The Times, 22 June 2010

Index on Censorship Blog

So, not to pretend to be one of those girls who likes football, I hate it. Stupid, boring, annoying football where the scoreline can be exactly the same at the end as it was at the start and people can then describe that as 'a good game'. And stupid world-cup football is my least favourite kind, walking its weird patriotism/xenophobia tightrope. I know it's my hang-up, but when I was a child, England flags were scary. Even Union Jacks were scary - they mean fascism, skinheads, and aggression. And although I am glad that the flags have been rehabilitated and now sit perkily on windows and dog-collars (actual dog collars. Not the ones vicars wear), they still give me the slight heebs.

But mainly, I resent the disruption to my routine. I like a routine above all things. And in the list of things I dislike above all things, change (of almost any kind) is right up there. So when the BBC abandon the 1 o'clock news to show a football match, I feel a bit like Mark Thompson has come round to my house, punched me in the face, moved my things around and then fucked off. And I don't like it. Sure, I can watch it on News 24 (which I persist in calling News 24, even though the BBC treacherously changed its name some time ago), but it isn't the same. Louisa Preston doesn't come on and do the local news. Peter Cockroft doesn't appear with my local weather. I hate that.

And I thought my irritation with the BBC's crush on the World Cup had reached its pinnacle last week, with the vuvuzela story. They ran a piece for five minutes on the 6 o'clock news about the racket these horns make. A racket which apparently makes it impossible for our brave fans to sing their chants. This news story could be distilled into precisely one sentence: People making annoying noise prevent other people from making different annoying noise.

The catchphrase of this world cup, at least in my house is, 'That's not news!'. It's yelled with some fury at the television, so I guess I do have something in common with football fans after all.

But now the BBC has genuinely raised its annoying-ness game, running a piece on North Korea's role in the World Cup. They excitedly report today that yesterday's match against Brazil was broadcast live in North Korea, unlike their first match which was shown after a 12-hour delay. To be honest, if I were Kim Jong-il (a fantasy I like to indulge in briefly each day), I would just tell them we'd won. What's the point in controlling all the state's media if you don't pretend to have won everything from the World Cup to Eurovision? He's missed a trick there.

But that isn't why the BBC were being annoying. The BBC were being annoying because they reported that the fact that the match was being broadcast live was a big risk to the North Korean authorities, because people might wave placards and protest against them. The report goes on to remind us of how grouchy people were about the path the Olympic torch took in 2008, and how much protesting went on. It then mentions that no placards or protests happened at the North Korea match.

'It is interesting,' proclaims their website, 'to ponder why this might be'. The author then spends precisely no time pondering why this might be. Were protests organised but stopped? Have the South African authorities prevented something? Has FIFA? I mean, look how cross they got with the orange Dutch beer ladies. Do people who care about human rights not care about football? Or did they try and fail? Could they just not get the tickets, or are placards removed at the entrance to the stadium?

I don't know, and if you read the BBC's website, nor will you. But don't worry, they've wrapped up the story neatly: 'Perhaps those who claim that sporting events of this kind can break down barriers and cultural divides have a point.' And it's at this point that I am now having to shout at the internet as well as at the telly. That's right, BBC. A sure sign of the breaking down of barriers and cultural divides is a lack of protests about North Korea. There were no protests because no one wants to protest about them. Hey, I guess instead of worrying about those imprisoned or killed in this secret state, we've just learned to get along. Ebony, ivory, and so on. I think this may be the stupidest sentence I've read all year, and am officially cross. I'm off to watch the tennis instead.