Radio review: Call Yourself an Impartial Journalist?, The Bubble, and Tech Tent

03 May 2019

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ANGLICANS listening to Jonathan Coffrey’s lament over the state of journalism in Call Yourself an Impartial Journalist? (Radio 4, Friday) might have had occasion to exclaim, “Welcome to our world.” A loss of faith in the old established institutions, the plurality of alternatives, the undermining of truth itself as a worthy ambition — in all these respects, the deterioration of the Fourth Estate parallels that of the First. And it may be that the solutions are also similar. On the one hand, “radical open-mindedness”; on the other, a narrowing of audience and agenda.

The problem is that, as the Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy admitted, people like him think they know what impartiality is, and so do not really talk about it. There is, as the Spectator columnist Rod Liddle claimed, a bias not necessarily of a party-political nature in the mainstream broadcast news, but towards a civility and decency which necessarily sidelines the angry and the intemperate.

We favour the quiet prejudice of our own established discourse over the seemingly petulant prejudice of others; and we, too, rarely attempt to challenge our own views by engaging with opinions beyond our own.

The most revealing moment in this documentary was the admission by Richard Sambrook, a director of news at the BBC for most of the first decade of the millennium: that the BBC was too slow to pick up on concerns in the wider UK population about immigration. What we need, Mr Liddle says, is a news agenda in which “everything is up for grabs”. But I suspect that he doesn’t mean that. Everybody’s impartiality is different, and Mr Liddle is of a mind-set that can read a Remain agenda into Doctor Who.

Call Yourself an Impartial Journalist? might usefully be heard in a double bill with The Bubble (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), in which two people from opposing political camps agreed to exchange Twitter accounts for a fortnight, and live with each other’s daily diet of opinion. This experiment revealed only that one Brexiteer parliamentary researcher was a lot more relaxed than one Labour-supporting teacher-trainee about spending time with “the opposition”.

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More substantial, though, was the rift between the two over what politics is and means. For one, it was a career and a life-game; for the other, a cultural and social identity. Unacknowledged was the fact that they were themselves both contained within the bubble that is Twitter. It seemed not to have crossed their minds, or that of anybody working on this programme, that there are plenty who live happily outside this bubble.

Tech Tent (World Service, Friday) provided an interesting counterpoint to the discussion by focusing on the ban on social media that is (at the time of writing) currently in place in Sri Lanka after the Easter Day bombings. Criticism of the ban is growing, along with the suspicion that this is a means to suppress scrutiny of government failings. What is clear is that, so ubiquitous and embedded are social media in Sri Lanka, that the bubble is unavoidable if you wish to engage with politics.

 

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