Early and Silly
The silly season has come early this year. The parliamentary recess doesn’t begin for another week but there are fewer political antics to cover. And sure enough, already the media are making major stories out of relatively trivial events in a desperate attempt to maintain circulation, viewers and website traffic – and of course, amass income from selling advertising space.
Today things have quietened somewhat and the story has slipped down the agenda. But for several days, the media have competed to cover the story of a prominent BBC presenter accused of making payments to an underaged youth for sexually explicit images. Meanwhile, political corruption, the economic results of Brexit, a former Prime Minister’s attempts to hide the truth from a committee investigating his behaviour during the pandemic, the UK’s poor economic situation as increasing numbers of people struggle to get or keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table and keep their families together – all these stories so significant for the lives of so many people get sidelined or go uncovered. Innocents continue to suffer and die from Russian aggression in Ukraine, not to mention (and the media don’t!) other war zones where the stakes for the West are superficially lower. Elsewhere the rains never come, the crops fail and countless people lose their lives for lack of adequate nutrition and healthcare. Another species becomes extinct.
This week we have been treated to a dose of national madness with allegations against the famous and hitherto widely respected BBC presenter, Huw Edwards. It will take time for the truth to surface but at present the police have confirmed that there is not a shred of evidence to support these tabloid allegations. The tabloids, of course, hope that readers will assume that ‘there is no smoke without a fire’ and will comfort themselves by declaring that publishing safeguarding matters in a national institution supported by the taxpayer are ‘in the public interest’. In the meantime they know that the character assassination of a high profile figure is always good for business, especially if it fits with their business strategies.
And it's in business owners' strategies, or in the strategy of one business owner in particular, that we see the much more sinister level to this episode. Rupert Murdoch, the owner of The Sun, the newspaper which broke this story, has a long history of attacking the BBC which he wishes to replace by extending his own global media empire (think Fox News). The government and the right wing media are out to distract public attention from the failure that is thirteen years of Tory rule.
So how willing are we to be distracted? – and by what? The BBC furore this week underlines how difficult it is to maintain a sense of proportion. Living in a world bewildering in its complexity, it is not surprising that many of us tend to opt for simple sensational stories. This is a battle for hearts, minds and wallets in which we are all participants.