Monday, January 22, 2007

The Today programme - alarmist and simplistic

Unusually this morning, I listened attentively to much of the Today programme. That is to say, I wasn’t either in a half sleep or rushing to get ready for work. A couple of the items, both presented by Sarah Montague, highlighted two of the things I dislike about the programme – its' love of alarmism and simplistic solutions.

When the person in charge of the anti-pollution work on the ship grounded off Sidmouth stated that the situation was under control, Ms Montague’s disappointment was almost audible. She spent the rest of the interview trying to get the interviewee to backtrack. The more reassuring he was, the more incredulous she sounded.

A couple of items later, she interviewed health minister Ivan Lewis about his campaign to improve the quality of food provided to older people in hospitals and nursing homes. I confess I hadn’t heard of Ivan Lewis before this morning, although he sounded a decent enough chap for a government minister. I have no idea how necessary his campaign is. I imagine that while most institutions responsible for providing meals to the elderly do a good job, there will be those who cut corners in the belief that the old folk won’t really notice. Which I think was broadly what Ivan Lewis was saying.

But Sarah Montague spent the interview sneering and hectoring – repeating a refrain about pensioners starving, demanding to know why the government hadn’t done anything about this before and why no more government money was being spent on meals for pensioners, as part of the campaign. Ivan Lewis asserted that the problem was not about resources and whether or not he was right, Sarah Montague offered no evidence to contradict him other than a shrill screech of 'No more money'.

The way the Today programme deals with issues like these makes it a positive obstacle to understanding. The programme presents all problems in public affairs are only really interesting for their potential for death and disaster. Their only possible solutions are tougher government intervention and more state spending. Although I suspect that the majority of Today listeners will be broadsheet readers, its approach is relentlessly tabloid.

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