Tuesday, June 29, 2010

BBC News From Cloud Cuckoo Land

Watching the news on the BBC in America it is easy to think that it is a very fair, balanced presentation of the news. I certainly thought that it was more substantive and less prejudice-driven than the other news presentations, with the possible exception of National Educational Television and National Public Radio. Now I believe that the BBC only seemed fair in the way that a slightly fat person seems to be rather thin when viewed in the midst of some really, really fat people.

I am sure that my misconception had its genesis in my general lack of expertise in the subject matter of most BBC news articles. I don’t know much about the Niger Delta, not much at all, so if they report about that area, I have only the tone of the reporting to use in judging its veracity. So I may be subjected to a technique similar to that employed by a practicing lawyer, who may mask his absence of knowledge on a particular subject with a massively confident tone of voice.

Over the weekend, however, I saw on BBC Asia a half-hour presentation about the recent political difficulties here in Thailand. You may recall that a group called “The Red Shirts” spent over a month raising sincere hell in Bangkok. They sounded for all the world like the North Korean media, talking about “seas of fire,” “fighting to the last man,” and constantly referring to that hypothetical “last drop of blood,” and they were in fact armed, and did in fact kill policemen, soldiers and unsympathetic Thai civilians with firearms and grenades. They made exorbitant demands, and changed their demands as soon as they were met; they disrupted the business life of the city by seizing and fortifying key intersections of the city; they invaded and caused the evacuation of the biggest, most important hospital in Bangkok; and the ultimate dénouement of the demonstrations was accompanied by looting and fire-setting. I can tell you that they had a stated agenda, at least one hidden agenda, and a sub-text or two as well. It was a subject that was worth covering, but almost none of this was addressed by the BBC.

Thailand is a country of interest. Consider Kyrgyzstan, which is a country of five million people, a country where no one goes, a country that is on the crossroads to nowhere. Now compare Thailand, a country of sixty-five million people, heavily dependant on tourism and with a large ex-patriot population, a country that is right in the middle of the action in the most populous region of the world. Thailand is an important place.

So what about the BBC’s coverage of the recent upheaval? This particular piece followed the pattern that was set during their coverage as the events unfolded. For thirty minutes, they spoke only to “Red Shirt” representatives, they took only the dimmest view of each and every action taken by the current government (describing as “unconstitutional” actions taken by the Thai government which occurred over the last few years), they criticized only the Thai armed forces (for using “deadly force” against “unarmed civilians”), and they took as much of the script as it was humanly possible directly from “Red Shirt” talking points.

As it happens, one of the more extensively interviewed Thais was a man who is known to me. I first met him two years ago, and I know him pretty well. I know him to be very active on the Red Shirt side of Thai politics, although this was not mentioned by the BBC. Very active, did I say? Active enough to try to get me involved as a Red Shirt, and not on a volunteer basis either. His statements in this BBC interview were anti-government and pro-Red Shirt in equal measure, heavily spin-doctored, and distinctly divorced from reality. He has a quiet, dignified demeanor though, and speaks perfect, un-accented English after decades working for international news agencies, and his statements were not challenged.

So then, whence the BBC? I’ll never view them in the same way, that’s for sure. After this “in depth report,” there are only so many conclusions to be made. Either:

1. BBC first chooses sides and then reports on that basis;

2. BBC will believe any bullshit story that they hear;

3. BBC looks at a story and tries to find the single richest man involved, and then they make him the winner (a long story, not addressed above);

4. BBC approaches a story by doing a little bit of shallow reporting, talking only to a few people who were very easy to find and talk to, and then they spin a fairy tale around the meager results; or

5. BBC was paid to broadcast this piece, which was essentially an advertisement for the Red Shirts.

Another great German word: Wolkencuckucksheim. “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Where the BBC seems to live.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the insight into what is happening in this conflict. The news over here makes you think the whole country was fighting. The only thing good about watching BBC World news is they at least mention other countries. Now I know they are just as lame as the rest of the press!

fred c said...

Thailand is interesting. In America, politics IS culture; over here, politics and culture are very clearly separated.

So it's safe, and it's the land of smiles after all. I still love it.

Anonymous said...

It's like you always say about our British friends. They're great at being polite. I personally find it comforting just to watch something where they seem to speak intelligently about a wide variety of subjects. Unlike most of OUR news which is like a 'human centipede' of sorts.