End of an Era

A bit like a walk through town brings the old observation that the police are getting younger, the news brings evidence that my lifetime has seen myriad social and technological change that has made the world of my memory and the present, different countries.

Last night, Jeremy Paxman presented his last edition of Newsnight.

Paxman has been a polished and shining jewel in the crown of Britain’s Fourth Estate for over thirty years. I remember him reporting on the Northern Irish ‘Troubles’ in the mid 70s and moving seemingly effortlessly to a position of Inquisitor General on behalf of the people of the UK. It was obviously not really effortless. It took time, effort and some luck but above all an intellect steeped in a tradition of not accepting simple, trite answers to complicated situations.

Politicians have probably always liked to wrap up their own dubious motives in the rags of altruism and ideology. The modern era has added a layer of pseudo intellectual gobbledegook, crafted in business schools and MBA courses, to the subterfuge that appeared to blind many inquisitors. Not so Paxman. Attempts to obfuscate the issue were dealt with by Paxman in a trice as he punctured pomposity and hacked back the excrescences of policy wonk and management guru twaddle to expose the usually unpleasant facts behind the smokescreen.

Why is his departure from Newsnight the end of an era? Could not others perform the same function?

Well they could, although increasingly the breadth and depth of knowledge Paxman exhibited in his interviews appears to be lost amongst younger journalists. But even more than the lack of attention paid to a liberal education is the craven way news media is knuckling under to political pressure. If this were simply politicians whining it would be bad enough, but at least they are elected in a process which pretends to reflect public wishes. Increasingly however there is an unholy alliance between politicians who dislike having to account for their policies in clear speech and big businesses which have vested interests in neutering the type of investigative journalism Paxman exemplified.

The BBC’s days are numbered. Unless people get off their backsides and realise what is happening we will wake up to a country where the media is entirely controlled by parti pris companies, and public service broadcasting, if it exists at all, is confined to producing wildlife documentaries about furry animals that can be sold overseas for a boost to government earnings. Production has already been outsourced and privatised and now news is under increasing attack from competitor companies who don’t like the heat or the political impartiality of the BBC. The politicians have learned that taking the BBC head on as a whole institution looks bad, so, like the NHS it is being privatised by stealth, a function, a department, a ‘tier’ at a time. It is all so reasonable.

The resulting private news with political agendas and the rump fluffy bunny PSB will not grow and nurture a talent like Paxman. I see no young replacement able to drag a government minister over the coals like Paxman used to. An unholy alliance of Politicians and Global business is seeing to that.

So farewell, Paxo. Thanks for keeping the body politic on the straight and narrow and here’s hoping there is another one just like you in the wings. I shan’t be holding my breath.