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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison

And Now For The News

‘It’s a very well written piece,’ said the editor of the TV local news programme, encouragingly. ‘I’m afraid we can’t run it in its present form, but today is your first day as a reporter with us. Once you’ve got used to our house style, I’m sure your stories will be fine.’

John was relieved. Writing reports for TV news had been a prestigious job to get, and he been a little anxious about not making the grade. Everyone had been very friendly, however, and he was reassured to hear from Greg, the senior editor, that his writing had met with approval, even if he had evidently not yet fully understood the precise type of report that the programme required. ‘What sort of changes are needed to the piece?’ John asked, keen to learn.

‘Your story is about a member of the public with some kind of personality disorder, who is harassing the local authority over some trivial irrelevance,’ Greg summarised.

‘That’s right,’ John agreed. ‘The local authority have bent over backwards to be conciliatory and work out some amicable solution, but that woman is impossible. She’s not interested in listening to reason.’

‘That’s a pretty common scenario,’ Greg confirmed. ‘People like that drive public bodies to distraction with their pathological pursuit of mindless complaints. I think the main objective for most of them is to see their grievances taken to the European Court of Human Rights. I’ve followed a lot of these stories,’ Greg continued. ‘They target local authorities, the civil service, the NHS, the police and any other public organisation. Those bodies tend to have complaints procedures that force them to take seriously any daft whinge. Confidentiality also means that those organisations can’t argue back via the media.’

‘Then what’s wrong with the story?’ John asked.

‘We can’t report that David is mindlessly harassing Goliath,’ Greg explained. ‘Viewers see public bodies as uncaring, monolithic institutions, Hell-bent on intimidating defenceless individuals. They relate to stories about those individuals fighting against such institutional oppression. We can’t report that this woman is bonkers and only pursuing her complaint for malicious or pathological reasons – even though that’s the truth.’

‘So I need to reframe the story to cast her as a downtrodden heroine, doggedly fighting for justice against an inflexible and jobs-worth establishment,’ ventured John.

‘You’ve got it,’ Greg concurred. ‘To be honest,’ he added in response to an unease he had perceived in the tone of John’s previous comment, ‘I’m not happy, myself, about slanting reports in that way. It’s just that it’s not fair on viewers to present them with the concept of a public body being harassed by an individual. They’re not bright enough to grasp it, and it would be too risky for us to even try.’

‘Why is it risky for us?’ John asked.

‘Because there are any number of lawyers and consumer organisations just waiting to take up the causes of these nut-cases in pursuit of their own agendas,’ Greg clarified. ‘If we didn’t support the apparent underdog, we’d be accused of colluding with the establishment against the little people – the very people we rely upon to watch and support the programme.’

‘I see now,’ John said. ‘I’ll re-write the piece to show this mad woman as an ordinary member of the public, forced to take a heroic stand against bureaucracy. I can even get an emotional interview with her if I’m just going to accept and agree with everything she says.’

‘That’s great,’ said Greg. ‘Do that this afternoon, and we’ll run it on the late programme. I can already see that you’re just the sort of reporter we need for TV local news.’