Originally posted May 29, 2007 @ 18:16
Despite coming from a different political galaxy, I wish 18 Doughty Street every success if nothing else than for the fact that if it works, it opens up the possibility of other, more politically sympathetic, rivals. It really needs to work out what its agenda is however. One minute they are producing rightwing attack ads, the next they are bending over backwards to improve the political balance of their programmes.
A related problem is highlighted by Iain Dale’s recent outburst about Greenpeace refusing to share studio space with Dominic Lawson. Now, personally I’m a bit of a Greenpeace-sceptic and I’m sure I’m not the only one who is wryly amused to hear them pontificate about refusing to debate with people who do not accept the “scientific reality” (Greenpeace, and FoE’s agenda is only tangentially related to scientific fact and always has been). But the tactic is sound: in debates where there is no common ground there is little point in taking part and legitimising your opponent’s views. If Greenpeace don’t want to waste their time, why should they? There are certainly times in my own life where, retrospectively, I’d wished I’d done the same. When I went on the Daily Politics with Laurence Boyce last week, I made this very calculation (and concluded that the cat was already out of the bag).
I fear that Iain gives the game away by criticising this decision by labeling Greenpeace as “Enviro-fascists”. Leaping from wanting a ‘balanced debate’ to slamming one side as being ‘fascist’ rather suggests that Greenpeace were being set up. Their biggest crime was to call Iain’s bluff.
The big irony is that the BBC, that most hated of media empires, do this sort of thing all the time. It is epitomised by programmes like You and Yours which regularly features articles in which an issue that is plainly barking mad is given large amounts of airtime, justified purely on the basis that they have a token rational human being on as well to declare it to be nonsense. More recently of course there was that Panorama about Wi Fi which was ‘balanced’ only in as much as the fact that it had people arguing both sides of the argument. This sort of lopsided ‘balance’ – where you claim that the views of an individual are of equal weight to the established scientific consensus – only ever has one purpose: to undermine confidence in that consensus. Sometimes it is due to simply sloppy thinking; sometimes there is an agenda behind it. Either way, the effect is the same. At its worse, we have examples such as the MMR scare, which has brought back near-extinct childhood diseases with a vengeance (I write as someone who caught the mumps – the fucking mumps! – aged 30. Thanks a bunch, Andrew).
What I don’t understand is why 18 Doughty Street are pursuing this BBC definition of ‘balance’. Polemic I can understand, genuine balance which looks at the weight of evidence and recognises the scientific consensus would be even better. But surely this mealy-mouthed, insincere “one the one hand… on the other…” drivel is precisely what 18 Doughty Street was set up to fight?
My suspicion is that a lot of people who rail against the BBC’s news bias have a very selective analysis. Where the BBC’s news values correspond with the Daily Mail’s (and they do, increasingly so), they are all for it.
UPDATED: Iain has now moderated his tone following a chat with Greenpeace’s Ben Stewart. Not by much though. I confess this para may have been in the original, but it did stand out to me this morning:
Anyone who seeks to constrain debate on this hugely important issue is adopting the tactics of crypto-fascists. They act as if scientists are in one hundred per cent agreement. They are not. The hubris and condescension in this email is almost beyond parody.
No they don’t. They do act as if the scientific community is in 90% agreement, which it is, a fact which people like Lawson and Iain Dale consistently downplay. Ben Stewart stated in his original email that he would be happy to debate the issue with Bjorn Lomborg and Dominic Lawson isn’t a scientist. Finally, it is the standard tactic of anti-fascists. Why hasn’t 18 Doughty Street had Nick Griffin on yet if they are so concerned about no platform policies?