Thursday, 1 December 2016

"Problems, problems, problems, all day long" - a friend's email has explained why I can no longer watch or listen to UK news

 An email received yesterday from a good friend - and former colleague - set me thinking...

Referring to broadcast news, he had this to say (he was typing it with one finger on a phone, hence the grammatical laxity):
...maybe there's a reason audience numbers are going down. So often stories are basically just about why public services need more money. Today it was ambulance services. But could have been schools, hospitals, prisons etc.  It's like I've been listening to the same stories for 20+ years. These are important issues so fair enough to cover them - but endlessly and very repetitive and with the same angle is ridiculous. No analysis of how existing money is spent, could it be better spent, are there other cheaper ways of getting the same result, are there vested interests preventing reform etc.. There is no new thinking about how to report on these issues.
That, as they say, was like a flashbulb exploding in my head.

One of my many faults as a manager charged with delivering online and interactive TV projects was a tendency to undervalue the contributions of people who did nothing but identify potential problems. I don't mean naturally cautious, sensible types who pointed out where things might go wrong and then wracked their brains trying to identify a different route to the desired goal: I had no problem whatsoever with them. In fact, I loved them. No, it was the ones who listed all the problems that might arise - and then sat back smugly, evidently feeling they had made a valuable contribution, and that their work here was done.

My standard line was "so how do you propose we solve that problem?" If their response was to give a little shrug and a smug smirk, it was all I could do not to physically attack them. If they responded that the only answer was to spend more money on the project, I would point out that there wasn't any more licence-payers' money available. Another "not my problem, squire" shrug and a smug "you're really fucked now, aren't you" smirk. Or they'd list all the other projects we should stop doing in order to guarantee the success of the one we were discussing. "Our budget allocation depends on delivering all of them," I'd explain, trying to keep the anger out of my voice. "If we stopped doing them, they'd take the money away, and hand our work to another department." Yet another shrug.

God, that made angry. After reading my friend's email, I realised that I feel exactly the same sort of anger whenever I watch Sky News, BBC News or (especially) Channel 4 News these days - because there's never an attempt to reframe the problem in such a way that a genuinely fresh solution might emerge: the answer is always to keep doing exactly what we're doing, but throw more of our money at it. 

For instance (and this is me talking, not my friend), the NHS is a vast, expensive, inefficient, badly-run organisation which, in many parts of the country, is failing patients in myriad ways. Broadcasters continually and gleefully report these failings. When anybody - especially anyone on the political right - suggests changing the way the NHS is run, by "privatising" parts of it; or halting certain types of treatment (e.g. unnecessary plastic surgery and any form of IVF treatment); or asking most people to pay a small fee to visit their GP; or making sure that people who aren't entitled to free treatment actually pay for it; or removing at least some of the endless layers of non-medical bureaucracy; or training enough British nurses and doctors so we don't have to import them or hire them at a grotesque daily rate from agencies; or making the Scots, the Welsh and the Northern Irish pay for their prescriptions, rather than just punishing the English (as bloody usual) - well, just try to remember the last time you saw a television news report that treated any of these potentially useful policies as anything but the ravings of evil capitalist Nazis who can't wait to see poor people dying in the streets. Can't, can you? Because every radio and television news report leads inexorably to one solution - spend more money!

But it's Brexit that has rendered television news unwatchable and radio news unlistenable. The British people have voted to leave the EU. That's a fact. Many people think this will be a bit of a disaster. That's also a fact. So, instead of doing their best to stop Brexit happening, why don't the people who voted Remain stop carping, sneering, lying or simply trying to stop it happening, and instead put on their thinking caps, devise some proposals that would mitigate the "disaster", and put forward those proposals in a calm and helpful manner.  Meanwhile, why don't news broadcasters stop behaving as if they worked for the PR department of the Remain campaign, stop reporting good economic news as if it's a "despite Brexit" surprise, limit the number of Remainers they interview (and treat them with a little less reverence, because, you know, they lost), try to tell us about all the opportunities that Brexit will undoubtedly create; and please, please, please finally start to report the fact that most of the Eurozone is in deep, deep economic, political and social doo-doo, that the political map of Europe could very well have changed beyond recognition by this time next year  - and give the Brexiteers some credit for providing Britain with a potential escape route.

In other words, like my friend, I've really had enough of broadcast news's "not my problem, squire" shrug and its smug "you're really fucked now, aren't you" smirk. No wonder I spend so much time watching Fox News.


  1. Spot on Scott, I am with you all the way, as is Mrs Campbell. In an earlier life, management speak for the unhelpful types you describe were known as "problem staters", and needed to be dealt with if any progress was tom be made.

    All the best,


    1. I used to think it was a public sector problem - until I returned to the private sector 12 years ago, and discovered they were everywhere.

      And it's great to hear from you, Duncan - pretty sure I haven't seen you since a friend's leaving do in The Drive about 30 years ago!

  2. Bravo Mr Gronmark, this is one blog I visit daily for my none mainstream news and views, and it's always worth it.

    1. Gosh! Thanks very much, Luke C - delighted you get something out of my chunterings!