I have a confession to make. I’m ashamed of it. Really. I was once a news addict, but now I’m suffering from news fatigue – and I’m not sure which is worse.
Once when there was a big news story breaking I would follow it assiduously. And I’d regularly listen to Radio 4’s Today programme, hearing the news every thirty minutes. However, now I’m fed up with it, even though I much prefer the new guns presenting it (like the penetrating but polite Mishal Husain) to the old blunderbuses (like unsubtle and pompous John Humphrys). So my news-listening and watching tends to be restricted to local news and Channel 4 News (and occasionally for a different perspective foreign stations such as Al-Jazeera or Russia Today). Sometimes I’ll send myself to sleep the BBC’s World Tonight or its World Service. Mostly I tend to follow the news on-line on the Deutsche Welle and the Independent’s websites.
What is regrettable about news fatigue is that I am convinced of the importance of political understanding and engagement. Too often do I witness people airing half-baked sound-bite headlines and revealing their ignorance. What used to be pub prejudice is of course now largely replaced by social media reinforcement, as we, the gullible public, have no idea of the source or veracity of what appears to be news and informed opinion. I am sure the BBC have very authoritative people commenting on news stories including their own staff, but I doubt whether the people they use from various “think tanks” are at all objective. In my view their political backers ought to be declared. And as for their vox pop interviews they seem no better than the repeating of uninformed prejudice.
And that is the danger of news fatigue, that we get fed up with hearing the same things about issues which really matter. It’s of course largely a result of the 24-hour news cycle. I’m old enough to recall the days of a morning and evening news broadcast, which seemed to be sufficient. Do we really need to hear hour after hour, day after day, week after week, more about the latest sanctions and bellicose threats of Donald Trump's aims to make the rest of the world conform to his America-first agenda? Do we have to hear repeatedly all the twists and turns, and all the ifs and if-nots of Brexit? The requirement of “news” 24 hours a day means either you hear the same reports and opinions reinforced every hour or even half-hour, or you switch off literally or mentally. And such political disengagement is unhealthy for a society, because, when demagogues such as Trump or Orban, LePen or Farage seize on an issue like dogs with a bone, they are able to play on people’s ignorance and prejudices and create discontent until society itself is divided and eventually broken. In our western world’s case it is arguable that the 2008 financial crash provided the hammer for destroying society’s fabric. What is odd and disturbing is that the rich élite wolves who parade themselves as “ordinary” common-or-garden sheep, those most reponsible for causing our trouble, rather than choking, seem to float to the top.
And now here in the UK the spectre of the ultimate shape-shifting tousle-haired self-styled ram as our next unelected Prime Minister has been raised like a mad spirit of Britain Future. Preserve us! Begone, foul fiend!