Saturday, November 01, 2008

Letting the media dictate the agenda

I've been aghast at the way the Ross/Brand scandal has been panning out. What should have been a relatively insignificant employment matter has been dominating the media agenda, particularly the print media, for days. Whilst it is news that two top earning BBC performers disgraced themselves and deserve to be sacked, it's not front page news.

Once any story begins to dominate the news agenda bloggers are naturally drawn to the story, even if it's to denounce it as a non-issue (as in this post). It's not stupidity at all but the net result is that the media has ended up determining what we talk about and pronounces on it in as serious a tone as it uses for climate change or the credit crunch.

There are all kinds of interesting avenues to be explored in this story; The power dynamic around a man (Ross) who earns the wage of a hundred journalists at a time when they are laying people off. A man who earns many times more than his "boss" and is above all lines of responsibility; The gender attitudes it has revealed in a pair of men who wear sexual "conquests" like a trophy and use it to taunt Sachs, as if they have somehow sullied his property; The way the media have habitually adopted a tone of sensationalism and disaster no matter what story they are reporting. The list goes on.

My particular favourite is the mystery behind Russell Brand's YouTube apology where he is inexplicably sitting in front of a picture of Stalin. Hilariously, in the BBC broadcast the old man was erased from the frame in exactly the manner of which he himself approved. How odd.

So there's lots of scope for interesting blog posts to be sure and I've read some pretty sweet ones over the last few days. My worry is that we're being led by the nose. Sachs has the story in proportion, why don't we? Comedian Dara O'Briain said on TV the other night "We are now entering day six of man-has-his-feelings-hurt-gate" which seems about right. We can't expect any better from the media - but shouldn't we hold ourselves to higher standards?

I'm not suggesting any mea culpa's here, I've felt the urge just as strongly as everyone else, if it's good enough for Gordon Brown to comment on why not us? I guess because we're meant to have our eyes open to this kind of thing. Mind you it's difficult to post on a story being all out of proportion without contributing to the attention the story accumulates.

I guess what I'm trying to grapple with is that the blogosphere naturally relies on the corporate media for information but needs to make sure it doesn't get sucked down the hole with it. There is a tight relationship between a lot of political blogging (not all though) and the news media, and I suspect that is a good and useful thing, although whether it is or not it's unavoidable.

We need to be able to set our own agenda, and we certainly need to try to develop an independent enough mindset that we can still blog with relevance without simply tailing the media. It seems difficult to get the balance just right and I guess the best way to guard against it is simply to be aware there is an issue, not saying I have any answers here I just think it's worth considering.


scott redding said...

Probably the best thing I've seen written on Sachsgate:

"What the millions are really complaining about is Brand's success with women, and Ross's extraordinary salary. They're fed up with how good Brand looks in his skinny jeans with his crazy hair, how his life seems such effortless good fun, a whirlwind of humour and debauchery, how he managed to sleep with Andrew Sachs's grand-daughter. I mean, have you seen her? And I don't know anyone who isn't incredibly jealous of Ross's 6 million a year."

"The noise about BBC editorial procedure is a smokescreen, but a dangerous one. Once we start passing all jokes through endless "taste" controls we'll cripple people's ability to make jokes."

James Patterson said...

For once, I totally disagree with you, Jim.

As a Green and as a Socialist, I feel that the time has come for a public debate about the extreme culture of liberal individualism that has been promoted by the political right during the last 30 years.

For me, Brand and Ross epitomise the braindead moral relativism arising from the atomisation of society by the forces of neoliberalism.

Jim Jay said...

Hi James, I'm not sure which bit you're disagreeing with - I think the focus of the stories on this one instance has been extraordinarily out of proportion.

I think both performers should have been sacked (partly because anyone else would have been) but I think the debate you're talking about is an important one and we probably have a number of points of agreement on it.

For instance I had been toying with labelling Brand and Ross as new Bernard Mannings in the way that they promote anti-social behaviour in a populist way - and then spark a reaction against them. But decided that cut against the spirit of what I was saying.

My concern is that the way we demonise people is actually part of this social trend - even when they are in the wrong they shouldn't be pilloried in this way.