The BBC needs to start listening to doctors – not government spin

A BBC news coronavirus bulletin

Mike Parker

Some nicknames fit so perfectly, they almost eclipse the real one.  The BBC has long been known as Auntie, a name that came originally from the phrase ‘Auntie knows best’.  It became especially widespread on the arrival of brash commercial upstart ITV in 1955, providing an instant contrast with the Beeb’s matronly tones.  It has stuck ever since.

At times of crisis, and this one is no exception, we run to Auntie.  Of course we do.  Like children with a sniffle or a grazed knee, we skitter headlong into her comforting arms, whimpering for her warm fireside, soothing voice and store cupboard of sweet treats.  She placates us, tells us we are special little soldiers and puts us quietly to bed with a glass of warm milk.

Auntie Beeb is both the very best of us, and the very worst.  At best, she is cultured and authoritative, wise and witty, and always striving to see both sides of an argument.  At worst though, she can be a stubborn old boot, slavishly in awe of authority and stuck in ways of thinking and behaviour that were already looking distinctly old-fashioned a generation ago.

For it is a full generation – twenty-one years now – since the advent of devolution; the BBC’s inability to get to grips with it is a wound that they just cannot stop reopening.  And in a health crisis, a policy area that is fully devolved, it is nothing short of terrifying.  BBC Wales and BBC Scotland news being dropped in the mornings is a gross dereliction of duty, as is the scant investigation into the Welsh government’s testing woes.

 

Toxic

This is not, as some would have it, an inevitable result of the inequality in the size of the UK’s constituent parts (Channel 4 News manages to report from them all with great aplomb, and gives each due weight and gravity).  Some of course are playing that line for explicitly political reasons, even – as Ifan expounded here  – as a sneaky way of undermining devolution itself.  We see you, Mr Retweet-Davies, a man with the unmistakable demeanour of that lad at school whose main contribution to class was guffawing at his own farts.

The BBC must not do their job for them.  Right now, of course we want to feel reassured, and Auntie always does her best at that, but we also need to know that the right questions are being asked.  I spoke last night to my sister, an A&E consultant in London, who has been locked in isolation for a week now since contracting Covid-19.  Others on her team have tested positive too; one is seriously ill in intensive care.

The scandalous lack of PPE (personal protection equipment) was what infected them all, but the testing was repeatedly botched too, and just last night, desperate to get home to her family, her hospital sent some thermometers to see if her temperature had stabilised.  As she put it in proper medical parlance, all of the thermometers were “completely fucked”.  She sent me a photo; they truly were.  She dipped one in a cup of near-boiling water, and it registered nothing.

There has been action, she says, but mainly in the areas of buck-passing and ramping up – the phrase of the moment – the PR.  That is painfully obvious from listening to the BBC reports.  They have allowed themselves to be spun into a corner by the government, out of a toxic cocktail of terror (it was only in February that No 10 were hinting at a Murdoch or Rebekah Brooks as new BBC Director-General), sudden imposition of war-like conditions and the forlorn hope of all bullying victims, that if they only show their torturers how nice or submissive they are, the bullies will ease off or change their ways.  They won’t.  Johnson and Cummings have not re-hired the adolescent attack dogs who won them victory in December to make anyone’s life better, save their own.

I love Auntie, I really do.  But she is such a sucker for a posh boy brimful of bluster.  If she wants to make it through this crisis, she needs to find her mojo, and fast.  Time to start listening to some real doctors, not the spin doctors.

Read more in Mike Parker’s series for Nation.Cymru below:

Part 1: We’ve been told before that things will never be the same again – can we mean it this time?

Part 2: Last weekend’s pandemic-panic awayday was inevitable – but so was the visceral response

Part 3: Will we use this crisis to rediscover the value of community – or for more suspicion and othering?

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Ernie The SmallholderJohn EllisStevej humphrysEric Hall Recent comment authors
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John
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John

The BBC has been emasculated by Tory Placemen and by their own fear of the UK Government. In times of national crisis it defaults to the government line and abandons any constructively critical approach. I first noticed this during the Falklands War and it has become significantly worse since. During the Gulf War the nation was softened-up with false expressions of patriotism which often fell on very receptive ears. 2020 now, and no change…

John Ellis
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John Ellis

The taming of the BBC was achieved long ago, by the Blair government in the aftermath of the death of David Kelly, Andrew Gilligan’s journalism, Alistair Campbell’s wrath and Lord Hutton’s co-option to sonorously remind the Beeb who the masters are. The consequences – at least for BBC TV – were swift and have become permanent.

It’s not so much that Auntie’s in thrall to the Tories. Auntie’s in thrall to the government, and for the last decade the Tories have either dominated or comprised the government.

Ernie The Smallholder
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Ernie The Smallholder

This is why you CANNOT trust the BBC.

paul
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paul

And our spelling mistakes lol.

Jonathan Gammond
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Jonathan Gammond

Who really benefits from the 5 p.m. briefings, us or the Government? They dominate the evening news, yet provide little clarity and few answers..

Richard Powell
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Richard Powell

This waffly, self-indulgent piece rather misses the point, and indeed exemplifies the problem. What the BBC – along with other media outlets – needs to do is to stop seeing the coronavirus pandemic as a political issue, and start treating it as the medical and scientific crisis that it is. So the Keunssbergs and Marrs should be furloughed, and science and health correspondents should take their place and put pertinent, well-informed questions to people who can actually give an informed answer. Robert Peston laid on a particularly disgraceful performance on ITV last night, where he talked over the Deputy Chief… Read more »

j humphrys
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j humphrys

Mike was saying the same as you, though in a more casual way. Mike initiated.

Hywel Moseley
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Hywel Moseley

Almost like Mike I used, when I was young and naive, to be an admirer of the BBC and often wondered what people were up to in criticizing it. No longer, I am afraid: they broadcast, as recent news, items that I know from my own knowledge are weeks old, and they distort the news by apparently deliberately omitting the achievements of Wales and of Welsh entrepreneurs: no mention at all about the ingenuity of the consultant from Carmarthen and the manufacturer from Ammanford who long before Mercedes and Dyson did similar workfor the English NHS invented respirators which were… Read more »

Eric Hall
Guest

You try to have the BBC talk about the Welsh Premier League and see what happens. They couldn’t even bring themselves to talk about the achievements of Welsh clubs in Europe and when Connah’s Quay Nomads were beating Kilmarnock in the Europa League we were having to follow the match on Scottish TV

Steve
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Steve

Neither the BBC nor ITV have anyone capable of performing investigative journalism, I’d go as far as saying that neither of them would recognise investigative journalism if it jumped up and slapped their faces. You can follow this up with the majority of print news outlets are the same.
All they are capable of is regurgitating press releases.
On top of this they fail to recognise, deliberately I feel, that devolution has happened and that Westminster is not responsible for all things.

John Ellis
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John Ellis

Andrew Gilligan attempted investigative journalism on behalf of the BBC in the Kelly affair. He and they learned in rather a hard way that it wasn’t to be tolerated. They learned the lesson; these days the Beeb’s coverage of news and current affairs really isn’t worth following.