Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Marr laments…

In an extraordinary piece in today's Daily Telegraph, BBC political editor and over-paid columnist for the newspaper, Andrew Marr, laments the difficulty in reporting on Brussels. Under the title, "How am I meant to raise interest in Brussels?", he weeps into his cups as he records that:

"Brussels" remains dreadful for my trade, journalism. It isn't just the obvious - the impenetrable jargon, the infinitely slow tennis game between the institutions and the lack of colourful characters that might interest viewers and readers back home. It's more that a perpetual haggle involving 25 countries is bound to produce insufferably slow results and a grey-brown cud of compromise. The very essence of the current union makes it near-impossible to report its story to easily distracted electorates!
"Journalism, he argues, needs events; clashes; colour; argument. It drives many journalists mad…. It's thin pickings. A minor huff by Jacques Chirac must be elevated into Waterloo, The Rematch."

Elsewhere in this Blog, my colleague Helen Szamuely has been running a series called "Are they listening to themselves?" and, with some justice, this question could be turned to the egregious Marr. This is the man who is paid huge amounts of money from the BBC's license payers’ fund to make politics interesting, to make sense of it, and to bring the issues alive. This is the equivalent of a football commentator wingeing about the difficulty of making the cup final look interesting.

Actually, it is worse than that. What is being played out in the offices of Brussels and the capitals of the European Union member states is a battle of infinite subtlety and complexity. But it is also a battle for the heart and soul of "Europe", the outcome of which will determine the political fate of the continent and whether these unhappy lands will descend once more into chaos.

But Marr is embedded in the tradition of personality politics, of "yah-boo-sucks" exchanges, fast-moving action and sound-bites. All of this is passing him by. He has turned up expecting to see a staged wresting match, with its grunts, groans, jeers and cheers, with its clinches, falls and knock-outs.

But he has actually arrived at a chess championship, played by masters without a clock, and he doesn't know what is going on. He doesn't know the rules and doesn't understand the strategy. All he sees is two figures sitting at a table, occasionally pushing carved figures across a chequered board – and he yearns for one or the other to stand up and start beating up his opponent, so he can report on the "colourful characters that might interest viewers and readers back home".

That is the frustration of being on the receiving end of modern journalism. The trade is inhabited by one-dimensional, self-regarding, over-paid figures who spend their lives tracking down the "sound-bite" while the game is played on around them, without their even beginning to understand what is going on. Then, to add insult to injury, we pay our good money for newspapers only to find these dismal hacks in print, parading their ignorance and lack of comprehension – for which they again get handsomely paid.

Oh how nice it would be to have some grown-ups around.

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