For the last few days, the BBC’s Have Your Say section has been leading on Swine Flu.  No great surprise there.  Specifically, they’ve been leading on the question ‘Are you worried about swine flu?’

Not a particularly edifying question, and I haven’t bothered checking out the responses – not much point, I thought, as I already know what the views expressed will be: ‘I’m terrified’; ‘It’s all been over-hyped by the media’; ‘Yes, it’s a bit of a concern, but it seems to be panning out not too badly’; ‘It’s a sinister plot by the CIA/ WHO/ Scary Flying Monsters Of Woo to kill us all/ forcibly vaccinate us with autism juice/ boost the stock value of Evil Drugs Companies.’

But today I noticed that they’ve changed the headline question.  Now they’re asking:


What?  Have things really sunk to this level, that journalists can seriously think that the idiot drongos who hang around the BBC’s Have Your Say boards can conceivably have anything of value to say about how to avoid a flu pandemic?  Surely this is a pre-eminent example of an occasion when the opinions of us ordinary folk are completely irrelevant.  This is a question that specialists with advanced degrees in things like epidemiology and virology can answer.  It’s not an appropriate question to ask people whose idea of a contribution is to type the most idiotically stupid (and probably offensive) thing they can think of, and then click submit.

This is more evidence of the way the fact/ opinion boundary is being blurred.  Asking if people are worried is perfectly legitimate – people can quite reasonably hold different opinions on the established facts of the putative pandemic.  Asking the general public how to prevent a pandemic isn’t legitimate, because it’s something that you need to know about before you are qualified to speak.  You need access to the facts – how effective travel restrictions are, whether screening of new arrivals is effective, how well quarantining works, if antiviral drugs work as prophylactics, how quickly a vaccine can be developed – in order to have anything worthwhile to say.

What’s next?  A BBC Have Your Say on what’s the best way to carry out neurosurgery?  Or how to land a 747 on an icy runway with a gusting crosswind, a partially deployed undercarriage, and only one working engine?


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8 Responses to WTF?

  1. cb says:

    I can’t say I’ve spent much time at the Have Your Say boards but this made me chuckle – you make a very good point!

  2. la says:

    Hurrah for citizen journalists! They’re not the best but they are the cheapest!

    This made me laugh

    (You can see my news blackout lasted about 20 mins.)

  3. la says:

    Thinking it through… If you don’t want to click on the link, it says:

    I told hospital staff I’d been to see Doves at a gig then fell ill. They said I should keep it quiet to avoid a panic.

  4. Lucy McGough says:

    This idiocy is due to the fact that the BBC are desperate to appear ‘in touch’, so what their customers want has become the most important thing, rather than what’s actually happening in the news.

    If I were head of the BBC I’d close down ‘Have Your Say’ before you could say Jack Robinson.

    BTW, in a recent edition of ‘Newswipe’ Charlie Brooker did an excellent deconstruction of how the BBC are blurring the line between fact and opinion, and reporting the latter as news.

  5. aethelreadtheunread says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    cb – i usually try and avoid the HYS boards, to be honest. But this one they were trailing on the front page, and it did rather annoy me. As…er…you may have noticed… ;o)

    la – frankly, anyone who goes to see Doves deserves everything they get *awaits furious attack by Doves fans* :o)

    Lucy McGough – i’m not personally a fan of HYS, but i don’t mind the principle of it, so long as they stick to things that average people like me can have a valid opinion on. Thanks for the Charlie Brooker info. I’m wondering where i’m going to find my weekly dose of blistering cynicism now Newswipe’s come to an end. :o)

  6. lsnduck says:

    I despise the current fashion of plastering everything with the opinion of the general(ly ignorant) public. I hate it on websites, I hate it on radio and television news.

    I visit news websites and watch the news to be given a (vaguely, I’m not that naive) balanced and factual account of events. I want to hear the opinions (as opposed to facts) of experienced, knowledgeable experts and commentators. I want to learn things.

    I don’t want some idiot dragged off the street spouting their ill informed invective and bigotry; that is probably a mistake ridden repetition of what someone else said anyway.

  7. aethelreadtheunread says:

    lsnduck – i tend to agree, although i’m not that keen on the opinions of experts either, to be honest. I pretty much like the news to tell me what’s happened, and i’ll do the deciding what i think about it for myself. But i would make an exception for things like the swine flu pandemic, when i think there is a role for the informed speculation of experts (so long as it’s clearly presented as speculation, of course).

  8. J.Wibble says:

    I’m sure my best mate and her boyfriend could come up with some considered commentary for HYS on neurosurgery – she’s just finished a forensic science degree and her boyfriend is a doctor and a pathologist. I could write it in an appropriate HYS style, with the necessary references to evil foreigners, government conspiracies and superfluous nationalism. I may even try it just for fun and put it on my blog. :p

    A kid at my sister’s school has got swine flu so they’ve all got a week off to make sure it doesn’t spread and so the school can be deep-cleaned by the Health Protection Agency. She had fun on the day the school was shut, walking home behind a group of year 8s who wore their masks all the way home and winding them up by coughing loudly. I think this approach shows far more intergrity than most of the media reports, as it is at least vaguely based on scientific fact as swine flu can be spread by coughing. Evil genius child.

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