Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 19/11/15

An Unhealthy Relationship (now with update)

It's hard not to feel a certain degree of sympathy with the position that much of the Old Media now finds itself in. Their old ways of operating - basically, of getting people to pay them before being able to have access to their 'product' - were never going to be a good fit with the rise and spread of access to the electronic dissemination of material.

They have tried to make them fit of course, either by employing 'paywalls' and special offers of enhanced access to material, or by doing what the 'dead-tree' local rags have had to do for many a year, namely finance the provision of content by means of ever-greater amounts of advertising.

It is this latter tactic which has shown a clear tendency to - as the old Obscene Publications Act used to put it - "deprave and corrupt" the supposed independence of the press, and this is doubly, nay exponentially, true when the advertising is barely even acknowledged as such, when articles which appear on their surface to be straightforward journalism are in fact merely confected propaganda for a certain commercial or ideological viewpoint.

This 'opinion' piece from the Grundiad's website seems superficially to be one just like any other which might appear there any day of the week.

It purports to come from a junior doctor who says that she (I make a devilishly patriarchalist assumption on that score, as the author refers at one point to 'my husband'), despite her deep dissatisfaction with the new contracts which the government - in the increasingly bizarre form of the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt - is trying to impose upon her and her colleagues, does not intend to take part in any strike (claiming that such a deed would harm patients) and that, furthermore, she sees no way in which the destruction of the health service in England can be resisted.

That such sentiments should be expressed in print, even in an increasingly name-only 'liberal' rag, is fair enough. In themselves her views are perfectly valid ones to hold and express, although it would have been better had she been able to adduce something resembling a coherent and verifiable argument in their support.

But coming on the day that junior doctors voted by a swamping majority in favour of both industrial action in general, and of strike action in particular (98-99 per cent of the votes, and this on a 76 per cent turnout, so no room for Hunt and his colleagues to claim that the result was of little or no legitimacy), it seemed a curious piece to run at this juncture.

A small clue as to exactly why may be found in small type at the upper left of the piece (above the attribution of the article to "Anonymous junior doctor", something to which I will return later):

A screen-shot saying 'Sponsored by: Skills for Health'

Yes, it turns out that the article has been published with the support - financial in all likelihood - of something called Skills for Health. So let's just avail ourselves of all the opportunities that our search engines of choice provide, and take a look at this magnanimous organisation. You know, just to make sure that all is above board.

Well, their website gives us the sort of self-promoting blarg that one would expect from what is - despite its .org domain name - clearly a commercial outfit. I mean, it gives us a Mission Statement and everything, which pantingly informs us that, 'at its heart', Skills for Health is:

"...an employer-led organisation..."

At which point, in the minds of many of us frightfully suspicious groundlings, a small alarm bell starts to ring, suggesting that SfH may not, in fact, be strictly neutral with regard to the subject of the article. It goes palpitatingly on:

"...by supporting employers..."

Yes, I think we got that bit already:

"...to deliver high quality, cost effective and efficient services."

Whereat the alarm bell becomes a deafening klaxon, because the use of words such as "cost effective" and "efficient" in such contexts seldom if ever indicates anything other than a desire to do things as cheaply as possible to avoid impacting our dear old friend 'the boddom line'. In practice, in case after case, in the private and public sectors alike, it entails finding ever-so-creative ways of getting those of the employer's workforce who do not have ox-like constitutions or the vitality of a decathlete out of the door with the minimum of legal encumbrance so that the keeping of them may be laid as a charge at the door of all those mugs who pay their taxes, with the added advantage of providing someone to blame for everything that goes wrong.

So who are these kindly souls to whose hearts the welfare of employers...sorry, I mean employees...lie so close? Well, Their People include - alongside a token trade unionist and an equally cosmetic smattering of people who have actually worked on the front line of healthcare - the following experts in the provision of succour to the sick:

And all this is before we even get to the Executive Team, which comprises:

All satirical intent aside (and it probably wasn't worth even that), the idea that a company like Skills for Health would be concerned with the well-being of those who actually provide health care to the populace rather than those who sponge off them takes more swallowing than a pill designed to worm racehorses.

But I suppose that they are - as our increasingly wretched society is currently configured - entitled to sponsor whatever the hell they choose, however designed to mislead such PR inevitably is. Because today's strategically-placed screed was intended to do two things in particular: firstly, to try to portray the junior doctors as being of a great deal less than one mind on the subject of the new contracts (an attempt which has been beautifully undermined by the result of the ballot); and secondly, in a more subtle and sneaky way, to try to portray the poor doctor who wrote the piece (assuming that she does actually exist, and is actually a physician of some sort) as someone who is so afraid of the union bully-boys and their mindless desire for retribution against anyone stepping out of line that she has been forced, poor thing, to give her deeply-felt and concerned opinion anonymously. A silly thing to try to imply, given that this is the British Medical Association we're talking about. Either way, the article has all the credibility of those colour-supplement spreads telling the more pretentious and gullible of its readers what a wonderful place somewhere like, say, Kazakhstan is, where they will encounter happy, smiling peasants willing to sell you local antiquities, and which turns out to have been written by the Kazakh Embassy in London in association with several companies with touchingly intimate relationships to the ruling family.

If I seem to be a tad harsh on the Gurniad - because, after all, they're all doing it, aren't they? - then I would ask you to consider the following analogy: you know that girl you had a crush on at school? The one you thought was just right for you, in that she was more than passing handsome, was highly and amusingly intelligent and even had Standards? Well, just imagine how you would have felt if you had discovered that she had started taking it up against the wall behind the gym every lunchtime with any boy who had either The Knack or The Price? The disillusionment and the deception is made somehow far greater by the nature and scale of the betrayal, even if the Ideal lived only in one's imagination.

Sometimes, it's not unfair to expect better.

Footnote (04/02/16): Having read this piece by MediaLens today, curiosity took me back to the Graun article I dismembered. Guess what? The reference to Skills for Health has been removed. I wonder why...? As I suspect that that content was served dynamically, then even the Wayback Machine hasn't cached it in its snapshots, which is...convenient...