From David Maughan Brown in York: ‘News’?

August 11th

In an earlier blog some weeks ago I voluntarily offered up a plea of ‘guilty’ to spending too much time watching and listening to the ‘News’, even though nobody had actually accused me of doing so.  The point was made to me a couple of days ago, in not particularly accusatory fashion it must be said, that I almost invariably listen to the 7.00 am, 8.00 am and 1.00 pm BBC news and usually watch Channel 4 news (generally much more probing than the BBC) at 7.00pm and the BBC news at 10.00pm.  How sad is that?  The only plea I could make in mitigation was that I hardly ever watch the rolling news on any channel.   I couldn’t even claim that the only reason I indulge this vice is because there is nothing else to do under lockdown, or that I do it in search of something to blog about, because (while I’m coming clean I may as well make a full confession) I tended to do the same before lockdown.  

I suspect that this addiction has its origins in the two decades I spent in South Africa under apartheid when the South African Broadcasting Corporation was one of the main instruments the Nationalist government used for disseminating its unhinged racist propaganda and its paranoid perception of itself as the target of a ‘total onslaught’ from the rest of what it perceived as a communistic world.   For most of those years I was lecturing in a very traditional English Department, which saw itself as a global heir to F.R.Leavis and the New Criticism.  While students at all levels might have been good at analysing poetry, they were, with few exceptions, not applying any of the analytical skills they were acquiring to the language or subject matter of the all too often pernicious media they were consuming.   So, with considerable effort, I managed in the early 1980s to drag a Media Studies course onto the curriculum in the hope of enabling the students to discover that, if history is written by the victors, so the ‘News’ is not a neutral given but is, to a greater or lesser extent, selected for consumption, and controlled by, representatives of the dominant group in any society.   The withering, and wholly ignorant, contempt in which Media Studies as an academic discipline is held by conservatives, and many Russell Group universities (is there a difference?), in spite of the complex and rigorous body of theoretical work behind it, is obviously a reflection of the extent to which they would much prefer what goes into the print and broadcast media not to be subject to rigorous analysis.

So my self-exoneration when it comes to news addiction is that watching and listening aren’t a matter simply of accepting what one is being told or shown but, rather, a questioning of why it is being selected for our consumption in preference to the myriad other things that have happened nationally and globally, and of trying to analyse what lies behind the particular way in which it is being presented.   Sometimes, of course, the interesting thing is what is not being reported on, as with the long silence that suddenly fell on the ‘world-beating’ Test and Trace statistics.  What are we supposed to do, for example, with the daily list of the number of redundancies recently announced at major UK companies, or the wholly unsurprising drip of ‘news’ that their sales are down and their profits have dropped through the floor?   Why is Donald Trump’s being ushered away from a microphone because the US secret service have seen a suspicious man with a gun near the White House (Newsflash: said suspicious man has just been shot) seen as one of the three or four most important things to have happened in the world for the past 12 hours?  To raise our hopes?   One can assume that the difference between the BBC News and Channel 4 News has to do with Tory jabbering about the license fee, and I assume that very precise increases in the official Covid death statistics trotted out every day aren’t intended to depress us as much as to distract our attention from the very much worse ‘excess deaths’ statistics.   But, unlike the apartheid media in South Africa, the broadcast media in UK pose many more questions than they provide answers, and there lies a major part of their addictive interest for me.  

From David Maughan Brown in York: Testing, testing, testing…

30th April

Today is the glorious day by when government promised that the number of Covid-19 tests would have been ‘ramped up’ to the point where the UK would be carrying out 100,000 a day.   It can only be hoped that anyone who has been holding his or her breath waiting for this to be achieved won’t have expired in vain by now.  The BBC’s health correspondent, analysing the situation on the 1pm news, gave us the disappointing information that we wont know for a few days, because it takes time for the results to be processed.   In the meantime he assured us that ‘people can book on line for testing kits to be sent out.’  But the good news, the really, really good news, is that eligibility for tests has been expanded so that ‘anyone who needs to leave home to work’, the over 65s, hospital patients and staff, and care home staff and residents can now be tested ‘even if they don’t have symptoms’.  This, he assured us, meant that we are now just one step away from ‘whole population testing’.

Where does one even begin to comment on such obsequious drivel?  For a start, you don’t have to have the results of the tests to know how many tests have been carried out, and we do, in fact, know that the figure is only somewhere around 52,000.  It is nowhere near the 100,000 promised. The government plaintively says there is more capacity, which just begs the question as to why they can’t organise for the capacity to be fully utilised.   People can indeed, at least in theory, book on line for testing kits, but it is painfully clear that the available number of testing kit slots is hopelessly inadequate.  And the good news about the expanded eligibility is simply ridiculous.  How stupid does the BBC think we are?  The number of people to whom eligibility has been expanded is apparently around 25 million; the total population of the UK is over 65 million.  So the ‘just one step’ we are away from whole population testing is a mere 40 million.  Even at the rate of 100,00 tests a day, which we are still only halfway towards meeting after a month of Ministers ‘doing their very best’, meeting the demand from those of us to whom eligibility has now been extended would take us to Christmas, and the ‘just one step’ beyond that would take well over another year.

