The coronavirus is dominating the news schedules. It has even shoved the Alex Salmond trial off the headlines, and when a story is so big that the British media are distracted from all their SNPBaaaaad Christmasses come at once, you know it must be serious. Everyone who has a passing interest in Scottish politics was expecting that the Salmond trial would receive wall to wall coverage and no other story would get a look in. But instead it’s been bumped far down the schedules, and it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying close attention. That’s how serious a story the coronavirus is.
So you might think then that when dealing with a gravely serious story that the media, especially a public broadcaster like the BBC, should be finding equally gravely serious experts to inform us about the realities of the epidemic. You know the kind of thing, professors of epidemiology, or specialists in public health, blinking in the glare of a spotlight that they’re far from used to and struggling to impart their highly specialised and technical knowledge in simple language that ordinary punters like you and me might understand.
You would of course be wrong.
Last night on the BBC’s flagship news and current affairs programme Newsnight, the producers decided that the best person to give us their views on the coronavirus outbreak was Nigel Farage. Maybe they thought there was no one better than Nigel Farage to opine about something that’s going to economically ruin us and isolate us from our neighbours. Maybe the production team thought that it was important to balance all those experts who actually know what they’re talking about with a man who failed his O levels, who has no relevant qualifications whatsoever, and who is no longer an elected politician. He doesn’t have a background in health. He’s not an expert. He’s not a minister or a shadow minister. He is no more informed about the coronavirus than any random punter you might pluck from a gathering of Brexiteers at a karaoke night in Wetherspoons. Who needs informed commentary when you can have an ill-informed populist who might say something controversial and boost your ratings? And that right there is the problem with the British media. Then people wonder why some folk are panic buying toilet paper.
We’ve reached a new level of meta, a plague discussing a virus. Most of us have been trying to self-isolate from Nigel Farage and his sick politics for a couple of years now, but the BBC is determined not to allow us to. Farage is the man who in 2017 tweeted that the World Health Organisation was “just another club of ‘clever people’ who want to bully and tell us what to do. Ignore.” This was in response to a tweet from WHO welcoming the decision of the Vatican to ban the sale of tobacco within the Vatican City. He doesn’t appear to accept that smoking is one of the leading causes of cancer, but hey, he’s abundantly qualified to tell us all about the coronavirus because he has previously visited the north of Italy.
It was just a few weeks ago that the BBC was telling us that we, the public, needed to save it from attempts by the Conservatives to abolish the licence fee and turn the BBC into a glorified subscription only form of Netflix. Now it’s giving us Nigel Farage as an expert in virology. If there’s anyone in the UK that ought to self-isolate, it should be Nigel Farage. And not even because of the coronavirus, just as a general rule. But even then the BBC would only go and interview him by Skype. Next up Nigel will be popping up to give us his hot takes in a glossily produced history documentary about an outbreak of plague in the Roman Empire and will tell us how Rome fell because they allowed in too many migrants from Chersonesus Taurica, and Ann Widdicombe will present a new series about quantum physics.
It’s not as though we’re getting reassuring and confidence inspiring leadership from the British government during this crisis. That makes it all the more imperative that public service broadcasters like the BBC actually perform a public service instead of resorting to giving yet more of a platform to a cheap populist. Especially since the BBC’s proclivity in giving this cheap populist a platform has made a significant contribution to the huge pile of doo-doo in which the UK is currently mired. Yet here we are, getting Nigel Farage paraded yet again in front of the cameras as though he had something worthwhile to say. Clearly no one at the BBC was listening to Liverpool’s manager Jurgen Klopp the other day when he bristled at being asked questions about the virus during a press conference and quite reasonably pointed out that famous people don’t know more about the virus by virtue of being famous, and told the press to go and speak to an expert. So the BBC said to themselves – “Let’s ask Nigel Farage! He’s an expert in shit stirring.”
It’s important that we listen to experts, because this emergency is showing that Boris Johnson is so far out of his depth that it’s like inviting a childrens’ party clown who makes balloon animals as the main speaker at a scientific conference about how to maintain the wild population of rhinos with improved artificial insemination techniques. Although to be fair, Johnson does know a lot about spaffing. In a recent appearance when he’s not been self-isolating from responsibility, the part time British Prime Minister openly speculated about taking the coronavirus on the chin, as though this was a minor defeat in a public school sporting contest and not an epidemic that is affecting millions of people.
Who needs experts when we have Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Michael Gove? These are the people who are steering the UK ship of state these days. The UK is where we have a serious epidemic, and the go-to guy is Nigel Farage. So it’s no wonder that support for Scottish independence only keeps growing. Maybe the British media might like to consider the possibility that the reason so many of us are coming to support Scottish independence is because we rather like the idea of public policy which is evidence led and where expert opinion is valued, where we can hold our political class to account, and we’ve had more than enough of the Breakfast TV sofa politics of the UK.
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