Once again I return to my growing “disquiet” over news headlines and the feeling that I’m not always getting the full story.

A & E Waiting Times

Austerity measures worldwide are biting hard and Great Britain is no different. The big news story over the last few weeks has been the waiting lists at A&E (accident and emergency) units in English hospitals, where it is stipulated that patients should be seen within four hours of arrival. Many hospitals have failed to comply with this “mission statement” and the BBC is heralding a website where hospitals A&E statistics can be viewed by the public. My husband heard on a BBC Radio 5live breakfast show a caller reporting his local hospital had a 75% rating for A&E admissions. There was outrage from other callers and the studio presenters. Out of curiosity Rob checked our local hospital’s stats and found a rating of 61%. Neither of us is a bit surprised though as the hospital is a recent new build development to replace older stock. However, there are fewer beds provided in the new facility and thus fewer staff to monitor patients and less ancillary staff to run the place. This reduction also falls in line with “austerity measures” put in place to save money. The population of the area has not fallen; in fact it has probably increased. It isn’t rocket science to work out fewer beds and medical staff for more people means increased waiting. And I know for a fact this has been going on since at least last summer, because the hospital I volunteer at in another county has picked up some of the fallout. Suddenly with winter deepening the issue is big news. What angers me is that the BBC by advocating the name and shame website is creating fear and alarm. Although being in possession of the facts can be useful at times, it will be no good to the sick person at the back of an ambulance being driven to the nearest hospital.

Prescriptions to Pay or Not To Pay

My husband and I both use regular prescription medication and each of us has an annual pre-paid certificate to cover costs. In this way we save a bit of money and remove the need to pay on the spot for items. Apparently the government is considering introducing a database naming those individuals who qualify for free prescriptions, in an attempt to stamp out prescription fraud. The matter-of-fact headline stated “with 9 out of 10 prescriptions being free this is a serious issue”. I realise that under 16s, full-time education, the elderly, unemployed and sufferers with certain conditions are exempt, but the rest of us pay. Perhaps if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland figures are lumped in with England the numbers add up, since the other three home nations don’t pay prescription fees. But if Rob and I sat in a room with eight other patients we would highlight the falsehood of such a sweeping statement. It proves to me what I have always thought “you can make numbers say whatever you want”.

Water Shortages in Northern Ireland

On Monday 19th January 2015 I was appalled to see a news feature showing people in certain parts of Northern Ireland melting snow for water. A pension’s dispute between Northern Ireland Water and their employees had meant a work to rule policy and no out of hours repair work going on. As a result NI Water customers involving thousands of properties and households had endured disrupted water supplies for weeks. The dispute had begun before Christmas but this was the first time I was aware of the issue on the main news. Again I had the feeling of being fed “selective news” as this should have been flagged up much sooner. The industrial action by NI Water was suspended on Wednesday 21st January. Perhaps this issue from NI was dwarfed by the bigger story concerning the Stormont government taking so long to agree their budget plans. Austerity measures have not hit the area quite so much and the NI assembly has effectively spent money it never really had. Now they have to claw back some of that deficit by making severe cuts. The NI Water pensions dispute that involved an increase in employees personal contributions, may well have resulted from the cutbacks central government has to make.

Britain & the United States (a special relationship?)

During David Cameron’s visit to see President Obama in Washington a BBC reporter referred to the President as “considered a bit of a rock-star in Europe (if not at home) and that Cameron would hope to bask in some of that reflected glory during this election year”. I’m not really sure Barack Obama does have such a high rating in Europe, but I can easily believe David Cameron would use anyone/anything to make him look better. My initial reaction was that of the typical “fawning attitude from the BBC toward anything USA”. I say this cautiously, but it does seem to me that when the USA sneezes Great Britain catches the cold. I remember just before the London Olympics opened in 2012, an Israeli tourist bus travelling to the airport from a Bulgarian seaside resort was blown up by a suicide bomber. I remember the spectre of Munich 1972 springing to my mind. Shortly after the bus bombing, a man dressed as the nemesis of Batman opened fire in a cinema in the Aurora district of Denver Colorado. The bus bombing story was largely dropped from our news headlines and for days (4 or 5) Denver was the main story. Surely for the security of the world, an Israeli bus bomb loosely attributed to Syria and its civil unrest, merits more importance than a domestic dispute in the USA. With London about to host the biggest sporting event in the world, the threat from potential international terrorism was far more serious and relevant to us. But you would never have known, as the daily news was filled with issues regarding the “American right to bear arms” mantra.

Grab the Headlines

Headlines grab the attention and the emphasis on words in a spoken report can make a huge difference in how you respond to a story. Two big news items from the latter part of 2014 instantly come to mind in this regard. This is how both stories sounded to me, with the words in bold being the ones emphasised during news reports.

Ashya King a SICK CHILD TAKEN FROM HOSPITAL WITHOUT PERMISSION by his parents who are JEHOVAH WITNESSES. This little boy was removed by his loving and well meaning parents after disagreements regarding his care plan. An international arrest warrant was issued, the Kings jailed and Ashya put under police protection and prevented from family contact for several days. I noticed the BBC quickly dropped the reference to the family religion probably in case of calls of discrimination. But it was clear from the beginning that the reference was meant to imply that the family were refusing treatment for the boy. This was not the case; they were seeking an alternative care plan instead. Once the dust settled and some sense was brought to the matter, Ashya received the treatment his parents wanted in Europe. He seems to have responded well to the therapy but remains in Europe with his parents, as they fear a return to Britain will result in them losing custody of him to the authorities.

OSCAR PISTORIUS GETS FIVE YEAR JAIL SENTENCE. Yes he was given that term but a technicality within the framework of the sentence means that he will only be required to serve TEN MONTHS in jail, the remainder of the term being on licence I presume. To me, the smaller jail time issue is a far bigger headline, when you consider that a life was taken however unintentional. But you have to admit it does not have the same sensational impact as the Five Year term. I also wondered at the time WHY the BBC felt it necessary to present day after day live coverage of the trial’s duration, when it had nothing to do with anything related to the British judiciary. I think Oscar’s fame and celebrity had more to do with the decision than the desire to see South African justice being done!

Despite my misgivings regarding news coverage in Great Britain, I still believe we have a fantastic news system with the BBC. It is far better in its range and impartiality than many other nations press core. On listening to the BBC World News Service on the radio, I marvel at some of the incredible in depth reports presented on minority subject areas. Yet for the mainstream TV news reports, I still can’t shake off at times the distinct feeling that an agreed “national party line” is being kept, and that coverage of subjects depends on an agreed agenda for the day.


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