Sunday, May 21, 2006

UK - BBC: Wrong man in the right place

This sounds about right.

And much fun was to be had at the BBC’s expense afterwards. Here, after all, was the emperor revealed brazenly in the altogether; News 24, with its constant parade of expert commentators pontificating upon important events — well, actually, who is to say they’re experts at all, that we should pay any attention to their perorations? Maybe they are all as divested of expertise as Mr Goma. It’s not journalism at all, really — just a cheap and mindless method of filling up airtime. People who know nothing interviewed badly by people who know even less.

And he knows what he's talking about.

Many years ago I was a youthful producer on BBC Radio Four’s World at One; it was a good time to be a journalist because the world was in joyous tumult with the end of the Cold War. I was extraordinarily proud of myself to have secured for my programme an interview with Georgi Arbatov, head of the Soviet Institute for American Studies and an adviser to every Soviet president from Khrushchev to Mikhail Gorbachev. What a coup! As the Soviet Union dissolved and geopolitical relations were being turned on their head, I had tracked down and persuaded one of the five or six most crucial and significant people in the world to talk to us live on air, in the lead slot. It was a good interview, too. Georgi said he wanted better relations with the USA and was in favour of world peace and disarmament. ‘We must all now be frentz, yes?’ he asked at the end, with benevolent rhetoric. His broadcasted comments were duly written up in the following day’s broadsheet newspapers.

But as I discovered when I spoke to him after the interview, they were not the views of Georgi Arbatov, close adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev, but the views of Georgi Arbatov, an insurance salesman from Minsk. Thank God, I mused later, reading the delighted reaction to his comments from Western politicians, that he was not a hawkish insurance salesman from Minsk: the missiles might have been leaving the silos.

He concludes with this:

So thank you, Guy Goma and News 24, for reminding us of our infinite fallibilities and of the chasm between what is said and what is understood. We should treat everything we see, hear or read with measured scepticism — and when it emanates from people breathlessly described as experts, all the more so.

And when it emanates from the BBC we should treat it with total scepticism.

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