Wednesday, January 28, 2009


The Independent has pulled Mark Steel's column this week. Here it is (thanks to Ten Percent):-WHERE’S MY COLUMN GONE?

Given that it takes me several months to collect together the documents needed to get my car tax, I’m amazed that anyone manages to assemble the hundreds of bits required to produce a newspaper every single day. Then something happens, such as John Updike dies, and the newspaper gets someone to write something about him, and right in the space where my own column was destined to appear. Couldn’t he have hung on for a few more hours and buggered up someone the following day? So, for anyone pining, this is what would have appeared had it not been for John Updike’s genuinely untimely death.

The BBC are right. If they broadcast that appeal for food and medicine to be sent to Gaza it WOULD be taking sides. The Israeli Defence force could legitimately say “We’ve gone to enormous lengths here to kill people, then you go and help to keep them alive. How do you square that with your remit to be neutral?”

So the BBC needs to look at other areas in which its ‘impartiality’ could be called into question. To start with they’ll have to scrap ‘Crimewatch’, which clearly takes the side of the murdered against the interests of murderers. Maybe they could get round this by having a new balanced Crimewatch, in which the police plea for witnesses to a crime, but then the presenter says “Next tonight - have you seen this man? Because Big Teddy and his gang are desperate to track him down and do him in for ringing us up earlier. So if you have any information please call us, where Nobby the Knife is ready to talk to you in complete confidence.”

It’s impossible to be entirely neutral about anything, especially with an appeal for money. Appeals are made for injured veterans of the Second World War, but I don’t suppose they’d take them off air if they got a letter to Points of View saying “Dear BBC, I’m a Nazi war criminal but I pay my license fee just like everyone else, and as such I was appalled by the biased images of the Battle of Normandy used to promote your financial appeal. There are two sides to every story you know, and I thought you had a promise to be impartial. So come on BBC, us Kommandants watch television as well!”

Appeals have been made for victims of wars in the Congo, Darfur and Bosnia, keeping people alive and thereby undermining the aims and efforts of the armies who tried to wipe them out. But if the current stance carries on, from now on if anyone feels their block of flats collapsing on them they’ll think “I hope this is an earthquake and not an invading army or we won’t get a penny via the BBC.”

Aware of the frail logic of not showing the appeal, the BBC have made some even stranger statements to justify their decision, such as claiming they couldn’t be sure the money would ‘get through’. Ah yes that must be it. If only Gaza was like the Congo or Darfur, where the Red Cross can pop along to the village cashpoint machines, draw the money out and get Janjaweed or Hutu militias to help them search for two-for-one bargains in the local Somerfields.

Luckily for the Middle-East, the American government has been less squeamish about this question of impartiality. For example in Bush’s last year he sent Israel 2.2 billion dollars worth of military aid, and there’s no record of anyone saying “This couldn’t be seen as breaching our impartiality in any way, could it?”

The problem is that when viewers are confronted with scenes of misery and destruction, they’re bound to ask what or who caused this, and if it was done deliberately. So the BBC couldn’t remain neutral. Either they allowed the appeal that would lead to those questions being asked, or they refused it, in which case they’re suggesting they shouldn’t aid the relief of civilians who’ve been bombed, starved and slaughtered, as on this occasion their plight can be justified. And it’s decided this time to be biased not towards the impoverished but towards the impoverishers.

Or maybe they’ve been under such a barrage of complaints lately they just panicked that in the middle of the appeal the presenter might say, “Oh and by the way, I shagged David Attenborough’s grandson. Anyway, back to the lack of clean water.”

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