Monday, 28 February 2011

Middle East Expert

Sky News HD graphicsImage via WikipediaWatching Sky News last night, I was infuriated to see, once again, a random person interviewed and billed on the strapline as a 'Middle East Expert'. It's something I hate with a passion, to the point where I got told off for talking at the TV again. Yes, I really am turning into a grumpy, spittle-flecked old bastard.

This awful, lazy habit of validating people with a label rather than a credential is a major problem with mainstream media. When we've got The Observer trotting out the canard that we need 'proper' journalists to give us more trustworthy sources of information than 'citizen journalists', we're obviously being told to sit back and trust our media, take whatever they feed us as gospel and meekly accept that someone who Sky News calls a 'Middle East Expert' is, indeed an expert. And on the Middle East, at that.

And yet that's a great deal less validation than I'd expect of a source on Twitter, say. Who says he's an expert? What's the measure of expertise? Why not give his title, which presumably would be Dean of Middle Eastern Studies at London University or Middle East Analyst at the United Nations? Or is the problem that he's a lobbyist, baker or perhaps a candlestick maker? Don't get me wrong: I don't care if he's a candlestick maker if he's making sense and putting forward a credible argument. But I still want to know what he is so I can filter my judgement of what he's got to say.

I see this process all the time myself. I'm the Group Account Director of Spot On Public Relations. I'm a PR guy. I'll accept communications consultant. Media don't like to put 'PR guy' out there against their nice, glib commentator, so they like to change my job title. I have been a 'social media expert' (ugh) and once, to my extreme, squirming embarrassment, a 'social media guru'. I have been, on many occasions a 'blogger' and even a 'prominent blogger' and, again once, a 'leading blogger'. Would you trust a 'leading blogger' or a 'PR guy'?

It's a no brainer, isn't it?

When I shot a scene for Piers Morgan in Dubai, I gave the producer my business card. On the segment, I appear in the desert with the immortal words, 'Ex-journalist and blogger' under my name. Not 'Group Account Director' or 'Public Relations Professional'. 'Ex-jounalist' neatly rubs away the vague, if evaporating taint that comes with 'blogger'.

So you can only begin to wonder at the vested interest disguised by 'Middle East Expert' or 'Defence Expert'. It infuriates me precisely because I know how very dishonest the practice is - from a media that insists on telling us that it is the only trustworthy source out there these days.

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Sangeetha Sridhar said...

No wonder why we have to take media with a pinch-of salt. May be more at sensational times.

Thanks for this nice post.

Mich said...

Well said! In all my professional life... more than 35 years of it (*sigh*) I have never had a business card (when these were still the norm) or a title. I was always proud to be a Jack-of-all-trades and maybe a master of none... but not labeled! :-)

Jihad Punk XXX said...

notice the New York Times always makes sure to get Jewish experts to speak on the Israel-Palestine issues. We all know the NYT is notoriously pro-Zionist. Rarely do they ever approach Palestinian experts or Arab experts to speak about that touchy subject. Ahh yes.

The mainstream media is full of whores who are only interested in money and furthering their agenda. They do not care about reporting events or giving us a straight analysis of the news.

2square1 said...

The problem is in the mushrooming of the number of media channels... the competition for viewership/ readership is high you might have 3 real subject experts but 30 TV channels who are covering a they just "create" experts for a story because they have no option :)

Dave said...

Definately makes you want to question what is dished up to you by the media and not blindly accept their "news and views" as trustworthy or untainted with bias.

Rootless said...

Or perhaps the real problem is encapsulated in the first three words of your post?
And that even after you already have found your way to AJE (not to mention whatever grudge it is that you have against the BBC)...

Geordie Armani said...

I think I will get some cards made with the following title.

Unpaid Maid, Driver, Gardener, Cook and Twit

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