Archive for March, 2013|Monthly archive page

Power without responsibility or thought of consequences

dailymail_mastheadI’m no supporter of press regulation. The current hastily-assembled proposals in the UK for written media regulation – including relating to this blog – is misplaced. That is not to say that what the journalists at News International and Mirror Group have done is not serious. Only that regulation will inhibit journalist’s ability investigate wrongdoing. Unfortunately, many of the violations of legitimate journalism in recent times have involved celebrity culture rather than real issues affecting society more generally.

There seems now to be a growing list of casualities – by which I mean deaths – arising from illegitimate ‘journalism’. I’ve always hated hoax phone calls – even when done by real satirists in pursuit of a real point. Here I think of Chris Morris and Armando Iannucci with The Day Today, the excellent parody of news production. But the two radio presenters in Australia, Mel Greig and Michael Christian, who contacted the hospital in London where Kate Windsor was briefly held realised that hoaxing can lead to suicide, however improbable was the prank. The nurse who took the call, Jacintha Saldanha, committed suicide whilst the pair were still boasting.

David Kelly’s death over leaks related to WMDs in Iraq, again, can be traced to poor journalistic judgement. In this case, Andrew Gilligan, formally of the BBC and now of the Daily Telegraph.

And now we have the suicide of a transgendered woman, Lucy Meadows, teaching in a school in Accrington in Lancashire, after Richard Littlejohn had railed against her in the Daily Mail. The story has been pulled by the Daily Mail, but it has been archived here:; a petition has been launched. It can be accessed from the story here:

Cigarette advertising – Springtime in Munich

München-20130323-00096I have not been in the City for a few weeks, but the cigarette advertisers are turning to thoughts of spring. The cigarette billboards are popping up like spring flowers, unfortunately, not so fleeting.

So, here is the update: perhaps temporarily, Marlboro has adapted its “Maybe”München-20130323-00095

campaign to incorporate the “no additives” approach of Pall Mall and others. So gone are the young people;  now we have pictures of packaging and green leaves.

Pall Mall, meanwhile, continues with happy young people and greenery.

JustFreeJSP has launched a new campaign called ‘Just Free’. I need to look into this, but the three protagonists in the poster (left) seem instrumental. They are doing something with intent; presumably their intent is not simply a desperate visit to the tobacconist to buy a packet of cigarettes?

New Pope

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013Now the dust has settled, time to reflect. First, the BBC. I was listening on Radio 5 Live whose coverage was baleful. There was a time when the election of the Pope was reported as that and the pantomime around it – the Conclave, etc. – was largely ignored. Now it is an event in its own right.

BBC Radio 5 Live had the fawning Shelagh Fogarty in St Peter’s Square talking to some “academic” theologan who clearly believed that the Holy Spirit had the casting vote in the “election”. Mingling with the faithful was Dominic Laurie, 5-Live’s business and economics correspondent (though a freelancer), asking inane questions and getting obvious answers. What was he doing there? Well, seemingly in his youth he taught English in Rome for a year prior to becoming a journalist. Suitably qualified.

Of course the funniest moment – despite the briefings and so-called expertise on hand – was the failure of both the radio and the TV to identify exactly which cardinal had been elected. The TV and radio correspondents had different thoughts until the confusion was sorted after an AP wire. Such ineptness.

Then there is the nonsense about the Church more generally. Why does the BBC pay such homage to a corrupt and abusive institution? For the same reason it pays homage to the British Monarchy? It defeats me. The manipulation of the media by the Vatican is not subtle. The spinning going on is quite extraordinary. Here we have a new pope who is a simple man, who lived in a flat alone and cooked his own food. Goodness me, he also used public transport. And he wears a wooden cross (though not in the above photograph). Now we learn that he called his own newsagent in Buenes Aires to cancel his daily newspaper as, seemingly, he will not be going back. These are fripperies. He heads up the Catholic Church – a vile corporation – with a mission to exploit, misuse resources, lie/cover-up, subjugate women, etc. The BBC – of all news gathers – should not legitimise it.Musei_vaticani,_cappella_sistina,_retro_02

The fact that the Church was ever able to afford to build and maintain the Vatican and is the home of those great works of art; for example, the Sistine Chapel (right), says it all.

Now I know there are some good people in the Church. The monks who have persistently put their own lives at risk in Brazil hiding those who oppose the land grabs of the loggers, are a case in point. Equally, many hospitals and schools in South America and Africa are run by the Catholic Church to compensate for the failure of states to provide basic services. I commend the people behind these enterprises. But Iwould argue that education and health services in the 21st Century are the responsbilility and preserve of states, not churches.

Pictures: Pope Francis

Sistine Chapel: Sailko (Wikipedia)

Lazy BBC journalism or some agenda to undermine local authorities and public bodies?

imagesThe BBC is running a story about UK local authorities and other public bodies using private detectives in surveillance work. The report claims that “more than £3.9 million has been spent by public bodies in the last two years on paying private investigators, according to Big Brother Watch.” ( It would be reasonable reading this story to be outraged, but if one investigates further, all is not what it seems. Public bodies are using private investigators to gather evidence on a range of issues around fraud, anti-social behaviour and child protection. Some of the money also goes to Fishery Patrol flights. All of these seem laudible; though if public bodies are, as Big Brother Watch claim, using private investigators to get round the provisions of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, there is an issue of concern.