So what is going on with the BBC?  In South Africa under apartheid we tended to idealise the BBC as a model of fearless independent broadcasting in comparison with the SABC.  But then, I suppose, we similarly tended to regard the British Bobby as a model to be followed before we learnt about the Guildford Four, the Birmingham Six, the Maguire Seven, and so on.  What is going on is that the BBC is fearlessly avoiding offending the Tory Party private enterprise fanatics who would like nothing more than to see the license fee done away with.  There is a certain amount of schadenfreude to be had from considering how close to apoplexy they, and the right-wing, mainly foreign, media barons who own and control the vast majority of the British media, must be finding themselves as they see a Tory government having effectively to nationalise more or less everything in sight, from paying the salaries of private sector workers to taking over the railways.   But in the meantime, as the government tries to duck its culpability for the now tens of thousands of coronavirus-related deaths and the BBC carefully avoids holding it to account for those deaths, those of us to whom eligibility for testing has so generously been extended know perfectly well that we will have to carry on for very many months trying to make absolutely certain that we never need a test.

from Anne in Adelaide: now more than ever …

12 April Image from The Economist

12 April. I have been spending too much time scanning the news streaming in over the internet, TV and radio. The information is staggering. You don’t know what to think, who to believe, which version of the future to hang on to. One moment there are signs of hope and the next you read the account from an emergency worker in New York who is facing the horror of people dying from Covid-19 in their homes and his team feels helpless. Meanwhile, I remain in self-isolation in Australia waiting … for what?

Then we have the Whatsapp groups that have been set up to keep us in the loop: neighbourhood groups, family groups, and friendship groups. Memes and jokes abound, making light of being holed up at home – drinking too much, eating too much and being frustrated. It’s all a joke. Then there are the more serious messages trying to understand the beast that is Covid-19. There are many wonderful musical items spread around too – some home efforts and some professional. You could watch all day: every time your phone goes ‘ting’ to alert you to another comment, another theory, another cute kid singing for your comfort.

Now more than ever, I believe we need to concentrate on getting news from reputable sources. I cannot count the number of times I have had to alert friends to scams and fake news and threats that go around the world and that people forward without checking on (No! your phone will NOT be trashed by the ‘Dance of the Pope’ video that you might receive via Whatsapp. That hoax has been going for 5 years in various forms.)

No harm done with that one, but what does harm are the quasi-news-investigative reports that come around – from such sources as Epoch Times. An hour-long report was sent to us purportedly exploring the source of the Covid-19 virus and after a lot of interviews clothing the theory in valid reports it comes to the conclusion that Covid-19 escaped from a Chinese military facility and is an ENGINEERED virus – biological warfare. Frightening. Persuasive. Dammed the Chinese …

I didn’t know much about the Epoch Times so I looked them up.  They are not a reputable balanced media source. They are financed by Chinese Americans with ties to the Falun Gong. Very Anti-China Govt. and Pro-Trump (Wikipedia: ‘Facebook banned The Epoch Times from advertising on its platform, after finding that the newspaper broke Facebook’s political transparency rules by publishing 1.5 million USD pro-Trump subscription ads through sockpuppet pages (a page using deception).)

The Epoch Times have supported conspiracy theories like the qAnon (conspiracy theory of a deep state plot against the DT) and the dangers of vaccinations for kids …

So, I come back to: Now more than ever – let us read reputable sources. When I was a child living in East Africa my father listened to the BBC news on a short-wave radio and he continued to listen to the BBC throughout his life. For the years we lived in South Africa we also listened to the BBC – you could not trust the SABC, the South Africa Broadcasting Corp, they were the mouthpiece of the National Party, the party of Apartheid – a perfector of lies.

And … there comes a time when you don’t want to waste this time by being glued to the news broadcasts screaming for your attention. The media has it made – what a subject! Our newspapers have Covid-19 pages filled with stories.

Of course, it comes down to the question: what is a reputable source of news: the BBC, the Economist? The Washington Post? Scientific American? The Financial Times in the UK? Do these choices show my bias – of course they do. But if The Economist tells me that Covid-19 came from a military lab near Wuhan, I am more inclined to believe them than the Epoch Times.

And I am trying not to leap up when my phone goes ‘ting’.