Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Are you old enough to remember

Alistair Cooke? No, not Alastair Cook the cricketer but Alistair Cooke the journalist. His "Letter from America" was broadcast on radio here on Sundays. It was one of the few things my father ever listened to - and then only if he remembered to do it. I occasionally caught up with it while I was at university in both England and Australia.
It had a format that simply should not have worked. Here was, by the time I knew of him, an elderly journalist who just talked quietly and calmly for, I think, fifteen minutes. He never interviewed anyone on air for the "Letter". He just spoke. He did not even introduce himself or address his listeners.
The topics he spoke about were many and varied but were always related in some way to America. He could talk about the arts, politics, economics and international relations. He did it all in the same measured tones and pleasant speaking voice he had no doubt been using for years. Although he became an American citizen he remained, in many ways, "British". His language and journalistic style were more BBC than A(American)BC.
I have no doubt that he had his views and his prejudices but, on the occasions I heard him, I was always impressed by his understanding of what lay beneath the surface of what he was talking about. He was a well educated man who apparently had the capacity to hear both sides of a story.
Listening to and reading reports of the media inquiries both in the UK and Australia have reminded me of Cooke and his "Letter from America". I have wondered what he would have made of modern journalists and journalism.
There can be little doubt that the current inquiry being conducted into the media in Australia is politically motivated. The Greens are especially upset by what they perceive as a bias against them and they used their influence and the support the government needs to retain power to force an inquiry.
The present Press Gallery in Canberra is, with one notable exception, supportive of the politics of the present government. It has been this way for years and it is not likely to change any time soon. When the current Opposition is in power they use their own power to obstruct it with carefully destructive reporting.
I was once unwillingly involved in a "political" campaign of sorts. It was an issue that went to a referendum. The media was heavily involved and, for a while, the issue divided that section of the community which thinks about those issues. There was heavy advertising for the "yes" case but the "no" case had to struggle to be heard at all. The media simply refused to do more than give a token nod to it. When anything was said it was often misreported or said in ways designed to undermine the "no" case. Despite all that the referendum failed. It lost by a majority of all voters in all states, not just in a majority of states. The "yes" supporters were quick to blame media reporting of the "no" case and the media supported them in this. There was no suggestion that voters might simply have decided they did not want the change being put to them. As a supporter of the "no" case I was relieved by the result - and still worry at the way the issue surfaces on a regular basis because the "yes" campaigners refuse to accept the result and have the support of their friends in the media.
The current inquiry is almost certainly designed to try and entrench bias into the media. It may or may not work.
I think Alistair Cooke would have been unhappy with this sort of behaviour. He had an enormous audience by the end of his around sixty years of broadcasting. I have no doubt he had his own beliefs and prejudices but, on the occasions I heard him, his words were balanced. You often went away with something to think about. It is the way journalism should be.


Sheep Rustler said...

I loved listening to him :)

Anonymous said...

I did too - a wealth of knowledge, a sense of humous and a masterful turn of phrase. Bob C-S

jeanfromcornwall said...

Alastair Cooke was an essential ingredient of Sunday mornings for me - he explained so much about America that I wouldn't otherwise have known. I cannot think of any person or organisation who does anything like that now - he was so measured and fair.

Anonymous said...

I would so like to get The Truth about many things, without bias, without hidden agendas, without people judging what I want before I know what is happening, without politicians deciding that I am not interested in principles, or spending money on good things, on looking to the long-term rather than short-term outcomes, etc etc.