So who are Big Brother Watch? It does not take much to find out (all the profiles below are taken from the website at It’s founder, Matthew Elliott, is a political lobbyist and founder of the right-wing Taxpayer’s Alliance. His own profile on the website states: “In 2010 Matthew was described by the BBC as “one of the most effective lobbyists at Westminster” and he was ranked by Total Politics as one of the top 25 political influencers in the UK. Matthew led the successful NO to AV campaign in May 2011, achieving an emphatic victory.  Matthew has written four books on public spending and is a Fellow of the RSA.”

His director is Nick Pickles – no relation to the Conservative minister Eric Pickles, but his affiliation to the Conservative Party stretches to having been a candidate in 2010 forBBW the Normanton, Pontefract  and Castleford constituency, currently held by Yvette Cooper, partner of Ed Balls (Labour’s shadow chancellor). The deputy director, Emma Carr, also has a Conservative Party affiliation, having been a regional chairman for Conservative Future at the time of the General Election. Finally, but not least, Dominique Lazanski, a veteran of Silicon Valley and now doing  “freelance consulting to private industry and [working] at the TaxPayers’ Alliance on digital policy issues. She has a long held interest in public policy and participatory government. She has written and spoken on digital issues over the years from a free market and entrepreneurial perspective.”

The profiles suggest that public bodies are antithetical to their own interests and agenda. In and of itself I do not have a problem with that. I do have a problem with the BBC running the story – at public expense – without making clear the affiliation or even naming the journalist behind the BBC story.

Processed meat and health link – a red herring?

TimLangNotwithstanding the intended pun, there is one aspect of this debate I had not thought about. So, last Thursday, we witnessed the publication of a Europe-wide survey highlighting the dangers of processed meat. In fact, we should not eat more than 20g per day, it seems. But Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London, noted on The Today Programme on Radio Four (7 March), that processed food is a direct consequence of the production of fresh meat, or at least the over production of beef, lamb, pork and indeed, chicken. The industry is so ‘efficient’ that it processes the less prime pieces to maximise the value of any animal carcass. The consequence of this, however, is the ubiquity of processed food, and its relative cheapness.

The debate on the Today Programme can be heard here: Lang on Today

For anyone interested in the work of Tim Lang, The Guardian newspaper offers the following:; his university profile can be found here:

Beyoglu, Galata Bridge and Süleymaniye Mosque

DSCF0185Time to venture into the new city across the Golden Horn. We took the tram and then the furnicular to Taksim Square. From there we walked down Istiklal Caddesi – the shopping street that one sees in every large city. Though this one has a vintage tram line down the centre (see left).

Essentially at the end of Istiklal Caddesi one finds the key landmark for this part of the city (short of DSCF0189mosques as it is); namely, the Galata Tower. It dominates the skyline and offers a decent view of the city. My guide says that the entry fee is extortionate.

The area has many side roads with antique shops of the unkempt variety. There are also so examples of wooden houses, many in a state of disrepair, though some are receiving some DSCF0196attention as in this fine example on the left.

We then walked back into the old city across the Galata Bridge which takes the metro and the road. There are some cafes built into the structure; we were hungry so risked one of them. Not really recommended. At the road level, men fish off the bridge.

DSCF0201Once across we found ourselves once again passing through a bazaar of sorts. Literally hundreds of small shops, largely doing textiles and homewares. Astonishing. The up to the Süleymaniye Mosque. Clearly a lot of work has been done on this building. It is stunning both inside and out. It was another feat of engineering comissioned to challenge the magnificence of the Hagia Sofia. I offer a couple of pictures to illustrate the grandeur, but it needs a better snapper of photos than me to capture the true magnificence of the interior particularly.DSCF0202

Istanbul – The Bosphorus and Spice Market

 DSCF0147The sun came out today prompting us to think that a boat ride along a part of the Bosphorus was a good idea. We walked to Eminoenue where a good number of ferries arrive and depart to and from Harem across on the east side. There we were sold a 90 minute boat ride up the Bosphorus for 20 Lira. The boat turned out not to be quite what we were shown and the timings were interesting to say the least. And it was very very cold, but the views were stunning in the sunshine.DSCF0168 We advise, take some food with you onboard and expect some waiting around and no commentary.

By late afternoon we alighted and headed into the spice market. The spice market is colourful, aromatic and non-threatening. We found a cafe where we could get a hot wrap and some tea and then later another service variation on rice pudding. Heavy. We then took the metro back to Sultanahmet to finish thawing out in the hotel after the river experience.

DSCF0176There is a splendid fountain separating the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. At night it is illuminated green, blue and red. A perfect backdrop for a photograph.

As we walked to a cluster of restaurants we observed a frisky dog visiting a kebab shop, tail wagging, asking for food. The kindly man directed the animal outside where it waited patiently in anticipation. A few pieces were cut from the kebabDSCF0173 hanging, as they do, in the window. The pieces were placed in the street on a piece of paper whereupon the dog rejected them!