If only there were less news from the front

War reporting is no longer feeding our need to know; it is pandering to our need to be entertained
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The Independent Online

At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, it's at times like this that I long for a complete news blackout. At least newspapers fire off their salvos from the front just once a day. It's the rolling television news coverage of the war, the 24/7 wall-to-wall dispatches from the front line, back line, side line and every conceivable branch line to which I object.

At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, it's at times like this that I long for a complete news blackout. At least newspapers fire off their salvos from the front just once a day. It's the rolling television news coverage of the war, the 24/7 wall-to-wall dispatches from the front line, back line, side line and every conceivable branch line to which I object.

War reporting is no longer feeding our need to know; it is pandering to our need to be entertained. A friend described the carefully selected montage of highlights from the coalition's Middle East military engagement diary that BBC World shows at the end of each day with suitable musical accompaniment as war pornography, and I agree with him. The new version of that old joke "What did you do in the war daddy?'' "I fought, what did you think?'' goes like this "Anything worth watching on telly tonight?'' "Let's see, there's Ground Force, Dead Ringers, the Man U match and the war of course. Tell you what, let's watch a bit of the war and then see what Scholes and Becks are up to."

What really depresses me about the whole depressing situation is the unashamedly personal spin that every correspondent seems to put on his reports nowadays. Shortly after six yesterday morning, I turned on the radio and heard one of the 700 journalists covering the war from Five Live, the Today programme, News Hour, The World Today, LBC, CBS or even – God help us – the English language service of China Radio International, make the following statement about a skirmish he'd just witnessed: "From where I sat it sounded as though the invasion was going badly awry. If it continues like this...''

I can just see my first news editor, a diminutive despot by the name of Dennis Ditchfield, scourge of the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, turn purple. "News,'' Mr Ditchfield used to tell us cub reporters, "is something that has happened. When you begin a sentence with 'If', it isn't news, it's speculation, and frankly I'm not interested in speculation.''

Neither am I. Another good reason for a news blackout, or at any rate a speculation blackout, is – and this surely goes without saying – that Jeremiah observations of this nature do little for coalition morale and much to lift the spirits of the Republican Guard. I dread to think what might have happened had that speculative war correspondent been anywhere near the Supreme Allied HQ on 4 June 1945, two days before the D-Day landings.

General Eisenhower and the other top brass had called in Group Captain Stagg, the Army meteorologist, to find out what the weather was going to be like in 36 hours' time. Not good, sir, replied Stagg. There was an anticyclone heading up the Channel towards Omaha beach from the Atlantic, and in his opinion, sir, the landing should be postponed. Taking the tides into consideration, this would mean delaying D-Day for two weeks and most of the Allied forces, battleships, fighter planes and assault troops were either in or heading inexorably towards Normandy. Now there's a classic example of an invasion going awry if ever I heard one. But did the great British public twiddling the knobs of their bakelite wireless sets hear a whisper about it?

Certainly not, and just as well, because round about lunchtime that day, the industrious Group Captain Stagg, scanning his charts, noticed a minute change in the weather patterns which, he calculated, might just afford a window of opportunity for a landing the following morning. Voilà – you know the rest, though maybe not the finer details. I hasten to say I only know them from listening to a splendid programme on Radio 4 to celebrate 80 years of BBC weather forecasting.

The best thing about this story is that Group Captain Stagg pretty much worked this out on the back of an envelope, not having a computer. The giant new computer recently installed at the Met Office in Bracknell is capable of 150 billion calculations per second. Sixty years ago, weathermen really had to know their onions.

Instead of these endless dispatches from the front, why not, if we must talk about the war, have rolling vintage John Mills and Jack Hawkins films, which would at least raise our spirits. China Radio International last night had a spokesman from Friends of the Earth talking about the hard time the wildlife, particularly the foxes, were having in the Iraqi desert because of all those tanks rolling over the sand. Poor foxes.

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