Saturday, 24 January 2015

Selective news

I like reading the news on the internet, because it lets you pick and choose the most interesting stories, rather than watching half an hour of what someone else dictates as the 'top' stories. I am very selective, having no interest in celebrities or gossip, or the tit-for-tat that spews from the mouths of our politicians - glancing at a political headline is more than sufficient. Whereas some stories really grab my attention, and for a long while the weather related ones were some of them.

The BBC news site, my channel of choice purely because it doesn't have adverts, used to have a page devoted to weather news. I found it when I was doing a presentation on climate change and wanted some recent examples of extreme weather events. You could guarantee that there would be a flood or drought causing death and destruction virtually every single day, that would barely ever make it into the 'top stories'. You can see my 'weather scrapbook' summary for 2010 below. How many of those do you remember seeing on the news?

  • January saw significant widespread snowfalls across the UK. Not quite the 17.8 inches of snow that fell in Washington D.C. in February, which was their snowiest winter ever. Even Miami saw sub-zero temperatures for the first time in 20 years.
  • 125 deaths were reported from the severe cold in Northern India in early January.
  • Heavy thunderstorms and flooding caused 10 fatalities in Egypt in January.
  • Severe droughts hit southern and southwestern regions of China over the first part of the year, affecting 6.1 million hectares of farmland and leaving 18 million people short of drinking water.
  • The worst floods in a decade also swept through parts of China with more than 3,100 dying and included a devastating mudslide which left 1,471 people dead.
  • In May Tennessee saw epic floods killing 31 people in all and breaking the monthly record by the 2nd day of the month.
  • Cyclone Phet killed 24 people in Oman in June.
  • Devastating floods hit Pakistan in July and by August a fifth of the country was submerged. 20 million people affected and nearly 2,000 deaths.
  • July also saw a heatwave in Russia, the hottest since records began. A month of temperatures above 30 Deg. C also led to a severe drought and raging wildfires. Death toll is estimated at 50,000 from heat and air pollution. Crops were also badly hit and all exports of wheat have been stopped.
  • The UK had its wettest July ever recorded and flooding hit.
  • The Amazon rainforest suffered from an “exceptional” drought the worst in 108 years of records with entire stretches of river drying up completely.
  • November brought snow to the UK and throughout much of Europe and North America severe cold and heavy early snowfalls occurred. The Arctic however was unusually warm.
  • The Hurricane season saw 19 named storms, 12 hurricanes and 5 intense hurricanes, coming in 2nd place for the most hurricanes in a season after 2005. Luckily many of these did not make landfall.
  • 2010 was also the second hottest year globally on record, after 2005.
  • 19 countries set new records for the highest temperature in 2010, and one country set a record for the lowest temperature.

Since then it became harder and harder to find the weather-related stories on the BBC, and now I have given up looking for them. These events haven't just stopped happening, but whether through lack of funds, lack of interest or ulterior motives, far less are being reported.

It is becoming more and more obvious, that the BBC offers a tainted view of world affairs. Just as they are selective with climate/ weather related stories, they are selective in other areas too. So I now read RT news site as well, the Russian news channel which often has news from a different perspective than the BBC. (Plus it doesn't feature the leering face of David Cameron or his cronies quite so often.)

Mostly RT has the same stories, but there are differences. For instance regarding Eastern Ukraine the BBC will always refer to 'pro-Russian rebels' or 'Russian-backed separatists'. You can see this in todays report on the shelling of Mariupol where blame for the attack is immediately assigned to the rebels, who are then reported to deny this. The equivalent report from RT refers to the 'East Ukraine militia' in the text (although the initial photo uses 'pro-Russian rebels' in its description, though the image is from Reuters). The BBC give the impression they are showing the rebels' side of the story, by saying that the rebels deny the attack. However the RT report goes further and points out that the militias stronghold is 110km away and the militia are quoted as saying they have no heavy artillery within range of Mariupol.

The government in Kiev must know who attacked Mariupol. Either the government issued the orders themselves or they didn't and it was the rebels/ militia. But firing on civilians is an international offence, and they are hardly likely to incriminate themselves, so can we trust what they say? The same applies to the rebels. That is why I would expect there to be investigative journalists coming up with proof and interviewing witnesses, but when it comes to the shenanigans in Ukraine there really seems to be very little based on actual evidence and a lot based on what the different sides say. Our best hope may be from the OSCE but little seems to be reported from them either in the media. Gathering evidence is clearly a frustratingly slow process.

To me it feels like the invasion of Iraq pantomime all over again. "You have weapons of mass destruction!" says the US. "Oh no we don't!" say the Iraqis. "Oh yes you do!"  "Oh no we don't!"..... The trouble is that the truth didn't come out until after we went to war and half a million people died. Then it just became a big joke to some people, but to me it seems like an apology is due.

That is why I am interested in knowing the truth. The mainstream media just aren't providing that any more, and I would encourage you to question everything and share your doubts, while we still can. Do we really want to be blindly misled into another war?


