And, O, I’ll Go A-wandering

May 30, 2021

I was eating lunch and the radio was on: “From Our Own Correspondent”. A weekly programme which takes into its duration three or four ‘special reports’ from three or four nations around the world and spoken by three or four BBC correspondents.

The programme I heard this week featured a report on The Congo, in particular the earthquakes and eruptions going on right now and near a particular city there. Another report spoke about child abuse ligation currently going on in Canada. There were other reports; these two only do I recall in some detail.

The thought which arose in my mind as I listened was: What is the purpose of these reports? What aims do their speakers, and the BBC producers, and the BBC people who commission them, seek to fulfil by making broadcasts like these? And why are the reports presented in the fashion in which they are spoken; a fashion which appears to be close to them being formulaic, and most definitely one which is crafted and made to stay close to some general specification; perhaps a specification recommended at Schools of Journalism; or maybe one which follows guidelines published by the BBC and for use by BBC journalists and reporters?

In the reports there were no particular narrative threads of a kind which simple stories display; no beginning, middle and end, progressing from stating a situation, then adding details and complications to that situation, and finally describing a conclusion, which to a listener emotionally, and to the understanding, convey some satisfaction by means of offering a dramatic resolution.

The stories were:

  1. Dramatised by a use of rhetoric and of personal example vignettes
  2. Couched so as to draw the persons in the eruption area and the persons who claimed to have been abused when they were children, as being:

a) Reliable witnesses

b) Without mitigation being victims

c) ,,, and so relatively uncritically

  1. Language used by the reporters was ‘beefed up’:

a) The victims got sympathy and their stories were ‘coloured’ as horrible experiences by a reporter adding-in hyperbole

b) The perpetrators, the descriptions of the child abusers in Canada, and the various ‘militias’ and the ‘gridlocked roads’, and the ‘other common recent disasters’ of, and in, the part of Africa; these were all added-in and ‘bigged-up’ for the sake, I guess, of making more of an impression on a listener.

  1. As is usual in these types of report many hackneyed phrases and descriptors of horrors, and of trials of endurance and so on were thrown in – for example - ‘dire straits’ and ‘biggest ever case’ and ‘beyond endurance’ and stuff like these (although my memory not being sound in its precision here has caused me to give examples which are representative rather than actual.)
  2. In all, the reports then, are close to being ‘black and white’ rather than them bearing any of the polyphonies of nuance, or bearing any discriminations being particular anomalies and interpolations which the actual courses of any events of nature, or of ‘being alive and living life’, always and inevitably throws in.

There are more items which characterise these reports and their style and approach – and in style and approach the reports are pretty uniform. But for now these are my main ones I want to talk through with you.

The Tasmanian writer Richard Flanagan has described evening TV as bringing ‘bedtime stories for grown-ups’. I myself have many times pointed out in my pieces written that advertisers, were you to listen to their pitches with a distanced and critical ear, will be seen very clearly to be selling their good and services to you as if you they were speaking to children. I have noted elsewhere also how Mark Carney, ex governor of The Bank of England, had been invited to give The Reith Lectures for the BBC a year or two back, and had spoken in them of the intrusions into domestic life and personal business as this is being led by the larger companies, and copycatted by the lesser fry.

I have spoken also about how one is, and has been for some decades now, almost ubiquitously addressed by personal pronouns and first or Christian names by companies - in their advertising especially, but in the in Brand names also, and in their ‘infringements on the heart’; by which they try to tell us they’re ‘Mr Nice Guy’. I heard only yesterday, and the phenomenon is becoming more and more common these days, how a Bank is selling itself by way of supporting a charitable cause; something pretty emotive and in the UK, and again beefed-up in their commercial advertising so as to become a prominent ‘selling point’ to those who hear it and accept it prima facie, and are of generous dispositions.

You yourself can probably and without much difficulty, raise in your mind a few examples of this “charitable behaviour” by companies, and which is used heavily in their advertising copy. The thrust of these adverts are always for them to engage with ‘the essential passions of the heart’ in their audiences, so as to ‘get people on their side’ and feeling goodwill towards the companies. This is seen by advertisers and marketers as being three-quarters of the battle won - and them selling almost inevitably follows.

This has been a bit of a digression from the BBC and “From our Own Correspondent”; although I am sure you can see by now the points I have made have their relevance to the presentation of the reports in the programme.

As a journalist, I guess one is taught, and as being of prime importance,that one has to arouse interest and so grab one’s audiences’ attentions. If and whenever this is true the rest of the style and approach to the reports by the correspondents tends to follow like ‘night follows day’.

So, up there at the top of the aims for these reports sits ‘attention-seeking’. I use the term deliberately, since the logic as I see it, is that were one, as being a correspondent, not to grab listeners’ ears and minds and hearts, one loses one’s job as a correspondent very quickly. In addition to this, there is no doubt some large chutzpah and kudos in one being ‘on the radio’ or ‘on the TV’, and especially as being a regular ‘hired hand’ and appearing in those places with some regularity, a touch of established presence.

Not only does such a placement offer a certain amount of ‘buzz’ and ‘frisson’ to the established presence; it affects the emotions and sense of self-worth and the sense one has of one’s general standing in society, and within listening households.

When one is not a famous movie star, and nor is one a big rock star, to be ‘on the TV’ or ‘writing in the newspapers’ is a tolerable consolation for a person whose work entails as top priory the aim of ‘attention-seeking’.

Another digression. As for the honourable stature of one being one of ‘The Fourth Estate’; and of being among those who claim to ‘tell truth to power’ and to be ‘defending the foundations of democracy’ and are ‘calling authority to account’; these items are in the normal way no more nor less than selling-points’ for the trade or profession of journalism.

