAMERA] What can one do for these children without hope? Well, very little until they understand the meaning of individual responsibility and that, I think, is down to good parenting. I’m going to go knock on a few doors and find out what the parents are doing while their children run riot on the mean streets of North Belfast.

SHAKY HAND-HELD CAMERA FOLLOWS SIMON TO FRONT DOOR OF APPARENTLY RANDOM HOUSE. MAN IN VEST AND SHORTS, PINT IN HAND, OPENS DOOR.

Man in vest: “Och Simon! What about ye? Come on in!” [BBC SES: “Hello Simon. How are you? Welcome to my humble abode!”]

MEDIUM SHOTS OF SIMON BEING WELCOMED INTO LIVING ROOM AND GIVEN A CAN OF BEER. CAMERA PANS IN FOR CLOSE-UP OF MANTELPIECE CLOCK. IT IS 10.30AM.

Simon Reeves: [V/O] This is Jimmy, who lives behind the peace wall. Jimmy is a heart surgeon by profession but must supplement his income as a part-time gambler and alcoholic. He too worries about the children without hope in post-peace process Belfast and agrees with me that, ultimately, it’s the parents who must accept responsibility if their children are to become good and responsible consumers.

Jimmy: “It’s shackin, Simon! Totally shackin! A good clip around the lug is what they need! [TAKES A SLUG FROM HIS PINT, SOME OF IT DRIBBLING DOWN HIS VEST. SITS FORWARD, LOOKS RIGHT AND LEFT AND BECKONS SIMON CONSPIRATORIALLY] As for their parents? One behind the knee, mate! That’ll tighten em!” [BBC SES: “I’m shocked that their parents have abandoned all responsibility. In my humble opinion, both children and parents must learn discipline!”]

Reeves: Do you see any hope for the future, Jimmy?

Jimmy: “Hope? Hope? Nah. We’re down the Lagan on a bubble, mate!” [BBC SES: “I see little hope, sir. But we may settle further down river and create a community where little Protestant boys can hold hands with little Catholic girls and there will be peace and harmony for all time.”]

ENDLESS GUFF FOR THE NEXT 40 MINUTES BUT HERE’S A SUMMARY:

SCENE 3: SIMON VISITS A MOTHER AND TODDLER GROUP ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PEACE WALL AND IS SHOCKED TO FIND THAT NOT ONE MOTHER HAS A NECTAR CARD; THOUGH ONE OF THEM TELLS HIM SHE KNOWS A LOT ABOUT CHIP AND PIN TECHNOLOGY, WHICH GOES RIGHT OVER HIS HEAD.

SCENE 4: VISITS A DEPRESSED SANTA AT VICTORIA SQUARE SHOPPING CENTRE AND LECTURES HIM THAT HE SHOULD FEEL LUCKY. IN CUBA, SANTA IS ILLEGAL.

SCENE 5: VISITS CULTURLANN MCADAM O FIAICH ON FALLS ROAD. AMAZED TO FIND THIS ISLAND OF CULTURE AMID SO MUCH DEPRIVATION BUT HAS TO LEAVE EARLY WHEN SUBTITLE MACHINE CRASHES.

SCENE 6: PROVO TAXI LEAVES HIM OFF AT THE BOTTOM OF THE FALLS ROAD.

SCENE 7: TENSE ENCOUNTER WITH GROUP OF UFF VOLUNTEERS IN A SHANKILL PUB. FADE OUT.

FADE IN CLOSING SCENE 8. SIMON IS WHEELED OUT OF CITY HOSPITAL WITH ARMS AND LEGS IN PLASTER AND WITH A BANDAGE ON HIS HEAD. STOPS JUST SHORT OF CAMERA FOR VERY LARGE CLOSE-UP.

Reeves: I arrived to find a city in despair only to discover little islands of hope. Just like in Cuba, I met a people who are slowly waking up to a new dawn of civilisation, consumerism and free choice.  I visited communities stretching hands across the peace wall, not to throw bricks and petrol bombs, but to help each other fill out that credit card application or buy that high definition television online.

SLOWLY AND PAINFULLY RAISES HIS PLASTERED ARMS TO CAMERA

Of course, some people are blind to the opportunities before their very eyes and seek only to destroy. But as those UFF men gave me a thorough beating in a beer cellar on the Shankill Road, they didn’t understand that they were only hurting themselves in the long run. What they didn’t seem to get was that you can’t have a baseball bat in one hand and a shopping basket in the other. In a civilised society there is just one choice: consumerism or death.

LONG SHOT OF SIMON BEING WHEELED INTO AN AMBULANCE AND DRIVEN AWAY.

SERIES TITLES

Perky TV announcer: [V/O] And next week, Simon travels to China and asks, whatever happened the Cultural Revolution? Don’t miss it! It’s a cracker!

END AND FADE.

This was how ITV’s commentator summed up 20, 000 singing Irish fans as the game against Spain drew to a close on Thursday evening (14 June). Though you will note that he didn’t even qualify his observation by saying “Irish fans” or “Ireland’s fans”; just “the Irish”.  I suspect that a lot of Irish people might dismiss this as harmless and not worth getting hot and bothered about. Sure we’re used to all these stereotypes in the British media by now, aren’t we? And aren’t we a very modern, forward-looking people who are generally viewed in very positive terms the world over? Why would we care about a minor wee slip by an ITV commentator running out of cliches?

