I was struck by a comment I saw today from one of my Facebook friends that began: “When the Great British Bake Off is a more important headline in News at Ten than the truce in Syria….” This was on top of a comment I saw yesterday posted by another of my Facebook friends, to the effect that a serious newspaper (in this case it was the Guardian) ran a story on its front page concerning a dramatic development in the popular Radio 4 soap, The Archers.
In order to become more informed about the “Great British Bake Off”, where better to turn than that repository of great insight? “the Sun”, which happened to be on hand when I turned up at my local café a little later. As I understand it, this show has become a national institution and is popular with a good many. It began on the BBC and has been shown there ever since, but given money has become a factor, as is so often the case these days, it was decided to broadcast the show on another channel, which happened to outbid the BBC.
One of the consequences of this change was two of the shows main presenters, who happened to disapprove, have decided to leave the show and two others may do so. The discussion in the Sun revolved round the wisdom, rights and wrongs of this development. When after I trawled through the newspaper, from start to end, I couldn’t find anything about the Syrian truce though. As far as the Archers story line goes, in this case I am an avid fan and have written about what has been happening recently (here, here, and here).
But were my two friends right to express their dismay that something they saw as relatively trivial should be given more coverage than something that wasn’t, even by more serious media? My first thought was it has ever been thus and, if you do want to find meaningful coverage of what is happening in the world, there is a good chance you won’t find out by following only the mainstream media. I suspect the reason is partly one of perceived demand – the wider public is more likely to buy a piece of juicy trivia dressed up as something significant than find out more about a situation that in the main has been dire and harrowing, even if there is now a glimmer of hope. These days we have the Internet, although for as long as I can remember there have been other ways to find out, and is one reason I have subscribed to Time magazine for so long.
When I “googled”: “Syrian Truce”, my first hit was a story posted 5 hours earlier, titled: “Syria truce: UN hails ‘significant drop’ in violence” which begins “Aid convoys are waiting at the Turkish-Syrian border for the government in Damascus to give authorisation to enter Syria, the United Nations has said, as a fragile ceasefire that came into effect at sundown on Monday appeared to be largely holding across the country. The UN envoy for Syria on Tuesday applauded the “significant drop in violence”, more than 24 hours after the declaration of a truce deal brokered by US and Russia. Today, calm appears to have prevailed across Hama, Latakia, Aleppo city and rural Aleppo and Idlib, with only some allegations of sporadic and geographically isolated incidents,” Staffan de Mistura told a news conference in Geneva”.
Even so, when comparing the Great British Bake Off and the truce in Syria, there is no contest as to what is more news worthy. While there is a sense of frustration and powerlessness when considering factors like: Syria as a pawn in a power struggle between the USA and Russia, the horrible regime of President Assad, the even more horrible regimes of the likes of Isis, when it comes to committing atrocities, the other rival factions within the conflict and the humanitarian refugee crisis and that of those who are unable to flee the troubles, that has all sorts of wider implications and begs all sorts of questions when it comes to providing appropriate aid, then this is news I need to know about, however uncomfortable the background is. For one thing, there is a glimmer of hope, and we need to hope, pray, lobby and work for a just solution, even if what we can do is limited, but how we respond will part depend on what we know, and as the old adage goes: “knowledge is power“.
So in conclusion, there is a place for coverage about what is happening in a show like the Great British Bake Off, and not just from a fan perspective, and there is a place to cover the Archers, again not just from a fan perspective but, because of the story line in question, important questions have been raised about domestic violence and the criminal justice system. While we cannot all be serious news watchers, and neither must we spend so much time serious news watching that we fail to do what we need to do, there is a need to understand what is happening in the world so we can respond in the appropriate way and, in the so called democracy in which we live, we are more able to bring governments to account and also, concerning those who control the media, we can call upon them to get their priorities right or vote with our whatever and get our information from sources prioritizing truth and balance.
PS Going back to good old Facebook, something else that came my way but I forgot when I posted was a video clip titled: “90,000 gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico last week and no one is talking about it”. It occurred to me that the unreported stories over things that matter go far and wide, and we the public should know about them so we can act accordingly – ed.