I’ve only been on Radio 4’s Today programme once.
My book The Journey Home (previously known as The Beautiful Life) had recently come out.
What piqued the editor’s interest was the sub-title Ten New Commandments because life could be better which could, on the face of it, appear controversial.
I didn’t regard the book as controversial; more a natural development of Jesus’ beatitudes in which he focused on attitudes rather than behaviour.
And this is exactly what my book did. It looked at ten healthy attitudes.
But what interested me was how the BBC dealt with it – for, on arriving in the studio for the interview with Sue McGregor, they had a surprise opponent lined up.
It was a woman from the evangelical tradition. I don’t imagine she had read the book; there was certainly no evidence of this.
She had merely been told that someone was offering ten new commandments – commandments that were not in the bible. And did she have a view?
She certainly had a view.
So instead of reflecting of whether there was any truth in this book of mine – presumably the original intention – we wasted time on re-running old debates about the authority of scripture.
And all for the sake of ‘balance’…which is a most unstable god; and gladiatorial combat, the death of truth.
And so to the Brexit coverage.
I have been struck recently how – on a much larger stage, and in a much more significant drama – the unstable god of balance has returned, revealed in how the BBC use Nigel Farage.
Nigel Farage has failed to be elected on a number of occasions (is it eight?) so hardly the voice of the people. But he is given more air time than those who have been elected – and why?
‘Find someone extreme, for God’s sake – we need balance!’
And so when Cambridge Analytica was recently exposed for campaign irregularities, we immediately had their boss on, saying how it wasn’t so, really, etc – for balance, of course.
We are left with the perception that here are two equally valid responses.
But as Robert Peston has recently observed, ‘You don’t give flat earthers equal air time to those who claim the world is round.’
They are not equally valid, the evidence only goes one way, and this is a crime of journalism…when they could have been reporting the lengthy investigative process that led to this exposure of the company’s activities.
That’s the news in this instance.
Others have written more knowledgeably than I can about the BBC’s almost non-existent reporting of the electoral crimes committed.
But I’m left with a sense of deja-vu and the sad truth that investigative journalism has been replaced by lazy ‘Balance TV’.
Back with me, my book and the Today studio, (a small stage, I know, but predictive) it would have been better if Sue McGregor had investigated my views when we spoke.
She could have asked hard questions, like Socrates. She could have dismantled me…or at least tried.
Instead, the lazy way was taken by the editorial team – get on some visceral opponent, (doesn’t matter if they haven’t read the damn book) and let the two of them slug it out.
‘Bit of drama, guys! And we must be balanced!’
Of course, in my case, it wasn’t even either/or. The Ten Commandments have much to commend them; they just aren’t the last word.
And I don’t imagine my opponent thought they were either. We were both debased by the process.
Balance never gets anyone nearer the truth; it just gives a leg-up to stupidity.
Whereas steady investigative questions, like Socrates once used…