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Peter Rhodes on Twitter-panic, keeping the lid on Chernobyl and a mysteriously missing death

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read today's column from Peter Rhodes.

What's offending? Image: BBC

Telling it like it is, a reader writes: “I recently had to attend a benevolent fund-raising event for retired police officers, otherwise known as a speed-awareness course.”

Another reader, with great Midland pride, describes the city of York as “a poor man's Lichfield.”

We may never know for sure whether China has tried to keep the lid on its coronavirus epidemic. But the claims of a cover-up will ring a bell with anyone who watched the excellent mini series, Chernobyl. When the Soviet nuclear reactor exploded in 1986, Moscow's chief concern was not to save lives but to keep the whole affair secret. There is a telling scene when one Communist Party official declares, with genuine pride, that the disaster has been dealt with “in the finest traditions of the KGB.”

We have lived with social media for a few years and, over the centuries, we have seen many epidemics, some deadly, some barely noticed. But we have never had an epidemic arrive in a country awash with social media where every idiot with a smartphone has the power to spread any wild, unsubstantiated rumour they wish. We could probably cope with the virus but an epidemic of Twitter-panic could drive us to despair.

The BBC's Gavin & Stacey Christmas special is deservedly in the running for best comedy at the Broadcasting Press Guild Awards. However, some Guild members object that Nessa (Ruth Jones) and Uncle Bryn (Rob Brydon) sing a karaoke version of The Pogues' hit, Fairtytale of New York, which contains the allegedly homophobic line “you cheap lousy faggot.” They say the offending word should have been bleeped out. Others claim the word is merely Irish slang for a layabout.

But what about some consistency? The BBC website in October presented a feature with the headline: “On stage at a Jewish queer night club.” It is still online today which suggests nobody has complained. So is “queer” acceptable but “faggot” unacceptable? If so, who makes up the rules, who keeps changing them and how are the rest of us supposed to keep up with them? And don't you suspect some people get up very early every morning just to find new things to get offended about?

As for bleeping out items that might cause shock or offence, where does it end? Consider the bizarre editing of the 1998 Brad Pitt film, Meet Joe Black, as screened at the weekend by Sony Movies. The defining moment of this film is when Pitt's character is mowed down and killed in a sudden road accident. In this version, the screen simply went blank for a few seconds. New viewers must have been a wee bit puzzled how Brad went straight from life to after-life without that unpleasant bit in between.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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