08 February 2009


It's an amazing thing but Dr Grumble once wanted to be a journalist. It was when he was about ten years old. Dr Grumble was beginning to read what were then known as broadsheet newspapers. Perhaps that is what they are still known as but mostly they have since shrunk in size . The reason Dr Grumble wanted to be a journalist was that, in the days before the internet could even have been dreamed of, journalists were a source of 'instant' information about the world. Journalists knew everything and then told everybody else. How clever is that? Dr Grumble wanted to be clever. Dr Grumble's father said nothing about his son's aspirations. He did though show a slight look of dismay and he said something about running with hares and hunting with hounds. It is never a good idea to steer your kids away from some silly notion. They might react by digging their heels ill. It's best to let them find out for themselves.

It has taken Dr Grumble a long time to realise just how bad journalists and people in the media whose job it is to inform the public are. Perhaps they are worse than they were. There are more media than there were. Local radio, the internet, uncountable TV channels - these things just did not exist in Grumble's childhood. Many of Grumble's patients work in 'the media'. With advertising money swilling around the way it once was there have been insatiable demands to fill the air waves. And, since big audiences are what the media moguls want, the aim of the content is to meet the lowest common denominator. So, the Grumble children watch the uncouths of this world like Jeremy Clarkson and Jonathan Ross whose childlike repartee makes society think that behaviour two standard deviations from the norm is acceptable. Dr Grumble would be happier if his kids went instead to the pub, had a few beers and made their own coarse entertainment with their mates. But Grumble, as his children freely tell him when he sounds forth on these matters, is an old fart. Perhaps, as they claim, it really doesn't matter.

But there are things in the media that do matter. They are things to do with truth. Curiously the Grumble children have no interest in seeking after truth. The Grumble generation was different. We were marching on the streets to set the world to rights. We saw the world as good and bad. We were, of course, on the side of the good. Now if you look at the major political parties there are no goodies and baddies. Perhaps, especially if you look at the current financial crisis, they are all baddies. Who can be taken in by criticism of Gordon Brown when David Cameron seemed to be shouting encouragement from the wings? And with all this political greyness has come media collusion. Knocking doctors and particularly GPs at the behest of the government has become a media pastime. Health journalism, if you can call it that, has become an exercise in regurgitation of some government press release written with a Flesch score of 100. Why do journalists not realise that they are being used? Why don't they probe a bit deeper and find the real truth? Why do they never probe and read the source documents? It is because they are lazy and they do not do their jobs properly.

What has started Grumble on this tirade? It is the realisation that we just cannot go on letting our media get away with the utter crap they churn out. It's not the puerile Clarksons and the rude Rosses that are of real concern. They might rile the old farts but, on the scale of things, they just do not matter. It's the lack of intelligent criticism of our policy makers and the sloppy reporting of science and, for that matter, most other topics that need any intelligence to make sense of them that matters. Where, for example, were the journalists that criticised our bankers? Where were the journalists that raised concerns about dodgy mortgages? Where were the journalists to inform us on the value of the mutual organisation? Dr Grumble could go on. Of course there were some good souls who did their jobs. But most just churned out what was fed to them in press releases from greedy bankers. We have all played this game with journalists to get them to write what we want. Even Dr Grumble has written press releases. Even Dr Grumble has been on the telly and the radio to lobby for his cause. But his cause was a good one. At heart he wanted to inform patients. His professional organisation who facilitated some of this had no money to make from these initiatives. They just wanted to inform the public - accurately.

And if you really want to know what has angered Dr Grumble you will need to listen to this.

(Not hosted here for legal reasons)

But Dr Grumble's advice is not to bother. It is the most despicable radio programme Dr Grumble has ever heard.


Dr Grumble said...

Here's an interesting point made by Cedgray on another blog:

It's hard to believe that there isn't some kind of legal restraint made on journalists and broadcasters regarding the dissemination of (e.g.) incorrect medical information that has been shown, in a court of law, if necessary, to be false. If they break that putative law, thereby endangering people, then they get banged up, and have to make a public apology and retraction.

It should have the same measure of legality as practising medicine without a license, or incitement to cause civil unrest...

Naturally you'd have to make it very specific to medical knowledge, otherwise it'd be misused by naughty governments to silence dissenters, and there would still need to be a channel through which people could argue about a topic, but not one by which they could actually broadcast their dangerous ignorance all over the country while they're doing it, just to chase ratings with the old 'manufactured controversy' ploy.

Sure, journalists and broadcasters should have their rights – NEED to have their rights – but they really should be balanced with responsibilities as well.


Well done, Cedgray. It is certainly the case that any doctor who spouted the drivel we have heard on LBC would be struck off the register. The reason for this is that the public need to be protected from maverick doctors. So why shouldn't the public be protected from maverick broadcasters who attract unwarranted gravitas by virtue of their medium and have the potential to cause very much more harm than a doctor working one to one?

It's a shame to have to go this way but, as you say, with the ability to broadcast comes responsibility. LBC have been thoroughly irresponsible over this. It grieves me to say it but it seems you may have a point and that there is a role for better regulation or even legislation. The broadcasters have brought this on themselves. Their brazen use of copyright lawyers has served to exacerbate the situation.

Betty M said...

You need something like the Advertising Standards Authority I suppose - an advert for some woo meister saying what the ludicrous JB said could never have got away with it. As for JBarnett - noone who appears on Loose Women should ever be taken seriously - they spout nonsense on every issue not only MMR.

Anonymous said...

That's all fairly hard to disagree with, as a journalist and editor. We have, unfortunately, got the media we have settled for - and therefore deserve.

Dr Grumble said...

Thanks for your comment, Andy. It's a small world. You won't remember but you have met Dr Grumble!

Anonymous said...

For all its stated lack of apathy and inclination to occupy the refectory, what did your generation actually achieve politically, Dr G? Except for nurturing and sustaining the Thatcher government?

I'm not sure that your generation have all that much to be proud of given that it has proven unmatched in wealth accumulation thereby causing the many disparities and vested interests driving the very phenomena you outline.

You views are normally well considered but in this case your rose tinted spectacles are perhaps too thick. The world is not and has never been black and white. As a clinician, you of all people should know that.


Dr Grumble said...

Unusually for Grumble he slipped into the first person. Actually Grumble did not march on the streets. Some of the protests of years ago were plain daft. When Dr G matriculated there were students protesting outside the ceremony. "Matriculation makes you blind," was their ludicrous chant. And it is true that those who went on the marches are the very people who are responsible for what we have now. And it has astonished Grumble how their views have done an about-turn.

So I don't really see that era through rose-tinted spectacles. The opposite in fact. Grumble was not really part of it. But it does seem that people were then active in political matters and that now there is a political emptiness. And that could be bad. Do you really want the country to be run by the former protesters who have regrouped into powerful low-profile organisations like Common Purpose? Or would you like the young to be involved via political channels?