Sink the BBC boat: Breakfast chasing migrants was fascist TV

Dan Walker can also go f*ck himself.

If you saw a group of desperate people bailing out a makeshift boat with a plastic container, while you sped along in a perfectly seaworthy vessel nearby, what would you do? Would you help or simply watch?

Would you stare and see how many drowned? Would you shout across to them and ask asinine questions? Or would you want to try to help them?

If you answered ‘no’ to the last question and ‘yes’ or ‘maybe’ for the others, congratulations, you’re on course to become a BBC News reporter.

On BBC Breakfast yesterday morning, Simon Jones — who pursued migrant boats with his crew last week too — was shown commentating on a migrant vessel that was clearly struggling, its occupants bailing it out as it headed across the Channel:

“You can see why it’s dangerous today because the sea is pretty choppy… we came across this boat around half-an-hour ago, just spotted it on the horizon, and we have seen them, actually, trying to get water out of the boat — they’re doing that at the moment — they’re using a plastic container just to try to bail out the boat.

So, obviously, it’s pretty overloaded there, people are wearing life jackets, but it is pretty dangerous just the number of people on that boat. Let me just see [shouts over] Are you okay?!”

In a series of shouted questions, Jones conducts an interview of sorts with the occupants of that overcrowded boat. It was akin to seeing a British tourist shouting at the locals in a Spanish bakery: “Do you like BREAD too? We like BREAD!” only an old abuela waiting in line for a loaf isn’t also trying to avoid drowning at the same time.

It would be easy to argue that Jones was merely acting out of shock say and that he didn’t mean to seem so callous. But that’s just not the case; Jones and his team had already been cruising around the Channel for a few days providing borderline hysterical commentary on the small number of migrant boats crossing and playing straight into the news lines ginned up by the Home Office and the Home Counties Hitler Not-so-youth Nigel Farage.

BBC News should be better than this. In the same way that it claimed that it was not impartial on racism, before allowing a white employee saying the n-word to be broadcast multiple times, its attitude towards migrant vessels during these reports has been utterly without excuse.

It is not merely impartial to watch people struggle to survive, it is inhuman. And BBC News is parroting the government line and worldview on this ‘story’ and turning the people at its heart into cartoonish others, animals to be commentated upon. It felt fascist and no burbled defence about being ‘observers’ will cut it whatsoever.

There’s a famous picture by Kevin Carter of a famine victim — a small child — crawling towards a feeding station while a vulture eyed him hungrily. Known as ‘The Struggling Girl’ — it wasn’t until 2011 that it was revealed that the child in the image was actually a boy — the photo was published in The New York Times on March 26 1993. It won Carter a Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography in 1994. Four months after winning the prize, Kevin Carter took his own life.

There were many reasons Carter was struggling and it would be wrong to put the blame purely on the photo, but the words we have from a note he left are powerful:

I'm really, really sorry. The pain of life overrides the joy to the point that joy does not exist. ...depressed ... without phone ... money for rent ... money for child support ... money for debts ... money!!! ... I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings & corpses & anger & pain ... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners ...

It feels as though journalism has, in some respects, gone backwards since the days when Kevin Carter’s camera eye captured human rights abuses and suffering across the world. Now, the prospect of a boat of migrants drowning is a feature for BBC Breakfast to slot in between an inane interview with a celebrity and a cooking demonstration, between Dan Walker toothlessly tackling a government minister and a plug for the latest BBC drama series.

Simon Jones should investigate his conscience. So should his producers. What BBC Breakfast did yesterday wasn’t journalism. It was one step up from a snuff film.

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