Are you comfortably numb?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Well, you may think I'm mad, but...

I just applied for a BBC placement in December/January, which would last 1 week if I got it (let me just say here that the chances of me getting it are slim to none whatsoever). The application form was long and difficult to fill in. One of the questions was 'Write about a BBC news programme that you have watched or listened to recently'. What better, I thought, than to watch tonight's Newsnight and comment on something fresh in my mind? So, I settled down for... a disappointing evening of political cudgeoning. The question is, was I right to post this on my application form afterwards? Yes or no, the fact is I've done the deed and pressed the 'send' button now. So there's no going back...

Newsnight on July 13th focused mainly on the conflict between Israel and Lebanon, just opening up at this point. Emily Maitlis interviewed a member of the Israeli Government, the Syrian Ambassador in Britain and an American ex-abassador to Britain.

Obviously it is always hard to cover the issue of the Middle East, and at this stage, when conflict was worsening, Maitlis had her work cut out. However, I didn't feel that she handled her work particularly well. One of the shifts of the media (and incidentally, of the Left) in recent years has been an increased tendency to display unreasonably negative attitudes towards Israel in favour of apologist opinion towards terrorist and extremist groups. So in this Newsnight programme, I found that there was barely any mention of the fact that Hezbollah had actually attacked Israel first. Maitlis instead spent most of the interview with the Israeli representative accusing Israel of having "screwed things up" in Lebanon. I felt that this coverage was far from neutral and in fact an example of 'sledgehammer journalism'; that is, trying to trip the interviewee up in order to win points, rather than open up a constructive dialogue.

However, Newsnight's strength is that it has the courage to tackle such issues head-on and actually engage in opinionated debate rather than report on the matter with limp-wristed indifference. Maitlis, despite at times coming across as unfair and adversarial, at least successfully engaged the viewer and enticed them into the debate. This is a trait that is characteristic of most Newsnight presenters.

The rest of the programme focused on the impending G8 summit and the erroneous advice given by many homeopaths to travellers, leading to many potentially contracting malaria. This last issue was again evidence of the diversity of issues covered by Newsnight, and certainly alerted my attention to a problem that would otherwise have gone unnoticed. All in all it was a programme that, whilst perhaps not being a typical example of balanced BBC journalism, certainly stimulated much thought.

Let's just hope the Beeb can take a bit of constructive criticism, eh? ;)


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