Well I wrote the paragraphs above this morning and since then both the news articles I quoted have developed further. The BBC are saying that Aleksandr Zakharchenko, a rebel leader, has launched an offensive against the city port of Mariupol and takes responsibility for the rocket attacks, with the Ukrainian Prime Minister accusing Russia of breaching the Minsk agreements. Whereas RT are quoting Aleksandr Zakharchenko as saying that since it was the Ukrainian government who attacked Mariupol, they are launching an attack on the government positions to the East of Mariupol. And so the pantomime continues. Oh no it doesn't! Oh yes it does........... :-(


  1. Judy, I solve this annoying problem by not listening to or watching any news at all, which has freed up my time considerably. I read a thoughtful Australian current affairs magazine, which mostly does in depth articles, which I get when my friend has finished reading them, so most of my news is at least a month late, but thoughtfully commentaried. I am so much more relaxed now, if perpetually ill-informed. I figure that even if the news is completely catastrophic, it's not going to change how I live from day to day. There is a wonderful quote in one of my favourite novels, written during the Blitz, with the housekeeper commenting to the maid, 'Well, if the Germans invade tomorrow, we will still be here doing the dishes, won't we? Just for someone else..'
    If WWIII starts tomorrow, I'll still be making plum jam and planting the vegie garden for winter..

    1. Maybe the housekeeper has been misunderstood. Those words are to soothe the maid and get her back to work - the whole ‘stiff upper lip’, ‘don’t panic’ British thing that we do. It doesn’t mean that the housekeeper is happy to do the dishes after a Nazi Germany has invaded, killed her husband and son in combat, bombed her neighbours, thrown her employer in jail, stolen his property and instigated public punishments to control the population with fear. The housekeeper reads the news, is scared and does whatever she can to help.

      But that surprises me Jo. You are an informed person who knows that your individual actions can make a difference. You take a stand on waste and the environment, by changing your own way of living, even when those around you continue to be in denial. It is not the easy option. I wouldn’t have taken you for someone who buries their head in the sand.

  2. I have actually been thinking about this all day Judy, and wondering about my change of heart. I used to be an avid newsreader, and liked to keep my finger on the pulse of everything that was going on. I think what has changed is this - the news itself, as you have pointed out, is fickle and biased, and very much the short view. Most of it, if you notice, especially TV news, is actually lots of experts giving predictions, which generally turn out to be wrong. So the whole exercise is completely pointless, and worst of all, current affairs just make me stressed. There is so much of it, almost all of it is tragic, violent and extremely worrying, and in a format that sends out information in tiny, discrete, fairly useless sound bites.
    But that doesn't mean I know nothing about current affairs. I read thoughtful blogs like The Archdruid Report which puts current affairs in a historical context, or your blog which always has useful and pertinent, thoughtful information. I read The Monthly, a mostly insightful Australian current affairs magazine, and I read hundreds of books a year, novels and biographies and non-fiction, the best of which give a far more balanced and thoughtful commentary on world affairs than the news. I learnt far more about the history of Afghanistan and the reasons behind the conflict there reading Khaled Hosseini's Thousand Splendid Suns than the sum total of every news article I had ever read about it. Right now I am reading a classic economics text which is throwing a lot more light on the reasons behind the mess the world banking system is in than anything I could find on any type of news site.
    Also, I think I have read enough about what is happening in the world to realise that I have to stop reading and start doing. After all, there are only 24 hours in the day, and I can't have the garden I want, and teach myself and my children useful skills if I am paralysed by worrying about what might or might not happen in the world tomorrow. I think that is what the housekeeper in that quote meant. Whatever happens in life, food still needs to be cooked and dishes washed. Just because the world as we know it might be ending, we still need the mentality that we plant the garden anyway.
    I can't do anything about world affairs, which alternately make my blood boil, horrify me, or scare me silly, but I can at least devote myself to my own backyard, learn everything I can about how the world works, and my place in it, and especially pay attention to how my actions are informed by, and impact on others. My goal is to live a life that doesn't demand that other people all over the globe have to live a lesser life because of me. 'Become the change you wish to see'. Gandhi spent years and years studying and simplifying his life, weaning himself from the consumerism of middle class India which depended on the unjust laws of the British Raj, before he started leading his movement for change. I have no plans to change the world, but I have to do a lot of hard work in my own backyard, and one of the things I have decided to give up in order to achieve that, is paying attention to the daily news. So I might have only accidentally found out that the Saudi king just died, but I could tell you all about the historical power shifts in the middle east since WWI, but actually what really matters is how I, in my life right now, shift away from participating in the oil economy altogether. Which will take a great deal of planning and emotional angst, because change is hard, and it is so much easier to talk about it than do it..
    This is a very convoluted self-justification, and I love reading blogs like yours that comment succinctly and thoughtfully about what is going on in the world, while you also do a huge amount of practical stuff to make your life less impactful as well.
    But I stand by my no-news life. My blood-pressure will be lovely and steady as I go and make dinner and wash the dishes:)

    1. Thanks for your detailed response Jo. It had sounded like you were promoting 'ignorance is bliss', but you have set the record straight.

      You are right - the News has changed and is a lot less based on facts and much more on opinions. That is why I am so selective and the internet allows me to skim through headlines and to find out more about the items that catch my interest. It sounds like you are just as selective about what 'News' you pay attention to and mainstream media controlled news is out. As you point out, it doesn't mean you don't know what is going on.

      You are doing something about World Affairs by rejecting the consumer, debt-based lifestyle that fuels wars and discontent. Plus through your blog you are encouraging others to do likewise. StormCloudsGathering suggest "If each and every one of you just did what you could without worrying about whether or not you would succeed, that would be enough"

  3. That is a lovely quote Judy, thanks:)