Thursday, 9 May 2013

Unworthy of a decent human being

I've had it with John Humphreys. This morning on the Today programme he interviewed a man who's dying from mesothelioma, the lung disease caused by asbestos. The poor man has failed to win compensation and is of course upset about this.

So, what did Humphreys do? He proceeded to browbeat his interviewee as if he were tackling a media-trained professional, like a politician. His whole approach was not to get some perspective on the man's legal, financial, and medical situations - there was little, if any, attempt at fact-finding. Instead all Humphreys wanted to do was get a dying man to admit, in so many words, that is dying and hasn't got much time left.

Some people are not happy talking about dying, especially when it's close. They would rather speak in euphemisms. You would think a BBC interviewer - especially a very experienced journalist of pensionable age - would grasp that obvious point. But no. At one point what I assume was a mobile started ringing in the background, whereupon - in a moment that would have been funny in an Alan Partridge show - Humphreys told a dying old man to 'kill that phone'.

The sad truth about the BBC is that it has always had a high percentage of insensitive jerks in its news teams. Far from being touchy-feely, like most news organisation it often forgets that the raw stuff of news is not (supposedly) interesting events, but the human lives caught up in events. The best interviewers, such as Eddie Mair and John Waite, are always genuinely interested in ordinary people, showing them the degree of respect they are due. When dealing with such 'civilians' they never try to bludgeon their way to an unpleasant truth, and are content to leave some of the work to the intelligent listener.

It's just a pity that the full spectrum of modern British journalistic practice should be so well represented at the BBC. Anyway, here's Eddie Mair showing how it's done when you're dealing with the powerful and slippery.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yes, I heard that and thought him very impatient with a man who was obviously a bit emotional. Also the man asked if the lawyers who worked on a no win no fee basis would be compensated (in a rare show of compassion for lawyers) and Humphreys just shrugged him off, clearly wanting to move on.