I used to be addicted to TV news, pride myself on knowing what was going on in the world.. I would hush the family so I could watch catch every morsel of it as we ate our evening meal. I would watch it again at the end of the evening giving it the same rapt attention as 3 hours previously even though it is unusual for any new news to have cropped up in such a short time. My wife and I kept to the same pattern when the kids grew up and left home. I took early retirement and for 4 years the TV news formed the framework for mealtimes and thus for the day, with the addition of the mid-day news.
After my wife died I still kept to the same pattern but then, viewed from a different perspective, a different personal context, my attitude towards it changed. Instead of turning it off when I got hot under the collar because Margaret Thatcher started preaching or patronising I would turn it off because I found it depressing or superficial, irrelevant.
When I went to Greece for the summer 6 months later I abandoned the news completely, developing a new framework for the day based on activity. That meant that mealtimes became much more flexible. True I still ate breakfast at more or less the same time but my mid-day snack was taken in the mountains when I got hungry, an early evening drink was inserted into the framework depending on what time I arrived back, evening meal a couple of hours after that. The news nolonger played any part in my day.
I could have watched news on Greek TV or on the BBC 24-hour service on my netbook. But I didn’t. Deliberately. I had enough to contend with adjusting to new circumstances and I wanted to keep all that depressing stuff out of my life. When I came home in October 2010 the new flexible framework stuck and the TV stayed turned off. It still is.
Shutting off from what is happening in the world is frankly inexcusable and my conscience started to tell me I should take steps to be better informed. When the owner of a hotel in which I stayed in the Mani in June this year showed me to my room he proudly pointed out that there was satellite TV and I could watch BBC news. I knew he would ask me if I had watched it so I turned it on and tuned it just as the loop on the 24-hour news channel got back to the beginning. The top item on BBC news that day was that the Duke of Edinburgh had been unable to attend one of the Queen’s Jubilee functions because he had a bladder infection. Sorry guys, if that’s top of national and international news you can keep it. Instead I watched the news on Greek TV when I was in a coffee shop or a taverna. That at least was highly relevant what with the elections and the state of the economy.
Now that I’m back home I find that the flexible framework to the day rarely coincides with news on the TV and, quite frankly, I still can’t take half an hour of national and international news, much of which I find depressing, followed by half an hour of local news, much of which I find trivial. So now I make an effort to listen to the news on BBC Radio 4 which each hour on the hour concisely summarises the main items and I can decide whether any of them are worth tuning in for more detail.
On Tuesday one of the lead items was that a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was imminent, brokered by Egypt with Hillary Clinton flying out to add weight with an announcement expected that evening. Heartening news indeed. Wednesday morning and the lead item was that Hamas had claimed responsibility for a bomb on a bus in Tel Aviv and that Palestinians had come out onto the streets in Gaza to cheer. One Middle East expert interviewed on R4 put it down to each side establishing their negotiating strength, a final violent thrust to gain advantage. If true, and it might well be, such a cynical negotiating tactic targeting innocent people is deplorable. This doesn’t make me angry, it makes me sad.
As in so many internecine, ‘local’ conflicts there is right and wrong on both sides. It is impossible to allocate blame. The only certainty for me is that it is wrong to kill people just because they are from a different culture.
With such constant reminders that many people in the world regard it as not only legitimate but praiseworthy to kill those from a different culture the temptation is to stick my head back in the sand. But I won’t. I’ll try not to let it make me depressed and I’ll be cheered and encouraged when something good happens.
The world isn’t a computer where you can hit the ‘redo’ button and wipe out past actions. History has happened and protagonists must come to terms with that if bloodshed and suffering are not to become normalised. It is good to focus on successes such as South Africa after apartheid and Northern Ireland. Not perfect but considerably better than they might have been. I’ll keep listening …. and praying.