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Saturday, 25 December 2010

Frankie Boyle and X Factor: How Balanced is our Media

When the X Factor - the British mass entertainment talent show - featured their tribute to British soldiers serving and wounded in Afghanistan, the show went out to millions of viewers at peak time. Heroic, stoical, self-sacrificing, patriotic, tragically wounded - that's how the item portrayed the soldiers. Worthy of admiration and charitable donations.

At the time of that broadcast, USBlog pointed out that the issue was not that the soldiers were not deserving of any sympathy or admiration for that matter, but that hero status was being bestowed without thought to the character of the war, and the fact that several hundreds of thousands of Afghans had been killed and wounded in the war there and no mention of that was made nor hinted at. X Factor nailed its political colours to the mast: WE look after our own and we have no concern for anyone else.

A few nights ago, on Channel 4 and late at night, the comedian Frankie Boyle, in characteristically forthright and uncompromising style, argued that when it came to the relative worth of human life, there was no equality. As reported, he stated in relation to the Afghanistan War that "Basically, we are murdering a load of shepherds. What gets me is our callousness as a society when we read out our dead on the news first, because our lives are more important. Other people's aren't worth as much."

The controversy is over what he said next, apparently in the tone and style of a TV newsreader: "A bomb went off in Kandahar today, killing two British servicemen, three UN relief workers and a whole bunch of pakis." The media storm is over the world "pakis".

USBlog agrees that the term - "pakis", a catch-all term used by many to refer to all peoples of south Asia - is offensive. But as used by Boyle, in the voice of a newsreader, use of the term is not only warranted but necessary. It expresses an essential truth that respectable media should sit up and listen to: where does BBC 'balance' go when deaths and casualties are reported and how they are reported. Boyle got it absolutely right - there is no balance: the truly valued human lives are counted in precise numbers, have names, parents, partners, and children. They have a face. Their bodies arrive home, they have funerals. They were somebody.

Typically, the political controversy is over the use of a term: it's not polite. The essential message that Boyle was sending - which so few are willing to do at the height of a deadly war that has attained the status of a TV soap opera - seems to have been drowned out: open your eyes and hearts and see that this war is a tragedy for everyone, not just for the handful of 'our' boys who have been killed or wounded.

Boyle is the one who used a racist term to get his message across: the real, deeper, and endemic racism lies in the routine of British and American, and no doubt other nations', everyday life: in the institutionalised unequal distribution of sympathy and value of human life.