Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Crass Questioning of Jon Snow

Can there really be a more monumentally stupid or destructive news anchor than Channel 4's Jon Snow? On his news blog, and more vehemently in his presenting of this evening's news programme, Snow was extraordinarily aggressive about the decision of British news media (including his own Channel 4 News) not to report the deployment of Prince Harry to Afghanistan. He likened the voluntary agreement to the approach of media in totalitarian states, twice referencing China and Russia. It was an extraordinary performance, although fortunately for him and his viewers his three guests were more measured and sensible. Prince Harry's presence in Afghanistan could surely only have been tenable if the media agreed not to set up their usual rampant circus around it. And Prince Harry should clearly have been able to be sent to Afghanistan given the time and money spent training him to fight wars. Thus, the media agreement - in Britain - seems to have been a rare moment of self-realisation and responsibility amongst the Fourth Estate.

The story was eventually broken by foreign news websites - notably the Drudge Report today - and the consequence, as Snow acknowledged in his questioning, is that now the prince's continued presence on the front line is far more questionable.

Snow made much of the fact that this 'black-out' was not appropriate for a free media, but his freedom seems to be a freedom from responsibility as much as anything else. If he really believes that a voluntary, responsible decision amongst British news editors is the same as the severe, often violent repression suffered by editors in totalitarian states, then he really isn't fit to present the news in a free society. Prince Harry may or may not be able to continue fighting one of his country's wars; Jon Snow really shouldn't be able to continue warping his country's news.

4 comments:

C H Daly said...

It remains unclear who in the various media organisations that observed the 'black-out' was actually told about the story and Snow himself was probably in the dark. Having said that, in the position of responsibility and repute that Snow holds his comments were ill-placed and unnecessary.

Not convinced by the eye for an eye justice you propose at the end though!

consultant said...

The crassness of one news anchor pales in comparison with the sickening quality of this entire media circus. Harry – who we must admit may be gorgeous, but is not the sharpest tool in the box – has been manipulated by the Ministry of Defence, the government, and the royal PR machine in an attempt to recast the misguided military adventure in modern Afghanistan in a heroic and meaningful light.

You attempt to defend the media blackout on the grounds that the willingness of our news editors to fall in line with government reporting restrictions does not compare with the “severe, often violent oppression” faced by the media in other states, and you are correct that it does not. However, this is no defence – rather, it is extremely disturbing. At least a violently oppressed media is attempting to report the truth; we see here a media so enthralled by the sales arising from the subsequent Harry interviews that they voluntarily hold off. I am staggered that not one of them had the integrity to stand up and refuse to participate in this stunt.

Returning home, Harry has been hailed a “hero” by elements in the press. The Prince of Wales issued a touching statement, expressing his joy that his son had survived. This dominates the column inches in a way that the stories of soldiers – real soldiers – who have died or been horrifically wounded does not. The war is re-presented to the British public as a glorious adventure, and its royal participant a noble leader, masking the true horror of the situation.

Harry, in his interviews, has said nothing of the poor quality and shortages of equipment which put soldiers’ lives at unnecessary risk on a daily basis. He has said nothing of the failure of this campaign to make any significant gains in defeating the Taleban or winning over the Afghan people. He has said nothing of the way in which, like World War One generals, our leaders have persisted with a strategy that is not working.

I am reminded of a passage from a speech by FDR:

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen two hundred limping exhausted men come out of line-the survivors of a regiment of one thousand that went forward forty-eight hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

The current attempt to bury the true horror of war, to redirect the attention of the nation, is ghastly. That our supposedly free press went along with it so happily is terrifying indeed.

GM said...

As a serving soldier, Harry's reticence about the conduct of the war is professional recognition of the rules. Only ex-soldiers may express the discontent you are looking for - as witnessed in an excellent Independent front page report on Sunday.

Harry, by the way, was clear in his interviews that the real 'heroes' were the wounded soldiers - specifically drawing attention to the two who shared his plane flight home. I suspect he loathes the media coverage as much as consultant!

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