Why I’m not watching the News any more

I’ve reached the point where I can’t watch or read mainstream news reports. I’ve had difficulty with them throughout the pandemic with their incessant reporting of Covid cases and deaths completely devoid of context (how many cases were serious enough to cause hospitalisations? How many deaths were ‘of’ Covid rather than ‘with’ it? How many of the deaths were excess deaths; how many people die in any given period normally?) Ignoring context, the media became intent on fostering anxiety and panic. Their reporting was not independent; in the UK at least they parroted uncritically and relentlessly the government’s position. This, in turn, was shaped by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and in particular the predictions of computer modeller Neil Ferguson. Ferguson, regularly interviewed on BBC news programmes, was, as he now admits, wrong on every occasion. Very wrong. The pandemic was nowhere near as drastic as he repeatedly said it was going to be (I’m not disputing how serious it was. It was not, however, anywhere as near as bad as he kept predicting it would be). Yet the government and the media continued to rely on his predictions as if they were fact.

All of which is the reason I reduced my watching, listening and reading of the news to a minimum. Headlines only. Early in the summer of this year, the UK government felt the need to restore some normality to society, it asked the mainstream media to reduce its reporting of Covid statistics. All media outlets immediately complied. Conservatives can never say again that the BBC in particular is biased against them; it has done their bidding throughout the pandemic.

This is not, however, the reason I am abandoning the news, giving up even on headlines. I am tired of predictions, conjecture, speculation, forecasts and extrapolation. None of these is news. They are attempts to see the future, something that we are incapable of doing. Of course we need to be aware of potential consequences of decisions or actions, our own, governments’ and society’s. But reporting those possible consequences as fact, as outcomes that are inevitable, fait accompli, like Neil Ferguson’s hopeless predictions, is not what news reporting should be about. Its job is to tell us what has happened, how, where and possibly why (analysis). That it extends itself well beyond this by determining for us what a particular development means ‘for the future’ or ‘’in the long term’ is nothing more than supposition. It also, dangerously, leads to some self-fulfilling prophecy, such as we’ve seen in the reporting of recent supply chain difficulties. That these were restricted to specific areas was not reported but the possibility that these difficulties could, possibly, maybe, result in food shortages was. Result? Panic buying and food shortages in some areas. The same happened with supposed fuel shortages. Christmas is now in danger according to the UK media.

With Covid largely off the agenda, the news media find themselves in need of something else with which to fill schedules; some alternative source of doom and gloom. The mainstream (in the UK, at least) has opted for climate change, replete with forecasts of catastrophe, destruction and extinction. Of course it’s possible that if we do not act collectively to reduce the human contribution to climate change, that these outcomes will come to pass. It’s possible but it isn’t certain to be the case. Who remembers the media reporting that by this point in the 21st century we would be living in an ice age because of climate change? (This speculation is still about and has traction in some quarters).The news is that climate change is happening. That’s it. What we might do about it is for some other source that doesn’t claim to be delivering news.

I am tired of the narrative of the day, be it #MeToo, Brexit, BLM, Covid, climate change. Tired of its promotion by the media, of the prediction and conjecture that goes along with it, but only while it attracts sufficient viewers or readers. When something more ‘newsworthy’, sensational and alarmist comes along, what was once narrative of the day is dropped. There’s a new bandwagon to jump on! This time though, I’m doing the dropping first.


Morality Tale

Preaches   A man who believes in the impossible – and it is a man more often than not – appears as a moral authority every morning on national BBC radio. This same man is frequently asked by television networks to give his views on moral issues of the day, be they assisted suicide, pay-day loans, same-sex marriage & adoption, abortion or capitalism. And even when he hasn’t been asked, the views he expresses on these subjects are widely reported, sometimes all around the world. The man can, in one of his roles, sit in the second most important legislative body of the land, again as a moral authority, influencing laws that are binding on everyone else whether they believe in the impossible or not. Indeed, the man has an automatic, unelected right to be part of this august body.

   Where, you might ask, does this man’s moral authority come form? Is he a psychologist with a profound understanding of human behaviour? Or a geneticist with knowledge of the biological bases of our decision making? Maybe a philosopher who has analysed the cognitive processes that lead to moral decisions? An ordinary, educated person, then, who has given much rational thought to how we might best treat one another?

   No, he’s none of these. He’s just a man who believes in the impossible and wears funny clothes to prove it. Invariably, it is true, he has become quite an expert in believing the impossible and he’s even been granted a special place in society that allows him to encourage others to believe the impossible. As a result, he has somehow made the leap into thinking that, because he believes in the impossible, he must therefore be a moral authority.

   Now, we may not object to the man believing in the impossible in the first place – it’s a free country after all – but we don’t accept, surely, that because he does, it means he knows much more than the rest of us about morality?

   Yes, I’m sorry to report that we do. We acquiesce to the man and say ‘because you believe in the impossible, and for no other reason, you must know more about morality than we do.’ And when we are looking for moral guidance, we turn to him – whether we are the BBC, the rest of the media or the government – and we say, ‘what do you say about this? What should we think about it, because, after all, you are the authority here by virtue of the fact that you believe in the impossible?’ And the man, in whatever guise he appears – pope, archbishop, bishop, reverend, imam, rabbi – says, ‘this is what it says in my magic book (even when it doesn’t) and you should follow it, even though you might not believe in either the magic book or in the impossible.

   And we say, ‘Well, you’re the expert and we respect that you should tell us how to behave, if for no other reason than you believe in the impossible.’