The Future of History

Friday, 8 April 2016

A Bit of Balance

It's been standard practice for some years now, in certain quarters of the British media, to strive for journalistic "balance".

So that, for example, if BBC Newsnight do a piece on climate change, they are obliged to wheel in some corporate shill who receives money from the fossil fuels lobby to pretend that there's no such thing as climate change.

Balance, geddit?

Well, the requirement for balance doesn't apply to all of the media.  Channel 4's Shakespeare's Tomb went out of its way to avoid any form of balance, which meant that the vast majority of the available evidence in the matter was ignored and only those with a certain point-of-view were featured.  Similarly, press coverage in advance of the documentary, and in response to it, was equally one-sided (see below).

Thank heavens, then, for Ben Russell, who wrote this piece for the Bromsgrove Advertiser and its sister papers, including the Redditch & Alcester Advertiser, this week.  Ben was genuinely interested in the background to the story and the way the documentary team mishandled it.  The result - a piece which allows another perspective to be heard.

So thank you, Ben.  I'll post a link to the article when I can find one.

Otherwise, as I say, the media really just parroted whatever came their way in a press release.  This is an interesting example.  It appeared on the BBC News Online website the day after the C4 documentary was broadcast.  I've been trying - with little success - to find out if the copy and quotations were all supplied to the BBC in a press release, which is how things tend to happen these days, and if so, who issued the press release.

I doubt it was Channel Four, who probably don't know much about the Stratford tour guide who is quoted in the piece.  The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, however, do know him.  Could it be the SBT, then, that got its press release out to the BBC ready to be published within hours of the broadcast?  The mention in the BBC article of the thwarted attempt to secure permission to study the skull properly sounds like an authentic SBT touch, given that it was the two top guys at the SBT who successfully shot down that application.

And why, we might ask, is nobody telling tales about this outside of school (so to speak)?  I've emailed the Church of England Team Leader responsible for Beoley church, who is quoted in the article, partly to find out if he really did say that the story of the skull at Beoley is "rubbish", but I've received no reply.

Where's the balance, then?  One side of the argument, if we can call it that, has direct access to the media.  That same side took control of the Channel 4 documentary and kept all other voices out of it.  They scotched the investigation, then co-opted the production.

It was quite a surprise, then, to find this piece on the curious Cult of Weird website.  I know nothing about the site, or who runs it, but they'd obviously done their homework - far more so than the mainstream media - because for once, my work gets a mention.

It's going to take a long, long time, and an awful lot of hard work, to combat the misinformation broadcast to the world by Channel 4 in Shakespeare's Tomb and uncritically taken up by the press, left, right and centre.  The very fact that there are still journalists and commentators who are prepared to look a little deeper, and to present the other side of the story, is verily a welcome relief.


  1. The Redditch Advertiser article can be found at:

    I have contacted Rev Richard Clarke, the Team Leader of Holy Trinity Parish and ultimately responsible for Beoley Church, who incidently has had little if any involvement in the Channel 4/Arrow Media project and asked him if the quotation on the BBC website is accurate and he responded:-

    ''No its a paraphrase; however the original story has clearly been discredited.''

    1. Hi Paul,

      Thank you very much for the link to the Redditch Advertiser and the additional information. Very interesting! I did wonder - and tried to find out - if Rev Richard Clarke really had said "Now we know that the story is rubbish ..." So it seems somebody felt entitled to "paraphrase" his actual words for the press release issued to the BBC. I'd love to know who that was.

      Incidentally, I have been doing a great deal more research into Langston and his story over recent months. To say that "the original story has clearly been discredited" is, I would argue, jumping the gun somewhat. In fact, the more I discover, the more I find that Langston was writing about real people with whom he, or his family, was connected.

      All very strange.

      With best wishes,