Sunday, February 15, 2009

White hell

Britain ground to a halt last week as the country was gripped by white hell. Well, what they really meant was that there was some snow in London. The London transport system promptly ground to a halt, schools closed, factories shut and newspapers suffered superlative fatigue. There were the heart-warming stories about meals on wheels on ice, and about the human cost in ruined lives. Climate change deniers insisted that global warming is a myth. Health and safety officials ordered people not to build snowmen or use sledges without airbags and full body armour.

It’s strange, but somehow when it snows in Scotland, it just isn’t news, at least not network news - it's just weather. Of course, snow in Hide Park is news, because it doesn’t happen very often, as are all the snowmen and sledges and bumped cars. But it is LOCAL news. The perennial problem with the media in this country is that local news in London is assumed to be news everywhere else. Last week was confirmation that the metropolitan media is the most parochial in the country. Its news values are worse than the most local of local rags, precisely because it can’t see beyond its own doorstep.

When snow fall in Scotland there are all the stories we have seen in the past week, and more. We have mountain rescues, islands cut off, remote farmers isolated. The schools don’t generally close and public transport remains active but with our mountain landscape it’s a lot more interesting to look at. However, what you will never see is the BBC’s national news bulletin devoting half its slot to covering snow chaos in Scotland. It is only when weather happens in London that it is thought to be of national significance. The rest of the country is assumed to be fascinated with buses not moving in Regent Street and Boris Johnson trundling his bike in the slush.

I’m not making a Scottish whinge here - well, perhaps I am a bit- but it is a legitimate whinge. Metrocentrism was supposed to have been stamped out after the BBC’s Impartiality Review last year. But hiring a few newsreaders with Scottish accents doesn’t disguise the reality that the network bulletins are still utterly preoccupied with whatever is happening the in the South East.

I don’t know why we take this from our ‘national’ broadcaster, I really don’t. The King report two years ago for the BBC Trust was scathing of the southern bias of BBC network news and current affairs. We were promised that things would change. But they haven’t. Look at the coverage on the network bulletins of the Scottish budget crisis. They’re much more interested in beavers. Maybe we should all grow beards and build dams.

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