“They’re happy drunks, the Irish!” – ITV match commentator on Irish fans as Ireland v Spain draws to a sorry end.

But wait! If we think what he said is harmless, then just replace the word Irish with, say, “blacks” or “Asians” or “Aborigines” or “English”.  Would we think that to be harmless or trivial?  Somehow I don’t think so.

Racism isn’t just about defining a whole race or ethnic group in hateful or violent terms. It is also about defining a race/ethnic group as being genetically or culturally inferior in relation to one’s own race/ethnic group.  Indeed, the fact that the stereotype of over 4 million Irish people as drunks should pass without remark is in itself an object lesson of how and why racism works on an unconscious, ideological level and why so many of us give our consent to it by default, by not challenging it when it is explicitly expressed.

I am going to make a complaint to the UK’s broadcast regulator, OfCom, about this and though I am not terribly confident of getting any satisfaction, I’m always open to a pleasant surprise. Watch this space for an update!

Did you happen to see the BBC’s preview of the Euros 2012 last night (6 June)?  Presented by the Football Focus/Match of the Day XI, including the usual suspects, Gary Lineker, Mark Lawrenson and Alan Shearer (or Sheared as his mates call him),  it started off with a look at England’s chances.  This included an interview with Wayne Rooney, apparently the only player worth talking about even though he’s banned for the first two matches after a brutal tackle in the last qualifier against Montengero. Then came the low point as it turned to the Republic of Ireland’s chances. Now the whole team must have gone for a tea break at that point because instead of any serious discussion or analysis, they gave us Dara O’Briain doing a quirky little piece of self-deprecation to camera in what appeared to be a pub…

Ah now Dara!

(…Ah now, Dara! Was that your idea? Like, a pub? Did it take you long to think that one up? Or did you just do what you were told even though you were cringing inside? Money is money, right? And how did you feel when you realized that your piece wasn’t a funny little filler but the programme’s actual analysis of Ireland’s  chances? Did they tell you? Did they, did they?  If they didn’t, you must be feeling a right eejit now eh? If they did tell you and you did it anyway because you wanted them to like you, then you are more than just an eejit…)

Yes, Dara’s funny little piece was the height of it really…apart from a blunt dismissal of Ireland’s chances  in a group made up of Croatia, Italy and Spain. They never learn, do they? They did the same to Ireland in the Euros 1996, especially in the build up to the game against England. Ireland won.  Sure it was nearly a national crisis in England! And no Dara then to make them feel better! No!

Ah well, I won’t be watching the coverage on BBC and ITV anyway. I’ll be following Bill and the boys on RTE 2.  Peerless, objective, grown-up analysis but also Après Match to lighten the mood. In fact, here are the Après Match boys doing Match of the Day a while back. Their take on Mark Lawrenson is brilliant!

What’s going on in BBC Northern Ireland when every time it wants to present a debate about a serious issue, like the state of the local economy or public sector strikes, it brings in one Katie Hopkins, the ill-informed, extremely annoying and long-past winner of the dumbest programme on the BBC, The Apprentice? What producer at the BBC in Belfast thinks that it’s a good idea to turn serious issues in current affairs into a pantomine by having this useless person debating with serious players in the local public and private sectors? Getting Katie Hopkins to talk about local politics and economics is like getting Sammy Wilson to talk about Camus…in French.

Katie Hopkins after another call from Stephen Nolan

This is a woman who has no clue about  or sympathy for Northern Ireland. This is a woman who made a fool of herself on BBC Question Time (20 January 2011) by suggesting that women didn’t deserve equality and that, anyway, many couldn’t handle it if they got it. This is a woman who appeared opposite Owen Jones  on the inane Nolan Show on TV (25 April 2012) to defend government proposals for a regional pay differentials. Thankfully, the fabulous Patricia McKeown of UNISON NI was in the audience to put Katie in her place but still…why was Katie Hopkins on the show in the first place?  And why was she on Radio Ulster’s Talk Back just recently (31 May 2012) debating a proposed doctors’ (not dockers!) strike with a professional representative and a local trades unionist?  She barracked and interrupted them with neoliberal nonsense throughout to such a degree that listeners started texting and tweeting for her to get off. When the presenter told her about this, Stephen Nolan style, she complained that she may not be an expert about the economy or the public sector but she had a right to express an opinion. Perhaps but it would help if it was an informed opinion at least.

If Talk Back was so intent on union bashing, the producer could surely have invited someone local? Someone knowledgeable or  capable? Someone from Belfast Chamber of Commerce maybe? Then again, maybe they just thought they were very right on by inviting her on air? Maybe they just wanted to manufacture controversy or outrage by bringing on a straw woman who’s easy to knock down? Maybe every current affairs  presenter with BBC NI now wants to be like Stephen Nolan and win a prize?

Katie tells Stephen she’s washing her hair

But you know what? It backfired because it’s one thing being controversial and objectionable but intelligent; and quite another thing being controversial, objectionable…and just stupid.

And I’m talking about Stephen Nolan, Talk Back and BBC NI – not Katie Hopkins.