Friday, May 18, 2007

BBC Monkeys

BBC"This is what we do"
In the Village, though less in number then the French, past and current employees of the BBC and other broadcasters form another significant group around town. There are couple of them that I know well, both top blokes.

One of them had had a look at this attempt at a blog and last night in the Mother Ship, took me to task over a slight swipe I had made at the licence fee. The main line that he took was that without the licence fee that its news and current affairs coverage would end up dropping to tabloid standards.

He was not convinced by my arguments that there was perfectly good quality TV news produced without this tax, so I was forced to explain why, even disregarding any questions regarding bias, I wasn't convinced that the BBC entirely above the tabloid mindset itself. I was able to argue from personal experience.

A few years ago I was doing some work for MacMillan, publishers of the world's most prestigious scientific journal Nature, sitting not far from a senior editor. He stood up and asked if we could keep the noise levels down as he was about to do a telephone interview with someone on Radio 4's PM programme about some recent breakthrough in HIV research. They were quite often asked to do opinion pieces so I was pretty used to listening to half a radio interview and guessing what the questions were for the answers I could hear.

This one was no exception, and the most of it was taken up by a layman's overview of the nature and importance of the discovery. Towards the end the interviewer must have asked the obvious question about how long it would be before a usable treatment would be found. The following is what I think a pretty accurate version of what followed from the one side I could hear:
"Well it could be some time, for a start the work to date has all been done on SIV not HIV which means..."
"SIV, that's to say Simian Immunodeficiency Virus, as opposed to the human form HIV"
"Yes, Monkeys"
"Well its still useful information because the two viruses are very similar, in fact we are sure that HIV is a descendant of SIV, that at some point it passed from the monkey population to the human population."

At this point there was a longer pause than usual as the interviewer obviously was asking another question. I can only speculate on what the question was and who was asking it, all I know is that the interviewee's face clouded over and made an impression of bashing his head on his desk. Eventually he spoke again, more firmly, and slowly than before:
"No there are other ways it may have been transmitted. They may have eaten the monkey, or been bitten by the monkey, there is no evidence at all for what you suggest."

If only if this had fallen in the days of the 'listen again' service, I would love an mp3 file with both sides of the conversation, if only to identify which overpayed interviewer had the puerile mind.