Wednesday, 1 February 2017

The Oxygen of Publicity

Recalling Margaret Thatcher's speech to the American Bar Association in 1985, I find it hard to understand why the media gives Mr Trump so much “oxygen of publicity” which is his meat and drink.

“And we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend. In our societies we do not believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship. But ought we not to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists' morale or their cause while the hijack lasted?”

However, I do understand the need to speak truth to power.

I realise that Mrs Thatcher was talking before the era of social media which is the preferred means of communication of both Donald Trump and ISIS/Daesh – interesting that, isn’t it? They both present a slanted or selective view of reality through Twitter or Facebook. But that all the more emphasises the need for the media to exercise restraint in what they broadcast and commit to print. It needs to be as objective and factually accurate as is possible. They need to avoid the lure of the populist and sensational story over the important.

Photo ; Democracy Now
For example, how shaming it is that the preoccupation of the West’s media with the new president of the USA has diverted our attention away from the massive continuing tragedies of Syria and of the huddled masses of refugees facing intolerable cold and hunger, or the triumph in Gambia of an elected president replacing a dictator of twenty years! I am not denying that Donald Trump’s election was a major news story and that his presidency will have a massive impact for good or ill on both the United States and the world. But I am questioning whether, at this stage, it is wise to pander to his apparent vanity. He clearly enjoys being seen to be “doing”. It may be that reproducing White House photos of every executive order signing is counterproductive in making for what is surely to be desired, a leader who consults and considers.

Meanwhile how about the media going off piste, and telling us more about what’s happening in Burundi, Myanmar, Yemen, Cyprus or the Philippines? Help us to lift our eyes above our customary self interest and in the words of the BBC’s origins, “inform, educate and entertain” – aims which in the case of television at least seem to have been turned on their head. I believe this reversal has contributed to a parochialism which is potentially dangerous.

Across the Western world we are witnessing a rise in nationalism. Although often bracketed together patriotism and nationalism are not the same. While patriotism, love for one’s homeland, is a virtue, nationalism is a perversion of patriotism. Nationalism is seeking the nation’s self-interest at the expense of every other. It says, “My country first!” As an aim of government that is evil and we don’t have to look far back in history for the proof. The true aim of government, as of humanity, should be to do justice, love mercy and act humbly, because ultimately we are not answerable solely to ourselves.


  1. So good that you are back blogging, Michael. I have missed your insights.

  2. Insights? That's nice of you to say so. Maybe more like blindspots!