Richard North, 27/06/2017  

The Prime Minister made a statement in the House. It was followed by a Government press release announcing formal proposal in the form of a White Paper on "Safeguarding the Position of EU Citizens Living in the UK and UK Nationals Living in the EU". For citizens of EU Member States, there is then an explanatory booklet.

Putting all this prodigious effort together, it seems the Government has really gone the extra mile in the communication stakes. Yet, it seems, more than a million foreign workers are preparing to leave the UK within five years, and the Independent thinks it's a "sinister deal".

As for me, I neither know nor care. When I look at the details, my eyes blur. But then, neither I nor anyone else in the UK matters. The test will be how the EU negotiators respond. If they buy into it, then we've made progress. If they make it a sticking point, we could be wasting many months while we attempt to reach a common position.

Whatever else, this is not precisely what the Commission wants. It was looking for the rights of all expats to be preserved in full – which isn't going to happen. And it wanted any deal to come under the jurisdiction of the ECJ. And that isn't going to happen. Thus, at a very early date, we're going to see the colour of the Commission's eyes. And either the "colleagues" are going to back down, or we are. I'll let you guess who.

As it stands, citizens from EU Member States are going to have to go through a shed-load of bureaucracy to get to keep their places in the rain, and there is plenty of scope for anomalies and any amount of bureaucratic cock-ups – enough to give the Guardian and its fellow travellers a prolific new source of copy. In fact, we could be in on the creation of a whole now genre of journalism: the "Brexit victims".

Already, this champion of everybody's rights (unless you're a white, Anglo-Saxon male who isn't called Jeremy Corbyn) is talking about a "sour taste", while Barnier is calling for "more ambition".

Meanwhile, Mrs May has bought off the mad Ulstermen (and women) with a £1 billion bribe – which, I suppose, is better than giving it to the "colleagues". Together with the growing number of high-rise blocks which have their cladding fail the fire test, this is keeping the legacy media busy. Citizens' wrongs look to be a slow burn.

But then, forest fires burn harder during the late summer which, perversely, may be just what we need. Over the water, in Ireland, RTÉ's flagship current affairs programmes are finding Brexit coverage a problem as it is considered boring and a "turn-off" for viewers.

This is according to David Nally, managing editor. News bulletins are ratings-sensitive and, while some of the state broadcaster's current affairs coverage competes well with football or entertainment shows on other channels, staff are finding that Brexit is an audience "turn-off".

Nally says: "You have to bear in mind that those programmes have 30 seconds at the top of the programme to persuade people to watch them. One answer as to why Brexit coverage comes over as "boring" because it is "complex and it lacks real people", but the better answer is that, over the year the issues haven't really changed.

"It is a difficulty", he adds, "to keep saying the same thing over and over to people, especially when you can't show them that it's affecting real people's lives, that it's changing, or that the big players, the big decision-makers are appearing on the programme".

Actually, I can understand the sentiment here, even if I don't agree with it. The problem with Brexit is that neither journalists nor politicians understand the underlying issues. They thus keep churning over the basics without bringing anything new or interesting to the table. There are only so many times one can listen to idiot politicians explaining how little they know about customs unions.

At least we seem to have a sort of an ally in Fionnán Sheahan, editor of the Irish Independent. He "disagrees strongly" with anybody who suggests that Brexit is a boring topic". "What happened 12 months ago was a game-changer across this country and if we're not going to cover a topic like that comprehensively and throw any and all available resources at it, then I don't know why we are in journalism", he said.

Paul O'Neill, the newly appointed editor of the Irish Times', said the paper had published around 1,000 articles on Brexit over the past year. He added: "There is interest, but it really is nothing extraordinary".

Sebastian Hamilton of the Irish Daily Mail says that journalists need to employ critical thinking around their coverage – something for which they are not exactly famous. But Ian Kehoe, editor of the Sunday Business Post said Brexit had impacted everything while affecting nothing. He said newspapers ran the risk of "Brexit fatigue" with their readers.

In a nutshell, though, Brexit isn't boring – it's the media coverage that makes it so. For most of my adult life, it has been a family ritual to have the evening meal early, while we watch the six o'clock evening news. But more and more, I find the coverage so superficial as to be irritating, while the way broadcast media these days report the news I find patronising and lightweight. Minutes in, I'm reaching for the programme changer.

This is exacerbated by the politicians who have nothing interesting to say on a subject of very great interest, driving people away through repetition of the same limited repertoire.

This issue of expat rights is a case in point. It seems to have been on the agenda forever, getting nowhere very slowly. All the substantive issues are waiting in the wings but virtually nothing is said of them, concealing a sombre truth that few politicians or journalists are capable of saying anything of any great interest about them.

As to the media attitude, there is a clue in the comment from Nally in his saying that the subject is "complex and it lacks real people". This reflects the inability of journalists to get to grips with the complexity, and their obsession with personalities.

On any one day collectively, the Discovery documentary programmes attract millions of viewers – I sometime find myself watching them instead of the news. Yet these are the very essence of issue-led broadcasting, which journalists can't seem to master. Unless their clips have "slebs" or "victims" which can be cobbled together to represent "human interest", they're all at sea.

With the expat issue now to the fore, I fear the worst. Potentially, it combines all the undesirable features of modern journalism under one cover. The media have got their "real people", who can take centre-stage as a never-ending procession of "Brexit victims". There will be no stopping them now.

comments powered by Disqus

Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
Brexit - the first year - New e-book by Richard North
Buy Now

Log in

Sign THA
Think Defence

The Many, Not the Few