Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Prophet of Doom

In olden times there were always prophets of doom, people who foretold of the end of mankind, be it for religious or cultural reasons. Perhaps even the coming of war or disease, or maybe they correctly predicted that human civilization would reach its low point in the twenty-first century with the birth of The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Either way in the present day, we rarely see people wandering the streets chanting about the coming of the end of the world, the collapse of civilization or the death of all mankind. The main reason for this, is that their role in society has now been entirely replaced with Sky News. In fairness all twenty-four hour news channels have a fundamental flaw – on the vast majority of days there isn’t twenty-four hours of news to fill them with. So they have to be filled with repetition, speculation, deliberation and hypothesis, all the things banned on the Radio 4 show Just a Minute. However Sky News seems to be the worst for using this as an excuse to explore the worst case scenario in all possible situations in a desperate bid to keep panicked individuals watching across the break lest they miss out on a vital piece of information that would keep them alive. I wouldn’t be surprised if Eamonn Holmes actively told viewers to stay tuned because after the break they’ll be explaining how not watching the commercials can kill you. He probably already has, I’ve not see Sunrise.

Breaking news is Sky News’s big thing, their tagline is “First for Breaking News”. Obviously it doesn’t matter if the news isn’t quite right, exaggerated to the point where it is blown out of all proportion, or just plain wrong. The news is first and it broke here. Everything on Sky News is breaking news, in fairness every event is breaking news at some point – Christmas Day after all was breaking news at one point. But I strongly suspect the Three Wise Men and the Shepherds weren’t alerted to the birth of Jesus by a giant, colourful strap slapped across the bottom of their vision, followed by a “festive” expert discussing how the birth of the Son of God is likely to cause complete economic collapse and a rise in the value of house prices.

I remember a few weeks after the tragic London bombings, having my attention caught by a Sky News strap titled “Gas Attack” – panicked I looked up to see what terrible event had transpired. It turned out that gas prices had gone up, seemed a rather dramatic, misleading and dare I say it “factually incorrect” headline to me!

Last Friday represented an excellent example of this, when Tottenham Court Road (a road very close to my office) was briefly closed. For those of you unaware of this story, basically a man stormed an office on Tottenham Court Road, claiming to be armed with an explosive, and started throwing office furniture and computers out of the windows. The police, understandably, sent a large response force, closed the road evacuated the area and talked the man down with negotiators. Now without wishing to trivialise what would have understandably been a traumatic experience for those involved, as a news story my two line summary pretty much covered everything that happened. There was no more detail than that.

And that’s basically how the channel everyone calls News 24 that isn’t called News 24 reported it. The BBC simply mixed it into their rotation of stories, and on the BBC News website for a while it was even entitled “Man throws office furniture out of fifth floor window”, until the bomb threat aspect became clear.

Of course this wasn’t the case on Sky News where four hours of rolling coverage was leant to dissecting every single unperceivable nuance of this story. Under the title of “Armed Siege in London” we went live to various rooftop camera and helicopter shots of London, all of which showed absolutely nothing happening. It was bit like watching live coverage of the London Marathon the day after it had happened.

The only shot of any interest was when we saw a filing cabinet being thrown out of a window, on an extreme wide angle. And then the most gripping point of that shot, the point where the filing cabinet hit the street below, was completely obscured by the “Breaking News” strap. Meanwhile Kay Burley was busy in the studio discussing the impact of the “hostage” on the upcoming Olympics, clearly visibly creaming herself below the desk at the excitement that she would be the reporter on duty when London would be destroyed by a crazed terrorist – at least in Sky’s prophet of doom-esque mind anyway.

The climax of the discussion occurred when an “expert” came into the studio, labelled an expert presumably because he had the ability to use Google. He’d discovered a forum, where contributors had claimed that the company whose building had been stormed had been engaged in some disreputable behaviour over the issuing off HGV licences. Kay Burley then instantly announces “Well that explains the actions, it doesn’t excuse them, but it at least explains them.” Well thanks very much Kay Burley, who has instantly declared herself judge of all things moral. And whilst I’m sure her words were chosen carefully to avoid any form of litigation, she’s effectively bad-mouthed the reputation of a company entirely on the basis of something someone else has read on a random internet forum. It may be correct information, it may not, I don’t know. I’m pretty sure Kay Burley doesn’t either, but at least she was first with the breaking “news”. The fact that most of this conjecture didn’t turn out to be correct, and the fact that the coverage seemed to do a better job of whipping everyone up into a panic than the actual event did seem to be secondary concerns. And surely that is not the point of news.

I hope you enjoyed this blog, if you did why not tell Sky News, I look forward the entirely plausible strap that reads “Breaking News: Some people like DraMattics – Al Qaeda links not ruled out.”, appearing on my television screen soon.

Please note any inaccuracies in the information contained in this blog entry are simply a tribute to Sky’s own newsgathering output!