Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Dubya Is Dead

At least, according to a three second telecast on South African television he was; it wouldn't matter a great deal either way now because his influence on the world stage is largely over. The point here is that small errors on major media can cause widespread disarray.

This particular error happened when an engineer pressed a switch that put the test broadcast "ticker" into live view. The fact that such otherwise banal news could reach even the BBC, shows how powerful broadcast media is.

To Err Is Human

As a young computer programmer, one of the very first things we were taught was the American phrase, GIGO - Garbage In, Garbage Out. Our peers also learned the immortal phrase, "To err is human, it takes a computer to really fuck things up."

In truth, these two phrases go hand in hand.

It's often said that computers don't make mistakes - when of course they do. Somewhere along the line, a human had a hand in it, so there's always the possibility for error down to really geeky bugs like the infamous Pentium FDIV bug.

The problem with computers is that when they make mistakes, they make them very, very quickly. Which brings me to the media: if it takes a computer to really fuck things up, it takes the media to spread the error at an alarming , and often unstoppable, rate.

From the ludicrous (if harmless) pronouncements about the Conisholme wind farm UFO collision to the deadly MMR debacle - our media is an unstoppable juggernaut of bullshit.

GIGO applies to our media in just the same way as it does to a computer. There was a time when journalists would check their facts. These days, things move to bloody quickly to make that a viable option so much of what is presented to us as fact is actually reported (or more often repeated verbatim) with the assumption that the source is reliable.

If it isn't ...

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