Playing to the gallery


IT WAS in March 2006 that the Home Office in the U.K. suddenly announced the new immigration rules for overseas doctors. I was surprised that except for the British Medical Association, the rest of the news media including the BBC hardly gave any time or space for a ruling that has had devastating consequences for thousands of doctors from overseas, especially from India. The news never came close to the front page of any newspaper in the U.K. and the BBC made a brief passing mention. Senior politicians kept quiet and in a self righteous manner sought to fight injustice in far-flung countries but chose to ignore what was going on in their own backyard. This abrupt change in ruling was due to the sudden realisation by the government that there would be a surplus of doctors in the National Health Service. The wall of silence on the part of the media was not because these doctors belonged to another country but news about surplus doctors would hardly boost the sale of newspapers or viewing figures. The fact that the way the ruling was announced was completely unfair did not cut any ice with the media moguls. This was in spite of the fact that it has been doctors from India and other overseas countries who have propped up the National Health Service for the last 40 years.

Mindless programme

Turn the clock forward to the present time and we have Shilpa Shetty entering the Big Brother house, a mindless TV programme, produced by Channel 4. We have a clash of cultures, class, accents, an argument over a soup cube and a pot of chicken curry flushed down the toilet. There was bullying no doubt but no racism. This most trivial of all TV programmes was suddenly headline news. It was on the front pages of most U.K. newspapers and featured on an almost daily basis on BBC Radio 4's flagship `Today' programme. Senior politicians were falling over themselves to pass judgment. Trade talks between India and the U.K. were said to be in jeopardy and [the U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer] Gordon Brown was sweating in India for reasons other than the hot weather. Can the beleaguered overseas doctors learn from this? Would the situation have been different if the media had given the doctors a hearing? This question will remain unanswered. The British Association of Physicians of Indian Origin has also lost its legal battle against the rules. A more practical and useful measure would have been for an overseas doctor to join Big Brother.