Find wrong end of stick – grab with both hands

Jill Entwistle thinks it is impossible for the general public to form a balanced opinion on Brussels’ attempts to ban inefficient halogen lamps when the press does such a bad job reporting the issue

How many bureaucrats does it take to change a light bulb? Apparently not that many when the powers that be set their minds to it.

The announcement that the EU is gunning for less efficient low voltage halogen lamps earlier than expected has generated more heat than a whole factory full of GLS lamps. Whether it’s straightening cucumbers, redefining the Jaffa Cake or mucking about with our sausages, Britain tends to go into collective Daily Mail mode whenever the EU moots a diktat that affects anything that could be remotely described as our way of life.

In other words, the nub of the argument shifts subtly to one about the condescending bureaucracy of Brussels rather than the issue itself.

Uninformed opinions

There is never a properly informed public debate; whole ranks of the uninformed line up to contribute their misspelt and largely semi-literate twopennyworth to the discussion boards and when all the smoke clears people are generally left clutching the wrong end of the stick.

In the case of the Daily Mail, of course, it’s often a matter of grasping the wrong end of the stick in the first place. In this case, in its habitual enthusiasm to present its apoplectic vision of an apocalyptic halogen-free future, it didn’t read, or chose to ignore, the detailed bits of the EU proposals (never let the truth get in the way, etc, etc).

For one thing it’s a draft not a fait accompli (though there will be varying opinions as to how much difference that makes) and for another it’s not all halogen spots, as the story suggested, but the poorer performing ones.

Never mind that the image they used demonstrates they are also a bit hazy about the difference between mains and low voltage halogen. Or the fact that they referred to MR16s as lamp bulbs.

There is no point rehearsing here the detailed arguments for and against the EU draft for an audience that already knows what they are. But broadly, anyone right-minded is for saving lighting energy and against cheap inferior sources of any description. They also believe that lighting quality is crucial and that sustainability is more complex than watts consumed at the front end.

They also think that precipitate, politically expedient action against an easy target is not helpful when alternatives are still too pricy and problematic. This is not about whether LEDs will replace halogen but when, another aspect the Daily Mail didn’t make entirely clear.

Inconsistent viewpoint

The Mail had been at it only a fortnight before, this time on street lighting, with its headline of ‘Half a million lights go out in blackout Britain’. This, of course, was the very same Daily Mail that in 2010 lambasted Coventry City Council for squandering £250m on a controls system to dim its street lights in the early hours. So never let a consistent viewpoint get in the way of a good story either then.

Perhaps it would help if there were some sort of lighting tsar the press could go to for a steer on these things but there seems a fat chance of that in the near future. Probably wouldn’t do much good anyway. Balanced, well-informed reports are not what sell newspapers like the Daily Mail. (Mind you, the ILP managed to get a 40-word comment on dimming street lighting into a small corner of the Telegraph the other week.)

All in all, it’s probably not surprising that people remain in the dark when it comes to lighting. A neighbour seeking advice the other day asked if the curly wurly bulbs were the green ones. I decided the finer points of halogen versus LEDs could probably wait until another day.

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