Monday, July 24, 2006

Is That Your Final Answer?

Newsnight is on right now, doing what they do so well: turning a fault into a feature. Paxman's interview style has its critics - it could easily by argued that his confrontational style only makes canny politicians more likely to clam up as much as it shakes loose the less prepared and ironclad - but it has become the brand, in a sense: politicians can ignore or deride us when we get cross with them but Paxo knows too much to be fobbed off.
This week, unsurprisingly, Newsnight has been accused of being pro-Israel and pro-Hezbollah by viewers concerning the same programme. A sign of good journalism, I would say, but I say a lot of things. Whereas some news shows would just say 'oh, for fuck's sake' and throw up their hands in frustration the lads from Two have made a feature of it, inviting two knowledgeable persons, one defending Israel and one backing Lebanon, then sitting back and watched the cage match ensue.
It's interesting viewing, not least because they're both right. On the one hand Israel is smacking the shit out of a country because there are some terrorists in it, akin to nuking Belfast in response to the Troubles, relying on America's incomprehensibly compliant attitude to keep anyone from trying to stop them. On the other hand Lebanon have attempted to deal with a violent terrorist force by having a bit of a natter with them and letting them into their government, which just doesn't look good. Both sides (well, two sides: at the last count there seem to be at least five sides just now) are merrily shelling small children and sputtering on the global stage like enraged teenagers: they started it! You just don't understand.
Too fucking right I don't, to be honest. My knowledge of the history of this conflict and its global implications past and present just can't be adequately patched by the BBC Online Q&As, and I suspect a lot of the people directly involved have lost track a bit as well. Like the sectarian conflicts in Northern Ireland this seems to come down to a whole bunch of people being very angry and managing said anger poorly. But then it doesn't really matter what I think: in fact, and we're actually coasting towards my point here, it doesn't really matter what anyone thinks.
Just why are people so quick to anger where Newsnight's coverage is concerned? It is based on facts and interviews: the former can be interpreted any way you wish and the latter are inherently biased - all any news agency can do is get as wide a range of fact and opinion as possible and leave you to make up your mind, which is what journalism is for, I think. But it seems that people want to be given a definitive answer in situations like this. I don't mean that they want to be told what opinion to have, they want to be told the final answer to the problem, the key to the riddle that will settle the matter once and for all, and Newsnight have committed a dreadful sin by not being any more able to do that than anyone else. There is no definitive answer, no overriding truth: this whole situation is a logical shambles and there is no point denying it.
I know that seems pretty fatalist but it's not, honestly: it just means that all concerned need to put it behind them and start afresh, sit down, calm down and start making sense. Unfortunately that's probably not going to happen any time soon, not while everyone is so angry about it - what they need is somebody bigger and more grown-up to box their ears and make them apologise to each other. Once upon a time that might have been America. Oh well.
I still follow the conflict for much the same reasons I still watch Big Brother: because I feel a strong need to know what's going on, can't quite let go regardless of how myopic and stupid the protagonists are and because deep down I still hope humanity will prevail. But I won't waste any more time trying to understand it. I have no chance of apprehending the situation as it stands: I can only hope the future will make more sense.

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