Can the BBC sink much lower?

Is it me or have standards at the BBC sunk to a new low recently?

I was as keen as anyone to find out what the Chancellor had to say when he announced the results of his spending review on Wednesday. To find out, I tuned into the BBC News Channel. I discovered that our publicly paid for broadcaster had decided that to help build the tension before George Osborne’s speech we should be treated to the sight of his car travelling the quarter of a mile from 11 Downing Street to the Houses of Parliament from a helicopter! What news editor in their right mind thought that was a good way to spend our money? How on earth did he or she think that was newsworthy?

Then there’s the ever-controversial Russell Brand. Now like him or loathe him (and I appreciate that in itself is controversial) I really can’t believe many people would see him being a prime candidate for Question Time but on Thursday last there he was. Then, as if one appearance to promote his up and coming comedy tour wasn’t enough, three days later he was on Andrew Marr’s programme reviewing the Sunday papers. This time he didn’t hold back from promoting his tour: he blatantly squeezed in an advert and then thanked the BBC for the opportunity to do so. I have no idea how much Mr Brand pays his manager/promoter but I would hazard a guess that he gets great value for money!

On Thursday, seven men were convicted at the Old Bailey for their part in a “sadistic sex grooming ring”. The details of what they did are horrendous and I wouldn’t expect the BBC to go into that but I would have expected some of the emphasis of the reporting to be about the bravery of the victims who gave evidence and praise for the severity of the sentences handed out. On the 10 O’Clock News that night the headline ran something like this: “Seven  men were convicted today at the Old Bailey……. We’ll be looking at whether the police and social services could have acted sooner and brought the gang to justice earlier”. I accept that mistakes were apparently made by both Oxford Social Services and Thames Valley Police but is that really the most important thing to stress? Surely the bad people here are the men who were committing the crimes or is that too simplistic a view? It seems to me that whenever some sort of abusive crime is committed the media start a witch hunt for someone to blame other than the wretched person who actually did it.

Finally there is still this obsession with sending reporters to a location when doing so adds absolutely nothing to the coverage (something I’ve ranted about before!) Nelson Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe Mandela has criticised the international media camped outside his hospital in the capital Pretoria, calling them “vultures” but has that changed anything? Not at the BBC apparently. This morning their South Africa correspondent was still reporting from outside the hospital with, one assumes, all the paraphernalia that goes with sending an outside broadcast by satellite from another country.

The only thing that surprises me about the BBC’s coverage of Mr Mandela’s illness by the way is that there appears to be just the one reporter there. At the recent G8 summit, out of the 150 odd UK reporters in attendance nearly one third of them were from the BBC.

I’m sure nobody from the BBC will read this but for what it’s worth here are my recommendations:

  • Stop filming the roofs of cars as they drive from one place to another from a helicopter: it adds precisely nothing to the news coverage and is a waste of licence payers’ money;
  • Stop paying celebrities to appear on shows when all they want to do is publicise their up and coming tour, recently released film, latest album or newly published book. They are supposed to pay for advertising not get it free from you and get paid in the process;
  • Focus at least some of your crime reporting on the criminals and the possible reasons for them turning to crime. Stop seeking to criticise people who are trying to do their best but are almost certainly working under extreme pressure with limited or too little resources;
  • Stop camping outside hospitals, police stations, courts, etc. I am more than happy to hear how Mr Mandela is getting on from a newscaster in the studio. I don’t need to see the outside of the hospital to know he is very ill and possibly at death’s door. Give the poor man and his family some peace and let the nurse and doctors do their job (the same applies to the Royal Family when they are ill or giving birth);
  • Just send one reporter, one camera man and one sound engineer to cover an event. That’s if attendance at the event is required at all of course!

So Who Do You Support?

I know cricket isn’t everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ so I should start by explaining that there is currently a cricket tournament being held here in England and Wales. It’s called the ICC Champions Trophy and it involves the top eight cricket playing nations. Two groups of four are currently playing each other at various venues for a place in the semi-finals next week. (Enough about cricket!)

So yesterday Pakistan were playing South Africa at Edgbaston in Birmingham. There weren’t many South African supporters there but most sports writers today have estimated that there were 20,000 or so cheering for Pakistan. Now I accept of course that some of those 20,000 may have flown over from Pakistan for the tournament but my feeling was that the vast majority of them were from the UK, almost certainly from England and probably from in and around Birmingham. 

That should come as no surprise: Birmingham City Council’s website reveals that according to the 2011 Census 144,627 (13.5%) Birmingham residents classified themselves as being in the Pakistani ethnic group. The same page also states that of the 238,313 residents born outside of the UK, 45% arrived in the last decade. So nearly half of the crowd could have come here reasonably recently and still be supporting the team they see as their own but what about the other half? Why were they not supporting their ‘home team’?

This got me thinking: “How long, once one has emigrated, does one hold on to one’s national identity?”

I was born in this country and admit that I have never considered living in another one. However if you do choose to leave the country of your birth there has to come a time when you support the activities, sporting or otherwise, of the country you’ve chosen as your new home, doesn’t there? Even if you don’t, what about your children and any children they have?

Perhaps the most interesting statistic of all on the council’s website is this:

“The Census shows that most people (86%), regardless of ethnicity, consider themselves to be British.”

So, assuming those at the cricket yesterday were a representative sample, approximately 17,000 of them consider themselves to be British but go to a sporting event dressed in the colours of another country and in some cases sporting a flag as well.

In case you think I’m picking on Pakistanis here, I should point out that there were, in my judgement, just as many British passport holders at the Oval today supporting India and the West Indians as there were rooting for Pakistan at Edgbaston. In fact Chris Gayle, the West Indian batsmen, is quoted as having said that playing at the Oval is like playing a home game.

I have a long-standing friend (at my age I’m inclined not to call them an ‘old-friend’!) who was born in Wales. My understanding is that his parents moved to London when he was just a baby well over 50 years ago. He still supports the Welsh rugby team and even has visions of his sons, who incidentally were born in London to an Irish mother, playing for Wales. So despite having been educated in England and worked in England for nearly 40 years he still sees himself as Welsh and even hopes his sons will likewise!

There are obviously a number of possible reasons for all this. I think it is only reasonable to consider whether we, the English, are partly to blame. Is it part of our ‘national identity’ not to completely welcome those of a different ethnic origin (Is Welsh a different ethnic origin?) into our culture? Do people differentiate between their national identity and which team they support?

I don’t know the answer – I just find it strange.