Sloppy Journalism, Death And Cowardice

A largely sunny day and the drear of the weekend’s quickly banished. The brightness overcomes the cold.

Cat sunning itself on a car

A sunny day has to be made the most of.

Today’s was a flat ride taking in Sonning, Wargrave, the Walthams, Hurst and Sandford. It was all pleasant enough though everywhere’s sodden and a few ditches are overflowing onto the lanes. I was thinking about what the area would be like to visit and concluded it would be fine to pass through but you probably couldn’t justify stopping. It’s a bit feature-less; you need to get north of the Thames before it starts to be more routinely picturesque.

I guess because of the wind direction, the planes for Heathrow were loud overhead today. I’m lucky to live to the west of the airport; the prevailing wind is from the south-west and so for the most part the planes are across to the east, wrecking the lives of Londoners.

The misery caused by that racket, day-in and day-out, is rarely mentioned when they talk about expanding Heathrow; it must be one heck of a blight on the lives of anyone living much closer to it than Reading; it can be bad here on the wrong day.

The BBC web site managed to report 34% of tourism chiefs (whoever they are) being in favour of expanding the airport as “Tourism chiefs back Heathrow expansion, poll claims”. If that’s the case then presumably if 66% of Americans vote for Obama in the US election that’s underway now, the BBC will report it as “Americans back Romney for President”.

What’s genuinely grim is that the utterly dismal quality of the journalism isn’t remarked on. People will go away with the headline in their minds and nothing else. It would be helpful, too, if that ‘build another runway’ opinion was put in context. Just the other day the BBC also reported that expanding Heathrow will lead to numerous extra deaths from pollution.

Yes, that’s a speculative conclusion but so’s the optimism of ‘tourism chiefs’ that a third runway will bring benefits.

What we need are journalists willing to ask ‘tourism chiefs’ to justify their stance in relation to those deaths. You could – perhaps – respect the voice of a ‘tourism chief’ if he or she were willing to say ‘yes, I know I’m backing the premature deaths of innocent people, but I think it’s worth it, and I’m willing to meet the families and loved ones of those who die and tell them so personally.” One rather suspects that cowardice will prevail – unchallenged. Such is how we chose to live.

It’s Not Schadenfreude

It’s just an average southern English mid-March day. Not hot, not cold; not sunny but not as grey as many. A decent enough day for a bike ride. An average early-in-the-year temperate climate day.

In Japan there’s been a large earthquake and what looks to have been a very damaging tsunami. A stint riding by the Thames and the post-winter debris caught up near a lock keeps the disaster there firmly in mind.

I know no-one in Japan. It is extremely unlikely to have a direct impact on me; I certainly can’t foresee one. In that I’m just the same as most other people in the UK I guess. And just like them, I’ve found myself fascinated as I watch the footage of it all. The BBC – TV and online – has been full of it all day. Regular schedules are being altered on BBC1 and BBC-HD, and the rolling news channel BBC News 24 can’t get enough of it.

I suppose the abject failure of BBC News 24 can’t be better demonstrated than by the fact that they feel they have to interrupt BBC1 to cover major news. They only persist with it to save face. All rolling news stations are founded on the bogus premise that there is that much news – according to their own agenda – worth broadcasting; that and the vain self-importance of ‘news people’.

The ghoulishness of what we’re all supposed to be like is well demonstrated by the BBC-HD coverage. I can’t think of any other reason to show human misery in high definition. Are tears somehow better when you can see them clearly? Wounds? Broken limbs? Wrecked homes?

It seems we’re all rubber-neckers. At least, it seems the BBC, the nation’s broadcaster, judges that we are. If we’ll slow down to watch a motorway pile-up, then hell yes, we’ll all watch a nation-scale catastrophe, even if it is on the other side of the world.


Flotsam, but on an insignificant scale

Perhaps that’s a key factor, that it is on the other side of the world. A safe distance. It’s not as if you’ll be staring at someone you know dying. That makes it so much better.

It’s nonsensical to sense there’s an incongruity in riding around lanes, struggling a bit up hills, enjoying some hints of warmth from the sun but feeling as if that’s all somehow wrong because of an earthquake thousands of miles away. Nevertheless, it niggles at me the whole time I’m out. I’m not comfortable that I’m willing to,even keen to watch disasters befalling others.

I can make excuses, I suppose, along the lines of it being the ‘power of nature’ that I’m watching and not human misery. That it’s the scale of the event that’s gripping, not the individual pain and loss. Those are true statements … but I suspect that’s not the whole truth. Schadenfreude? No, I’m not deriving any pleasure from the misfortune of others. It’s not akin to a Roman Holiday. Some feeling of ‘there but for the grace of god’ doesn’t work either. We don’t have earthquakes like that here. Something like that is never likely to befall us. There’s no plausible ‘lucky escape’.

Perhaps it’s positive to be reminded of our collective mortality.

I could say the victims of it have my sympathy but that’s futile and vacuous. As if it means a thing. I took some pictures of some debris on the river and thought about the scale of the debris strewn around in Japan.

I said hello to two old boys walking along the lane near May’s Green as I rode by them, pretty confident in expecting an acknowledgement. What I got was the most ‘hale and hearty’ greeting back that I think I’ve ever had. Wonderful. The sort of event to makes you smile, any day, whatever’s going on in the world. And that’s odd too.