Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Comment Is Free? Radio Presenters and Bigotry

As regular readers know I drive a lot, around 360-400 miles per week so I listen to a lot of radio. I am not interested in talk radio, I want music with the occasional witty comment thrown in between the songs. However, even on mainstream local music radio there seems to be an increasing desire by the presenters to make comments which I feel are increasingly bigoted. I protested about a couple of presenters on one local radio station whose area I used to pass through regularly. Often they would complain about immigration and how people from abroad were talking school places and how every doctor they met in a hospital was a foreigner and so on. I know this view is popular in the UK at the present, but it is not the kind of thing that I want rammed down my throat every day I could hear it in any bar or cafe that I choose to visit. My complaint was dismissed as I was the only person who had complained and one of the senior staff at the radio station came back at me all indignant saying my complaint was an insult given all the work the station did to promote racial equality. I had no dispute with their policies off air, but in fact that suggested the management should give more guidance to their presenting staff whose declarations on air not only offend but are clearly out of step with the ethics the management feel the station has. Of course I took the response that remained open to me and simply stopped listening to that station.

Back in the same area today I listened to one of the original station's rivals and their presenter tries to set up controversial topics though generally quite safe, such as who do people think killed Princess Diana. The one that infuriated me and showed the situation in which such presenters should not embark on making comments without doing some research. The presenter thinks that the ritual around the Olympic Flame is silly anyway and yet he was more angered by the pro-Tibet protests made during its passage especially in France. He said that no-one should make a fuss about Tibet as it has been Chinese for thousands of years and anyway was a backward, theocratic state, so in terms of human rights was hardly better than China itself. Of course Tibet fell from being an empire itself in the 8th to 11th centuries and formed part of the Mongol, not the Chinese, Empire from the 13th to 16th centuries. Whilst the Chinese and British Empires chipped away at the Tibetan Empire through the 19th century, with the British forcing it out of Nepal, Tibet only really became a vassal state of China in 1856 and its military were expelled in 1895. In 1904-11 Tibet was invaded by the British. Subsequently the Chinese asserted their claims to Tibet but in the warlord period of 1911-27 were unable to reassert it. By the 1940s Tibet was acting as an independent state with relations with Britain, India and the USSR amongst others.

Tibet was invaded by China in 1950-1 and has effectively been an occupied country ever since. This event may have occurred a year before the presenter was born (though the fighting for Tibet did not end until 1959) but it is hardly thousands of years of domination. Ireland was controlled by Britain for far longer and yet no-one would complain that its battles for independence were not justified in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cornwall has been controlled by England since the 10th century and been part of the Kingdom of England since the 11th century and yet that does not stop many people campaigning for it to become separate. Similarly Scotland was bound to England in 1707 and yet again people are campaigning for independence and have gained more than the Tibetans have for their area of China.

As for human rights every citizen in the world has a right to protest about the abuse of their fellow humans, that is not a local or a national issue, it is a global one and no-one should shy away from protesting against the bad treatment of others. The British seem more willing often to protest over the rights for animals in other countries than they are over the rights of people. China's poor human rights record has now been sustained for almost 60 years under the same regime making it far more enduring and affecting millions more people, say, than the regime of Saddam Hussein (1979-2003) or the Taliban in Afghanistan (1996-2001) both of which the USA felt it right to overthrow.

Why are the British so happy to almost literally kow-tow to the Chinese? It comes down to the philosophy that 'might is right' and might not in military terms because as was seen in the 1980s Western governments were happy to challenge the nuclear-armed superpower the USSR, but might in terms of economic power which China has cannily added to its arsenal which already included the largest army in terms of troops, nuclear weapons, satellites and missiles. I wonder if the radio presenter has shares in a company involved in China or seeking to invest there. I accept that the government of Tibet could hardly be seen as enlightened and the world is not sympathetic to theocracies. However, importantly it was the government of Tibet for Tibetans, not a foreign colonising power as China is. Once the Tibetan government is restored then we can begin talking about changing the country's political system. However, a government in exile will always find it impossible to alter to reflect democratic demands and if Tibet had remained independent it is most likely it would have evolved politically anyway. Currently its system is frozen in the 1950s and that has to change.

Radio presenters do have a duty to stimulate thought, though probably not on music radio. He could go on to Radio 4 or some other talk station and fit in far better. What they have to realise is that they do wield a lot of power and the attitudes they express influence thousands of people very easily. Given the widespread condemnation of China's role in Tibet and human rights record it is terrible that such a barbaric approach receives airtime support in parts of the UK with no opportunity to be challenged.

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