IN today’s terms, I am a mainstream sort of guy when it comes to the news. The BBC, the Guardian and Observer, and quick raids into hostile territory – the nettles in Daily Mail-land don’t half leave a rash – mostly do for me.
Once there was a time when identifying yourself as a Guardian reader was tantamount to coming out as a raging leftie, but nowadays life is more complicated than that. Should you wish you can now visit a website dedicated to ‘proving’ that everything you read in the Guardian is wrong, but there you go.
Earlier this week pictures of Omran Daqneesh, the tiny survivor of a suspected Russian airstrike on the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo, went around the world, giving face to a tragedy which has remained mostly unseen. Stills from video footage showed this five-year-old boy with his face bloody and his eyes blank with shock.
You might have thought this was the media doing a global good deed, prodding the world’s conscience with reports of a boy who stands for all the children harmed or worse by wars everywhere.
But hardly had the blood been wiped away from that young face before the heckling began, with certain websites warning that we shouldn’t swallow this news at face value. The details are complicated but suggest the image was being used as a way of escalating further military action in Syria.
I don’t know the truth of such claims, but I do know that here was a tiny child caught up in a bloody shit-storm not of his making. And this morning reports suggest his brother died in the raid from which he was rescued.
Thanks to the internet, we can have instant news and opinions on everything nowadays, and we can skip from mainstream rivers to lively streams of dissent. The sceptical responses in this case strike me as being disrespectful to the child, to those who rescued him, and to the few remaining doctors who toil against impossible odds in Aleppo.
Whose truth is the real truth here? That’s the impossible puzzle in a way. Sometimes there is a sort of dark alchemy to the news, in that certain events pass unnoticed while others suddenly capture the world’s attention. Why that should happen is sometimes easy to see, as in a child being rescued in a warzone. But why that child and why just then? It is not easy to answer that, but certain news stories just do that, often thanks to a striking image.
Only later can we gain some sort of perspective, and sometimes not even then. For what is history but a lively argument about how to interpret yesterday’s headlines?
There is a lot of talk about bias among those who dislike the mainstream media. I can understand that because sometimes certain sources of news, and certainly some of the old tabloids, display blatant bias. Almost any given front page of the Daily Express might support such a claim.
The dissenters who despise the mainstream media gather in corners of the internet to mutter darkly and exchange conspiracy theories. That’s no bad thing, so long as those who visit such websites admit they are seeking solace in like minds in the same way that a right-wing person might look for it in pages of the Daily Telegraph. For those usually left-wing websites are themselves biased in that they have a fixed view of the world.
The BBC is roundly accused of bias from all sides, especially from supporters of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (that’s the last mention of him today: it’s a Sunday and I could do without the hassle). But sometimes the problem lies in the BBC’s cumbersome attempts to be even-handed.
If a news programme wishes to discuss global warming, two guests will be brought into the studio. One will be a scientist who knows what they are talking about and has endless statistics at their fingertips. The other will be a climate-change denier who knows in his bones that it’s all a big conspiracy.
In being even-handed, the BBC presenter will give too much prominence to the climate-denying ignoramus, who is given equivalent status to the expert. In attempting to be balanced, the BBC risks unbalancing the argument.
In a telling irony, those ring-wingers who believe that climate-change is a myth got up by the establishment have much in common with those on the left who feel that the mainstream media is a conspiracy against all that they believe in.
I guess that in the end, all you can say is that we have an imperfect media for an imperfect world.