Saturday, February 20, 2010

What's in the News Stupid

 Conversation after Ash Wednesday Mass  this week provided much food for thought. One topic was the effect of the media  on people's attititudes and perceptions. My own blog posts are often inspired by reports and comments in newspapers and on TV and I doubt that anyone is immune from being influenced by the words and pictures selected for publication by the big media barons. The importance of this  point is further illustrated by the efforts made by  some  autocratic governments to limit and determine the selection  even before the big media barons become involved. Hence the ongoing furore between the Chinese government and Google based on the desire for control by the Chinese  government over what its citizens may learn from sources other than itself.

So given the potentially huge impact on people's perceptions of what  features in the news and the way in which it is reported, giving  so much headline and prime news time at length to the personal life of a wayward  young golfer, as is currently happening,   patronises people and is at best a huge waste of a valuable human  poential . As an aside my personal view is that golf itself can be wasteful as the land set aside for such tiny minority interest and   the  disproportionate amounts of watering, mowing and maintaining required  for such pastime, can be enormous; although having said that, the income produced  for the Wimbledon Common conservators from permitting golfers access, must be beneficial for golfers and  Commons' ratepayers alike.

Obviously   news can  sometimes be thin on the ground  or there may be news overload at other times meaning that people will not buy newspapers headlined for the umpteenth time with a report about say more deaths in foreign lands 1000s of miles away despite the profound tragedy each and every such  death represents. Even  in such  shortaage of new news circumstances, professional  journalists and editors can surely apply a little more  thought and imagination to reporting in such a way as to provoke thought,  widen horizons or amuse or intrigue than spending so much time on celeb style trivia?

The Catholic Herald by way of a positive example had a brilliant piece this week as did the BBC earlier yet the BBC then followed the tedious herd on Friday night by giving  the headline prime news time slot to the silly golfer story despite the fact that normally sportsnews is covered for a minute or two towards the end of their news broadcast..

The amusing but relatively  important  report (also on Ash Wednesday)  which was buried in the wake of the  trivial tedium reads (courtesy BBC website):

In late 2005 the government appointed Mr Blair's former private secretary, Francis Campbell, as ambassador to the Holy See after the post was advertised.

It was the first time a British ambassador had been recruited from open competition. One hundred and twenty people applied for the job, according to the Foreign Office.

'Yes Minister' moment

In 1917 the Foreign Office issued a memorandum saying that Britain's representative at the Vatican "should not be filled with unreasoning awe of the Pope," and the post had been filled by a non-Catholic until Mr Campbell's appointment.

Tony Blair said he found out parody was close to truth
In the first episode of the three-part documentary series 'Our Man in the Vatican' Mr Blair recalls: "One of the funny things about the Yes Prime Minister show is that if you have actually done the job you realise there is parody but, my goodness, it is parody close to truth.

"And one of the great Sir Humphrey moments was when the ambassadorship to the Holy See became vacant and I said 'Francis would be a great person to do that' and they said 'Well you know this, prime minister, but actually we don't really have this open to Catholics' and I honestly thought I misunderstood what they were saying.

"I said 'How do you mean? We're talking about that Embassy, the Vatican one'. They said 'Yes, I know, but not a Catholic there.'

"I said 'It's the Vatican, the Pope, he's a Catholic. You mean we actually as a matter of policy... say you can't have a Catholic?' I said 'What is this? It's the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard'."

Mr Blair added: "Can you imagine we say for years and years and years the one category of person we shouldn't have as ambassador to the Holy See is someone who shares their faith?

"I don't think that is very sensible - not in this day.

"Quite apart from being discriminatory, how stupid is it? So Francis was the first."

Possibly the media in the West at least considers that their job is to report events and comment in such a way as will appeal to their readers. If so the problem of the readers's appeal being infuenced by media editorial decision making risks creating the opposite of a virtuous circle. The media reports overmuch about  sham celeb lifestyles; some readers become interested in celeb culture so more is reported.

Perhaps the need for big media barons to sell their newspapers explains such lack of more objective discernment but in the media as in every other part of public  life which influences human development  and education, good leadership requires a common good factor in decision making.

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