What was the big story of the last few weeks in Britain ? For those who aren’t British and don’t read any international news and consequently think the top news is some guff about the royal family then you’re wrong on this occasion but in all seriousness if you’d said that on any other of the 51 weeks of the year give or take a handful of exceptions, then yes the top story in the news would likely be about our serial divorcee, costume-enthusiast royal family. If you’re a British citizen then the likelihood the story that is centre of your mind due to intense saturation coverage in recent weeks is one of two stories. In any case the two stories that I’m referencing are the ongoing saga that is horse-meat-gate and the second is the recent passing of laws that make gay marriage legal in the UK. My argument against these is that while both stories are news worthy, that the media’s preoccupation with interesting or “historic” stories such as these is often a politically safe option which effectively serves the same purpose as any form of censorship which however well intended serves to distract public attention from far greater issues that exist at the same time.
First off then is the still unfolding story of how several supermarkets in the UK, starting with Tesco and Iceland but continuing to envelope more big-name supermarkets, have discovered that beef products in their range contained horse meat. Again no-one is denying that this whole debacle is a news worthy story being as there are regulators for ensuring this type of thing doesn’t happen who have the princely budget of £100 million . Alongside revelations about the failings of the FSA’s testing capabilities, another reason that this story is undoubtedly newsworthy is that one of the central companies embroiled in this scandal likely knew about the presence of horse meat in their products up to a week before the story emerged in the press as discussed here and here . These reasons aside however, I believe that this “scandal” has been exaggerated and inflated into a much bigger issue than it ever needed to be by the media. Central among my reasons for disparaging this coverage is that ultimately the main products affected by the inclusion of horse meat were ultimately budget, supermarket own-brand items which are hardly the products you purchase expecting to be exemplars of good quality. My point here is not a classist “if they will eat that shit then let them suffer” one, but that ultimately own-brand products often consist of equally bad, if not far worse chemical additives used to treat meat and is often made of reconstituted meat stock and so frankly the inclusion of more meat, whatever the source, should probably could as more of pleasant surprise than it has thus far.
Even without harsh industrial chemicals being added into the mix then if nothing else this whole story should at least lead us to look more closely at the constitution of industrial produced food which is often ridiculously high in fat and salt content. Applying logic thus should ultimately lead us to realise that whereas so far there has only been a “maybe” drawn between consuming horse meat and negative health effects, research on the other hand has repeatedly proven a range of negative health effects stemming from diets high in fat and salt, so which is the bigger issue ?
Another reason that I believe this issue has been blown out of all proportion is the fact that ultimately our aversion to horse meat does not stem from any reasonable reason just out of sentimentally viewing the horse as a pet and work animal but not one for slaughter. This being the case you might then believe that at least some of the coverage might have addressed the reasoning behind said aversion to horse meat in the Anglophone world or the history of the consumption of horse in the UK in an attempt to at least pay lip service to the notion of balance. In any case those hoping that coverage in both the print and broadcast media might have attempted to be more objective or detailed are likely to be sorely disappointed with what has been a rather one-sided explanation of the story which has consequently inflated the story into something far bigger than it needed to be.
Another reason that this story has been given undue special significance in the media relates directly to the last point in that due to our cultural sensitivities regarding the horse we baulk at the the thought of our beloved horses treated in the poor manner in which we treat other animals sent to slaughter. I am not being callous in suggesting that I am ok with Horses being treated poorly in abattoirs, I am simply suggesting that the story is not specifically the poor treatment of horse but the frequent mistreatment of all animals sent to slaughter. For those who doubt that a culture of cruelty towards animals reared for their meat still exists then please watch this video although I will warn that it is unpleasant. But this being said I do not pretend to claim that it would somehow be more unpleasant for me objectively to watch if the animals being mistreated were horses as opposed to sheep, cows and pigs.
All of the above reasons for why I do not believe horse-meat-gate worthy of the level of coverage it has received being true, that is not to say that there aren’t any reasons that this issue should be discussed in the media. Amongst the reasons I believe this story is worthy of press coverage which has yet to really surface (at time of writing) are the need for frank discussions about the global food industry and as well as this perhaps the central issue that also has been neglected to a degree is the failure of self-regulation as a mechanism to protect consumers from corporate crimes. My hopes that either of these two issues would gain some airtime or column inches have repeatedly been dashed against the rocks as instead the press focus on which supermarkets and fast food chains are recalling their stock. Oh how I would have delighted to see the BBC or Sky News take a in-depth look at the way in which basic food products often travel many miles across the surface of the earth before even reaching the supermarket, let alone to the table of this middle class family eating burgers indoors because the rain delayed their barbecue.
And to think, if I was content with the news studying the global production of food, just how happy I might have been to read in my favourite high-circulation middle-class news paper that there had been a discussion in the houses of parliament that very same day about the need to do away with the practice of self-regulation in private businesses which time and time again has proven to be a wholly ineffective mechanism for prevention of crimes. I’m not keeping my fingers crossed that either of these issues is going to get much time devoted to it, certainly not as much as horror stories about how Eastern Europeans are not only to blame for the reckless and persistent theft of jobs but are also up to their elbows in butchered horses that are no longer able to till the fields.
