The Art of Making News

We’ve had a story running in the UK which broke yesterday and looks likely to have legs. The BBC published salaries for its top earners and it’s got people really quite puffed up over the apparent inequality of pay between genders.

With the BBC being a publicly funded corporation through the licence fee, then there is genuine interest into the workings of this organisation from the general populace, quite understandably.

While I am all for equality of pay between genders, I am puzzled how one can equate salaries for entertainers, as they tend to do different things. As it is difficult to quantify, it comes down to negotiation and the amount that person brings to the table.

In journalism and management terms, this becomes easier as there are firm precedents across the industry and we have seen the movement of BBC personnel over the years to other organisations, which are not under public funding scrutiny. The exception of course is when the government appoints BBC journalists to information roles.

Having worked in government circles, I have a small insight into their mindset and the further up you go, the more you see they have a love affair with the teaching of Sun Tzu, a military strategist and philospher who is credited with the writing of The Art of War. This book is treated reverentially within some circles of government and the actions recently are a perfect example of its reach.

The recent appointing of former BBC politics editor as Director of Communications brings a wealth of experience to Theresa May’s office and in a week where there have been several significant stories which are pretty damning to a beleaguered Cabinet and PM, we see the Sun Tzu playbook being put into action.

One of the tenets is to divert attention from the attack by creating a noise elsewhere, something that is used extensively by military strategists to this very day. It takes attention away from one place while you get on with the serious business in another and all the while unnoticed until it’s too late.

In a week where the government has launched the Repeal bill to give itself ultimate powers to repeal previous acts without consulting or debating with Parliament, the infighting and leaks from within the Cabinet, raising of the state pension age and stalling of the Brexit negotiations where the EU has stated that the UK needs more time as it is not yet ready to participate. This in the backdrop of the DUP deal and plummeting popularity of the PM that is persistently in the news.

An omnishambles, in the words of Malcolm Tucker, from The Thick of It.

Enter the new Director of Comms, fresh from the BBC and a story emerges about large salaries of those contracted at the BBC, which is then embellished by noting the gender inequality of salaries. The media and social media is full of it, with people getting so worked up by what is paid to someone else who really doesn’t bear much consequence to them, other than the licence fee being publicly levied.

It really is a line direct from The Art of War and you can almost hear No10 shouting ‘Over there! Look over there!’ It has been happening for so long and is so successful, you can almost forgive the cynical use of this tactic in the war of public opinion. You see, the government relies on public consent and when it believes it is losing support, given the fragile state of the majority being propped up by a small party with of 10 MPs, it will act quickly to defuse a potentially harmful situation to their hold.

Consent is a whole other topic for another and no less important as it is pivotal for any government or public body to operate. Read Manufacturing Consent by Chomsky for more on this as it will certainly open up a few eureka moments for you. It doesn’t mean that we throw everything out and start again, but understanding that the authority needs your consent to act and removing that is a massive blow to their power.

However, that is for another day. Today, I sit and watch the BBC story unfold and outrage keeps it burning for a day or two longer until the other stuff blows away and buried in all the fluff. Until the next time, which won’t be long in today’s political world.

Keep watching and stay alert. It makes it all much more fun.

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