Saturday 27 June 2009
Richard Ingrams’s Week: Celebrity coverage is rarely fair and balanced
"Nobody has soared so high and dived so low," says David Miliband on his website, according to a report in The Times. He was referring, apparently, not to Tony Blair or Gordon Brown but to the late Michael Jackson. "RIP Michael," Miliband added in a pious afterthought.
Some people may find it improbable that the British Foreign Secretary should publicly express such banal thoughts. But we should remember (a) that today's politicians have always been desperate to show the voters that they are fanatical devotees of pop music, and (b) that we live in a very mad world.
So, scarcely recovered from the fury and indignation we were thrown into by the revelations about MPs' expenses, we have now been overwhelmed by a tidal wave of grief which since the news of Jackson's death has spread all over the world.
It is curious how the question of balance in the reporting of public events seems to apply only to political issues, and there has to be equal weight given to Labour and Conservative, Israelis and Palestinians.
In other areas of public concern, one-sidedness is perfectly acceptable – but wouldn't it be healthier if in the wake of all the tributes to the great musical genius Michael Jackson, the BBC was required to give air time to somebody who might say that the late Jackson was a second-rate musician, an unpleasant weirdo and pervert whose rubbish songs would be forgotten in a few years' time.
It might not be true, but in the interests of that all-important balance, I think it ought to be said.
Thompson's argument won't wash
While it is helpful to be told the various perks and expenses enjoyed by Mark Thompson, the BBC's director general, I would be more interested to know how he spends his £600,000 salary.
What does anybody do with a salary like that? You could explain it if Thompson had several ex-wives on his payroll but, so far as we know, he is a respectable church-going citizen with wife and kids and a poor apology for a beard. So why does he need all that money?
Put on the spot about the vast salaries paid to himself and the BBC's army of managers, Thompson comes up with the traditional excuse always provided on such occasions. This is to the effect that all these people could earn even larger salaries if they worked for the commercial sector.
It was always a pathetically thin argument because it assumed that all those concerned were so uniquely talented that they might easily be lured away to richer pastures like professional footballers. What makes the argument even thinner is the fact that unlike the BBC, which has a huge guaranteed income from the licence fee, the commercial sector is currently in a state of near-bankruptcy.
ITV is virtually collapsed while Channel 4 is desperately looking round for ways to continue in business. Yet Thompson goes on pretending that the commercial channels are some kind of golden fairyland awash with money and eyed with envy by weak-willed BBC executives.
I imagine that nowadays the truth is precisely the opposite and that it is the commercial suits who look with envy at their BBC counterparts.
Read all about it – oh no, you can't
If the press is so concerned to restore the public's faith in Parliament, it might begin by showing some interest in what goes on there and a start could be made by reporting some of the debates.
On Wednesday, for example, there was an interesting, even lively, debate about Gordon Brown's Iraq inquiry notable in particular for a fiery speech by the Respect MP George Galloway.
Galloway rightly drew attention to the general mediocrity of those chosen to sit on the inquiry. The historian Lawrence Freedman he described as "one of the authors of the intellectual case for war" while his colleague Sir Martin Gilbert had made an absurd comparison between Bush and Blair and Roosevelt and Churchill. As for the token woman, Baroness Prashar, pictured above – "Why should Parliament be represented by a woman I have never heard of? I have sat in this place for 23 years and I doubt whether anybody here, other than those with the privilege of knowing the lady, could tell us anything that she has ever done."
Earlier, the Conservative Michael Mates, who sat on the Butler inquiry, had asked the pertinent questions "Why is there not somebody with military expertise as a member of the inquiry?" and "Why is there no one with some legal experience on the committee?".
There were no answers from the Government, but those who may have felt that the board of inquiry was a group of obscure and unqualified stooges likely to follow the example set by the great Whitewasher-in-Chief Lord Hutton would have had all their suspicions confirmed.
Assuming, that is, they would know about it in the first place. My point is simply that they would not have read a word about it in the press, because not a word of it was reported.
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