Beware, if you’re a moderately well-known person, with political connections, and someone from the BBC’s ‘This Week’ television show calls you up, at short notice, and asks you to make a film for them.
A week ago, Asim Qureshi, from the rather odd ‘Cage’ organisation, was invited to make a somewhat benign insert for the ‘This Week’ programme and then sit on one of their tiny sofas to discuss the contents. However, he found himself, without warning, being put on the spot about a number of remarks he has made over the years, and Cage’s alleged campaign against the security services. Qureshi flustered and flannelled and looked overwhelmingly grateful when Andrew Neil brought the item to a close.
“She made fun of the kitchen, and lifestyle, of Ed Miliband”
Last night (Thursday), the journalist Sarah Vine paid a babysitter fifty pounds so that she could appear on that uncomfortable ‘This Week’ sofa, after a short film she had made, about the trials of being married to a high profile politician, was shown. The same form of ambush that did for Mr Qureshi was used for Ms Vine. Tease her in with a mild invitation to make a gentle and rather compassionate film, escort her to the sofa, and then – boom! – give her a verbal bashing for her column, published earlier in the day in the Daily Mail, in which she made fun of the kitchen, and lifestyle, of Ed Miliband and his wife, Justine Thornton.
Sarah Vine isn’t a bad person. She fulfils her brief. When Sarah switched from The Times to the Daily Mail a couple of years ago, I imagine (but don’t know) that she was invited to write for them in a particular vein, and in a defined context.
I like Sarah Vine, and I like her husband. I didn’t enjoy the tone of her Mail piece about Ed Miliband and Justine Thornton, but it conformed to that brief. 1,206 rather snarky words about the Milibands, based on an interview Justine gave to the BBC’s James Landale earlier in the week.
Sometimes in life, we do get what we wish for. The world of newspapers, particularly an on-line heavy titan like the Daily Mail revolve around a world of clicks, sustained page visits, and reaction. At the time of writing, there are nine hundred comments under Sarah’s piece – not so many for a controversial piece, but the column succeeds in that it is contrary and combative.
If columns by Sarah Vine, Katie Hopkins, Jeremy Clarkson, and Richard Littlejohn weren’t popular and widely read, their respective newspapers would let them go in a heartbeat. As readers, we may throw up our hands in horror, but we tend to return for the next edition.
“There were real people with feelings, at the heart of the ‘joke’.”
Remember those two Australian radio presenters who, eighteen months ago, made that hoax call to the hospital looking after the Duchess of Cambridge? Initially, that exercise was considered a great hoot and the audio was played out on air amidst hilarity from the presenters who clearly believed they were giving their listeners exactly what they wanted. It was only when the tragic consequences became apparent that people took a deep breath and realised that this style of ‘comedy’ can lead to an outcome far removed from the anticipated conclusion of backslapping and awards ceremonies. There were real people, human beings with feelings, at the heart of the ‘joke’. Nobody involved in the planning of the hoax considered or realised that until it was too late.
Through the media, we, as consumers, still seem to revel in the misfortune or mishaps of others; that’s why the tabloid newspapers continue to publish stories that fit that mould of poking, digging, and causing discomfort. Anyone who tries to stop the merry-go-round to point out that it might be nice to be nice is shouted down amidst the clamour for more insights into celebrities who have put on some weight, grown old, or broken up with a partner. We get what we wish for.
I like Sarah Vine. She co-wrote a book with someone that I also like very much. So I am not going to write some rant about the contents of her column here.
Life doesn’t fall into the neat categories we may wish. Because Sarah wrote a piece that I felt was unpleasant doesn’t alter anything.
I’m not sure if the vitriol she receives is a price I would consider worth paying. If you are uncertain about the kind of world we have built with social media and its potential for (apparently) anonymous comments, then please take a look at Sarah Vine’s ‘replies/mentions’ column on Twitter – even by the standards of the current age, many of the remarks are breathtaking in their cruelty and threatening nature.
So… everyone wins because we now consume the style of newspaper journalism that we have brought upon ourselves with our desire to pry into others’ lives and pick at any quirks of behaviour they portray, and point and laugh at the way they look, and their choice of kitchen furniture; everyone loses because by promoting and supporting this form of media we all have the potential to become victims of the very beast we nurture.
Terence Dackombe – March 2015