Monday, September 12, 2005

BBC cliches

The BBC is celebrating 50 years of its From Our Own Correspondent feature in which we are treated to “personal reflections by BBC correspondents around the world.” As part of this celebration, some previous contributing reporters have apparently been asked to pontificate on what makes the feature so great. Typifying the BBC’s modesty and absence of self-regard, World Affairs correspondent Fergal Keane says:
It is quite simply the best programme we have in news. It seeks out the thoughtful and literate and sets them apart from the cliche-spouting, whiny-voiced clones that abound in today's news environment.
Which I guess just proves that Fergal himself doesn’t pay too close attention to “the best program we have in news.” How else does one reconcile Keane’s claim with the fact that Justin Webb features so regularly as a contributor to the program?

Webb, of course, will be well known to TAE readers as having produced such “thoughtful” FOOC gems as uncovering the “revelation” that honest and reasonable debate occurs in the US…even amongst Republicans and religious people!

But that barely scratches the surface. As far as clichés go, one barely knows where to begin.

There was, of course, the FOOC feature in which Webb informed us that “Americans know they have short attention spans, but they cannot concentrate for long enough to work out what to do about it.”

Not long after, Webb was pontificating on that non-cliché of American prudery, (mis-) informing his audience that the phrase “Oh my God” is “unacceptable blasphemy” in America. (How one of the most popular shows in American television history had a recurring character whose signature line was a shouted “OH – MY – GOD!” goes unexplained.) He then went on to report, with relieved happiness, that American squeamishness about all things sexual did not intrude upon the birth of his American-born daughter, thanks to the “gloriously un-American” hospital staff.

Just a couple weeks ago Webb had a go at describing Texans, who are, he says “not sophisticated thinkers on world affairs,” although “they are at home with guns.” No cliché in that, is there?

And of course Webb could not miss out on using what seems to be the one of the most used clichés amongst BBC staff, that being the notion that “America is fast becoming a nation of faith not fact.” (Becoming? However religious Americans may be, the notion that they are “becoming” more so than in the past is absurd.)

Webb can’t even resist clichés that are a decade out of date, portraying the first President Bush as an out-of-touch patrician by peddling a long-since debunked myth about Bush and grocery store technology as a fact.

Webb is, on the other hand, honest enough to let us know when one of his long held clichés turns out to be false. Thus, after his visit to Mississippi, FOOC gave us his “thoughtful” reflections in which he revealed to a no doubt disbelieving world – certainly he was astonished - that there actually are white people and black people in America who got along with each other! And, equally astonishing to Webb, religious people are not all charlatans. Some of them actually do good works. Who would have believed it?

Fergal Keane – and the BBC – would have you believe that From Our Own Correspondent is set apart from the normal “cliche-spouting” journalism of today’s news by the “thoughtful” reporters asked to contribute. If that is so, then the BBC needs to explain why Justin Webb features so regularly on it.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The BBC can't resist cliche or hyperbole.

BBC1 News at 6pm reporting England's (v probable winning of the Ashes), says that Pietersen's century had "taken Australia to the point of humiliation".

"Humiliation" a favourite word of the BBC to describe every setback of politicians they oppose. Surely inappropriate for the losers of a very closely fought sporting battle.

6:09 PM  
Blogger The g-Gnome said...


Five words that have made Fergal Keane's career -


Anyone for cliches?

11:05 PM  
Anonymous Mark said...

"America is fast becoming a nation of faith not fact."

I think a lot of American conservatives would dispute that. The more far-right ones used to complain loudly that we were moving too far away from being a nation of faith, and moving more in the direction of godless, craven debauchery.

8:33 AM  
Blogger John said...

Hi Scott, I've just come across your blog and have enjoyed leafing through it. I, too, am an expatriate in the UK - from Ireland - for the last 30 years, courtesy of our little war. Allow me a few gentle comments, from one who loves the US, its people and has travelled extensively throughoout America. I disagree with your critique of the BBC. Having listened to and watched many European and US broadcasters, I believe the BBC stands alone in its ability to report objectively. Sure, it makes mistakes and of course, a reporter may upset people - but I have yet to hear or see on the BBC anything remotely approaching the party-political bias of one or two US TV channels and many national/regional Radio channels. Have your readers listen to the News on this BBC channel for the next month and tell me I'm wrong: As for a prominent BBC journalist suggesting that Castro be invited to the Queeen's birthday party - that's Irony !!! No less objective and piercing an interviewer can be found in John Humphrys: again, listen to a replay of just about any Today programme on the above URL to see for yourselves. And please: don't mistake British - sometimes irreverent, often funny, possibly acerbic, almost always accurate - reporting as being one-sided. I had a quick look at FOOC stories and believe that for any one perceived slight of the Republicans, a Democrat will be equally upset elsewhere ! For what its worth and to balance my comments above, this is what bothers me about Britain and the British: customer service - an unknown concept; restaurant food - still inconsistent, with the expection of US restaurants; getting to know the English - difficult, they have a problem with eye-contact. What I like: glorious countryside; the never-ending delights and secrets of the hidden London; "soccer"; tolerance of the English - even in the face of my compatriots; the sense of humour; my adopted hometown adn its Roman histrory and buildings; St Albans Abbey's 12th century graffiti; my children - combining the spirit of the Irish and the humour of the English. I will keep in touch. John Bradley

PS Your reader missed out a 6th word that attempts to sum up Fergal Keane: compassion. All the other words are nouns, not cliches.

11:18 PM  
Blogger John said...

PS: oh and another of my dislikes about Britain - the cost of living. Petrol/Gas is $ 16 for a GALLON !! John Bradley

12:09 AM  

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