"Nonstop imagery is our surround, but when it comes to remembering, the photograph has the deeper bite....
In an era of information overload, the photograph..is like a quotation, or a maxim or proverb."
(Susan Sontag: Regarding the Pain of Others 2003)

31 October, 2008

Just call me Cassandra: Ross, Brand, Assisted Suicide & how Auntie finally lost the plot...

This image: copyright: BBC

Regular readers are now invited to call me Cassandra. In every post over the last six to eight weeks, I have suggested that editors – picture & otherwise – would be digging out (& paying good money for) all those slightly frothier stories to leaven the now heavy old daily bread of market meltdown, R-R-recession, clocks going back, climate change & the ‘null point’ mambo which is Westminster.

Yet there has been a decidedly surreal twist to the headlines of late. Metropolitan snow in October? Nat Goldsmith fingers ex-mate Osborne for hanging with dodgy oligarch? Peter Mandelson in ermine? But in wildest dreams, could anyone seriously have conjured up the “storm in a teacup” fiasco that is the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand "Mucky Messages" saga?

To date, I have remained neutral on "Manuelgate", leaving the sticky involvement of divisive opinion to titans of media analysis, such as Gordon Brown & David Cameron.

Not that I cannot see the Vaudevillian attractions of the story: its two classic villains - lisping dandies, Wossy & Bwand; token good guy, Mark Thompson – (who should actually wear that metaphorical dog collar full time;) innocent victim, Andrew Sachs, a much-loved national treasure, familiar from a thousand reassuring voice-overs, not to mention his role in the ultimate classic comedy series. Add to this cocktail, Sachs' childhood escape from Nazi Germany. It’s a very potent formula – even before you throw in granddaughter, Georgina – (AKA Voluptua of the Satanic Sluts, now, of course, represented by PR "guru” Max Clifford). Some how, I keep expecting BBC Biz Ed. R.Peston to pop up somewhere in this headline story.

Until recently, the only winners in the entire row were Associated Newspapers, whose Mail on Sunday organ kicked up all the fuss, splashing with the story on October 26th, more than a week after the original broadcast was aired (with only two formal complaints to the BBC).

But last Wednesday, I finally allowed myself to get angry. “Manuelgate” led every single BBC News bulletin for more than 48 hours - & was also prominently flagged by many other headline media outlet programmes. On the very same day, Debbie Purdy, 45, (below) an MS sufferer from Bradford, failed in the most recent chapter of her bid to get the High Court to clarify the law on assisted suicide. Debbie remains compos mentis but is now mainly confined to a wheelchair. Not at all unreasonably, she wants clarification on whether or not her husband, Omar Puente, would be prosecuted, were he to accompany her to a Swiss euthanasia clinic.

By any reasonable criteria, Debbie Purdy’s story would have led every news bulletin that day. Our ageing population, increasingly sophisticated palliative medicine and general anxiety about facing the vexed question of how we might all eventually shuffle off this mortal coil should be far more generally discussed & debated. Instead, editors chose to focus on the Ross/Brand/BBC saga. At the same time, a human catastrophe of extraordinary proportions is unfolding in Congo. But how many papers will that sell?