I mentioned in an earlier blog that I – a broadcast journalist of more than thirty years’ standing – am limiting the amount of news I consume each day. This is not, in the most part, a reflection of the quality of the coverage. It’s a mental health thing. If I spend too much time, while living in self-isolation, digesting every new statistic, dwelling on every tale of family bereavement, wondering where that light at the end of the tunnel actually is….I’m not going to have the brightest of days. So I read/watch/listen to what I feel is a broad cross-section of reporting, quietly arrive at a few conclusions, and then do something else to pass the time.
I can’t, though, ignore how coverage of the coverage is now becoming a story in itself. A Yougov poll for Sky News, published last week, made grim reading for journalists. To put it bluntly, the public doesn’t trust us….and that level of distrust has gone up significantly during the current crisis. Asked how much people trusted newspaper journalists when it comes to coronavirus, only 17% said they did, while 72% said they didn’t. Twenty-four per cent trusted TV journalists next to 64% who didn’t…..and that’s despite regulators who are in place to ensure impartiality in television news.
Allied to that, my attention was drawn to a post on Facebook from someone I don’t know personally, but whom is known to friends of mine. Her grievance was that journalists should get behind the government more, because their negativity is damaging and they’re misjudging the public mood. The implication was that we should ask fewer questions that hint at scrutiny, let alone criticism, because it’s not helping.
Then I read on Facebook – and this time it is from someone I know personally – that she’s been astonished by the amount of bile aimed at journalists. Bile that includes death threats. Bile because someone had the temerity to ask a question….a question that might well have been in the minds of people reading/listening/watching….and then didn’t immediately break into a round of applause when receiving a less than candid reply. Of course it’s easier to pose the questions than it is to answer them, and of course a respectful tone of voice is important here (a measured question is likely to work much better than a needlessly barked one) but do we really want less scrutiny and more sycophancy just now? I don’t think so.
Take my situation. I receive a letter from the NHS advising me to shield because of the drugs I take. I read it, I read around it, and I ask some questions of people whose knowledge I trust. Conclusion…..as long as I’m very careful, I can self-isolate rather than shield, meaning that contact with the outside world via a daily walk is possible. I was curious, questioning, respectful, and answers were forthcoming. And by the way, the vast majority of politicians I’ve met over the years wouldn’t want it any other way.