On my return from Liechtenstein: A plea to the British media

My first post back after my fabulous trip to Liechtenstein was going to be a light-hearted look at a fabulous fortnight helping a family with the English language. But in light of the horrific events in Norway, the continuing Murdoch saga and the news programming and papers I have seen since my return on Saturday I have to say I feel ashamed of a significant section of the supposedly ‘great’ British media. It is not just the phone hacking -though that is hideous enough (and covered in detail in Liechtenstein). It is the impression one has that our our press and news agencies consider themselves to be exemplary in some way, when actually they can be sensationalist and salacious.

Liechtenstein is a gentle country. There is no army, very little crime and people are relatively prosperous and happy. The newspapers report on significant foreign events, feature stories of national eccentricity – the woman who spent more burying her cats than her husband – and avoid topless women and bingo games.

On television the news programming is from Switzerland. Delivered in Swiss-German, a language I have only the slightest understanding of, it is still quite obvious that there are no day long programmes focusing pruriently on a real-life horror story.  No banal, repetitive questions to traumatised victims, or commentators who may at some time have been involved in Norway in some vague capacity. No endless examinations of what might have been going through a mad man’s mind as he killed dozens of a country’s intelligent, politically engaged younger generation. No regurgitations of the same old pieces of newsreel. No pained expressions from studio journalists as they talk to one or other of a seemingly vast army of their colleagues who must have jumped on easyjet flights to Oslo within half an hour of the atrocity. Hang your head BBC. I could almost swear you were enjoying yourselves.

In Switzerland it was simple, straightforward reporting to camera by stolid men and serious women who seem to appreciate that they are not the stars of this show.

How does our press decide on its priorities? One famous young woman has used drugs and alcohol to release herself from the pressures of living with a prodigious talent she couldn’t control and which has killed her, contrasted with another young man killed fighting in Afghanistan. Dozens are murdered in a prosperous Scandinavian country and thousands are dying every day in another African famine of biblical proportions. Is there some scale of human suffering in each news office – each publication or programme deciding how much weight should be given to the value of a human life? What tragedy warrants a ‘special’ documentary or a four page pull out?

I have a message to the Daily Mail in particular, a paper which is read by millions but which foments the sort of hatred that has underpinned Anders Breivik’s manifesto for the Western world. Take a good, hard look at yourselves and your propaganda. Your insinuations; your hints, distortions, your bending of the truth, your skewed focus. There are people in every country – Switzerland included – who are all too receptive to a white supremacist message. Violent fundamentalists follow many different creeds. Don’t feed them the morsels they crave to justify odious views.

This is a futile plea I know; more of a rant – venting steam that has built rapidly since my return to British soil on Saturday. I might be described as a ‘woolly liberal leftie’ by some but I am happy to be with those in Norway who hold on to the vision of tolerance, respect and community of spirit. I will wave a rose or a torch in the face of hatred, knowing in my heart that it won’t change a man like Breivik, or even the minds of a Daily Mail reader, but feeling in my soul it is the right thing to do.

And the BBC don’t have to film it.

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