Sunday, April 14, 2024
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Toleration withers on the Vine show


‘WHAT should we do about anti-vaxxers?’ As inflammatory and disturbing as this question is, it’s one with which Jeremy Vine’s audience will be familiar. Listeners to his shows on BBC Radio 2 or Channel 5 hear the host routinely assailing guests with what is essentially a thinly-veiled call to action: ‘we’ (the vaccinated i.e. clean) need to do something about ‘them’ (the unvaccinated i.e. unclean). Precisely what action the presenter wants, he appears not so keen to divulge.

Vine’s coyness seems a trifle odd. Why not join his fellows in calling for the social exclusion of so-called anti-vaxxers? After all, within the corridors of ITV, BBC, Sky and Channel 4, discrimination is currently en vogue. Among certain mindsets, dreaming up ways to socially exclude a large minority of the population is quite the fashion, with former BBC pundit Andrew Neil recently musing how best to ‘punish’ the unjabbed. 

What measures over and above overt discrimination might they have in mind? Given that substantial numbers have decided not to participate in the vaccine trial and refuse to be cowed or bullied into doing so, mainstream broadcasters can be thinking in only one direction: even greater human rights violations. 

Are radio and television presenters envisaging going even further than excluding the ‘unclean’ from theatres and nightclubs? How about denying them medical care or access to supermarkets, thus raising the spectre of starvation? Why stop there? If, as seems likely, ‘anti-vaxxers’ will not submit their bodily integrity at any cost, the ultimate destination leads to an especially sinister scenario: agents of the state able to remove citizens from their homes to places of internment where they can be forcibly injected with Covid shots. Are these the kind of ‘persuasive’ measures media executives desire? It’s already happening in Austria.

Such sentiments cannot however be shared on air – at least, not yet. Might this explain the hesitation and pussyfooting around the topic, the prodding of guests in the hope it will be they who raise this dreadful spectre and not impartial BBC presenters? Despite Vine’s apparent encouragement and ‘door-opening’, this has not yet elicited the response he appears to be seeking. Regular guests tiptoe around the subject; host and contributors, seemingly equally impotent, almost daring one another to cross the Rubicon of good taste and decency, to be the first to utter the horrific vernacular associated with out-and-out authoritarianism: ‘re-education camps’, ‘forced medical procedure’ etc.

How does one urge the descent into this immoral world without being able to use the precise language? Until persecution of the variety experienced during certain dark epochs in human history becomes once more socially acceptable, presenters and panellists are stuck with woolly euphemisms. They must be content to prepare the ground, to soften up the public, to manufacturer consent for potential atrocity. They must speak in code: something must be done . . .

As for Vine, his patience seems to be wearing thin. The mainstream media does not quite know how to square this particular circle, the same collection of editors and journalists who preach ‘kindness’ and ‘toleration’ and routinely present themselves as human rights champions. How long mainstream reticence will last is anyone’s guess. It’s a precipice towards which the media may be edging towards slowly and oh so carefully, but make no mistake: its progress is inexorable. Discrimination, segregation, vilification . . . if the trajectory continues these are not only the ultimate destinations, but the logical ones. 

Why and how the mainstream media have arrived at this place is easily explained. For the liberal intelligentsia the vaccine debate is simple: as ever there is a ‘right’ side (pro-vaccine) and a ‘wrong’ side (pro-choice). Polarisation is deliberate. It is designed to ensnare society in a fraudulent cul-de-sac: right or wrong, clean or unclean? Choose a side.

Listeners to shows such as Vine’s are thus bombarded with pro-vaccine propaganda obvious not only in the host’s habitual use of the derogatory and fallacious term ‘anti-vaxxer’ but also in the choice of panellists. While these ubiquitous panel shows may occasionally feature vaccine sceptics such as Beverley Turner, there to be harangued and outnumbered, experts who could seriously derail the official narrative are notable only by their absence.

It’s not only credible experts whom Vine’s producers endeavour to keep off the airwaves – narrative management as it’s known – but in August a caller made it through pre-screening to confront Vine with some startling Covid vaccine data sourced from the US. The host was not best pleased. Rather than discuss the caller’s evidence and concerns, Vine berated him for having misled the programme’s researchers. The presenter had assumed he would be talking to a regretful and suitably contrite ‘anti-vaxxer,’ who, having seen the error of his ways, would urge fellow sceptics to take the vaccine. 

Instead, he was confronted with inconvenient facts. The caller wanted to know why Vine and his colleagues had not mentioned 1,500 post-vaccination deaths and several hundred thousand adverse reactions. According to Vine, adverse reactions are confined to what he described as ‘a pain in the arm’. The incredulous caller instantly corrected this casual dismissal: heart attack, stroke, blindness, deafness . . . ‘I hate to cut people off,’ replied an irascible host as he proceeded to do just that.

As forums strictly reserved for pro-vaccine propaganda, the programmes of Vine and his broadcast media colleagues are damned to repeat the same script, week after week and by doing so create an echo chamber charged with sterility and hostility. Long since purged of dissenting voices, the tone thus becomes ever more belligerent, vindictive, provocative. Indeed, listening to mainstream panellists and pundits edging towards normalisation of tyranny is a profoundly chilling experience.  

The path to tyranny is incremental, so history teaches us. History also teaches that it’s a path that often begins with creation of an outgroup; a group which before being dehumanised is stigmatised, presented as causing a profound problem to ‘us’ – the enlightened majority. What ensues when this point is reached is entirely predictable: persecution and much, much worse. 

All of which leaves a hugely important question: at what point does the rhetoric of media influencers equate to incitement? That’s a question for media liberals to ponder – not least Ofcom, the organisation charged with regulating the broadcast media.

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Stockton Heath
Stockton Heath
Stockton Heath is an author and critic who blogs at His latest book is a true crime thriller entitled ‘Imagining A Murder: the Cartland Case Revisited.’ His forthcoming book is to be entitled ‘Is that True or did you Hear it on the BBC?’

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