He’s only a sports presenter, after all. Freedom of speech, and all that.
But the brouhaha did make me look up Godwin’s Law. That goes something like this: If an argument online rages on long enough, at some point somebody will compare the views of the other side to Hitler, the Nazis, 1930s Germany, and/or invoke the Holocaust.
Whether Gary is a student of that period and so knows what he’s talking about, I can only speculate.
Anyway, the BBC is now having a look at its policies on impartiality.
One of my favourite radio moments was some years back when the BBC 4 PM programme had an item about the perils of groupthink. The journalist then handed back to Eddie Mair in the studio and Eddie said: “Thanks for that – we all thought it was great.”
He was joking of course, but did hit on something, as London groupthink mindset and outlook is something in our national broadcasting which irritates the majority of Britons who don’t live in the capital.
So the first of my suggested top 10 guidelines is this:
1. Think outside the M25 box. Just because all your London pals agree with you on something doesn’t mean it’s mainstream British thinking.
2. Economic forecasts, even by august bodies, are not a gospel truth but merely a branch of fiscal astrology and regularly turn out to be wrong. This is a bit of a hobby horse of mine. An example from just a few days ago: “The UK economy grew by 0.3 per cent in January, exceeding expectations...”
3. Don’t tell people what to think. Instead, let them make their own judgements.
4. An insidious form of institutional bias is accepting the premise of an interviewee’s answer, or failing to challenge sweeping generalisations. It tells you everything you need to know about the interviewer because it reveals they are coming from the same place as the person they are interviewing, and consider the premise or generalisation as an ineluctable truth.
5. Language matters. Avoid loaded words like threaten, promise, admit, deny (except in a judicial context for the latter two). For example, “Public sector workers have threatened to strike, but the government has promised to maintain services.” Threats are usually to be deplored, promises have positive connotations.
Similarly, “Joe Bloggs admitted to being a fan of the Bay City Rollers,” or “Jane Bloggs denied hating the monarchy” invoke imagery of accusation and criminality.
6. Don’t get seduced by the notion that your clever-clever questions are more important than the answers. Your audience is out there, not in the studio among admiring colleagues,
7. Ask questions, not statements with a question mark attached. A pet hate of mine is the current fashion for shouting “questions” at politicians which are in fact statements intended to land a spot on news broadcasts, e.g. “Are you an incompetent liability, Minister?”
8. What is wrong with the following sentence? “There was bad news on the economy today with interest rates going up, house prices falling, the pound plunging to new lows, and a rise in income tax.” What is wrong is that whether it is bad news is an opinion, not a fact. Interest rates going up helps savers, falling house prices helps people struggling to get on the housing ladder, a plunging pound helps exporters, and income tax going up could mean more money for the National Health Service.
9. Remember the BBC stands for the British Broadcasting Corporation. British policy can and should be analysed and criticised, but when push comes to shove, the public expects you to bat for Britain.
10. All impartiality can be abandoned by Gary when England play Germany.
The other day the car started making a strange noise, even at night while parked up. It has turned out to be occasional bursts of static coming through the driver’s door speaker. Turning off the radio makes no difference. My elderly motor is due a visit to the garage anyway, but
I do wonder if what it needs is not a mechanic but an exorcist. Either that, or extra terrestrials are trying to make contact.