Media paranoia

Life as a journalist in the 21st century: Press release in the morning about University of Leicester research suggesting it’s dangerous to drive while listening to your favourite football team on the radio.

It’s all fairly light-hearted stuff in my opinion. If you list all the factors which contribute to car accidents, I’m sure listening to sport on the radio is pretty low. The fact the research has been funded by a car insurance company doesn’t exactly add to the feeling of academic relevance. But it’s a story that would become a talking-point nonetheless.

So after speaking to a couple of City fans I thought I’d give Radio Leicester’s football commentator a go. I’m sure he’d think it ridiculous that his broadcasts could lead to people driving off the road.

He was enthusiastic about adding a couple of light-hearted comments. He is, after all, a well-known name among football supporters in Leicester. Perhaps he would say his commentary should be preceded by a Government health warning, we joked.

But in this media-savvy world, nothing is ever that simple. He would, understandably, have to check with his boss first, and then the BBC press office.

He did so and then rang back to say he’d told the press office his comments, who would then email them to me once they’d checked them.

A couple of hours later the press office phoned to say they had the issue in hand but wanted me to send them the press release so they knew exactly what the comments would be about.

And then an hour later everything changed. The BBC press office said it couldn’t “supply” anything. Because it was about road safety, the subject matter was too serious to talk about in a light-hearted news article.

The commentator phoned me back to apologise that he couldn’t say anything. It wasn’t his fault at all.

But this is a shame. Readers are short-changed because my story lacks entertaining comments from someone who would be central to it.

Ultimately life will just become bland.

People are too scared to say anything. Politicians are bland because those with character or who are “off-message” are hounded out of office. Sportsmen and women are no longer the characters of old in case a comment is taken out of context. Comedy radio programmes become humourless because people are terrified that someone might be offended.

And everybody becomes bland because all their views, if published at all, are sanitised by press offices.

And what exactly has that achieved?

PS I’ve never once become over excited while listening to Watford in the car.

About Ian

A journalist working in Brussels
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