Sunday, October 9, 2011

The British Media

The people of the United Kingdom are woefully ill-served by the media when it comes to their reporting of portable antiquities issues. One might understand the tabloids excitedly reporting the "little man makes good/ gets rich/ makes a lucky find" stories. That's the sort of "everybody's five minutes of fame" thing tabloid newspapers write. Their reports frequently stress the monetary aspects of a "find", that "the experts" are amazed ("dumbfounded")/ surprised/ delighted, that "unemployed father of six Joe was just about to pack up for the day but decided to stop and dig one last signal on his way back to his car" and suchlike anecdotes, followed by an equally fatuous little human interest story recounted by the archaeologist ("the equivalent of a Roman brothel's takings for several months") to show how "important" the 798th pot full of coins this year is.

The interesting thing is that what used to be the 'big' papers, the Times, Telegraph, Guardian and independent all follow exactly the same pattern. The Portable Antiquities Scheme's press office (the BM press office) gives out some detailed press releases and most newspapers, whether tabloids or not, follow precisely the story as given. Investigative journalism about portable antiquities is not fashionable. It's easier just to recast what the PAS gave the journalist. Recently there has been only a single article which steps outside the sycophantic "metal detectorists are good for archaeology" bla-bla scheme imposed by PAS press releases. This was Richard Owen of the Independent about an upcoming TV proposal about which the archaeological world (atypically when it comes to anything the PAS are up to) has some reservations. The rest of the newspapers "arts" journalists (who usually cover the Portable Antiquities Scheme events and press releases) rarely step outside their role of being passive transmitters of what the PAS tells them to say about metal detecting. This is very odd because a few years ago with the next breath the very same journalists were writing about looting in Iraq and Afghanistan, without asking themselves what is the difference between digging archaeological artefacts out of the ground in a site at Isin (Iraq) or Islip (England).
Vignette, Huffington post.

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