The trolling of Emily Maitlis is, apart from much else, emblematic of what the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)’s news operation has become in an effort to compete with Rupert Murdoch’s rolling, visually-arresting 24 hour “news” coverage. In this model, all content emanates from an unspoken neo-liberal world view; newsreaders become self-awarded experts on every subject and have to compete with reporters, correspondents, editors and even weather presenters for a place in viewers’ ever-decreasing attention spans.
While Sky products unashamedly use stereotypically “attractive” male/female presenters to grab consumers’ attention, public service broadcasters like the BBC are perhaps more squeamish in this regard, at least for the moment. The condescending (again unspoken) tradeoff of not employing such obvious “eye candy” to present the same Neo-Lib agenda is that presenters are assumed to have more substance than style.
Especially, of course, female presenters. Males are by and large expected to wear suits and ties (Murdoch also has his wearing little pin badges, like the U.S. politicians who wear the stars and stripes, lest we forget where they’re from); women on camera have a whole different minefield to negotiate. So if a woman appears not to be dressed by the same wardrobe department as her counterpart on pay-per-view, we are presumably complicit in thinking it safe to assume she knows what she’s talking about.
This is a dangerous, as well as sexist, presumption. While it reinforces misogynist attitudes and adds to the “trolling” of women presenters, it also militates towards a lack of criticism of the content of the presentations, which become more like pronouncements of fact rather than the reporting of opinion.
Where a balanced report would give weight to opinion reflecting that in the real world (most people think the Earth orbits the sun, some don’t…), news presenters today give equal weight to any opinion, and finish with a “certainty,” such as “this one will run and run;” a vacuous statement repeated several times an hour on any given news channel.
Attention-grabbing is the name of the game in the 24/7 news factory. The fact that, in the case of public services broadcasters, the wages of these self-promoters are paid by the consumers of whatever happens to come out of their mouths, without any recourse, is the final insult. The sooner they go where they belong the better; a scrap of comfort to those who care about public broadcasting.