Naughtie Business

Ever since we had a baby we’ve been listening to Radio 4’s Today in the morning, because you need to have some background noise on when you’ve got a baby (strangely, they’re not keen on the deathly depressed silences that are my preferred ambience) and all the other morning broadcasting options are shrill and intolerable.

As a rolling news show, Today is basically Okay, but then there’s the interviews.

Oh fuck, the interviews. Some newsworthy figure is wheeled on to have some half-baked challenges and queries barked into their face. Interviewee bats these away. Questions are repeated, and avoided every time. If there’s more than one interviewee, some fatuous opposition is set up between the two, and questions are ping-ponged between them to create some arbitrary drama.

It’s rubbish, and much congratulations must go to Graham Linehan for steadfastly refusing to play ball when Justin Webb (not pictured) tried to get him to engage in a meaningless argument with a theatre critic last week. That Webb insisted on playing arch-twat in the face of Linehan’s insistence that the whole scenario was meaningless and pathetic, and continued to do so on twitter afterwards, just shows how far down the rabbit hole of their own reputation the Today team have disappeared.

Because the mythology of Today is this – that it is the centre of the national conversation, where the great and good are brought to account on important issues, pinned down by the fiercest voices in broadcast journalism. That it is vital listening, where vital matters are revealed, and a compulsory start to the day for anyone who wants to know what’s what in the UK.

Or, to be realistic, it’s a news show with some deeply uninformative interview segments where Ministers, Executives and other members of the interchangeable managerial smear who run things in this country get to be lambasted by James Naughtie (actually pictured) or John Humphrys, get on the radio and then send an email to all their underlings including a full transcript later that day, insisting that it’s vitally important that they all know how vewy bwave their boss was on the wadio. No policy is changed by these interviews, the most lasting consequence being the occasional unflattering soundbite that will be repeated on other BBC News broadcasts for the rest of the day.

The myth of Today as a gladiatorial arena of accountability is fantastically flattering not just for the BBC team who make the show but for the sense of self importance of the highly appointed dimwits who get ‘grilled’ on it. For, make no mistake, ministers and civil servants and senior business types love Today for the sense of importance it ascribes to their half-baked policies. It fuels the myth that their decisions shape our world, and that organisations really can be changed at the top (but that’s another rant for another time). It makes them feel special.

Whereas I’ve finally come up with the exact phrase for what Today really is: an Accountability Pantomime. A raucous, knockabout bit of nonsense where the powerful come on, shout it out with the presenter, and we can all go away feeling cathartically pleased that some high-placed clown was given a bit of a hard time while in fact they’ve been held to account for precisely fuck all. 

A good example of this went out this morning, with an executive from beleaguered care home company Southern Cross. Humphrys gave the bloke a bit of a grilling, battered the same simplistic points again and again, and I found myself smugly pleased that Southern Cross bloke had been given a hard time, as if that somehow constituted a significant restitution for Southern Cross’ alleged crappy behaviour.

I shouldn’t have felt that, of course, because all that had happened to him was that he’d had a conversation with a rude man. He’ll have gone back to his job, and the key meeting with Southern Cross’ landlords (the subject of the interview) will have gone ahead exactly as well as if no interview had ever occurred.

Accountability Pantomime.

Of course, the one useful thing Today could do would be for the BBC to leverage the exaggerated sense of importance the political classes put on it, to which I make the following suggestion:

The next time BBC funding is threatened, the first thing the BBC should offer to cut is the radio cars that allow Ministers to do Today interviews in their jim-jams. If that doesn’t cause an immediate policy reversal, suggest slashing the length of Today by an hour.

MPs will, of course, insist that to reduce the scope of Today in this way would be stifling democracy by failing to give a platform to our duly elected officials to big-up their initiatives, but as Today is basically about politicians listening to the sounds of their own voices rather than speaking to the electorate that’s bullshit.

Press the bastards, threaten to smash their stupid little soapbox to pieces. That should protect the licence fee for another generation, at least.



June 13, 2011. Tags: , , . Uncategorized.

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