Thursday, 22 December 2011

A story about the homeless on BBC TV News means it's Christmas

Just as the first appearance of cuckoos is a sure sign of spring, BBC TV News’s  Winter item about the homeless tells us that we Christians are just about to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. That item appeared today. And as an example of utterly incoherent, guilt-drenched nonsense, it was a dilly!

The phrase “aggressive victimology” was coined by a Baltimore Sun reporter back in early 1980s to describe the tactics used by America’s liberal news media to attack President Reagan’s budget “cuts” months before they’d actually been implemented.  (Like our current “cuts”, these actually represented a slight diminution in the planned rate of increase – but, hell, why let the facts get between you and a piece of lying, socialistic,  agit-prop nonsense masquerading as fact?)

The trick of aggressive victimology propaganda is to focus on one or a handful of cases to suggest there is widespread suffering, and to provide no proper contextual analysis or any opposing point of view to whichever modish line you’re pushing.

As I can't access TV News on iPlayer (for some odd reason - maybe I've been blocked!), I’ll have to describe today's One O'Clock News item from memory. Crisis, the homeless charity commissioned a report from Sheffield University which shows that homeless people die on average 30 years younger than people who have homes.

Wow! You don’t say! I wonder why?

Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that the behaviour which tends to render people homeless in the first place – e.g. drinking, taking drugs, being completely disorganised, not planning for the future, being mentally ill – along with less protection from the elements, fewer visits to the doctor, a tendency to live in squalor and to eat food past its sell-by date and to be vulnerable to physical attack and a greater likelihood of being severely depressed and consequently committing suicide?

Probably not. I expect it’s my fault for being heartless and selfish. Or because the Tories are back in power and deliberately killing off poor people as usual.

The report featured five people who were either homeless now or were about to become so. Four of the five were foreign, and the fifth – a young woman identified as a “sofa surfer” because she slept on friends’ sofas – spoke such an exaggerated variant of “innit-speak”, she might as well have hailed from Mongolia. The first “victim” – the mother of a five-year old - was about to be evicted from her flat. She had a Spanish name and sounded Spanish. Another was a young man described as a French student who kept his back to the camera because he didn't want his family back home being able to identify him.

I forget who the other two foreigners were, but it did strike me that there was one simple answer to their plight. Can you guess what it is? Thought so.

The reporter admitted that, while there were thousands of homeless people on the streets of London 20 years ago, he had managed to find very few – and only one of those he interviewed was actually sleeping rough.

This story could have been presented as a triumph for Britain’s lavish welfare system, because of the massive decrease in homelessness. It could have been used to raise questions about whether the UK shouldn’t really be taking steps to send many of the indigent poor back to their countries of origin on the grounds we have enough useless or unlucky people of our own to look after (none of the Big issue sellers on our local High Street have an English accent). Or, seeing as the government is about to spend another £20 million of our money on the homeless, it could have been seen as an example of the Coalition’s noble determination to protect the most vulnerable members of society despite the economy's failure to emerge from the doldrums. Or even (perish the thought) as an example of the extraordinary generosity of the UK’s coping classes at a time when household finances are being squeezed. Or it could have been used to ask how, given how much of our money goes on welfare, these people managed to get themselves into such straits in the first place, unless they had deliberately set out to evade the social services safety net.

Instead of which it didn’t really do much except leave the viewer vaguely depressed and vaguely guilty about a problem which isn’t their fault and which shouldn't really be their problem. There was one interview with a woman in a hostel who told us that she had known many homeless people from the hostel who had died. I couldn’t help thinking – well, given they were being provided with shelter and food, whose fault was that?

I know how mean this sounds: I'm not attacking the organisations and individuals who help the homeless - our local church does a lot to ameliorate suffering, and at least one of my friends in another part of the country does volunatry work at a local soup kitchen: you're good people doing great work! (Tonight's report showcased Prince William and Kate visiting the homeless shelter at Centre Point - there are plenty willing to lend a hand.) And I really don't mind some (but not too much) of my tax money being spent to help Britons who've fallen on hard times. 

But as a former TV journalist who has despaired over the years at the seemingly wilful refusal of TV News (Radio's no better) to ever ask any difficult questions while splattering our screen with the usual dollops of ennervating misery porn, I must object yet again to news reports which leave viewers with the vague impression that this is a heartless country which does too little to alleviate suffering. That is utter nonsense, and TV News should be ashamed of iteself for trying so desperately to make us believe otherwise. 

Meanwhile, Merry Christmas from your Uncle Ebeneezer!

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