Too much disinformation

Mariana Spring is back, with another series to set the songbirds a-twitter

On Radio

This article is taken from the April 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

“Spring is here,” begins one of Rodgers and Hart’s best-known songs. “Why doesn’t my heart go dancing?” That depends on which Spring you have in mind.

Is it the season of renewal we greet each April, when all the flowers bloom, tra-la, and the nights lengthen? Or is it Marianna of that ilk, the BBC’s “disinformation” tsarina, promoted with unnerving speed, and determined not to let the grass grow under her size sevens?

For this Spring is here, there and everywhere. Only 28, she has already presented several programmes and podcasts with titles so enticing that only the foolish do not pay attention. If How to Cure Viral Misinformation doesn’t grab you, there’s The Anti-Vax Files. Other favourites include Death by Conspiracy?, Disaster Trolls and Marianna in Conspiracyland (with illustrations, presumably, by Tenniel). Phew! Time for a tea-break.

Now she’s back, with another series to set the songbirds a-twitter. In Why Do You Hate Me? on Radio 4, she investigates the unpleasant and frequently offensive views expressed on social media. Though the investigations offer little more than reheating comments which are easy to find if you like that sort of thing, which our fearless sleuth clearly doesn’t.

One of her guests was Eni Aluko, who used to play football for the England women’s team and, after stints in club management, now talks about the game for a living. Aluko has been on the sharp end of abuse from Joey Barton, a former footballer who doesn’t care for women pundits on television, which is not in itself an offence. Most of them are as poor as the men.

Barton’s words were indeed foul, so filthy that Aluko said she was scared to leave the house. Yet few people would recognise her if she walked down the street, and she wasn’t too frightened to board a plane to Ivory Coast, to cover the Africa Cup of Nations.

Eni Aluko talked about receiving online abuse from Joey Barton (below) on Why Do You Hate Me?
Joey Barton

Spring, we now know, has form of her own when it comes to disinformation. In a CV presented to prospective employers she claimed to have assisted Sarah Rainsford, then the BBC Moscow correspondent, during the 2018 World Cup in Russia. But she hadn’t. She had met Rainsford, she coughed, but that was about it. Oh, dear. Wicket broken, and a long, lonely walk back to the pavilion.

Moreover, she has described herself as a “brilliant reporter”, a claim it is usually wiser to let others make. Now she’s everywhere, poking into the murky corners of social media on our behalf. Some of this work may have value, but do we really need to know how ghastly many of these twitterers are, with their strange obsessions?

She might more profitably use her forensic skills to investigate the “disinformation” within the building she calls home. Justin Webb, the acceptable voice of the Today programme, was impaled on a zealot’s stick when he referred to “trans women, in other words males”.

The BBC’s “executive complaints unit” upheld a listener’s complaint, but that doesn’t mean he was mistaken. There’s one for Spring to get her pearly-whites into.

There’s a book out, naturally, Amongst the Trolls, which received a favourable notice from Julia Ebner, an Austrian academic who lives in England. In June 2016, one whole day after the EU referendum, she informed Guardian readers that “I no longer feel welcome in this country”. Overnight, apparently, the racists had taken over. Yet eight years on she’s still here, glad to be unhappy.

What is it with people so angry about supposed malefactors that they seek more of their company? When Ebner eventually goes back to Vienna, she will find a house in Berggasse, where a famous doctor tried to answer such questions. He ended up in England, too. Plenty do, when they want to live freely.

Mohit Bakaya, the controller of Radio 4, has given an interesting interview to the Telegraph, in which he explained how the station had to represent all points of view. Finding new listeners whilst retaining the confidence of old ones is a noble intention, though it’s clear that no station could, or should be “for everybody”.

What Radio 4 should be is a home for its loyalists, who are overwhelmingly small-c conservatives in the suburbs and shires. They’re a tolerant bunch, and sometimes they have to be. A Sunday Worship which invited young women from south London to reflect on the Beatitudes might have tempted even St Anthony of Padua to say something naughty.

Presented by Swarzy Macaly, who called upon a rapper and a club DJ to speak of their faith, the Sunday morning show “navigated Jesus’s counter-cultural teachings”, or so the BBC website proclaimed. So that’s what the Sermon on the Mount was all about. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall groove all night long in Peckham.”

Our Lord as a “counter-cultural” figurehead. That’s one for Bakaya to ponder as he seeks younger urban listeners. But he shouldn’t put more than a tenner on the outcome. Otherwise the poorhouse beckons.

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