lördag 17 maj 2008

The curse of the sound-bite

I was looking at the back numbers of a magazine yesterday, dating from the late 1940s. What struck me was, first, their dull appearance - a mass of grey text with no illustrations, photographs or diagrams; and second, the high quality of the content, well written and with the points carefully made with closely supporting arguments. Today, such a presentation would just be cast aside.

By contrast, I was discussing the content of an email to be sent to Any Answers, the response to the discussion programme Any Questions. I once attended the latter programme live, and it was apparent how closely controlled the questions were. An informal but effective censorship is at work here. It is clear that some subjects would have been absolutely off-limits and for a email to stand chance of being read out, it would have to be reduced to a bare minimum. There is no real opportunity for developing an argument in this kind of forum; discussion can only take place within the boundaries of an accepted agenda.

This is part of a more general pattern. The same can be said of the press, and it has a terrible impact on the quality of public discourse. But perhaps the media should not be blamed. The mass of the British public appear to be satisfied with the limited content of the majority of newspapers, which they are happy to buy and read. The sound-bite culture works strongly to the advantage of those who are anxious to preserve the status quo.

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