Archive for Journalism

Obligatory Phone Hacking Post

Posted in Journalism, News, Politics with tags , , on July 26, 2011 by pieman70

Yes, of course I’m going to comment on this.  I was going to talk about less important things but this has been very interesting indeed.

First, as always, this story has been covered better in the following blogs, Obsolete, Zelo Street, Angry Mob, Enemies of Reason, Bloggerheads and 5 Chinese Crackers, also worth reading is Flat Earth news by Nick Davies, who broke this story ages ago and has been doggedly persistent in trying to get this to the publics attention.

Ok, still here?

So, for those not paying attention, there was a Sunday tabloid called the News of the World owned by a big media baron called Rupert Murdoch.  Rupert owned a lot of media and was feared by politicians.  Reporters at the News of the world, in order to get celebrity stories, started hiring a private detective called Glen Mulchare to hack answerphones on the off-chance they contained juicy gossip.  This was pretty normal as most papers were involved in similar and indeed worse breaches of the law on fishing expeditions for gossip.  However it was discovered that said PI had hacked the phone of missing Teenager Milly Dowler, and had even deleted messages to listen to more messages of her desperate family begging her to come home.  This then opened a floodgate, 7/7 victims phones had been hacked, families of dead soldiers.  Terrible stuff, but for those who have read flat earth news, unsurprising.  What it did was cause enough public outcry to start a boycott of News of the World’s advertising causing News International to close the paper.

This sorry debacle finally brought into the open the true horror of our press.  Politicians had been scared to act against NI for fears of being attacked by their sizable media interests.  The Police were spiking stories and utterly failing to investigate illegal practices by newspapers in exchange for favourable coverage and a cosy relationship.  While phone hacking was the final trigger to get a proper review it wasn’t the only problem, the real issue was the influence of the press, of News international and the complicity of the police.  It also embarrassed many a politician on both sides as they had all been spotted enjoying the hospitality of News International’s summer garden party mere weeks previously.  David Cameron took a particularly hefty amount of flak for his close relationship with Rebekah Brooks and his hiring of Andy Coulson, not to mention his response was to try and hold back and see if the whole thing blew over, said NI papers currently being on his side.  It was not to be.

Those of us who have been fighting to get this in the open scored victories, the Arrest of Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, the calling of Brooks and the Murdochs to a select committee.  Murdoch abandoning his bid to take over BSkyB, a move that was to be waived through by our compliant culture secretary Jeremy Hunt.  The lib-dems have managed to make some minor gains and Labour’s Tom Watson has shone.  Its been entertaining to say the least.  It seems that every sacrifice that Murdoch throws in teh hope of all this going away gets eaten up and teh hungry spectre of accountability merely asks for more.  Send down Andy… More, Shut Down the News of teh world…. More, Send down Rebekah… More, Ditch the BSkyB bid…. MORE

The prize however, is going to be a bit more difficult.  Already the Right Wing press are desperate to either paint this as a left vs right issue, with the Stalinist BBC trying to knock out the more efficient private NI.  It doesn’t help that Ed Milliband’s main attack is around Coulson, rather than the cosy media relationship.

What I want to see is some hefty reform.  The PCC has repeatedly shown itself as toothless.  The remaining right-wing papers, led by the Daily “Hooray for the Blackshirts” Mail are desperately trying to play this as a problem with NI, when they’re not playing it as a BBC plot, partly in the hope of occupying NI’s position if it is suitably weakened, and partly in the hope that once this blows over they can carry on as normal with no accountability.  Press reform is not in their interests.

The cry has been that Regulation will equal Censorship.  I disagree.  The regulation need not be state, but it also can’t be Self regulation.  That gave a system which favoured the press over the public and the “Fast Free and Fair” service the PCC claims only manages the “Free” part.

The goal of regulation is not Censorship.  In effect its quality control.  A newspaper is a business.  At the moment it is more profitable for a paper to publish an inaccurate story and apologise later than it is to spend money fact checking.  This must change.  I would propose a variety of options on the new regulator, the ability to impose fines, and in severe cases, to publish retractions in the same prominence and amount for inaccurate stories.  This would be a final sanction for a repeat offender (Say the smears relating to the first Jo Yates murder suspect, later found not guilty) Papers may complain that they can’t run a weeks worth of headlines and blanket coverage merely saying they were wrong.  I beg to differ, and the losses this will make, the missed headlines of current events will perhaps make a paper spend that little bit extra on research.  This would be a top end sanction (Others could include suspension of staff and suspension of issues, but the impact must be devastatingly financial)

It should be sometimes accepted that illegal acts may be required to reveal wrongdoing.  However fishing expeditions are not journalism.  If you hacked the voicemails of every MP there would almost certainly be a couple of juicy stories, but Journalist should have evidence before they resort to lawbreaking.  The definition of public interest should also be tightened up.  Celeb shag’n’tell stories may interest the public, but they are not in the public interest.  Knocking these out of the news may force the press to up their game.

We should also look at media ownership, no one owner or company should own so much of our media.  This should limit the influence of any one company.

