Where I work there are televisions that are always on. One is always in my line of sight if I am looking at my computer screens. If I turn around to get away from it, another appears instead. In the 360 degrees from my desk, I can see seven televisions, and every single one of them, despite no sound, is feeding me a diet of bad news. Constant bad news. Constant unpleasant bad news. Unless I’m in a meeting somewhere, my day is completely dominated by whatever atrocity or disaster is currently befalling the world. It does not do much for my well-being is the conclusion I am reaching. I don’t know about you, but as I age I seem to slowly but surely become more sensitive to sad and bad things happening. I never used to be like this, and really you would expect that the constant in-your-face aspect of today’s news services, often beaming you tragedy live and as it happens would harden you to it. Toughen you up. Yet it is the opposite, and there are some stories that I end up with a lump in my throat. They can be global news stories where you see a child’s body under a sheet, or they can be reading Michael Clarke’s address from Philip Hughes’ funeral. Perhaps it is to do with having children, perhaps it is to do with my own mortality, as so famously penned in song by Pink Floyd. Shorter of breath, one day closer to death.
I’m trying to work, but I’m surrounded by death. Seemingly news is not news unless somebody has died. Preferably lots of people. Yesterday I was pumped ten hours of the siege at that café in Sydney. As terrified people ran out of the building, so I saw them run. Then I saw the repeats of them running. Again and again. I saw the SWAT team going in and the flashes of gunfine. Again and again. And I saw the wounded being carried out. Today I’m being fed live updates from Peshawar, where religiously-motivated gunmen have just killed 130 children in some kind of revenge attack, part of an ever-increasing spiral of violence. Children, shot in their classrooms in cold blood. To say it is harrowing is to belittle it, I am speechless. I spent the summer watching Ebola unfold, with light relief provided by the periodic beheading of western hostages in Syria and Iraq. I saw the candle-lit vigils, and then the stills from the videos and the men in black with balaclavas on. I get aerial footage of M25 crash scenes, I get capsized ferries and cruise liners, I get downed airliners. Rape, murder and child abuse are all quotidian.
Occasionally, very occasionally, the BBC feel sorry for the viewer and stick on a feel good story. Or indeed comedy, for instance when UKIP take part in a by-election, or when FIFA release a report into their own activities. This is very rare, but the other day there was a piece, repeated pleasingly often, about baby seals, replete with extensive footage of baby seals looking adorable. This was heart-warming, and I watched it as often as I could, transfixed by the deep black eyes of the pups. But of course it was a story about orphaned seal pups being hand-reared back to health, so the sub-text was still DEATH. And as I type the BBC is now telling me that one of the last Northern White Rhinos has died in captivity. Ideally they’ll follow this up with a story about poaching, and show a few dead and mutilated animals bleeding in some dry acacia-dotted scrubland. Breaking News they call it. I’m sick of it.
I know what you’re thinking. Get up and turn the TV off. I would, believe me I would, but they’re suspended from the ceiling and I can’t reach the buttons.