It can’t have escaped you attention that not everyone is getting into the Olympic Spirit. In particular, those of us with the misfortune to be in the capital over the next two weeks often see it as garish, disruptive and expensive, making our routes to work even more cumbersome. However, if your coverage of the Jubilee earlier in the year is anything to go by, the views of anyone who is against London 2012 won’t be given much air time.
It’s already been commented on how the BBC’s coverage of the Jubilee was little more than sycophantic drivel. The irony was also that the Telegraph reported the policy adopted by the director of the BBC documentary ‘The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee’ of not interviewing anyone that might have a bad word to say about the monarchy. It also took a direct appeal to Lord Patten from the anti-royalist group Republic to let them have a mere seven-minute slot on the Today Programme, compared with the hours of inane, sentimental treacle we all had to endure about the band of unelected incompetents that serve as our heads of state.
Less surprisingly, the Guardian was responsible for breaking the appalling story of how jobseekers were made to sleep rough before working gruelling unpaid shifts on the Jubilee pageant. In comparison, the BBC’s coverage was widely thought to be just fawning, repetitive nonsense, with even staunch monarchists denouncing it as tedious. In so doing, at a time when it is needed the most the BBC has unofficially delegated the more interesting, investigative strands of its journalism to other areas of the British media.
And it looks like coverage of the Olympics won’t be that different. The BBC so far has had little to say on the campaign waged by the group Carpenters Against Regeneration Plans (CARP), who have been protesting against the planned demolition, and therefore forcible re-housing, of the group of houses known as the Carpenters Estate in Stratford, East London. The group are outraged that such a decision was taken by Newham Council without residents’ prior warning or consent. However, perhaps the BBC’s silence isn’t surprising given that the ire of the area’s occupants was also raised by permission being granted to the BBC and Al-Jazeera to use two residential towers as broadcasting venues (again, without the consent of those who happen to be, well, living there).
In the same vein, landlords overseeing properties near the Olympic games have been jacking up rental rates at short notice, forcing many tenants out, in the hope of benefiting from increased demand for housing in the East End during London 2012. The BBC has admittedly given some space to the issue. But once again, it was the Guardian that stepped in as a cheerleader for two junior doctors who waged a legal case against a landlord who chose to alert them out of the blue that their rental rate would double during the games.
On a wide scale, the massive corporate sponsorship of the games and the heavy militarisation of the capital has made many Londoners feel alienated from their own city. Similarly, my teeth grind over the fact that I’m forced to hear Boris Johnson’s voice coming out of every speaker in every station, every day. It’s made worse that a man who always claimed to be a cheerleader for cyclists is overseeing an event that disallows them from riding in many of the city’s lanes, which have suddenly been designated as for Olympic athletes only – even if, as this article points out, they’re the safest places for cyclists to be.
BBC coverage was also scant of the recent protest walk from Oxleas Woods to Blackheath Common in Southeast London by people objecting to the illegal closing off of public green spaces, as well as the building of missile sites supposedly for the sake of Olympic security. Compared with the cheerleading and forced jollity of the vast majority of the BBC’s coverage so far, the reality of the Olympics is that it’s left many wondering who the games will actually benefit.
But what’s even more worrying is the wider issue of the BBC refusing to act in the public’s interest. The fear of getting your wings clipped, by the government or other vested interests, has made you toothless as an organisation, turning much of the BBC’s output into bland, uncontroversial fluff, churned out for an audience you believe doesn’t wish to be challenged. It’s a sad situation when state media starts to neuter itself.