Sunday, 14 March 2010

Media bits

When I was at university, Private Eye had a column called Pseuds' Corner.  It might have still.  Anyway, I came across an item for it today.  It's part of a review of recommended wines.  'There is pinotage and pinotage.  This is the latter....'  (Jane MacQuitty, The Times)

A couple of days ago I received my long-awaited reply from the BBC.  It came of course not from the Director General, Mr Thompson, to whom I'd written.  'As you will appreciate...' he receives more correspondence than he can deal with personally, so the letter came from Ms Bower of BBC Complaints in Glasgow.  I wasn't so much complaining as observing.  I imagine the four pages were a fairly standard response to complaints about bias about assisted suicide.  It basically chronicled the balance of viewpoints presented in news coverage of related items - which wasn't my concern.  My point was about the power and balance of story, not about arguments.  I actually said that I thought the BBC did balance comment well.  It seemed as if my letter hadn't been read properly, just scanned and put in the 'anti' pile.  I was disappointed, and reminded of Hamlet's, 'Methinks the lady doth protest too much.'

This was my letter:

'Dear Mr Thompson

'Without doubt assisted dying is among the most important issues in the news at the moment.  I am concerned that the BBC’s presentation particularly of ‘news items’ connected with this issue does not appear to be even-handed.

'I am sure that everyone from management to producers and presenters is acutely conscious of trying to balance opposing views in the debate.  Clearly this is most easily and successfully achieved in studio discussions, where I think presenters do conceal their own views professionally.  However, I have two areas of concern. 

'The first is that the news agenda seems largely driven by stories of individuals who favour assisted suicide, such as Edward Downes, Debbie Purdy, Kay Gilderdale, Terry Pratchett and Ray Gosling.  Having Motor Neurone Disease myself, I have wrestled with the conundrum of why these are so much more newsworthy than the thousands with disabling and terminal conditions who choose to live their lives with trust in their doctors’ professional skill.  Is it because they are being fed to the media by particular lobby groups?  The impression given by highlighting these exceptional cases is that we are queuing up for physicians to assist us terminate our lives on demand, which is not true.  I understand that the ‘everyday’ is not news, and that the struggle to survive does not make dramatic headlines - and yet it is remarkable and should enter the public arena. Otherwise a skewed picture of reality is being presented.

'And here I come to my second area of concern.  Balance is not achieved by telling a story and merely getting people with opposing views to comment on it.  For most of us, story itself  has an emotive power which argument doesn’t carry.  That means that true balance is achieved by balancing stories as well as debate, and I don’t think I’ve seen or heard a news-story with an ‘I’ve decided to live’ slant in the past year - with the exception of the short item on Alison Davis on Newsnight last night (and something similar on The One Show last year) as a response to two stories on the other side.  Even that in terms of time was uneven.  Certainly it was nothing comparable to the ‘documentary’ on Kay Gilderdale on Panorama a couple of weeks previously.  There are stories of disabled or terminally ill people who have either never wanted to die, or who once wanted assisted suicide but now no longer do, which deserve proper airtime, such as Alison’s, or Matt Hampson and Bryan Davies, the paralysed rugby players, or Michelle Wheatley with locked-in syndrome, and equally of partners and carers who have nursed sufferers to the very end.  Many of them would not wish to be campaigners, but their stories deserve to be told to the nation - partly for their own sake and also for the sake of a true representation of the way things really are.

'At the moment the assumption underlying editorial decisions seems to be that, if allowed, people would rather cease to be a burden and be helped to die than suffer pain and dependency and live.  It’s a reasonable position for someone to hold, but not the neutral one which one would expect of the BBC.  At a time like this and in a matter of such moment for us all, isn’t it vital that our public service broadcaster is, and is seen to be,  even-handed in its presentation of facts as well as opinion and to be vigilant lest a subconscious agenda dictates policy?

Yours sincerely'

I'll refrain from boring you with the long reply as well.

1 comment:

  1. That's a great letter Dad, nice one. Hope Mum had a good day on Sunday. Love to you both xxx