A recent “debate” on BBC Radio Ulster concerning public sector pay was not one of Talkback’s finest.
There were a number of reasons for this, but prime among them was the failure adequately the address the inherent bias that such a programme will inevitably promote; or, put less kindly, to provide real expertise. It was mid July so perhaps it was not for the want of trying, to be fair.
The programme essentially consisted of a trade unionist engaging in outrageous prejudice and plain misinformation. The BBC should simply not allow this.
There were two outstanding examples. First, there was the outright slur that “business owners/the people at the top are money grabbers”. Second there was the outrageous nonsense that the “money is always found for bombing people”.
The first requires an outright apology both from the BBC and from the trade union movement. People who do well in business usually themselves come up by the boot straps; they take astonishing risks; and as a result they create wealth and jobs and generally reinvest in their own community. While it is fair to say they could not do this without public services, it is also fair to say public services could not be funded without them – and they not only ultimately create the wealth to pay for them, but also employment which improves people’s self-esteem, financial well-being and thus is in itself of use to the public (as well as providing goods or services themselves people want to buy and are thus evidently glad of having). To present such people as “money grabbers” betrays an appalling prejudice, demonstrating again that left-wing prejudice is just as bad as any other. Had the victim of the prejudice been one of a number of other groups of people, we would never have heard the end of it.
The second required a bit more expertise, it is true. The notion that the money is always found for bombs is a social media meme, and like most social media memes it is garbage. In fact, the UK has cut its defence capability remarkably and consistently over the past decades, to the extent that it is now unable to engage in any major military operation alone. It is doubtful whether a Falklands or even a Sierra Leone intervention would now be possible. Indeed, outrageously, it is not in dispute that young men and women were sent into armed conflict by the UK this century without adequate equipment. So, in fact it is far from true the money can always be found. Indeed, it is increasingly not found – replaced by a reliance on shared intelligence with the United States or shared operations with France, for example. To emphasise, this is not to discuss the rights and wrongs of such things (that is well beyond the limits of my expertise), merely to emphasise that the slogan presented was pure fake news. The Left, again, is every bit as good at that as the alt-right or anyone else.
The programme also failed to counter adequately other crazy claims (such as an average industrial wage of £35,000) or to address the innate bias, for example, that no one is likely to phone into a show and declare themselves or their sector well paid!
There is a tension in the media between education and entertainment and between knowledgeable analysis and slanted opinion. I am not sure it is a good thing that the latter appears to be winning, even on the public service broadcaster.