To whom are the points being sold and by whom are they being sold? And are they nothing much more than advertisement language for use as being the justification of, and for holding one’s head high in, the journalism industry? This set of ‘Fourth Estate’ strap-lines are offered to their listening and reading publics by journalists so as to keep those publics ‘in awe’ somewhat, and so keep them blinded by fanciful and hopped-up pseudo-ideals.

Just as a Ministry of Defence depends on war and the threat of war for its continued existence; so that its self-interest is to encourage wars and the threats of wars,and for these fears to be created and publicised; and just as Public Inquiries into events and problems arisen in specific industries or walks of life, are headed by persons prominent in those same specific industries and walks of life, and because, as those who appoint them rightly argue, these experts are the only ones capable of judging adequately in their industry; and those who appoint them failing to say or else fudging over the facts that the pool of experts for any such Inquiry is often very small, and members of it are all known to one another, often quite well, and often the members of the pool are interdependent upon one another in several ways ,or else hold over the others in the pool certain ‘wild card IOUs’ to be called in at any given time.

This indeed is how things operate; and things do not operate how the stories are told by ‘Our Own Correspondents” on the radio and TV. Things in our degraded world do not have the features of ‘bedtime stories’ nor is one side the exemplar of right and the other side the exemplar of wrong.

Nor is every road in ‘gridlock’ whenever a catastrophe is driving people out of their city en masse. Nor is a whole Institution to be thought absolutely blackened in a tarry pitch of disdain and disgust when members of it, even when many members of it, are accused of being child molesters; and notwithstanding whether that number accused are child molesters or are not.

Nor are all persons who ‘come forward’ and allege themselves to be ‘victims of child abuse’ in fact always victims of child abuse.

I need not go on. Dostoevsky in his ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ writes truly when he says:

“Why should we assume everything as we imagine it, as we make up our minds to imagine it? A thousand things may happen in reality which elude the subtlest imagination.”

Let’s now look at the effects on people who are consuming this kind of reporting from “Our Own Correspondents”. It is a noxious broth having a powerful and pleasant flavour; and ingested it does without doubt do damage to the body of one’s faculties. Recall Richard Flanagan’s ‘bedtime stories for adults’.

I don’t often cite Nietzsche, he is not a writer whose work I have read much. I do know he did write this which follows; and I know that in regard to the things of the world, and in mundane sublunary life, these words of his are healthy and wise:

“Digressions, objections, delight in mockery, carefree mistrust are signs of health; everything unconditional belongs in pathology”

‘Everything unconditional’ might be said to encompass in its scope all issues which are seen as, and are presented as being ‘black and white’ or ‘one side good and one side bad’ (like the slogan promulgating revolution in Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ - “four legs good; two legs bad”,) or like olden time kids playing ‘cowboys and indians’.

Take a peek, stand back a little in your mind and consider critically as news and views are read out or printed on paper for your consumption, and see how so much of the ‘narrative’ (for it is a story and the trade uses the term ‘story’) is couched ‘unconditionally’ simply as being two sides, one in the wrong the other in the right, often without qualification or relief.

Our fictional entertainment traditionally has always been of this mould – in the past the good guy got the girl; the bad guy got prison or was wiped out in a fortuitous accident or was plainly gunned down – although in these days that formula has receded to belonging if at all in children’s stories.

Our fictional fare of today is thought to be ‘sophisticated’. Thus the hero is often ‘amoral’ or is difficult to pin down as being reliable, trustworthy, honest, faithful and so on. He or she is as likely to be opportunist or a loveable rogue or a tough guy who won’t stand nonsense; on the whole something more sensationalist, politic, ambiguous, than has been our fare in the past.

The power of the argument that ‘might is right’ holds more sway with us in our fictions these days. No longer do we need or ask for ‘sugared honey endings’ - instead a revenge ending, or a general catastrophe of world disintegration, is now as good as any sugared ending ever was for us.

Entertainment as we do it now is about ‘letting-off steam’ and indulging one’s violent and suppressed daily resentments onscreen ; than it is about us being ‘edified’ or ‘taught kindly virtues and values’ by our fares for our leisure time.

Our emotional attachments are with the ‘highest bidder’ - he or she whose injury has been presented to us as a violation, and whose right to justice (revenge) is absolutely vindicated, since the villain is foreign and ugly and walks like a sub-human – let him or her be wiped away, s/he’s expedient.

It’s easy to see how can be lost to indulgence the bearings that a person needs to hold onto, so as for a person to be able to reach as near as possible just and proper decisions about life, and about personal and general injuries, and accidents and tricks of fortune and so on. When the fare supplied as fiction is so very wayward as to its being help and guidance; and when the ‘factual’ fare presented as ‘From Our own Correspondent’ and the like, are as ‘actual’ stuffs plainly one-eyed, and blatantly so; eagerly stoked up to support one side over another, and religiously so, rather than upon merits of any case, and normally refusing to use the smallest measure of human understanding of reality, which always has its hidden chambers of outcomes, events, course and motivations etc.

From what I have written so far it is now more possible to see in what ways audiences are being manipulated into ‘prefabricated manufactured allegiances and beliefs’; which is how ‘crowd control’ is being carried out; control being what journalism is much about; and it is what our politicians seem to be about also; control of we who are being surreptitiously wiped of our independent critical sense, by us being pointed towards confusions arising from actions and outcomes, being a farrago of traffic into wrong turnings.

“Let us take the air, in a tobacco trance, Admire the monuments, Discuss the late events, Correct our watches by the public clocks. Then sit for half an hour and drink our bocks.”