On this day 27th November in 1975, Ross McWhirter co founder of the Guinness Book of Records was gunned down outside his home in North London. The IRA claimed responsibility for this in retaliation for McWhirter offering a £50,000 reward for the capture of multiple bombings across the UK.
For many of my generation, the McWhirter brothers were high profile TV characters. He and his brother presented the Record Breakers with Roy Castle on TV. The killing was a senseless almost unfathomable act to a 11 year old like myself. His murder was on the BBC and ITV evening news and made the headlines the following morning. The two killers were involved in an armed siege in Balcombe Street in London a week later.
The killing was discussed in the papers and the TV for a few days following. Those were the days before 24 hour global news. Before we knew what a social network was. When Twitter was the noise that birds make.
1975 had seen the death of General Franco in Spain and the restoration of a monarchy. 1975 saw the end of the Vietnam War, Bloody conflict in Cambodia, Iran and Iraq in conflict and of course a wave of bombings and attacks by the IRA on mainland Britain. The Birmingham Six were wrongfully convicted this year too. Forty years ago this year.
When you look at the amount of newsworthy items that occurred in that year, 2015 about stacks up against it. But the difference being now, is that every item in the news is reported on a loop over 24 hours for days following the story breaking. The world changed in 1980 when the CNN was launched. The worlds first 24 hour news channel. Up until then, we coped with news being delivered about three times a day. The thirst for news was probably as keen or more likely according to the news available for comment. Comment was made by face to face discussion not via electronic instant networks.
I am a regular user of social networks. I enjoy the humour, irreverence, instant comment available to anyone on any news item. The trouble is that not much of the items are actually news. They are reaction to a news item and sometimes reaction to a reaction. And some such as media troll and Daily Mail hag Katie Hopkins, create ‘news’ by being offensive in relation to a news event. The likes of Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s media attack dog controlled the news coming out of No 10 during Blair’s reign as PM. He fed news organisations stories and comment designed to strengthen the position of his boss. Modern political parties will often leak the details of a speech before the speech is made. It’s as if we are impatient, like kids who want to know what’s in their Christmas presents before opening them.
Someone at some point decided we needed to know this instantly. Someone decided the comment on a news story is more important than any content. Opinion was more valid than facts. Were we more gullible and ignorant forty years ago? Was there less news on the world and domestic front than nowadays? I don’t think so. I think there was less discussion about who said what. Maybe more effort went into establishing the facts and reporting them. Journalists only a couple of years prior to 1975 had uncovered a story which toppled a sitting US president. This was true investigative journalism.
We cannot go back to a time where technology was not as advanced as now nor should we. We could eliminate the culture of 24 hour news. I don’t want to know at 3 am what Tom Watson the deputy leader of Labour said about Jeremy Corbyn to a friend over dinner. I’m not bothered that a Tory MP said contentious comments about Jeremy Corbyn’s views on war in Syria.
This is not news. Nothing has happened. The UK has not gone to war in Syria. They have not even discussed it in parliament. Yet hours of comment, hundreds of thousands of tweets have been exchanged and argued over the subject. Rolling news reports politicians gossiping as news. Meanwhile, people are being killed by terrorists in Africa and throughout the war torn Middle East.
I want less padding. I want less news comment because it does not move anyone further on. I want factual, impartial reporting of events. Don’t send reporters to stand in front of a school if you are doing a piece about education. We know what schools look like. Don’t show piles of money when the countries finances are discussed. Give me less news, less comment and more information. Let me comment but make that less important than the events unfolding.
Don’t complain about Al Qeeda, Daesh using the media to spread hysteria and social unrest and then repeat it every five minutes on 24 hour news channels.
I watched Anchorman 2 the other day. The main character, the hapless news anchorman Ron Burgundy scoffs at the establishment of a 24 hour news channel mentioning ‘it was without doubt the dumbest thing he’d ever heard’. I don’t agree with much that Ron says but he may well have a point.