Friday 13 December 2013

Another good day to “bury bad news”?

On Thursday 5th December Chancellor George Osborne appeared on the Downing Street to proudly hold up this year’s Autumn Statement. Like a child proudly displaying his shiny new red lunch-box, Osborne happily released the best features of the budget for some rare commendation and applause

• Marriage tax allowance • Free School meals • A pledge of £40m to create 20,000 apprenticeships • A freeze on petrol tax • A freeze on business rates to boost the high-street

One glance at’s beautiful array of infographics must have surely inspired all of the married and far-flung business owning parents of Britain to rejoice in anticipation of a fat Christmas and a portly New Year.

With all of this rejoicing, one would have expected to see the Autumn red of the statement to be tainting the broadsheets and topping the red-tops in reflection of a nation finally satisfied with the work of its chief economist.

But no.

On the evening of the 5th December, the world suffered a tragic loss with the death of the former South African revolutionary and politician Nelson Mandela. Mandela, one of the World’s most celebrated statesman, died at his home after long battle with a respiratory illness. As a result, The Daily Mail had but a small red box banished to the top right hand corner of front-page, the Financial Times led with a hand-by-hand sized picture of the now deceased World icon, and BBC business reporter Ben Morris was quoted thus: “Business coverage on the BBC has been curtailed this morning as programmes cover the death of Nelson Mandela.”

In the Guardian discussing the Autumn Statement: “It took a few days for the full import of the verdict of the Institute for Fiscal Studies to permeate the political world

The same Guardian article read: “Ed Miliband has set off to South Africa to pay his respects

A comment in a Daily Telegraph article about the Statement read: “Markmyword49: Assuming of course that the media can tear itself away from the hagiography over Mandela and start doing its job again

The Burial of Bad News

On September 11th 2001, a day that does not need to be described, Labour aide Jo Moore sent around an internal memo advising her colleagues that “it is now a very good day to get out anything we want to bury. Councillors expenses?”

The memo was leaked, Moore was shamed, and Westminster had to once more pull its reputation out of a deep grave of political distaste. Although Moore’s comments were distasteful, it cannot be denied that she is not the only politician to have played puppet master with the media when approaching political strategies.

The news of Mandela’s death was always going to dominate the headlines of every single paper, broadsheet and tabloid in the World (the exceptions probably North Korea and Cuba).

Of course, the main points of the statement were also going to be covered and featured, however it is the finer points that might have been missed because of the tragic news of Mandela’s deaths.

Those journalists that would usually have been tasked with tearing the statement to pieces with a fine tooth-comb were in no doubt directed away to cover the greater news of Mandela’s passing.

Human beings have often been compared to a flock of sheep; we easily spooked and have a tendency to move in packs. When a car crashes on a busy road, is it not a well-known fact that the resultant backlog of traffic is mostly due to the spectators that slow down their cars in order to take a look as they pass the scene?

This statement is a reminder of how much we rely upon and need those journalists that will not just rush to join the rest of the flock to view the spoils at the scene of a car-crash. The investigative journalists that we rely upon to uncover buried boils and keep our society honest are those that would stay behind at the traffic lights to discover that they were actually faulty and thus the cause of said car-crash.

As Rudyard Kipling once famously wrote: “If you can keep your head whilst all around you are losing theirs, you will be a man my son”.

Perhaps this could serve as a lesson to the British media: when big news breaks alongside the release of a seemingly innocent statement by all means pay your respects and cover the story, but also keep your head and remember to continue dissecting the seemingly unimportant.

Olivia Stuart-Taylor

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