31 Jan

Talk is not cheap

It’s not a good idea to talk a lot, for by so doing you give too much away. By talking at length, we reveal what matters most to us: our interests, preoccupations, aspirations and fears. It’s simple: what you choose to talk about lets your listeners know who you really are, your most serious concerns, your principles and priorities.

Now, as well as individual, personal talkers there are corporate talkers in which professional talkers are paid for what they talk about. One of the biggest and best-known corporate talkers in the world is the BBC which organises talking shops day and night on four continents. There the professional talkers can talk about whatever they fancy. And they are well-supplied with talk-gatherers or, as they prefer to be described, news-gatherers. I can’t possibly mention all the things that the BBC talkers talk about because there’s so much of it and the airwaves are alive with the sound of jabber. What I can do is make a sample, one day in the life of BBC folk. But even that is too much to handle, so let me just take eleven minutes. To make my sample representative, I must choose not any old eleven minutes when they might be talking about the misdoings of celebs or the football transfer deadline – as they often are, of course.

Then let me choose a really significant eleven minutes “slot,” as they say at the Beeb. Say the opening eleven minutes of PM, Radio Four’s main early evening news and comment programme – will that do?

Yesterday the professional talkers were not short of things to talk about. There was the ever more precipitous crisis over Mrs May’s leadership. The peers crowding into the House of Lord for the big debate in which they would queue up to undermine Brexit. The continued slaughter in Yemen. Fifty million quidsworth of cocaine intercepted by the Customs. A catastrophic volcanic eruption in the Philippines. Paris under water. Hundred killed in bombings by the resurgent Taliban in Kabul. The announcement of the EU commissioners’ terms on which they are prepared to let us – sort of – leave: commonly referred to as the humiliation of Theresa May, chapter seventeen. Armed troops on the streets of Swedish cities to try to prevent yet more gang rapes and grenade-throwing by thousands of immigrants. Iran’s steady progress in its soon-to-be-realised ambition to acquire nuclear weapons.

Which of these would the BBC’s professional talkers choose to lead with? Which of these subjects would they choose to pontificate upon from their customary high moral ground? Whom or what would they pick on as this evening’s principal beneficiary of the BBC’s famous lack of bias?

Answer: none of the above. Instead, they discussed – with the high seriousness that might be reserved for news of a sudden pandemic of the Black Death – the perceived disparity between the wages paid to male BBC talkers and female BBC talkers.

The world may be falling apart at the seams but the highly-paid BBC talkers preferred to talk first about themselves – for that full eleven minutes.

Tells us all we need to know about the true priorities of that most high-minded Corporation.