The next issue as I highlighted in my opening statement that recently caught my ire due to saturation coverage in the lead up to the event and on the day itself was when the UK government voted on whether to legalise gay marriage. The vote was a success, proof that apparently some Tories have a heart, although looking at this prick’s smug gurn I doubt that the ones with heart get let out of their cages much. Ok, so the vote passed through meaning that gay couples can now legally marry which I am actually very happy about as I do whole-heartedly support equality for all. The thing that started my annoyance off was the inappropriate use of “Historic” as an adjective to describe the day, like any other moment in the past by definition also doesn’t qualify as worthy of the term. Hitler’s decision to annex the Sudetenland was historic, so too was the rape of Baghdad by the Mongols and the US army after them and I’d hazard a guess that in someone’s world the rebuilding of Hiroshima was a pretty historic moment too, so why this infuriating and bizarre use of the word to describe moments that are always positive when the whole back catalogue of human existence and the entirety of the universe is equally “historic” ? The roots of this hatred stem beyond the gay marriage story which circulated recently in the British press I feel I must clarify, it began with the election of Barack Obama, the “Historic” first black president of the USA, like being black and totally devoid of morals as it turned out, was something to congratulate in and of itself.
After much jaw clenching and many exasperated sighs, I noticed other things about the gay marriage story which annoyed me almost as much as the afore mentioned improper use of the English language. To start with the way in which this story was used by many in the media as a means simply to pat themselves and the MPs who voted for legalisation on the back in congratulations over their excellent liberalness and sneer at all the doddering old grumps who voted against this measure troubled me. Despite what some schools of liberal politics teach, people are allowed to have differing opinions and all have a right to be heard, while you, I or the journalists may not agree with their views which they espouse we have NO right to tell them that their views are “wrong” only the right to discuss with them why we disagree based on evidence we have seen.
Another issue that surfaced when learning about this from the media that wasn’t really discussed was how close Britain came that day to a complete breakdown of government as the majority party, of a coalition government albeit, split down the middle over whether to pass the legislature. while this would have been mightily entertaining to watch happen on the news and to read about for days after the event it would have crippled the country further than we already are. In pointing this out I am not saying that I believe the media could have prevented the vote happening when it did, only that there was missed opportunity for a voice to suggest that this vote could have been better timed so the chances of political destabilisation were far less great than on that “historic” day.
Time may be a great healer as the saying goes, but it’s not one for change. Given complete control of the media for the last few weeks during which these two moments occurred here are a small selection of stories that the media might have considered which are equally deserving of the same level of coverage yet got buried under the weight of it all. I accept that these were all covered in some way, but consideration the wider implication they received barely any relative to the implications of eating horse meat or being allowed to marry regardless of sexual orientation.
First up was the continuing fiasco around the fixing of the Libor rate which reached a head when, on the same day that the news began to report that horse meat had been found in processed beef products on sale in several supermarkets, fines levelled against RBS chiefly by US regulators were announced. In itself perhaps not the most breaking of news stories as people have known for weeks that these fines were coming. However on the very same day that every broadcaster and newspaper was swamped with features about horse meat The Independent, the only paper to discuss this issue to my knowledge, printed this article which tells us that the British taxpayer is likely to cover the majority of the £500m fine levelled against the banks being as the British government bailed out the bank to the tune of £45bn in the economic crisis of 2008. After this story emerged, British chancellor Osborne made something of a big deal of telling people in the media that he would insist that the bankers themselves covered the costs of this fine. That being said, another thing the media failed to point out is that even if the bankers themselves pay the fine, it is likely to come out of the benefits they have accrued from not paying out interest on pensions and savings as a direct result of the Bank of England’s farcical quantitative easing process. I imagine any senior editor or producer who was faced with the option of reporting on this story over horse-meat-gate decided that based on the complexity of this story to not cover it in the same way despite its profound implications. That being the case, they are guilty twice, first for under-reporting a highly important story for anyone who lives in the UK and secondly for pandering the stupidity of the public in all matters financial and for not making concerted enough efforts to explain these type of stories in a way that makes them palatable to the public.
The next story which didn’t really make the UK news in the last few weeks despite the far-reaching political impact it is likely to have on the wider world was the discovery by NBC News of a confidential US Department of Justice memo which revealed what has only been hinted at and alluded to previously, that the US government has the legal capability to order the killing of American citizens. The article above summarises brilliantly the most troubling aspect of the memo in question when it says “the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of Al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S”. Freaky right ? Well you might argue that actually this only opens up this potential in theory. Well you would be wrong as the US government, as Glen Greenwald at The Guardian points out, has already exercised this power in practice to kill Anwar Awlaki in 2011 in Yemen. Say what you will about the inherent guilt of terrorists, but as far as I am concerned the sane approach for dealing with crime is to punish those guilty of committing them, not those that one day may go on to commit them. This story should have received a greater level of coverage as ultimately it demonstrates two things which are of concern to British citizens, that if the US government can treat its own citizenry with such contempt that it will undoubtedly over time display an even greater level of callousness towards other nations citizens, including those of the UK. Secondly this also arguably demonstrates the willingness of the US government to violate the sovereignty of other nations without offering any reason that the people of Britain should expect to be treated any better. Yes the UK isn’t a Muslim nation, but that’s not to say that there isn’t evidence that the policies of previous UK governments have alienated Muslims in this country to the point where they might one day feature on Obama’s kill list.
The third and final story which again in light of its far-reaching implications was woefully unreported was the publication of a report by a New York based NGO Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) which detailed the involvement of 54 nations worldwide, the UK included, in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition operations after 9/11. This story did surface quite prominently on the day the report was published, but considering as an upshot of the revelations contained within the report the fact that the UK could, and in all reality should, face being summoned before the European Court of Human Rights over its involvement, the level of coverage dropped back to almost zero a day later.
After looking at some of the other stories which surfaced in the same time scale as the horse meat and gay marriage legalisation stories I hope that if nothing else the reader is convinced of the need to regularly check alternate source of news as opposed to relying on main stream sources as often they will focus on the easiest of stories distracting attention away from the far more profound and far reaching of issues. I do not suggest for one moment that this is a conscious decision on the part of editors and producers but the lasting effect is still the mass diversion of the public’s attention towards far less important issues leaving the important stuff slip past us under the radar. You have been warned.