News? UK ‘could face blackouts by 2016’

Another interesting ‘story’ on the BBC today. It concerns the possibility that collectively the UK will not ‘get itself together ‘ in order to plan new power stations. This possibility is interesting, – indeed alarming – but I have commented on the possibility (here and here) and the ‘story’ here is that there is actually no ‘news’. But how can there be a news story on the BBC if there is no news?

Professor David MacKay

‘News’ can also happen when someone says something. Professor MacKay is about to become a government advisor and radically he said

“There is a worry that in 2016 there might not be enough electricity. My guess is that what the market might do is fix that problem by making more gas power stations, which isn’t the direction we want to be going in,” he said.

“So we really should be upping the build rate of the alternatives as soon as possible.”

Professor MacKay blamed the public for opposing wind farms, nuclear power, and energy imports, whilst demanding an unchanged lifestyle. ‘You cannot oppose them all, he said, and hope to have a viable policy on energy and climate change. We’ve got to stop saying no to these things and understand that we do have a serious building project on our hands,” he said.

The ‘news’ story here is that this contradicts a hypothetical reality called ‘government policy’. So the ‘news’ story here is nothing to do with the reality of the technical, social, economic, engineering and ecological issues facing us all. This became a news story because there is a possibility of embarrassing the government. This is the nature of all news. The occurrence of a news story is not about the reality or significance of the content of the story, but of the proximate possibility of conflict. I have not had much in the way of media training (What? You can you tell?) but my one day course on writing press releases said simply – identify the conflict and you have your news story. So

  • A story about power cuts in the UK is not newsworthy. But a story about someone who says there will be power cuts and a person who says there won’t be is newsworthy.
  • A story about ecological damage caused by modern farming techniques is not news – until farmers have an argument with ecologists.
  • And the story of the century about Global Warming can drift to the back pages until some people find some aspect of it to argue about.

Sometimes I wish the BBC could step outside the dictates of the ‘news agenda’ and just focus on what I call ‘reality’.


Now the BBC have another story: Mr Miliband gives no acknowledgement of the reality of the problems highlighted by David Mackay, he just denies there will be power cuts. Personally I think Professor Mackay has a good point which goes unacknowledged by Mr Miliband. I do not think those who are fortunate enough – which generally means rich enough – to live in the windy places around our shores should be able to force the rest of us – who of necessity live in cities – to pollute the atmosphere massively rather than disturb their views. If it were up to me I would just build the wind farms and the barrages as quickly as possible.

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