Good grief, or fascism? The silence of the journos

IS IT just me? Perhaps the recent heat is finally getting to me, but lately I've been coming over all why-oh-why about grief.

Or more particularly official grief. Plainly something's afoot.

Once upon a time, British people could get themselves totalled on our road network, safe in the knowledge that once the mess was cleared up that would, pretty well, be that.

Closed doors, private tears and all that. Now, you can't pass along any stretch of tarmac for more than a few miles without some carefully nurtured shrine looming out of the cow parsley.

I blame Diana. I can still recall people wading around all those bunches of flowers and actually queuing up in the hope of being vox-popped. Spool fast forward, and some years later we are on the South Bank of the River Thames, where the long line of people waiting to pay their respects to the Queen Mother finally ends. The same phenomenon precisely: lots of cheery people, desperate to be on telly and say how sad they are. Weird.

So it is that no disaster, no outrage can be allowed to happen any more without an outpouring of Interflora.

I'm not saying for a moment this is not genuine, not real emotion and grief — just that things are clearly changing in our culture. We are now making A Very Big Show about grief. It's gone public in almost Mediterranean fashion.

And it's not just floral — it's silent. Big, long silences. Once upon a time a minute would do the trick. Not anymore. The Government only recently decided on two minutes for the anniversary of the 7 July attacks in London. Already, it's become engrained, with its own language, ritual, choreography.

And here I think it begins to get tricky for journalists and journalistic organisations. My unscientific straw poll suggests I was not alone in being perturbed to find that ITN — apparently en masse — would be marking the silence for the victims of 7 July. Should we? Should any newspaper office, TV station or radio newsroom?

Personally, I don't think so. I don't actually believe it's the business of any body of journalists to fall meekly, corporately, into line with whatever the latest Grief Directive may be.

Particularly when 7 July was such a political act. Asking for a silence purely for the British victims with no glance, no hint, no nothing about far, far greater numbers of equally innocent Muslims killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, seems a pretty cynical piece of spin to me. We, of course, know from their video statements that these foreign deaths are precisely why at least two of these young men did what they did that day.

There's a feeling that this could have been handled better.

Perhaps providing a quiet area for those who wish to observe the silence might have been a better way of dealing with this than a blanket email request, which many interpreted as notso- subtle pressure, even though it was not intended as such at all. The whole business is, surely, a matter of individual conscience?

Or is it? Individual action and proper journalistic response is, at the risk of seeming pompous, being a bit squeezed out in all this. Come Remembrance Sunday, does any BBC news presenter — or ITV or Sky for that matter — have any real personal choice about wearing a poppy or not? I'd be interested to hear from them if they do, because it sure doesn't look that way on screen, does it?

The difficulty with this is that newsreaders and onscreen journos end up looking like — or worse still, look as if they are trying to appear like — precisely the thing they should never be part of: the political establishment. I'm stumped as to why they want to, or why they want to give the impression that they want to.

Every year, I go through this with endless viewers mightily pissed off about my own personal poppy deficit. It scarcely seems to occur to anybody that (unless I'm missing something big), the reason we fought two World Wars was precisely for such things to be a matter of personal choice, not cultural coercion.

In this context, that rather over-the-top phrase, "grief fascism", is grimly ironic — but call it what you will, the politicisation of public grief is gaining currency and potency with every year that passes, and it's clear there are armies of journos only too happy to march in and join up.

Let's face it. They're salivating over the thought of being up for a political honour. It seems obvious to me that any journalist taking a political honour from any government has a hefty conflict of interest on their hands. Take the gong and you should take the P45 from the boss to go with it. But does this happen? No chance.

And for those not able to buff up the OBE or MBE in the long winter evenings? Well, there are plenty of other opportunities.

Scores of hacks involved in Operation Telic — aka the invasion of Iraq — have accepted a medal from the MoD.


You scarcely know where to begin with this, do you? Is it more bonkers that a Government ministry actually thinks it is appropriate to chuck out medals to journos in the 21st century?

Or that hacks are, apparently, waiting in a meek little line to bow down and accept them? Medals, political honours, Government silence orders and the need to be seen to wear a poppy — since when did all this cloying need to belong, conform, kowtow and be liked, have anything to do with journalism?

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