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Jon Snow: Knows nothing (Chris Terry)

"Critics," said Brendan Behan, "are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves." The same applies to broadcasters. 

Imagine how they feel as they watch their interviewees. Their working lives have trained them to purr out a soundbite and spit out a putdown better than their guests can ever do. They are the finest players of the TV news game, but like a referee at a football match, they must remain neutral. Why? The viewers know a Jon Snow, Andrew Marr or John Simpson better than they know nearly all of their guests. Yet while the politicians and pressure groups can prattle at will, presenters must bite their tongues. Dusty regulations from the 20th century stop them using "the advantage of regular appearances to promote their [own] views".

Perhaps the newsroom celebrities wonder how their obituaries will read. "He did his job so well no one knew what he thought," people will say — not much of an epitaph in an age when self-expression is the highest virtue. Broadcasters might have chosen to be political writers or activists; they might just have lived the life of a democratic citizen. They would have been free to say what they wanted, but in all likelihood, they would never have had the money or the prominence. As they grow old, do they see their careers as Faustian traps? Broadcasting gave them fame that might have placed them among the most powerful voices in the land but took from them the freedom to speak their minds in return.

Once broadcasters could only get their views over covertly. They would load the panel or slant their questions. Marr did it to me once and I despised him in a way I have never despised an honest opponent. Start the Week, the Radio 4 programme he hosted, was for writers, artists and intellectuals who had a book or show out that week. Because I wrote a book he and his producer disagreed with, they brought in a stooge or ringer solely to attack me. I looked at Marr then, and thought that broadcasting had emasculated him. When he was a newspaper columnist, he fought for his opinions in the open. The BBC had given him money and celebrity, but its standards had turned him into an unmanly sneak. 

Current affairs celebrities have had enough of the eunuch's life. They want to grow a pair now, and have it all ways. Jon Snow's personal response to the suffering of Gaza pointed the way to a deregulated future. The deaths of children filled Snow with horror. Beside his well-expressed pity and disgust, the painstaking reporting of Channel 4's foreign correspondents appeared bland. I am not criticising. If anything, Snow underestimated the scale of the misery. He talked about how a war fought in a city packed with children, must kill those children. He did not mention what proper reporters saw at once: with Egypt and Israel sealing off Gaza's borders, civilians could not escape.
But although it was a Channel 4 production, Snow's opinion piece could not be played on Channel 4's terrestrial evening news. Snow did not show the "due impartiality" the regulators demand. He did not describe what Hamas was, examine the Nazi rhetoric of its charter, or explain how Palestinians who wanted women's rights or democratic freedom fared under its rule. He allowed no balancing Israeli voices. Snow was giving television's version of a newspaper opinion piece — a powerful and well-argued piece, I should add. Neither he nor his hundreds of thousands of viewers cared about "due impartiality" for the brute reason that dead children are in their graves and legalistic debates on fairness and standards will not resurrect them.

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August 29th, 2014
4:08 PM
This comes rich from an Israel apologist.

John Wheatley
August 29th, 2014
1:08 PM
Agreed all round On one specific. I've not trusted Marr since he pilloried Alistair Campbell one Sunday morning for being a hypocrite while he had a super injunction in place protecting his reputation from scrutiny. Why is he halfway to becoming a "national treasure"

Arthur Brooks
August 28th, 2014
7:08 PM
I don't see why Jon Snow shouldn't wave his willy about. BBC News rarely analyses the government's statements which various Tories spout with unerring certainty as to their truth or falsehood. Indeed I cannot understand why the government of the day always accuse the BBC of bias against them as it rarely challenges a word they say. This is just as bad as Jon Snow wearing his heart on his sleeve or in the inelegant phrase 'wave his Willy about'.

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