Wed, May 03, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Truth and lies blend in the name of `balance'

By A.L. Kennedy  /  THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

Balance: It's a lovely thing. It stops us falling over and inspires manufacturers of essential executive toys, and without it Disney-based ice spectaculars would be only a longed-for dream. Balance in the media? More problematic.

TV balancing meant I recently spent an afternoon in New York watching a "scientist" explain that dinosaur eggs are really small.

All dinosaur eggs. Which means dinosaurs must have started out being really small. Even the big ones. So Noah could have fitted them into the Ark. Media balance dictates that if one wingnut thinks gravity is caused by a rota of subterranean angels sucking, then he'll get as much air time as all those dull, arrogant physicists.

Media balance leaves helpless reporters reciting conflicting statistics as if they were beyond interpretation. It provides the pseudo-factual white noise between surgical dating makeovers and the soaps. It sets extensive coverage of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's vacuous bleatings against non-specific mumbles about protest.

It means demonstrations against the occupation of Iraq aren't covered by the BBC, leading to more demonstrations outside BBC premises, which aren't covered. This is the most common form of media balance -- balancing reality with silence.

Not that I'd suggest the British, or indeed the US, media is involved in government conspiracies. That's barely necessary -- they need only be lazy, broke and scared. Even if media outlets aspire to be something beyond a kind of sophisticated Xeroxing service for public-relations pamphlets and spin, they often don't have the money, or the staff, to be effective.

Which is why papers such as the Washington Post hire semi-literate bloggers as columnists. The New York Times still hasn't recovered from Judith Miller; no source that hyped the pre-Iraq invasion bollocks has handed itself over to The Hague as complicit in crimes against humanity (a la Radio Milles Collines in Rwanda). The pre-Iran invasion bollocks is hyping higher; and increasingly weighty suspicions over Sept. 11 are ignored.

This would be irritating even if our public servants weren't loan-grubbing, lobby-fondling, expensively coiffured sociopaths, and their corruption and stupidity were not so manifest that small children could summarise it in crayon for any newsdesk near you.

Sadly, our press faces Downing Street and White House regimes that believe accepting, or even acknowledging, reality is a perilous admission of weakness. So the lies of liars who love lying are propagated by people who can no longer find the truth.

Which is why, for example, real action on global warming in the UK goes way beyond rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic -- it's much more like skipping along the deck and claiming you're in Belgium. But at least we can mention it pointlessly in passing -- US global-warming researchers can't even do that.

And grown-up discussions about anything nuclear are off limits. So recent UK coverage of the Chernobyl disaster concentrated on how wildlife is thriving in the post-leak wasteland, while skipping the possibility that up to 600,000 people died as a result of the accident. And you won't have heard that amounts of uranium in UK air samples increased in 2003, when it was dumping tonnes of depleted uranium (DU) on Iraq, because weather travels. Or too much about the fact that living with DU in Iraq (or Afghanistan, or the former Yugoslavia) can make you very sick, if not dead.

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