Archive for the ‘Panorama’ tag

The media and power

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The British news media has a terribly ambivalent view of its own power. When it runs a campaign and believes the campaign has been a success, it trumpets its power to influence change (see everything from the infamous ‘It’s the Sun wot won it‘ through to the Mirror’s Stop Knives Save Lives campaign and the Daily Mail on plastic bags).


But when anyone talks about calling its power to account, there is a loud chorus from the news media of ‘Not me guv, we didn’t have anything to do with it, we were just reflecting the public mood’. Suddenly our brazen press becomes bashful and demur.

Which makes 3 representations of media power from the last few weeks all the more interesting. Namely: the role of the media on government policy towards drugs; the resignation of the England cricket captain Kevin Pietersen; and the role of Robert Peston in the financial crisis (as told by Panorama).

Earlier this week Sir Simon Jenkins wrote that government drug policy is being determined not by scientific or professional policy advice but by fear of tabloid newspaper reaction. ‘Blair’s (and now Brown’s) press operation lives in holy terror of the tabloids’ Jenkins wrote (in ‘Who will cure Ministers of illiberal headline addiction‘). Gordon Brown, ‘eager for plaudits from the tabloid press’ has pledged to upgrade cannabis from a Class C to a Class B drug, Jenkins says. Similarly, he suggests, Jacqui Smith will reject the recommendation that ecstasy be downgraded – for the same reason.

For his four mentions of the role the media played in his resignation, Kevin Pietersen’s statement is worth quoting at length (my italics):

Contrary to media speculation today, I wish to make it very clear that I did not resign as captain of the England cricket team this morning. However, in light of recent communications with the ECB, and the unfortunate media stories and speculation that have subsequently appeared, I now consider that it would be extremely difficult for me to continue in my current position with the England cricket team… At no time, contrary to press speculation, have I released any unauthorised information to the media regarding my relationships with the players, coaches and the ECB itself.”

And finally, the Panorama on Robert Peston and the financial crisis, which I missed over Christmas but caught up with via BBC iplayer. Anyone watching the programme could be forgiven for thinking Robert Peston was the only person reporting on the crisis. Not only that, but that Peston himself was the cause of the run on Northern Rock and might well have influenced the speed and direction of government intervention in the autumn of 2008 (Peston himself played down his role, unlike the programme).

In each of these cases you could take issue with the importance of the media. However, the fact that many people – including the participants – believe the media plays an important role is itself very telling (perception as truth and all that). The more you believe the media is powerful, the more that power becomes actual.

Yet, for those in these citadels of power? I’m sure most would say their power is vastly over rated…

Written by Martin Moore

January 13th, 2009 at 2:30 pm

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Scientists give Panorama the thumbs down

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It’s been difficult to find a scientist who will say a good word about Panorama’s recent programme on the radiation dangers of wi-fi.
In last week’s Media Standards Trust debate Dr Paddy Regan, a specialist in Radiation and Environmental Protection at Surrey University, said that while the programme had opened a useful discussion, it did so by using ‘scare tactics’ and ‘emotive words’. Professor Les Hatton called its discrediting of the WHO scientist ‘Utterly shameful’ and Professor Tony Davies from Kingston University said the programme’s bias was ‘disgraceful’.
Professor David Coggon, a member of the Stewart Committee, and more recently of the Health Protection Agency’s Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation, commented that ‘cumulative exposures [to radio-frequency radiation] from using wi-fi are substantially lower than those from using a mobile phone’ – although this was not made clear in the programme – and advised that ‘restricting the use of wifi in schools and elsewhere would seem a disproportionate response to scientific uncertainty’.
Professor Alan Preece from Bristol University was one of the few who had positive things to say, suggesting that if Paul Kenyon’s investigation leads to an inquiry it will have done a ‘very useful job’. But even he conceded that Kenyon ‘made an unfortunate choice of “experts”‘.
Dr James Rubin, who specialises in the health effects of mobile phones, could not understand why the programme referenced only one study on electrosensitivity, when there are ‘Thirty-seven other provocation studies’ and over 20 years of similar work, most of which ‘do not support the idea that electrosensitivity symptoms are triggered by EMF’.
Conclusion? Experts used not expert. Evidence used not representative. Language used unnecessarily scary and emotive. Methods used highly questionable.
Good footage of Norwich mind.

Written by Martin Moore

June 8th, 2007 at 3:25 pm

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The 'dangers' of wi-fi continued…

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It was worse than I expected. Last night’s Panorama was fine as a polemic to convince people of the frightening health dangers of wi-fi, but certainly not as a balanced investigation.
When the person providing the evidence about radiation comes from an organisation which campaigns about the health dangers of Electromagnetic Field and Microwave Radiation (Powerwatch) you’ve got to wonder if the evidence might be a little one sided.
When much of the programme has spooky, X Files music in the background, gives all those who suggest there might be health dangers an easy ride, and singularly fails to find people who would argue the opposite, the one-sidedness becomes overwhelming.
It seems particularly strange that Paul Kenyon (presenting) talked about the dangers of wi-fi to children in schools but didn’t mention the dangers of a 10 year old pressing a mobile phone to his/her head for an hour or more a day.
If you take a look at the recommended comments on the BBC’s ‘Have Your Say’, you’ll get a good impression of what people thought about the objectivity of this programme. Here’s a taster:
“I’m really angry at the biased and sensationalist way this issue was presented on Panorama. Where were the dissenting views from the mainstream scientific community? Why didn’t the program spend more time acknowledging the most widely held view that there is no risk to health? It’s the MMR debacle all over again.” John Bidwell, Market Harborough

Written by Martin Moore

May 22nd, 2007 at 12:14 pm

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What's the point of Panorama?

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I mean that as a constructive question rather than an insult. Is it to analyse and explain current affairs to a broad public? Not really. Is it to investigate political scandals, medical malpratice, and scientific dangers? Well, yes. Or is it to stir up enough controversy to give it decent viewing figures? Probably that too.
The problem is, when it tries too hard to do the controversy it fails to do the investigation. A number of the programmes in this series have successfully attracted media attention and earned decent audience figures but it would be hard to describe them as groundbreaking investigative journalism.
Last week’s programme about Scientology became so personalised it was virtually impossible to work out what the purpose of it was. Rather than investigating the methods Scientology is using to apply for charitable status in the UK (and therefore qualify for tax breaks, plus win approval for its ‘religious’ status) it became a sort of sinister Louis Theroux with John Sweeney stalking and being stalked around LA.
And now tonight’s show promises to warn us of the health risks of wi-fi. Again, this gets a good press (Telegraph front page, Daily Mail inside) but to what purpose? James Randerson reports that the science behind the programmes allegations is fundamentally flawed and that, according to the Health Protection Agency, ‘a person sitting within a Wi-Fi hotspot for a year receives the same dose of radio waves as a person using a mobile phone for 20 minutes’. But the programme is about wi-fi, not mobile phones. So is the purpose just to scare us into watching?
Newspapers know that science scare stories make good headlines and boost sales figures. At the same time these headlines rarely explain scientific issues and often undermine the public’s ability to assess risk.

Written by Martin Moore

May 21st, 2007 at 2:05 pm

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