Saturday, 7 December 2013

Inundations, Mandela and the media

Pity poor Gideon.  His unspectacular Autumn Statement, where things are now recovering slightly from a depth of which he is the prime architect, was bumped from the media's agenda firstly by storms and floods, and then by the death of one of the most significant historical figures of the latter half of the 20th century.  Nelson Mandela's passing is significant, and the media has had plenty of advance notice to fill it with prepared tributes - notably ignoring that many of today's Tory scions were in the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s, where a combination of racism and bigotry encouraged the much-documented singing of calls to hang him.

Nothing can be added to the obituaries.  However, it did demonstrate that the contemporary obsession with blanket news coverage distorts and trivialises issues.  If someone dies, it is axiomatic that, unless foul play is suspected, they will remain dead for the foreseeable future and the causes of their death will not change the newsworthiness.  So from a "news" angle it is not really enough to explore all angles and every slavering pursuer of a soundbite - especially when elsewhere there are immediate threats to life, limb and economy.

The moment that Mandela's death was announced, the worst storms to hit the North Sea since 1953 were relegated to local and "by the way" coverage.  Communities along the coasts of the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands the Germany faced disruption, damage and lives lost - but it wasn't a metropolitan event.  After the tragedy in Glasgow last weekend, another round of arbitrary fate should have been high on the agenda - as well as demonstrating both the prudence and the success of mitigating measures put in place over the last six decades.

The 1953 storm occurred overnight, without modern communications and alert mechanisms - and was a catastrophe rather than a disaster.  The 2013 version occurred in the evening, with the advantage of better meteorological knowledge and more means of warning people of the imminence of threats.  Spectacular it may have been, but it should have been celebrated as how the communal interest is served by collective action - and as a demonstration that the atomisation of society would not have resulted in the degree of protection that has been demonstrated around Europe.

This will all get lost in the backwash, as new stories supplant those already-relegated - leaving people to pick up the pieces of their lives.  There is no sadder reflection of obsession with death and disaster that the positive elements and the recovery process is neither heralded nor followed up.  While Nelson Mandela's death is a reminder of how time passes, the world goes on turning.  A narrative of acceptable mourning was not required - because unlike Thatcher his legacy is not divisive - and the condescension and manipulation that the media has perpetrated is not a worthy tribute.

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