You’d think we could do something about the growing business of deniability.
It really isn’t good enough for those who regard their duty as to speak truth unto power and take fat salaries for it, to meekly accept that a flat-out denial of wrongdoing or incompetence from some ministerial shit constitutes due ‘balance’.
It’s like the pantomime villain declaiming: ‘Oh, no it isn’t!’ Every kid in the audience knows it is.
The problem of ‘balance’ in news reporting is well illustrated by one story I recall from a couple of years back. Interviewed on the Today programme, the head of the Royal College of Nursing claimed the NHS was suffering from a shortfall of twenty thousand nurses. Should he not know his stuff? No-one from the Health department was willing to go on the show, but ‘a spokesman’ for the Secretary of State had replied by some backdoor means that in fact, the Government was creating 3,500 extra nursing posts.
Both sides of the story were reported separately and uncritically. They could not both have been true. But that was where the BBC left it, in a state of perfect ‘balance’.
Can anyone explain to me – and I used to be a radio news editor – what, if anything, the taxpayer funding the NHS was supposed to make of the story? Was a disastrous depletion of the NHS’ proper nursing complement threatening the nation’s health, reflecting on the incompetence of those in power, or were our hospital wards awash with surplus nurses?
We were never told. The point is, it surely ought to have been easy enough to find out.
Now, I’ve got a personal stake in this. As you know, because you Follow this, muh bogl, I can’t sell my lovely little house. It’s been on the market for two years and nine months. Not unusual, for this part of the country. Frustrating, nevertheless. Only three people have even been to look at it since October, 2013; although it’s had over five thousand hits on the interweb thing.
There’s a perfectly good explanation as to why property is not selling faster where I live. It’s called ‘April McMahon’.
Dr McMahon was appointed about five years ago as Chancellor of the local university. Whether due to her influence directly or to the factionalism of the administrative body exploiting her inexperience, maleficence compounded by tuition fees, the university has been sliding rapidly down the charts to stand at number 110 in the UK, where formerly it was popular, healthy and well-regarded. For details, I refer you to a BBC Wales report from last March, ‘Staff morale low at A* University’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-mid-wales-31946666)
Now, this report accurately reflects everything I have been hearing from friends and colleagues who work at the university – as I sometimes do. Morale is at rock-bottom: ancillary staff pension funds are being clawed back, contracts re-let at lower rates of pay, formerly highly regarded departments wound-down and valuable book collections destroyed (Quote: “No-one reads books anymore”) to make way for more beanbags and coffee machines. In only three years, undergraduate applications have fallen from a high of twelve and a half thousand, to just eight and a half thousand.
From my own experience, I have observed that the number of foreign students especially has been falling, year on year. There are reasons for this – China for one is sending fewer funded students to Britain because of the expense and visa restrictions. Higher tuitiion fees have played a part – the A-level entry requirements have been so downgraded as to be laughable; many overseas students I encounter could not conceivably have passed the IACS test for knowledge of the English language.
To add injury to insult, the hourly rate for the job I do has remained almost unchanged since the year 2007 – I believe there has been an increase of 67 pence in that time. Yet the university is courting disaster by proposing to reduce it again in January, while our responsibilities have increased. Mutiny is brewing.
Surely, the widely rumoured vandalism of trendy administrators in the national universities sector and the wholesale switching of budgets away from academic departments to exciting but useless student ‘facilities’ ought to be exposed, investigated, corrected by someone, before Britain entirely loses its international reputation for academic excellence?
So how does the BBC treat this worrying story, that has been put out on the airwaves by ‘a whistleblower’? Why, it obtains a ‘balancing’ quote from one of the Pro Vice Chancellors, a Dr Morgan, who flatly denies everything. Not true! Look, we are spending £100 million on facilities! Everyone is happy! Everything is fine.
And with that authoritative denial, and another whopping annual payrise for Dr McMahon, there the story lies. No attempt is seemingly made to stand the allegation up, or to disprove it: it is enough that the BBC has maintained its vaunted ‘balanced’ editorial stance, regardless of the damage and confusion such inconclusiveness will inevitably cause in the long run. The truth, however unbalanced, needs to come out before anything can be done to halt the descent into oblivion.
One obvious casualty of the damage is the local housing market.
With fewer staff appointments, wage cuts and ‘zero-hours’ contracts, smaller ‘executive’ homes of the kind that would attract young academics are standing empty. Prices are static, falling. With so many fewer students, the university’s wasteful and shortsighted accommodation building programme has completely flattened the lettings market in the town. The knock-on effect is to create a glut of properties as landlords jostle to unload empty housing onto the market; most of it in fairly shocking condition, but hey, it’s only students.
And my nice little house is one of the casualties.
The principle of outright denial has to be challenged. Where there is clear evidence of wrongdoing, incompetence, waste and stupidity, it is simply not good enough for the media and opposition politicians to go silent in the face of bombastic official obstruction and obtuseness in the interests of ‘balance’. Any good journalist would be sure of their facts and stand their ground, until the story is out there and something is being done about it.
But we all fear for our careers. And nothing ever is.