Monday, December 14, 2009

Newsnight's News Desert

I'm a fan of the BBC, and I usually find its current affairs programmes to be thoughtful, often challenging and certainly constructed with a view to what is significant in terms of news, rather than simply for ratings (which the BBC should not specifically be chasing). Tonight's Newsnight is clearly a departure from these standards! I know that we retain a concern for the war effort in Afghanistan, and I have every sympathy for the plight of the families of soldiers who have gone there, but the first Newsnight feature - a look at the 'real people' fighting the war, and then some sob-stuff from the home front - has been done a thousand times before. It's a too easy bit of television, entirely emotively based, and adds little or nothing to our awareness and knowledge of the war. If they had been interviewing ordinary Afghanis and the effects of the war on them, that at least would have had the virtue of scarcity in British television terms. The Brave British Soldier bit, worthy as it may seem, is simply lazy television. And, of course, while I would not wish to take anything away from soldiers fighting a wretched, difficult, murderous war - they are not conscripts. They have signed up for this. I'm glad there are those willing to do that, but we should absolutely not be treating them - as these documentary paps too often do - as innocent victims caught up in all this nastiness. Matthew Parris' article, linked opposite, is a useful commentary on our tendency to over-sentimentalise our troops.
I have to say when I heard what the other two Newsnight items were, I gave up on the programme. The piece on Copenhagen may have at least been moderately news-worthy, but also sounded as if it was unlikely to produce any new insight or angle on a very well covered summit. But their last feature was an interview with man of the moment, Simon Cowell, which included him explaining how a political version of X-Factor might work. Now I'm as fascinated by X-Factor as the next person, and I think Cowell is a showbiz Svengali of genius, but please - he has no political depth whatsoever, and his politics vote show is crass - to use merely the politest term available. We have had a slew of commentary about the X-Factor, pointing to the significant paucity of imagination of most of our cultural and political commentariat, and for Newsnight to now be jumping on the bandwagon is a sorry sight indeed. Simon Cowell knows what he's about - it's time Newsnight was as sure about itself.

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