A SIX-MINUTE RECORDED INTERVIEW FOR THE BBC
In August 2012, I rashly responded to an open request on a BBC radio 4 programme ("Saturday Live" - only half of which is actually live) for people who had scammed or blagged a free ride on a train, boat or plane. I had done precisely that after a failed attempt to go and live with Pygmies of the Likouala forest of Northern Congo-Brazzaville. I had simply altered an extremely stressed air-ticket so as to provide a five-hour return flight to Paris instead of a short onward hop from Bangui to Brazzaville. The Air Afrique office in Bangui simply issued a crisp new ticket.
As a result of my impulse to talk about this briefly on the radio, I not only became disillusioned with the production standards of magazine programmes, but started to dredge up what sunken memories I could of the two visits I made to Africa forty years earlier. Eventually I was contacted by the BBC one Thursday, asked to go to Belfast to be interviewed on the Friday, for the programme at 09.00 on Saturday.
I was interviewed by the famous ex-hostage (along with Brian Keenan from Northern Ireland) John McCarthy. To my great surprise, I found him an unnecessarily coercive interviewer. He wouldn't let me give background or say what I wanted to say. I told him I was NOT fleeing the petty 'troubles' in Northern Ireland but the whole stinking, competitive, militant, militarist Christian/Capitalist ethos.
But he wanted to say that I "fled the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Interviewers always have their own agenda, and he (like many) assumed that life was bad in Northern Ireland from 1969 to whenever (2002 ?) But I never saw a bomb, though managed to miss one in a bus-station simply because I went home earlier than i intended.. I sometimes saw soldiers, but then in France at weekends you see armed police by the roadside (looking for Roma to intimidate, perhaps) and in French airports there are soldiers with machine-guns. While we had some 'trouble' in Northern Ireland, Corsica was having something similar, but the French made sure that nobody outside Corsica knew about it. They had a bomb every day there in the 1980s. Where were the journalists and reporters ? In Belfast! Northern Ireland had MUCH more 'coverage' than Bosnia. Mainly because it is easy to get to, and everyone speaks English, and there was very little danger for journalists.
To me London would be a far more horrific place to live than rural Northern Ireland, where a hermit such as myself is left alone. In thirty years I have never locked my house. I don't even have a key to it. Why would I "flee" Northern Ireland ? Granted that the people are unbelievably doltish and rude (because the clever, courteous ones all flee) compared with, say, the country people I know in south-west France, the Atlas mountains, and in Albania.
Not only was my interview distorted, but someone got my name wrong on the sub-literate and completely misleading web-page description of the programme - together with a completely silly picture of what looks like fishermen on the Congo river. My remark that I had always hated the colour of my skin and longed to be black - surely one to get a big response from the large listening audience - was cut.
Why did he not let me say what I wanted and cut it up afterwards, interpolating questions if necessary ? That should be the genius of pre-recorded broadcasting, not bullying interviewees as if they were wasting time on the liveToday programme. He didn't even ask the obvious question - how I fared in Paris in January wearing only shorts, a T-shirt and crude sandals ? (I nicked two woollen blankets on the plane and converted them (on the plane) into a double poncho.) Nor what my philosophy is now (even more anti-competitive/Christian/Crusader/militarist/capitalist now that I have read DEBT - THE FIRST 5,000 YEARS).
At the very end of the brief interview Mr McCarthy asked me if there was a sequel of any kind. But I simply had lost the will to tell him about my (also brief, and productive) love-affair with Albania. That of course would have been a whole other interview.
I went into Broadcasting
House feeling quite jaunty, and left feeling somehow cheated.
The desk staff in Broadcasting
House, Belfast would be fired from any other organisation. Surly is
not the word, even in the surliest and rudest corner of the globe which
is NornIron. Just asking where the toilet was seemed to be an
intolerable intrusion on the overweight carnivore at the desk.
I have been interviewed
before - a couple of times at length in my own home by freelancers
from Dublin and from Tirana. I also took part in a film for BBC about
funeral practices (called THE END). Television of course cannot be
made in a rush, and the filming took a couple of days. I was entirely
happy with October Films (I think that was what they were called)
and the way they cut and presented their material. But never again
will I volunteer for interview with the BBC. If on a six-minute (last-minute,
by the sound of it, since I was contacted by Mr Devlin on Thursday
and asked to go into Belfast on Friday) interview on a weekly magazine
programme the interviewee can be deliberately misrepresented in order
to fit into some smug English preconception about its expensive little
statelet-colony, I can no longer have any faith in the production
values of the BBC. So I must simply regard all its programmes as Infotainment.
This is pretty hard to take, since I have been a listener since
Now that I am alert to Crude Cutting Practices, I have noticed the same sort of thing happen to other interviewees on pre-recorded programmes. On a different 09.00 hrs programme a couple of days later, I noticed that someone else's interview had been crudely cut - and also not well enough because they played one comment - the same clip - twice.
The whole little event is ironic because I had already halved the truth to keep it short - which is of course what journalists (have to) do.
More comment on the declining production-standards of the BBC.