For the last couple of nights BBC News has been covering the new licensing laws, and I’m very conflicted.
I have nothing of great import to say about the laws themselves: 24 hour opening is strange and unnecessary. The far more common ‘extra few hours’ aren’t going to destroy civilisation as we know it. It’ll probably mean slightly more of the same: the people whose sole motivation is to drink continuously while screaming the odd monosyllable into their friend’s ear will continue to do so, only for longer. They may get more smashed and do more damage to their bodies, which is sad but ultimately their own decision. More importantly there may be a bit more violence, or there may be the same rate of violence going on for longer, or the pressure point of chucking out time may be alleviated, reducing conflict overall. Who knows? Not me. And certainly not the Government or most of the commentators.
However, since Thursday night reporters have been staking out every major drinking spot in the UK, positively desperate for trouble to break out. When trouble didn’t break out on Thursday, they blamed the cold weather and turned their attention to the weekend. Their reports are full of images of the police arresting people – perfectly fine in a general article about drinking problems, but all-but-irrelevant in an article about the problems of extended drinking hours, since these arrests were all before the normal chucking-out time. They have no bearing on the story and only serve, vaguely, to reinforce the “sexy” reason for the journalist being there, which is that extended drinking hours are bad. Maybe.
The news commentators also seem fixated on a couple of ideas that baffle me. One is that normal chucking out time is 11 p.m., when in fact many revelers in my experience simply move on to nightclubs which don’t spill out onto the streets until 2 a.m. or thereabouts. The other is that underage access to alcohol is somehow the same story as pubs being open at 3 a.m. It’s woolly sensationalist reporting, presented without context, and the pesky lack of evidence is just a minor impediment.
This wasn’t limited to the drinking story yesterday. The headline “Rape case collapses as woman admits that she can’t remember whether she consented to sex” implies that the stupid woman was wasting police time (especially that word “admits”, beloved of journalists as a means of introducing drama while appearing to be impartial.) However the actual substance of the story implies that there are deeply ingrained sexist attitudes about rape in the legal system. The context seems a long way from the headline – a security guard is supposed to escort a paralytic woman home, but instead (at the very least) has sex with a semi-conscious woman and leaves her lying in a corridor. It’s deeply ironic therefore that the headline trades off the same sexist attitudes that the story seeks to highlight.
Or how about “a million” calls to Jobcentres going unanswered. Sounds terrible, but… over what period? Out of how many calls? How does that compare to other similar call centres? Without context, what does this tell me except that “a million” is a nice round number?
I know it’s a tough job to appear impartial while conveying news in an interesting fashion, but if they must look for the most dramatic angle on their story, they need to be very careful that they’re not editorialising instead of reporting.
For the purpose of full disclosure it should be noted that your correspondent is on his third bottle of Leffe…