Tuesday 7 July 2015

The budget, Sky News and the BBC

If you haven't yet seen the advert for Sky's coverage of today's budget, it's unspeakably awful. And not just on the level that it's as creepy as anything I've seen. But because it represents something outright dangerous.

The advert uses the music "I've been thinking about you", as it shows various people of different ages, ethnicities and genders, as they perform all kinds of tasks, from lollipop ladies to parents to factory workers to bankers to... etc. Except all of these people have George Osborne's face superimposed on top of their own.

So far, so terrifying. And don't get me wrong - the advert is terrifying. You kind of get the idea that it's exactly how George Osborne views the world, in an even-more-disturbing Being John Malkovich kind of way.

It then ends with the tagline "He's been thinking about you" and promises live coverage of the budget on Sky News. Obviously, when you see this, your first thought is of a malevolent kind of Santa Claus figure, who is drawing up a naughty and nice list, except everybody on it is naughty unless they're rich, and instead of coal, he just turns up in your bedroom at the stroke of midnight with an axe.

But it's not the strangeness of the advert, the ineptness of the advert, or the sheer hair-raising terror of the advert that's stuck with me. It's something far more insidious.

Look at how this positions the budget and Osborne himself.

"He's been thinking about you."

This is a thoughtful budget. A budget in which our chancellor has put himself into as many people's metaphorical shoes as possible. One in which he's thought about what each person and each job needs.

And this is a chancellor that is thinking about people of different ages, ethnicities and genders. A chancellor that's genuinely tried to understand each person and their struggles.

It positions it as a thoughtful, considered budget. And it also positions it, naturally, as the right budget. Because it's thoughtful. Because it's considered. And because good old George Osborne has worked long and hard to think about the implications for each person.

This is a news advert, and it promises all the hard journalistic challenge and insight of a slow, soft candle-lit massage.

It's attempted propaganda. It positions Osborne in a specific way, and it positions the budget in a specific way, before it's even been published.

And now let's remember Osborne, just this week, outright attacking the BBC, on the basis that it needs to have its budget cut considerably. Why? Because it's online capabilities means that it's in danger of monopolising the competitive space with newspaper websites.

Obviously, some of those newspapers are owned by Rupert Murdoch. In a similar way that Sky News is. And Murdoch has clear motive to want rid of the BBC.

So, in the same week that Osborne threatens the very existence of the BBC, Sky News puts out an advert for the budget that is more an advert for the thoughtful nature of George Osborne.

This, to me, shows why we need the BBC. Why we need an independent news broadcaster. Because as much as I've sometimes wished that the BBC would be more critical of the government, they've never quite been part of a circle-jerk like this while pretending that it's about independent coverage.

The news and the government should not be quite this chummy.

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