The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Tuesday, August 19, 2003
 

Beware low-flying porkers: Roy Hattersley speaks sense!


The spluttering dinosaur of a bygone age (how many mildly active pols are there still in the saddle with well-remembered Spitting Image puppets? his did, of course) has nailed the lie about the much-fawned-over Today programme, home of the equally physically unappealing Andrew Gilligan.

In the Guardian today he says
Its declared purpose is to lead the news...[It] succeeds in its objective by always stimulating controversy and, wherever possible, arranging confrontation. The result is often about as informative as two cats fighting in a sack - not least because politicians, knowing the Today formula, have worked out defence mechanisms by withholding information.

Today does not routinely provide online transcripts for the benefit of the plebs. (Even though, it appears from the evidence provided to the Hutton Inquiry, such transcripts are routinely produced - in many cases, for the purpose of rapid rebuttal of Alastair Campbell's Diatribe of the Day.) But various Today interview transcripts are included in the Hutton cornucopia - and pretty sorry reading they make. The stuff is even more tedious when heard.

One might compare it with the Japanese tea ceremony - where the ceremony, rather than provision of light refreshment, is the object of the exercise. But, at least, there is some intrinsic benefit in the tea ceremony: tea is, ultimately, served. Whereas the bizarre ritual conducted in the Today studio every morning yields no information at all. And neither party expects anything different.

It was, as I understand it, to give the programme something other than pointless shadow-boxing matches with the pols that Gilligan was hired, as a sort of combined Woodward and Bernstein in the defence field. He would boldly go and sniff out stories, rather than relying on reacting to press releases - which, absent an actual war, is what a defence correspondent tends to do. There was also, I believe, a belief that defence correspondents generally were a little too close to the military-industrial complex (Mark Laity was, as I recall, one suspected of a modicum of regulatory capture - in the end, he was captured outright: he went to work for NATO!).

Gilligan is a passing phase, I'm sure: the real problem is that the political interview - in Today as elsewhere - no longer works, except as WWF in suits. Some days, I can read the whole of the online Guardian (the main home page links that I'm interested in, at least) in the time that just one of these shouting matches takes to blow itself out.

But - without Today, there would have been no Hutton. I'll rejoice thus far.


UPDATE (August 23)

Already, Richard Sambrook, the man in charge (very loosely - in more sense than one) of News at the BBC, is, according to the Guardian (August 22), apologising for his evidence to the Hutton Inquiry! To wit, apologising to the above-mentioned Mark Laity for saying (more or less) what I said:
Mr Sambrook said Gilligan...had been employed because the BBC "needed a correspondent who would ask questions and hold to account as well". Though Laity was not named in the evidence, the former BBC reporter said it was a "damaging and totally inaccurate remark".

Sambrook says that all he was doing was giving the rationale of former Today editor and the guy who hired Gilligan, the flamboyant Rod Liddle.

Why small fry Laity gets his apology is slightly puzzling - suggests that BBC brass, under the battering from events, the Inquiry and the Murdoch press, are punch-drunk and ducking at anything (Sambrook, one would hope, would not have apologised without sanction from the top). The Corporation seems to be turning itself into a neocon blogger's bishop-bashing fantasy of itself...


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