Bacon butties and the politics of buffoonery

Never mind the quality, feel the wit! Mary Maguire laments political coverage focussed on drama rather than issues. 

Mary Maguire
11 June 2014

I’ve often felt that I live in a parallel universe when I read or hear a report of a conference or event that I’ve attended. The reporting doesn’t often resemble my experience of the event. I accept that, as part of what makes news, the reportage has to concentrate on the odd, the unusual, the one minute of drama amidst a whole day of predictable calm. Man bites dog, rather than dog bites man. But it always worries me that the people not present at the event will have no idea of what really happened, what was really said, what it was really all about.

When, for example, a massive demonstration of thousands of people protesting about a particular injustice to draw public attention to it, is suddenly hijacked by a handful of thugs who attack a person or shop, that’s all that’s reported.

Or, that nano second of bacon sandwich mastication captured for eternity that renders a politician looking “weird” becomes the news rather than reporting what he proposed he would do if in government. I challenge anyone to not look weird when soggy white bread gets stuck on the roof of your mouth and bacon gets stuck in between your teeth.

I also sometimes feel as though I am part of a theatrical production rather than a news story or event. A producer will call and ask for an interview but will want a certain line from us, as though the script has already been written and they just want an actor to say their lines. Rather than accepting legitimate views and opinions.

I understand about news values and I understand about making news interesting. I know that popular news is gossipy and sometimes feels trivial and that we can’t be serious all the time. But serious sometime would be good. Does everything have to be reduced to a clip?

 BBC’s Question Time often makes me want to shout at the screen. Mostly about the lack of women and, before anyone gets out the statistics, the point is: One. Woman. Is. Not. Enough.

In the recent run up to the local and Euro elections, one particular candidate seemed to hog exposure, both in print and broadcast. The guy had cultivated a man’s kind of man image, a man of the people, an antidote to the establishment – a blokey sort of bloke who drinks beer and smokes fags. And everyone fell for it.

To me, it felt as though balance had been thrown out the window. Coverage seemed out of all proportion to his electoral base. I wasn’t the only one to question this. Twitter was a flutter and the Greens launched a petition calling for equal treatment.

One particular Question Time made me shout very loudly. The majority of the show (for that is what it has become) a couple of weeks before the elections, was dominated by the issue of Europe and immigration. Why? Because Farage was on the show and that was all he cared about. But there were others on the show who cared about many other hot, contentious issue. When David Dimbleby eventually decided to move on to another subject, he remarked there was just 20 minutes of airtime left.

Well forgive me, but there are huge issues such as poverty, unemployment, housing, the NHS, the economy that also need examining in the run up to any election.  There was no scrutiny whatsoever of UKIP’s policies on those other matters. Twitter with its 140 characters, delves deeper.

The BBC as a public service broadcaster should hold up to scrutiny in its political programmes, the politicians of the day, their pledges, their policies, whoever they are. Otherwise it’s just one big showcase. No balance. Just drama.

I’m sure it must sometimes seem nightmarish for broadcasters to achieve balance on their programmes, particularly around contentious issues and around election periods.  An attempt would be good, rather than tagging on to the fashionable image of the moment.

I felt as though I was in the middle of a BBC-inspired social experiment to see whether over-exposure of a politician claiming to be one thing, but in reality quite another, would result in more votes for that politician and that party.

And that’s not what I want from mybeeb. When I tune into serious political programmes, I do expect a bit more than theatrical flourishes. If I want light-weight, skim the surface coverage, there are plenty of other outlets.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData