Archive for the ‘Journalism and News Reportage’ Category

Data Retention and Investigatory Powers Act (DRIP)

DRIPThis piece of legislation, pushed through the UK Parliament in 3 days, is wrong in so many respects. Enacted to protect innocent people against terrorists and paedophiles (nice juxtaposition) and supported unconditionally by all three main parties in the Parliament, including the Labour Party, unforgivably.

In this country the police can now demand from suppliers of internet services and mobile phone network operators details of all of my transactions. The police will legally be able to access details of my searches, sites visited and my emails – and all those with whom I engage. They have access to the duration of my visits, conversations, times of those conversations and my location.

So often, one is confronted by the trite response from politicians that if one has nothing to hide, one has nothing to fear. One has everything to fear. I am no libertarian, but the state has no right to enter my private space, and that includes my email inbox. I know now that if I, or any others, seek to become a whistleblower against corrupt public or private organisations, including the police, they will be able to find us.

The Open Rights Group is challenging the legislation. They say: “The European Convention of Human Rights, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights and our own Human Rights Act – all exist to defend are rights and are where we will be able to challenge DRIP.” They intend to challenge the legality of the legislation in the European Court of Justice. The UK remains a signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights for the time being. The Conservative Government is currently composing legislation to undermine its authority over UK legislation – a move that is thought to precipitate the UK’s withdrawal. In Europe, the only non-members are Ukraine and Russia.

Even God…

I’ve decided, after considerable thought, to follow God. On Twitter. One of the reasons for this, is that there are times when the world is incomprehensible, and some explanation is needed from afar. God is as far afar as is inconceivable.

A few days ago, after one particularly incomprehensible event, he tweeted the following:

It made me feel marginally better after 300 people were blown out of the sky by a rocket over Ukraine and a plane load of people murdered in Gaza, with more literally promised this evening by the Israeli Government.

If God has lost control, essentially he is saying, if I read him correctly, that humanity has to do something about this. What do I hear? The BBC doing its lazy ‘balanced’ reporting and my Government sticking to the tired and wrong ‘right of self-defence’ argument. This is obscene.

 

 

 

 

Making the case for leniency for marines who murder

What is the normally thoughtful Michael White, assistant editor of the Guardian newspaper in the UK, doing calling for leniency for the  marine who executed an Afghan man? The Guardian itself (8 November) reported the details of the story thus: “In the graphic footage, Marine A leans over and Imagefires into the chest of the bloodied and moaning insurgent with a pistol. He then tells him: “There you are, shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.” A few moments later Marine A is picked up telling colleagues: “Obviously this doesn’t go anywhere fellas. I’ve just broken the Geneva convention.””

The marine is unnamed to protect him. The Afghan man is unnamed because his name is not important.

The call for leniency is not restricted to Michael White. The Daily Mail, a notoriously partisan and reactionary newspaper, had a couple of days earlier made clear its position by making the quote of Major General Julian Thompson, a veteran of 3 Commando Brigade in the Falklands War, a front page banner headline: “I won’t condemn him…”

We can all think of many cases where similar arguments could be used in the case of civilians. Would Michael White and others advocate taking evidence of victims of child abuse as mitigating circumstances when as adults they go on to do similar things, or worse, themselves? I think not.

Photograph: MoD

Abu Qatada

Abu QatadaEvery picture tells a story. This one more than most. It is credited to the RAF (Royal Air Force), MoD (Ministry of Defence) and the Press Association. Though it is presented as though it was taken secretly by a photographer keen to alert the world to an important event. In the event, it was stage managed.

Abu Qatada is now in Jordan having for eleven years fought extradition from the UK where he faces no charges. In Jordan he was wanted in connection with a “terrorist bombing conspiracy”.

The British Government has spent a lot of time and money trying to deport him. But attempts to deport him have been consistently adjudged to be in contravention of Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. This Article relates to the prospect of a free and fair trial, something which the European Court and the UK Supreme Court both concur is not possible in Jordan for this case.

The solution is threefold. Leave the jurisdiction of the European Court in order to deport people to places where they may be tortured or ‘evidence’ arising from confessions of others under torture is admissible; change the law and agree a Mutual Assistance Treaty with said country; or both.

Killing on the streets of London

The covering of this story by the British media has been shameful. Readers of this blog know that I have no time for religion, and if there is a religious dimension to this killing, then I have no time for it. No God is a justification for killing. But if it is about ‘an eye for an eye’ and British State’s contempt for people in other countries in which an occupying army is present – as indicated by the perpetrator – then there is something to hear. And we are not hearing it.

The BBC, again, leads the charge. The Today programme on 24 May wasted time first on the ‘radicalisation’ debate of young men and then getting muslim religious leaders again to condemn what has happened. And any equivocation is pounced on as tacit endorsement for the act. Wrongly. And now it is reported that one-hundred British imams have signed a letter condemning the Woolwich attack in the name of ‘our’ religion.

BBC Newsnight on 23 May interviewed ‘radical cleric’ Anjem Choudary and – not surprisingly – he  refused to condemn the killing despite repeated requests by presenter Kirsty Wark. According to the Guardian newspaper “he said he was “shocked” by the murder of Lee Rigby who was killed on Wednesday afternoon but pointedly refused to say he “abhorred” the attack.” What is the point in this kind of questioning?

Radio 5 Live employs a gang of inept journalists to cover the ‘latest’ from the story. ‘The streets of Woolwich are eeriely quiet, but one can sense a change in attitude in the last few minutes’ – excuse my paraphrasing of nonsense heard on Wednesday’s blanket coverage. (This particular ‘journalist’ is skilled in this respect.); David Cameron is cutting short his visit to Paris to chair a meeting of COBRA. He leads us in condemnation and facing up to the ‘threat’ posed by terroristAdebolajos.

The vocal man with the bloodied hands – Michael Adebolajo (right) – makes his case pretty coherently. He uses all of the sources open to him – in this case the ability and willingness of witnesses to use their mobile phones to record the aftermath. It seems clear to me what the motive was; but I have yet to hear a discussion on the grievance and how that translates to killing in the street. I have heard no parallel news stories dealing with the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan; made all the more surreal with President Obama talking on the same day and almost in the same breath about drone strikes – soldiers in the USA attacking citizens of far-away countries from the safety of a military base on the US mainland.

The British public respond with a tacit endorsement of Fascists who are quick to get onto the streets to stir up unrest. They also then give the charity ‘Help for Heroes’ their best fund-raising day since establishment.

Politicians and journalists revel in these kinds of stories. There’s capital to be made.

Since writing this post, Mehdi Hassan in the New Statesman has written a piece drawing on the link between foreign policy and violence. This piece – which is not available on the New Statesman Website – has elicited a response suggesting that it is half right. Readers of this blog can access this argument here: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/06/why-mehdi-hasan-half-right-and-half-wrong-foreign-policy-cause-terrorism; It is right to point out that there are many different groupings within Islam and one may not be able argue that violence against Shia muslims in Iraq equates with violent reprisals by Sunni muslims in the UK.

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: http://tinyurl.com/cg45jrk; a petition has been launched. It can be accessed from the story here: http://tinyurl.com/blhgkmc

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 presidencia.gov.ar

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.” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-21815638). 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 http://www.bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/). 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.

Why the release of a music track is not an event

David-Bowie_Chicago_2002-08-08_photoby_Adam-Bielawski-croppedI woke up yesterday morning to the Today programme on Radio 4 as usual to the ‘news’ that David Bowie would be releasing a new single at 0715 and that I would be one of the first to hear it if I stayed tuned. David Bowie is one of the formative characters in my life. I was listening to  him and buying both singles and albums from the age of 12. Though I have never seen him play live (coming from Hull, that is not surprising). The release of a new single (and video viewable on youtube) is of interest, especially as I am informed that the song has references to Berlin and hence his most creative period in the 1970s.

Bowie_videoIt worked a dream – the newspapers are full of it; Radio 4 had another go this morning with a couple of eminent fans eulogising Bowie much to the incredulity of the presenter, Sarah Montague (the story became more her incredulity than their eulogising). Again, whilst it is great to have some new music, it is not an event. It is not as though he made an appearance on the programme. It does not warrant the time given to it on a flagship news programme. It is again lazy journalism; manipulation marketing.

Radio 4 did not even play the song.

Picture of David Bowie by Photobra|Adam Bielawski, sourced from Wikipedia; screengrab from Youtube from music video

Smear as a political strategy by so-called journalists

ImageJournalism as practised by some is a dishonourable profession. The news values are significantly out-of-line with real agenda – the things that really should matter. The Olympics is a case in point. In context, the Olympics is just a sporting event; though readers will appreciate that it has many political and corporate undertones that trouble me. It is a relief, therefore, to find that some of my readers are equally sceptical about media and journalism. One of those readers, Mary Tweed, found herself incensed by the cover of the Spectator magazine last week (above left). I reproduce her assessment below.

The names have been changed. Sometimes to protect the innocent, occasionally to protect the guilty. In this case it’s probably to stop any comeback about the mendacity behind an outrageous front-page headline. Bullied by the NHS. Try as I might, I can’t connect the headline with the contents of the article.

This disconnection becomes more obvious with just cursory research. On Mumsnet and other websites where mothers share their experiences of childbirth, it’s clear that many people have had positive experiences of NHS maternity care. Maybe even a sizable majority. For example;

http://forums.digitalspy.co.uk/showthread.php?t=782969

http://www.mumsnet.com/campaigns/better-miscarriage-care-campaign

http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/childbirth/a1506969-feedback-on-your-experience-of-maternity-care

So why run such a lightweight piece under such a damning headline? Do they believe the story told adds up to bullying? Or worse some sort of systemic bullying unique to NHS maternity services? The author got a rude midwife and wanted a personalised service. Notice there is nothing in the article about the quality of care she received.

Page 1 here; http://www.thefrockdoctrine.co.uk/images/blog/spectatorpage1hero.jpg

Page 2 here; http://www.thefrockdoctrine.co.uk/images/blog/spectatorpage2hero.jpg

In fact it’s clear she intends to lie to get what she deems to be an appropriate personalised service for someone in her tax bracket. Good enough care is not good enough it seems.  I’m not claiming NHS maternity care is flawless. I am claiming the headline “Bullied by the NHS” has nothing to do with the contents of the associated article.  I keep coming back to that front page. Its almost like the publishers of the Spectator want to kick out at the NHS and will take even the most tenuous of opportunities to do this.

The Smear. It begins with a smear and ends with privatisation. The railways and council housing were the same. State education and the entire civil service are getting the negative propaganda treatment as well. Smear, degrade, sell. It feels like a propaganda war.  Ironically Boris Johnson used to be boss at the Spectator. In the most recent London Mayor election he accused Ken Livingstone of trying to wind the clock back to the 1970s. As opposed to the Spectator, which seems to be trying to wind the clock back to the 1870s.

Leah McLaren states in this article that in Britain infant mortality is “significantly higher” than in France. She does not give any facts or any details of the research at all to back this up.

According to the United Nations the mortality figures per 1000 births for France and Britain are as follows; 2005 – 2010 UK: 4.91 FRANCE:3.54

http://esa.un.org/unpd/wpp/Excel-Data/mortality.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate

According to the CIA world factbook for 2012 the numbers per 1000 births are; UK:4.56 FRANCE:3.37

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/rankorder/2091rank.html

Both sets of figures above and the links come from wikipedia;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_infant_mortality_rate

In percentage terms that could be described as a significant difference. In numerical terms it’s slightly more than one extra death for every thousand births. The author goes on to make the assumption that the differences in mortality rates are solely due to the method of birth chosen. This is not clear from the statistics and could be the result of other differences.

Her point about home birth and hospital birth seems muddled. She seems to say France has a lower infant mortality rate due to “medicalised birth.” Then a few paragraphs later says in the UK the risks of home birth vs hospital birth are virtually the same.

It’s unclear what she means. Are UK home births as safe as hospital births? Is there a problem with “medicalised” birth care in the UK versus France?

It also bears no relation to the front page about bullying by the NHS.

The irony is she has a genuine complaint against the midwife who upset her. The person in question disclosed confidential information about other patients. If Leah McLaren was serious about improving the care at that particular maternity unit she should have made a complaint. Disclosing confidential patient information is something health-care professionals take seriously.  Instead the author chose to write a quasi-anonymous article about feeling bullied.