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Radio review: Whose Truth?, Gone Medieval, and Composer of the Week

28 June 2024


A mass grave found beside a church in Bucha, Ukraine, in 2022. Whose Truth? (World Service, Saturday) focused on conflicting accounts of the massacre

A mass grave found beside a church in Bucha, Ukraine, in 2022. Whose Truth? (World Service, Saturday) focused on conflicting accounts of the massacre

DISINFORMATION is big business — for those who perpetrate it and for those who investigate it. In its bid for continued relevance, the BBC has repurposed a tranche of its news-gathering division to the service of fact-checking, and BBC Verify is now frequently invoked in stories ranging from international conflict to manifesto pledges.

In Whose Truth? (World Service, Saturday), BBC Verify has formed a curious alliance with the outreach arm of the Nobel Prize, recruiting to the fight the intellectual kudos of various laureates. Thus, in a programme about climate-change denial, the geneticist Sir Paul Nurse decries the distortion of science by politics; and, in the latest broadcast episode, we hear of the information war raging alongside the real war in Ukraine.

In the latter case, the Nobel recipient is not a person, but an organisation: the Centre for Civil Liberties, formed in 2007 to hold the Ukraine government to democratic account, and now leading the efforts to disentangle truth from the chaos and confusion. Much of the programme focused on events in Bucha in March 2022, and the conflicting accounts of a massacre. We heard also from the chief executive of Alethea, a US-based organisation that advises big corporations on “disinformation mitigation”.

It is all fascinating stuff; but, for those of us who swim further downstream than the media-savvy, it would have been helpful to understand more clearly the nature of the lies being told. What is contained in these thousands of perfidious tweets and Facebook posts? And, when we are told that five per cent of posts on the Bucha massacre were favourable to Russia, it is not at all clear whether that is a big or small number. The prime objective of disinformation is to sow confusion. Having listened to the programme, I remain confused.

A second podcast in as many weeks from History Hit (historyhit.com) has attracted your reviewer’s attention. Gone Medieval is presented in an unfussy manner by the historian Matt Lewis; and, last week, the subject was “London’s Oldest Parish Church: Great St Bart’s”, replete with colourful origin stories, courtesy of the church’s Rector, the Revd Marcus Walker.

For those who love to be well equipped with did-you-knows, here was a rich miscellany. Did you know that the August Bank Holiday originated in the St Bartholomew Fair? Or that the tradition of marking an event launch by cutting a ribbon came from that fair? Then there is the one about Archbishop Boniface and a punch-up that he instigated with the St Bart’s clergy, and the coffee shop in which you were allowed to speak only Latin.

Space allows only the briefest mentions of the excellent Composer of the Week episode (Radio 3) on Wednesday of last week, which featured Dvořák’s religious music. Stalwarts have complained that this strand has been shunted to the afternoon, but it remains one of the best things about the network.

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