Sorry to harp on about an old familiar theme – oh ok, I’m not sorry at all – but is it not strange how, with more media space than ever, the press and broadcasters appear unable to manage more than one frenzy at a time?
It seems just days ago – indeed it was just days ago – that to turn on a TV or radio, or open up a newspaper, was to be confronted with the dire threat that we were all just one stranger’s sneeze away from dropping down dead from swine flu.
Reporters, many bravely foregoing masks, vied with each other to see who could pack the highest concentration of scary ‘facts’, words, thoughts and images into a single two-way.
Where did it go? Are we still at risk or not? Apparently there were 14 new cases reported in Britain yesterday, yet where was the ‘whoosh’ breaking news banner to indicate that this was really important? India and Turkey – hey, big places – became the 38th and 39th countries respectively to have confirmed cases. But no ‘let’s go over to Phil Space in Delhi and Jody Babble in Ankara to find out the latest.’
Swine flu? Who cares? There is another story now. Haven’t you heard? EM-PEEEES’ EX-PEN-SES!
I was mainly pottering round the house yesterday, reading a bit, (Mayor of Casterbridge) writing a bit (an interview with Burnley manager Owen Coyle for the play-off final matchday programme, just a week to go) watching a bit of football (how graceless is Rafa Benitez?) and found myself making regular but brief visits to the BBC News Channel and Sky News. Of thirteen such visits, two took me to commercials, two to Sri Lanka, and nine to reports or discussions on expenses.
I’m not saying it is not an important story, or that the country is not talking about it. But I was quite taken with the discussion I saw with a group of London-based correspondents from France, Germany, Italy and Russia, whose basic message was that they were not covering it much at all.
But my point is not whether it merits all the coverage it is getting here, but whether swine flu suddenly doesn’t matter. It seems to me we have more media than ever, in terms of space, what with 24/7 news, the internet, bigger papers, more freesheets being thrust at you every time you step off a tube train, yet less genuine understanding of what happens in the world. It’s a paradox. But 24 hour news doesn’t do paradox. It does certainties. Which pass. Very quickly. Then another one comes along.
What will the next one be? Who knows? Nobody, least of all them. All we know is that when it does come, they will be instant experts, and they will assume that it – whatever it is – is the only story that anyone out there cares about.
Meanwhile, a word of congratulations if I may for the government, who appear to me to have handled the swine flu situation rather well – preparations had been made, a plan went into action, seems to have done the job it was intended to do. So Mr Sky/Ms BBC News … what about an interview with Alan Johnson on how it all happened?
Alan Johnson? You kidding me? The guy’s expenses are boring. Not even a flat screen TV or a new music system, let alone a moat or a helipad. What on earth would we want to hear from him for?
What if he made a statement in Parliament updating the House on swine flu then?
A statement? In the House? Now you’re talking – will be slag off Michael Martin?
I doubt it.
Will he indicate he is ready to challenge Gordon if the expenses row leads to Labour meltdown in the Euro elections?
No, I don’t think so.
So what’s the story?
How the government contained swine flu … how we need to remain vigilant … update on the situation round the world … next steps …
Zzzzzzz … so yesterday’s story. Gotta go. That weird-looking guy Douglas Carswell has just arrived in the studio … says he’s got another signature on his petition calling on the Speaker to go.
Does 24/7 News help or hinder your understanding of what happens in the world? For yes press green, for no press red.