We should also be able to read reports of meetings between politicians and the owners of companies (Any company) in fact Lobbying as a whole should be much more transparent.

I think what would really help is a cultural change.  The old rule in news, that Dog does not bite Dog meant that those who supposedly hold the powerful to account turned a blind eye at their own wrongdoing.  Perhaps Dog should eat Dog in this case.

I am the Faceless Blogger Woooooo

Posted in Blogging, Journalism with tags , on June 22, 2010 by pieman70

I thought, since I’ve written a bit of political stuff, I’d explain why I blog from behind the very attractive but ultimately faceless façade of the Pie Man.

What it boils down to is my job, now I’m not going to tell you what that is beyond its in civil engineering; those who know me know what I do.  The problem is twofold.

First, I do worry about my employers monitoring the net.  Other companies have done it, and while I can’t update my blog from work it is out there for all to see.  Even if I didn’t say what I did I doubt they’d be happy if their monitoring flagged up a critical article by their employees.  I like blogging, more than my job, but until people will pay me equivalent salary for this random emptying of my mind anonymous will have to do.  There are links between my real identity and my blog, but you’d have to find them (It’s not actually that hard but I’ll hardly tell you).  There have been existing cases of employees sacked over the content of their blogs, so I’ll at least make linking me with my blog that much harder.

Second, Lazy Journalists.  So, I write a piece critical of my company, or indeed my union near an upcoming strike.  When one or the other comes under scrutiny journalist have often searched for key words and phrases in the hope of finding some internal bitching.  This sort of thing got some MPs in trouble after their twitter feeds were followed last election.  Now this may seem like me seeming overly self important, but I don’t want to read an article stating “Worker in company X blasts management/unions” and a reveal of my name may well lead to a discovery of my employer.  This one is more pernicious.  While my company not liking what I’ve written I can defend by pointing out my relative anonymity and how I do not say it is the opinions of an employee, something hitting the presses on the other hand is harder, as in public my name and status as an employee would be front and centre.  To this end I do self censor a lot, both in blogs and forums, a shame because a couple of times saying I work where I work, or even quoting standards could have easily won arguments.  This I think is wrong.  I shouldn’t have to fear reprisals from what I post online, I would ask if ranting in the pub would receive the same scrutiny, but the only difference is I’m less likely to be near someone who can report it nationally while ranting in my local while on a blog it is there, and there for a good while.

I would like to see my right to express opinions about my work, employers and related gubbins protected, so that my boss can’t sack me for expressing opinion (Hell, I even have a comments section, that’s right to reply there you know) and I’d also like my blog posts to be protected by some form of copyright, namely that if anyone wants to use them they have to ask permission.  Its new legal ground and I’ll be interested to see how many sackings we get before something is done.

A Discussion on Immigration

Posted in Journalism, Media, Politics, Uncategorized with tags , , on May 14, 2010 by pieman70

This article won’t be a discussion on immigration per se.

One of the arguments you hear from the right/anti-immigration side is that parties like UKIP and the BNP (Yes, I mention them in the same breath because they are the same) are merely a symptom of not being allowed to discuss immigration without being called racist, or indeed as some papers say, in between headlines and front pages about immigration, “You can’t talk about immigration”.

So, I’m putting in a suggestion on how a discussion on immigration where the pro immigration side, will discuss immigration without calling you racist, bigoted or any other accusation of that ilk regardless of how racist you get.

This isn’t a free ride, any anti-immigration types who participate have to agree to some terms of my own devising, gleaned from many a head/brick wall interface type conversation I’ve had with them in the past.

First, argument must be conducted online in a discussion forum type environment, this allows both sides to cite articles, studies and websites and have plenty of time to read and counterpoint them.

Second, Argument must be based on facts, statistics and reports, not anecdote, opinion or editorial.  The number of times I’ve been in a discussion and quoted, for example that Legal migrants are entitled to all our benefits, as they have come over here with a job at some point and therefore paid tax, Asylum seekers get £30 odd a week and illegals get nothing, being illegal.  Only to be told that “I see them every day and they get more than that” Back it up, with facts and figures, otherwise I might as well respond “No they don’t, I see them not get benefits every day.” Similarly, the oft stated claim that “They don’t integrate” prove it, both sides, have studies been done.  I recall one (Can’t find a citation sadly) which actually said your average muslim migrant read the sun, watched X-Factor, supported the local football team and worried about immigrants (Seriously) how is that not integrating.

Third, the anti-immigration side have to specify at each point who “They” are.  Again I’ve been in arguments where “Immigrant” flits between someone in from the EU, someone on a student Visa, economic migrant, illegal migrant and asylum seeker.  (In truth this is because most anti-immigration types don’t know the difference)

Fourth, leave your tin-foil hat at the door.  There is no point pretending to have a discussion with someone only to respond to a set of facts with “Oh well they would say that” If you have a fault with the figures, by all means, lest see a factual backing up of these, or a scientific deconstruction of the methods.  I’ve seen this done in just about all of migration watch’s stuff and its a perfectly valid form of argument.  Claiming the figures were “Made up” because they don’t fit your view is not.

