Monday, May 25, 2009
Enough is enough. If I see one more headline about MPs using my money to clear moats or buy duck islands or dog food I think I’ll scream.
Sure, I’ve been as hooked on this comedy as anyone. I must have played Anthony Steen’s hilariously inappropriate “my very, very large house looks like Balmoral” interview a dozen times; it beats any stand-up routine. And I’m thrilled that supercilious twits like him have been forced out. But I really think we’ve exhausted this drama now. Everyone knows that the system is screwed; we all agree that there needs to be an election to clear these jokers out and start again; we also agree that the election mustn’t be too soon, otherwise we’ll have a hung parliament stacked with BNP fascists and Esther Rantzen. Or Susan Boyle might end up prime minister.
But we knew all this a week ago. So why is the BBC still following the Telegraph’s agenda, rather than creating its own? I’ve not seen a proper piece of investigative journalism about the expenses story. Like, what exactly is the House of Commons Fees Office? Who are these people who encouraged our hapless representatives to claim for curtains and champagne flutes? Let’s name the real culprits. Or let’s have a proper debate about how parliamentary democracy should be restructured once all this nonsense is over.
Am I the only one concerned about the BBC’s editorial priorities? We’ve grown used to their laziness with local news: how often does ‘Look North’ lead with stories broken by that morning’s The Journal? But we expect better skills from the huge team at TV Centre. Yesterday morning, for example, BBC bulletins led on a News of the World “exclusive” about a bribed chauffeur who showed reporters around the royal garage. I agree it’s a story worth covering, but don’t aren’t there more pressing things going on in the world to lead your bulletin?
Like in Pakistan, for instance. Right now, nearly 2 million human beings are desperately trying to find shelter in 45°C heat. They’ve have been displaced by the Pakistani army’s belated battle with the Taliban in Swat province, a humanitarian catastrophe of momentous proportions that’s been unfolding over the last three weeks – precisely the period where we’ve been preoccupied with revelations about MPs’ expenses. Yet there’s been scant coverage either in BBC News bulletins or on the Today programme.
The cosmopolitanism of BBC News was what used to make it so special. Now I fear it’s veering towards the American model. Tune into any American television news bulletin and I guarantee you will be given only local stories (or, occasionally, one about an American who’s been killed overseas). The country with the greatest influence outside its own borders has the most parochial journalism. I suspect it’s one of the reasons why some Americans sound so utterly self-obsessed when they’re abroad: the world outside their 50 states is, quite simply, foreign.
Why do I believe the situation in Pakistan is marginally more important than lax security at Buckingham Palace? Precisely 18 months ago in this blog I listed the ten biggest hypothetical threats facing the West. Top of the list was: "In Pakistan President Musharraf is replaced by a weak civilian government unable to contain the Taliban. That regime is quickly overthrown by religious extremists who immediately turn round the nuclear missiles currently pointing at Delhi and Mumbai and aim them straight at Tel Aviv."
That apocalyptic scenario is getting closer by the day. There’s no evidence that the Pakistani army is actually winning their war, and Taliban fighters are now within 100 miles of the nuclear red button in Islamabad. Yet our most influential news organisation leads on a tabloid newspaper stunt.