I was an odd child: from the earliest age I was interested in listening to the news. First on the home service, and from 1967 onwards, on Radio 4. Without disclosing too much of my personal psychology, I interpret this now as a symptom of anxiety: of wanting to know what was happening. And I still retain this vague sense that some ‘news programmes’ are about ‘what is happening’. But of course that is not true at all.
As I have I mentioned previously, news is about ‘new’ things. It is not about important things: if it was it would called ‘importants’. As this BBC blog points out, the news services of the world communicate a horrifically distorted perspective of the events in the world. They are like children searching on the beach for the brightest shiniest pebble or shell – not actually interested in the pebbles or shells – but just keen to shout out the loudest “Come and look at THIS!”. The media are incapable of paying prolonged attention to anything, with the possible exception of the Daily Express and the death of Princess Diana.
Examples of this are plentiful but let me just give three because its late and I have to get to bed!
- Consider the number of people dying on the roads of the UK and the world. Around 2500 per year in the UK – 7 per day, and more than 1 million people worldwide. This is ‘not news’: the traffic delays caused by the deaths feature in the traffic reports, but the resultant web of devastation and the enormous direct costs to us all are simply ‘not news’. However, extremely unlikely events such as train crashes are ‘news’ and someone must be blamed and punished for every such event.
- The consistent consensus of concern around the consequences of climate change is ‘not news’. But some unqualified toff stating that ‘climate change hysteria heralds a ‘new age of unreason” is apparently worthy of our attention and is thus ‘news’.
- Poverty and inequality within the UK and around the world are issues which affect us all every day. But if a news service such as the BBC looked rationally at the state of the world every day and placed poverty and inequality as the continuing headline story day after day they would be accused of political bias. So even though people are literally dying from trivially preventable disease as I type this, this is unfortunately ‘not news’.
This kind of distortion is like poison to a democracy, constantly directing public attention to the trivial changes taking place in the World, and consequently directing attention away from the significant but unchanging reality of the World. It’s good to be aware of these things without becoming overly cynical, because that too will poison one’s mind. So now I will get to bed, and if I am quick I will be able to listen to the midnight news, which somehow still feels like a comforting prospect.