Friday, January 03, 2014

New year, new debate...

It's probably true to say that there has not been a furore over PJ Harvey's guest editorship of the Today programme yesterday. 37 complaints to the BBC means it barely registers on the Richter scale of disquiet.

And the response of the usual right of centre suspects only confirms that the programme probably got it about right if it's aim was to offer an alternative view of the world to the one usually served up by the mainstream media - including the BBC. Colin Bloom of the Conservative Christian  Fellowship spoke of it being 'incomprehensible liberal drivel'. I assume that applied as much to Rowan Williams as it did to Julian Assange. And Stephen Glover in the Mail suggested it was 'silly, frivolous and unpatriotic'.

What neither 'critic' (and I use the term loosely) offered was a reason. It seems that for some, debate means dismissing the views of those you disagree with as not worthy of attention. So Harvey is clearly 'unpatriotic' (the unforgivable sin in the warped world of the Daily Mail) and therefore not to be taken seriously; or worse to be silenced as dangerous (as they attempted to do in the misjudged abuse of Ed Milliband's father last year). The fact that Colin didn't understand what was being said should have had him reaching for a dictionary not the twittersphere.

We need to debate ideas. This means that we listen to one another - especially those we disagree with. This is something we learn in church (something Rowan was alluding to yesterday in his thought for the day). We hear voices from many places offering different perspectives, different takes on the common journey on which we find ourselves. It is in this process, according to Paul, that we discern the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2), that we gain a modicum of wisdom.

Given the depth of the hole our country is in with poverty growing, social division reaching epic proportions, and shared values fraying at the seams, we need a debate not the casual dismissal of views of we don't like.

This was the Corinthian problem. They thought the people with the loudest voices, the most arcane theologies and largest bank balances were the ones who deserved to be listened to. Furthermore, they thought everyone else - including Paul - should get with the programme, fall into line or at least have the good grace to shut up. Paul, of course, suggested that such thinking was both secular and childish, that it damaged the body - whether that was the body ecclesiastical or the body politic. What he suggested instead was that people listen to each other - and that maybe we give equal prominence to those voices that society tends to dismiss  - the poor, less well-placed, immigrant, disabled (1 Corinthians 12).

Such an approach to debate might lead to something creative emerging out of the gathering sense of anomie, the deep frustration of those who feel they have gone unheard for too long. Apparently, 2014 is the year it's all going to kick off. I, for one, can't wait to get stuck in.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Something to get up for

Well, today was a first for me. I listened to the Today programme on iPlayer, because I had to hear it again!

I woke this morning as usual at 6:15am, put the radio on and was treated to an erudite, somewhat left-field analysis of the place of the City of London in the life of the nation. This was followed by a wonderful critique of the politics of sport introduced by the flat voiced Rob Bonnet. I wondered if I was tuned to the right station. But I was.

And the contributions kept getting better - Rowan Williams reading his poetry, John Pilger at his polemic best taking the media to task for not reporting the facts, even Tom Waits singing about the weather in the run up to the 6:58 forecast!

And the reason for all this? PJ Harvey was guest editor and wanted to give the programme a fresh twist. She certainly did that - and some! I've no doubt there'll be a lot of whining about objectivity and propaganda but I'd be delighted if Polly Jean were to guest edit the show once a week. It would restore the balance that people are always banging on about by giving us the chance to hear a different set of witnesses from the world's coalface.

Fantastic stuff - thanks BBC (that three hours on its own was worth my licence fee for this year) and thanks PJ Harvey for your creativity, wit and chutzpah!