Wednesday, 9 October 2013

It's not all bad: how to feel better about Britain

Just some of our amazing fellow citizens
How often do you watch or read the news and feel that it’s only ever bad, and that it leaves you wondering whether you’ve strayed into the Slough of Despond?

And even if you don’t fall into a trap of assuming that the unrelenting drip, drip of crime and corruption and scandal is a mirror of society as a whole, it can still give you a sense of being rather depressed by it all.

Last night’s Pride of Britain awards were, for precisely those reasons, a very good antidote.

Yes, there was a red carpet and yes, there were plenty of celebrities to hand out the awards, but the winners themselves were, for the most part, hardly household names.

Yet each had a story of courage or dedication that had seen them take the stage to receive an award.

There was Margaret Aspinall, the mother of one of the Hillsborough dead, who has never given up campaigning for justice for the 96.

Karin Williams, a lollipop lady from Wales, threw herself in front of an out-of-control car to save a group of children – and remains, for the present, in a wheelchair.

Every Saturday night, 86-year-old Anne Scarfe goes out with a team of volunteers in Plymouth to help young people get home safely after an evening on the tiles.

The members of the RNLI flood rescue team in Devon were honoured for their bravery.

Twins Trevor and Ray Powles, now in their 70s, suffered TB as young men, but then dedicated their lives to becoming doctors, and have made enormous steps forward in the understanding and treatment of breast cancer and leukaemia respectively.

After nine years without a job, Clifford Harding felt that his life was going nowhere, but he developed a way of helping children to learn their times table by using rap.

June Kelly founded and runs a football team in Cheetham Hill, one of the most deprived areas of the country, where she’s helped to keep youngsters off the streets and out of trouble – her team has even been lauded for the politeness of the players.

Sharon Grey was named teacher of the year for turning around a school near Nottingham that was threatened with closure, while 12-year-old Balie Kershaw won for giving CPR as he waited for an ambulance to arrive after his father had suffered a massive heart attack.

An award also went to Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager that the Taliban tried to murder because she was campaigning for education for girls. As the possibility has been raised that she might win the Nobel Peace Prize, the Taliban has said that it is committed to trying to kill her again and will be “proud” if it can do so.

And so the stories went on.

It would take a very hardened cynic to have maintained a dry eye throughout – and I happily admit that even I am not that cynical.

So many ordinary (what does that even mean?) people doing remarkable, generous things – or even just overcoming incredible odds. It was a humbling yet uplifting watch.

Good news rarely makes the headlines – audiences seem wedded to sensational and negative stories: or rather, news organisations tend to have decided that that is the case and that that is what they will provide.

And it can warp perceptions. For instance, when did you ever read a report about a social worker who has successfully saved a child from an abusive home?

The answer is that you won’t have: social workers feature in the news when things go wrong, and then there’s a culture in a large section of the news media of vilifying them – often because of a barely-veiled ideological hatred of the public services/state/PC etc.

It’s important to say that it’s not always easy for news media to find good-news stories and give them prominence – I know, having been a duty chief sub editor on a national paper, and having made the sort of decisions that I’m referring to.

In those days, I tried to balance out the usual unpleasant or ‘serious’ news at least a little with, if nothing else, one ‘happy’ picture in an edition. And – I hope it goes without saying – a fact-based, non-hysterical approach to the rest of the news, which can also make a difference.

As Fleet Street Fox rather nicely illustrated in her Mirror column yesterday, the Daily Mail is unlikely to be involved with a Pride of Britain awards scheme any time soon.

But unfortunately, the Mail is believed by many of those who read it: its brand of bile really does inform how many people see this country, even while they somehow continue to think that it is a respectable, honest and truthful organ.

It is none of those things.

I glanced through a copy of the Mail this morning: there was nothing about the Pride of Britain awards. Well, you didn’t really expect there to be, did you?

After all, Paul Dacre and his pack of attack dogs aren’t interested in anything other than serving the whims of their master, the tax exile Lord Rothermere.

And if that means drip-feeding the readership an addictive diet of brutalising, hate-filled paranoia, so be it.

Yet in the last 10 days, the Mail has gone into an overdrive of nastiness, almost as though this will convince some that self-regulation of the industry is working (honest) and should be allowed to continue.

Pride of Britain was a welcome antidote to all the negativity – not least from a publication that really does seem to hate the Britain that we live in today.

On the other hand, if Dacre were to spontaneously combust any time soon – preferably live on TV, facing questions about why he’s such a nasty, hate-sprewing piece of work – it would doubtless make one of the jolliest stories anyone has read for years.

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