Archive: June 9th, 2002

Letting the side down

I did something two days ago that I’ve never done before in my life. I called up a television station to complain about the content of a programme.

To explain why I did this, I need to fill in the backstory.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that England beat Argentina in the World Cup. Games between England and Argentina (as well as Germany) can be volatile affairs. Not only is there animosity because of previous sporting defeats, but there is always the danger of the sport being hi-jacked by more base motives. Argentina and Germany have both been at war with Britain (although officially the Falklands was simply a "conflict").

It was during the Falklands war that the worst of excesses of jingoism were seen in Britain. The Sun newspaper famously ran with the headline "GOTCHA" following the sinking of The General Belgrano with huge loss of life. The headline was the cause of much controversy mostly because many felt that there was nothing wrong in celebrating a "victory" like this. It was scandolous by virtue of not being scandalous.

The headline was pulled from later editions of that day’s paper and in the intervening years it has become the epitome of bad-taste journalism.

Fast forward twenty years to the World Cup 2002. England beat Argentina and the country is celebrating. There seems to be genuine progress - fans are happy for all the right reasons: sporting reasons.

There is no hint of the war-based jingoism that marred previous football matches between the two nations.

And then channel 4 had to spoil it all.

For the duration of the World Cup, channel 4’s evening news finishes each day on a lighthearted note with a "word for the day" in Japanese.

On the day of the England vs. Argentina match, the word of the day was "GOTCHA".

That’s why I called to complain.

I realise that there are worse things to be upset by and that this is only offensive in a wink-wink, nudge-nudge knowing kind of way but still… I feel a line was crossed that placed channel 4 in the same camp as The Sun.

Lenny Bruce once said that comedy is tragedy plus time. I don’t want to come across as some humourless Mary Whitehouse type figure but I don’t think a mainstream news source should feature humour that’s based on a tragic loss of human life and the subsequent lack of respect for those lives.

I felt that while every other news source were commendably sticking to a "don’t mention the war" policy, channel 4 succumbed to using the most bloody incident of the Falklands war to get a cheap laugh.

To use a footballing term, they let the side down. Badly.