Why Raymond Snoddy was shoddy in his choice of clichés to attack

It’s note I find a tweet very offensive, especially tweets which the author didn’t intend to be offensive. I’ll try not to rant but I wanted to flag this one up from Raymond Snoddy, former Times and FT journalist and host of the BBC’s Newswatch programme:

Time for media to stop people “battling” cancer. You have it. You are treated. If it works you survive. Battle implies its somehow up to you

I’m not sure what prompted him to write that, I suspect it is probably on the back of the coverage of Jennifer Saunders’ fight with cancer.

Of course, all journalists like to bemoan the regular use of cliches in stories – how many times have we heard ‘chilling echoes’ in relation to the goings on in Northumberland this week? – but if there is one cliche which does stand up to scrutiny, it’s the one about ‘battling’ or ‘fighting’ cancer.

Snoddy is a well-respected journalist. Through Newswatch, he is supposed to be a bit of watchdog on matters relating to BBC News – how much of an impact it actually has is for the viewer to decide, I guess. However, if a BBC journalist was to suggest that dealing with cancer wasn’t a battle, I think it’s a safe bet they could become fodder for Snoddy’s show.

I’ve known three people in the last three years who have had cancer. One is  a close relative who, fingers’ crossed, has been given the closest you can get to the all clear after an eight month fight – and I’m not using the word flippantly – with the disese.

Another was – and sadly I do have to use the past tense here – also a relative. Her cancer was diagnosed late, and although she died, she battled to make sure her family didn’t get too upset and to ensure she made a very important family occasion.

The third many of you will know – Adrian Sudbury. A former Huddersfield Examiner reporter, anyone who worked with him and watched in admiration as he campaigned hard for greater awareness of bone marrow donation will know what a personal battle he went through.

In short, cancer is so much more than “You have it. You are treated. If it works you survive.” If you are lucky, your body responds. To that end Snoddy is right – you can’t decide if you’ll win that fight. But to say ‘Battle implies its somehow up to you’ is wrong – life can become a daily battle, regardless of outcome.

The treatments can have many side effects. Is it not a battle for a woman who loses her hair to step outside the front door? Is it not a battle, when undergoing chemotherapy, to get on with everyday life when the drugs inside you make you just want to vomit? Or forcing yourself to keep going through treatment with such horrendous side effects that you wonder if it’s worth it with no guaranteed outcome?

And what about the battle to try and make sure your family don’t get too upset – trying to keep them positive to during some of your darkest days?

At best, Snoddy was just tactless with his words. At worst, he was being downright ignorant. Many cancer sufferers do ask not to be referred to as a ‘battler’ or ‘fighter’ because they just feel lucky,  but those around them will be the first to tell you how much fighting has been done.

Snoddy’s right to campaign for an end to cliches – but he’s picked the wrong one here. Sadly, the watchdog of BBC standards seems to have to live up to those same standards.

2 comments

  1. This whole “stop using battle/sufferer/victim terms” issue has been around for a while and – in my view – Raymond Snoddy was wrong to wade in as he did.
    I wholeheartedly believe the only person who can say how their condition is termed is the individual diagnosed with it. If you’ve got cancer and you don’t want to be described as ‘fighting’ or ‘battling’ then certainly you have the absolute right not to be termed as such; only an idiot would disregard that.
    But for every one of those who don’t want to be described thus, there will be those who say they stood toe to toe with cancer and slugged it out; treating it as a foe is a way of summoning the energy to go on when you’re being assaulted with doses of chemo or radio therapy, and gruelling surgery.
    It’s a very personal thing, and naturally the media doesn’t always get it right. But I suspect celebs like Bernie Nolan, Kylie Minogue and Jennifer Saunders would describe themselves as battlers as they chose to take their struggle into the public domain and show a cancer diagnosis is not a something to be terrified of.
    I believe that – sometimes – the decision to rage against the dying of the light is what helps that flame to burn on.

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