Magazine article The Spectator

A Big Thank You to Guy Goma: The Wrong Man in the Right Place

Magazine article The Spectator

A Big Thank You to Guy Goma: The Wrong Man in the Right Place

Article excerpt

This year's most compulsive television viewing came on BBC News 24 last week, when they interviewed the wrong man. They were doing a story about the legal battle over registered trademarks between the computer company Apple and the Beatles' record label, Apple Corps. They intended to speak to an acclaimed information technology expert, Guy Kewney, but some hapless researcher went to the wrong reception area and somehow brought into the studio Guy Goma, a Congolese business graduate with an extremely limited grasp of the English language. One of those identikit, bloodless and chirpy News 24 anchor babes carried out the interview regardless: Mr Goma's answers were wonderfully uninformed and, because of his accent, almost unintelligible. The chap had been waiting down in the reception area for a job interview at the BBC (presumably as a newsreader: diversity is strength, remember) when summoned to the studio. The real pleasure to be taken from this misconceived live encounter was the look of appalled astonishment on Mr Goma's face when he was introduced to viewers as an IT expert; his eyes widened like they do in cartoons and his jaw dropped several inches. But he soldiered on, bless him.

Mr Goma knew almost as little about information technology as the anchor babe and the BBC correspondent who later, blankly, commented upon his contribution.

And much fun was to be had at the BBC's expense afterwards. Here, after all, was the emperor revealed brazenly in the altogether;

News 24, with its constant parade of expert commentators pontificating upon important events -- well, actually, who is to say they're experts at all, that we should pay any attention to their perorations? Maybe they are all as divested of expertise as Mr Goma. It's not journalism at all, really -- just a cheap and mindless method of filling up airtime. People who know nothing interviewed badly by people who know even less.

Ah, there but for the grace of God.

Journalism is a house of cards which is too rarely dismantled by the sudden intrusion of the wind of truth -- by and large, we are all happy to continue building the edifice and are not always terribly scrupulous about it, no matter how highbrow and prestigious the newspaper or programme. Here's an example.

Many years ago I was a youthful producer on BBC Radio Four's World at One; it was a good time to be a journalist because the world was in joyous tumult with the end of the Cold War. I was extraordinarily proud of myself to have secured for my programme an interview with Georgi Arbatov, head of the Soviet Institute for American Studies and an adviser to every Soviet president from Khrushchev to Mikhail Gorbachev. What a coup! As the Soviet Union dissolved and geopolitical relations were being turned on their head, I had tracked down and persuaded one of the five or six most crucial and significant people in the world to talk to us live on air, in the lead slot.

It was a good interview, too. Georgi said he wanted better relations with the USA and was in favour of world peace and disarmament.

'We must all now be frentz, yes?' he asked at the end, with benevolent rhetoric. His broadcasted comments were duly written up in the following day's broadsheet newspapers.

But as I discovered when I spoke to him after the interview, they were not the views of Georgi Arbatov, close adviser to Mikhail Gorbachev, but the views of Georgi Arbatov, an insurance salesman from Minsk. …

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