“Brainless, Betraying, Cretinous”, screamed The Sun this morning, and so it was that their much-anticipated slating of the BBC after last night’s Panorama began. It took a twin-headed approach – firstly, an apparent “voice of the fans” piece of garbage which was either written by or ghost-written for Ian Wright. It is an article so colossally stupid that, if Wright didn’t write it himself, he might want to have a word with his lawyers about some of the thoughts put forward in it in his name. Quite frankly, they make him sound like somebody that doesn’t have the first idea of what he is talking about above and beyond standing on the sidelines, wrapped in a St Georges Flag and shouting incomprehensibly – something that may sound familiar to anyone that has watched British television coverage of major football tournaments over the last ten or twelve years, or so.
Wright’s key contention doesn’t seem to be that the BBC were uncovering corruption within FIFA, rather that they were uncovering the wrong sort of corruption. “I thought the investigator was going to uncover proof of corruption in terms of the Russian or Portuguese and Spanish bids giving bribes to FIFA executive committee members ahead of this week’s vote”, he says, “but there was nothing of the sort”. It doesn’t say a great deal for Wright’s scruples if he is only in favour of uncovering corruption if it’s the right sort of corruption, but even this pales into comparison with the descent into something approaching madness that he subsequently manages in saying, “Would they have done something to affect the future of Strictly Come Dancing? Of course they wouldn’t”, asking aloud whether, “Auntie would like a rival broadcaster filming a programme investigating dealings within the BBC”, and even reaching for the ‘won’t someone please think of the children?’ card in saying, “Those of you who have kids around the age of 10 would be seeing them going to games with their mates come 2018″.
So, that’s what Ian Wright thinks, then (and there is a considerably finer riposte to his comments here, courtesy of Magic Spongers in the meantime, we’ll leave it to you to decide whether you believe that he may harbour a grudge towards the BBC himself or not), but he’s not the only person at The Sun with an axe to grind on this subject. It should be unsurprising that a News Corp paper is willing to sell any semblance of standing together with fellow journalists down the river in order to stick the boot into an organisation that is regarded as an ideological enemy by its owner, but it doesn’t make the sheer hypocrisy of it all any less breathtaking. Here is what The Sun’s editorial writer has to say on the matter – an overtly aggressive mixture of rhetorical questions, straw man arguments, an unsurprising defence of its sister paper’s own subterfuge that and an ending that consists of a pointed question that has everything to do with News Corp’s wider agenda than anything to do with this particular issue; the licence fee.
The rest of the press was more circumspect in expressing its feelings, but its hostility still managed to show through in several respects. The Daily Mail, whose antipathy towards the BBC is also well-documented, managed to get the words “BBC” and “Outrage” next to each other in their headline, while the Daily Telegraph’s Jim White came up with an opinion piece that possibly will become more commonplace if or when the bid fails, in managing to blame both the FA and the BBC: “The fact is, now we have seen that this is all Panorama has in its locker, if England don’t win the race for 2018, no one can blame the BBC”. The Mirror went with a dry reporting of the contents of the programme itself, as did The Independent. Only – and perhaps predictably – The Guardian leapt to the defence of the programme, stating that (in description of those on the FIFA ExCo that seem to be perpetually connected to some shenanigans or other), “Casual observers will see the same old faces presenting themselves for another chance to play God”.
What is noticable about each of the above critical articles is that none of them seem to get a very favourable reaction from their readers. Ian Wright’s piece for The Sun, for example, has, at the time of writing, received thirty-six comments, of which about fifteen or so (three of which were written by the same person) agreed his sentiments. Only eight of the twenty-six comments under the Daily Mail article were critical of the BBC, and the majority of them were, as one might expect from users of the Daily Mail’s website’s comments section, anti-BBC in general rather than critical of Panorama. Jim White’s Telegraph pieces barely musters a couple of “supportive” comments. This in itself isn’t definitive (it’s not necessarily easy to separate the critical from the incomprehensible at times, when reading these comments), but it would certainly seem fair to say that, if people read newspapers (and, by extension, their websites) to reinforce their own viewpoints, those that have been critical of the decision to show this programme at this time may have misjudged their audience on this occasion. Meanwhile, The Guardian reported this morning that Ofcom have received just fifty-nine complaints from an audience estimated at just over 2.8m people – hardly a popular uprising against the BBC.
England may yet host the 2018 World Cup, but the matter of whether they do or not is utterly irrelevant in this particular debate. What we can say with a reasonable degree of certainty is that we don’t need to take lessons in morals and ethics in journalism from a newspaper whose sister paper has been involved in phone hacking on an epic scale or from a newspaper whose sister paper was involved in what can only be described as entrapment in order to force the resignation of the chairman of the Football Association as the result of what he understood to be a private conversation. The FIFA ExCo may let the broadcasting of this programme influence their decision. It may not. We can be reasonably certain that there is no danger of them acting upon the allegations made by it, and it is in no small part because of this that many of us have largely given up on caring what decision they make. At least, we can console ourselves, it will all be over in a couple of days.
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