Finally, both sides must be willing to give ground.  Again the pro-immigration lobby (Aside from their more lunatic fringes) are better at this, accept that people have concerns, that these can be in the form of their communities changing, and that sometimes an influx of migrants makes them feel like they’re being squeezed out, and their voice may not be heard (A bit like being me in a seat where everyone else is happy with Douglas Alexander) the anti-immigration side will similarly have to be open to accept that the line fed to them by the daily mail is actually based on a slanted editorial agenda and that their life views may in fact be wrong.  (Sorry, that in itself is slanted, but purely because the bulk of research I’ve read shows it to be the case)

The tabloid calls for open discussion mean on their terms, basically say what we like without accusations of racism.  The structure I suggested would produce a real discussion, but not one I suspect the anti-immigration supporters would enjoy.

I Believe in the BBC

Posted in BBC, Evil Big Buisiness, Journalism, Media with tags , , , on October 14, 2009 by pieman70

Apologies for this long, rambling and ranty post

At the recent Edinburgh TV Festival the Mac Taggart lecture was delivered by James Murdoch, Son of Rupert Murdoch Billionaire Tyrant and owner of News international.  His speech attacked the BBC calling in particular for the online news service to be scaled back or completely removed, and argued that the only true guarantor of independent journalism was profit.  This of course has nothing whatsoever to do with News international wanting to charge for online versions of their paper, and this being hard because

1, a cardinal rule of the internet is that it is very hard to charge for something that you previously offered for free

2, it is even harder to charge for something when someone else is offering a superior product for free.

Fortunately in a room full of professionals and educated people, this didn’t really wash, and most saw this for what it was, the usual Murdoch dislike of anything they can’t buy or drive out of business.  However there are fears that in order to gain press support some backroom deals may well be made by both parties next election to begin the dismantling of the BBC.

Murdoch’s argument sounds valid, who wouldn’t trust an independent company, who have to make a profit over something government run, except the BBC has many safeguards in place to stop it being the governments propaganda wing.  In fact the BBC has been one of the biggest critics of the government, even in its current gun shy state after the brutal attack the government made on it over the Iraq dossier.  In fact if anything it’s the profit driven news companies who deserve more scrutiny as they show what news gathering would be like under a purely commercial model.

In Nick Davis’ book “Flat Earth News” he describes what he calls the “news Factory” an environment which exists when companies run news organisations for the maximum amount of profit.  In these news factories such as those run by news international, staff are overworked and short on time, and in general stories are run direct from the news wire or indeed more often than not reworded from corporate press releases or other papers articles (A process referred to as Churnalism) with minimal to no fact checking.  This leaves the commercial news operators wide open to distortion by PR companies, and the like.  It also creates a style of journalism that stays away from dangerous stories, namely watch what you say about big companies, or anything not form an “Official Source”  The BBC has fallen into this trap as well, although not as badly as those run by companies like News International.

The second problem with profit driven news is what I call the Daily Mail syndrome.  The Daily Mail is Britain’s best selling paper, it is also full of distortions presenting a view of the UK as a nation swamped with foreigners all raiding our lucrative benefits system, while white hard working taxpayers foot the bill, it shows a Britain swarming with feral youths and crime, which naturally only hanging and the birch would solve.  It also, as has been said by better men than me, has engaged in a rather odd project to classify all inanimate objects into those that cause or cure cancer.  When questioned, the Mail defends itself by stating that it reflects the views of its readers, and I don’t doubt that, it reflects the worrying state of mind of little Englanders and paranoid xenophobes everywhere.  It also pedals racism and constantly misrepresents the facts to fit its agenda.  And this sells by the bucket load.  In short, it works on a principle of “hell with the facts, tell them what they want to hear and we make money” That is what profit driven news gives you.

A great example of the true faults with profit driven news occurred at the end of last year during Israel’s attacks on Palestine.  The Sun, a News international paper, ran a story about Islamic extremists creating a hit list of prominent UK Jews.  Sir Alan Sugar was on this list (And he successfully sued the Sun, more on that in a bit).  The Story was sourced from a supposed independent Terror Expert named Glen Jevaney, who claimed he had been staking out internet forums for just this ort of thing.  Jevaney was backed by Tory MP Patrick Mercer, A shadow cabinet minister, so official source.  This story was published in the Sun with minimal fact checking.  Several independent bloggers, most notably Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads (www.bloggerheads.com and I can only recommend you read his expose on this yourself) and that’s independent as in they do this for free, did what the profit driven media did not and looked into this.  It transpired, and eventually broke recently on radio 5, that the person posting on an Islamic website about targeting high profile Jews was Glen Jevaney, he’d been trying to bait the residents into providing a story, and when none bit, he used his own posts as evidence of extremism.  He was found out, not by professional journalists, but by enthusiastic amateurs who were not held to costs or deadlines.

So, to conclude, the BBC, if it has any problems at all in its news gathering, it is that it tries too often to emulate the commercial companies.  James Murdoch is wrong; the profit motive provides shoddy journalism.  The best comes from having time and the guts to follow a story in detail, do research and properly investigate.  So far the profit medial provides none of this.