Tag Archives: newspapers

#Leveson and the #gagginglaw: a tale of two processes

Same-sex marriages StatementI’ve been watching the live feed of the House of Commons for the past hour, waiting for the report stage of the “transparency” bill to start. As such, I’ve watched Maria Miller’s statement on the regulation of the press and her time and again defend the long drawn out Leveson process on the basis that it leads to stronger regulation.

Is holding these two debates consecutively the government’s idea of a joke? Let’s look at the two processes: the Leveson process kicked off in May 2011 following a massive public outcry. Leveson himself reported just under 12 months ago. The plans to overhaul the system for non-party campaigning at elections were announced the day before the summer recess this year, following no outcry whatsoever, either from the public or anyone else.

The government has bent over backwards to attempt to establish cross-party and stakeholder agreement on how best to implement the Leveson proposals. When it comes to the gagging law, there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny, no white paper and the old statutory requirement of a 12 week consultation period has already been relegated to the dustbin.

Both processes have profound implications for our civic society and the public’s ability to hold their government’s to account. The only difference appears to be (in stark contrast to the ludicrous claims of the gagging law’s advocates) that newspapers are owned by millionaire businessmen. Voluntary organisations are not. If Rupert Murdoch ran 38 Degrees, you can bet this law would be getting more scrutiny than it is now.

To hear Maria Miller discuss the evils of rushing through legislation really is difficult. I hope the irony will not escape MPs when debating the bill this evening and tomorrow.

Eek! Evil EU ban our traditional way of light!

Chris Applegate’s life work is without purpose. Why? Because the Daily Mail is unspoofable. What satirical mind could have come up with this pile of nonsense for instance?

Revolt! Robbed of their right to buy traditional light bulbs, millions are clearing shelves of last supplies

Millions of Britons are finally waking up to the fact that their beloved light bulb will disappear for good after 120 years.

Traditional 100-watt bulbs are vanishing from the High Street because of a controversial European Union decision.

Yesterday panic buyers were snapping up the remaining bulbs in a last-ditch attempt to stockpile the final supplies. Hundreds of leading supermarkets and DIY chains – including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Homebase – have already sold their last remaining bulbs after a surge in panic buying.

Other stores say they have enough stocks to last until the end of next week.

Let’s work backwards on this one. First of all, very few stores will have enough stock to last until the end of next week. That’s how modern shops work. Why keep loads of deadweight stock in store when you can have it delivered to you when you need it?

Secondly, until you read this, were you aware of any panic buying? No? Me neither. On the other hand I am very much aware that one of the main suppliers of lightbulbs on the high street, Woolworths, shut its doors for the last time yesterday. I was also very aware over Christmas how all stores were keeping their stock particularly low. During an economic downturn and with the banks in trouble, we should expect this as cash flow has become that much more important.

Thirdly, traditional? Joseph Swan invented it 131 years ago (with that crook Edison trying to rip him off as per). How does that count as “traditional.” My generation’s grandparents will have had gas when they were kids – that is how new an invention this is.

Fourthly, 100w? If your complaint about energy saving lightbulbs is that the light from them is “harsh” (I disagree, but there you go), why would you want a 100w bulb? Wouldn’t a 60w or 40w suit you better (lower wattage bulbs will remain on sale until 2011)? I am not a historian of the lightbulb but I’m pretty much willing to bet you that the “traditional” bamboo-filament bulbs of the late 19th century would have blown up if you put 100w through them.

Fifthly, an EU decision? The UK voluntarily signed up to the scheme.

Sixthly, energy saving bulbs cause seizures? Epilepsy Action don’t think so (hat tip: Blagger).

Seventh, energy saving bulbs cause rashes? Maybe, in certain cases, but only for people who already have dermatological conditions.

Eighth, energy saving bulbs damage the environment? They do contain trace levels of mercury, but if recycled properly are no problem (I’ve been using these bulbs for over 20 years and have never even seen a broken one – they’re much more robust than incandescent bulbs). “Traditional” bulbs contain mercury as well – in fact by switching to compact fluorescent lamps, you will reduce the level of mercury you use.

Regarding points six, seven and eight though, they are out of date as LEDs are set to replace CFLs over the next few years. The main barrier to introducing them has been, yes, the predominence of the “traditional incandescent light bulb.”

All in all, the Mail story amounts to a confection of lies and misleading scare stories. Pretty much nothing in it turns out to be true. So no change there then.

Charlie Brooker says it for me.

If I had had an opportunity over the weekend, I was planning to write an essay on my view of the whole Russell Brand / Jonathan Ross episode. Having read Charlie Brooker this morning however, I now realise I don’t need to:

The sad, likely outcome of this pitiful gitstorm is an increase in BBC jumpiness. I have a vested interest in this, of course, because I’ve just started work on the next series of my BBC4 show Screen Wipe, on which we sometimes sail close to the wind. In the past, the BBC has occasionally stepped in to nix the odd line that oversteps the mark – as it should do, when parameters aren’t out of whack.

But when the Beeb’s under fire, those parameters can change. Last year, following the “fakery” scandals, we recorded a trailer for the series in which I mocked a BBC4 ident featuring footage of seagulls, by fooling around with a plastic seagull on a stick and muttering about how you couldn’t trust anything on TV any more. Pure Crackerjack. But suddenly it couldn’t be transmitted, due to “the current climate”. So God knows how restrictive things might get over the coming months.

Read it all here.

The Daily Mail: the paper for pervs

I’m struggling to avoid writing about the Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand affair, but it has to be said that the Daily Mail really do take the biscuit on this one. In it, Georgina Baillie calls for Brand and Ross to be sacked for leaving her grandfather ‘utterly horrified and disgusted’ after ringing him up and claiming that Brand has slept with her. Of course, it happens to be true and the Mail see fit to print several pictures of Andrew Sachs’ granddaughter which might conceivably also ‘horrify’ and ‘disgust’ him, but sod that – BURN THE WITCHES!

To be fair though, that story is being printed in most tabloids today. It is to another story we must turn if we want to really uncover the dark heart of Dacre. Today the Mail also prints a story about teachers having sexual relationships with their pupils. Under the headline “Dear Sir, I really thought you loved me…,” it includes several soft focus pictures of girls in school uniforms and paragraphs like this one:

Awkwardly, 14-year-old Laura Walker sat down on the log, among the dark trees, her thigh just brushing against that of her 32-year-old teacher, Steven Edwards.

‘I had butterflies inside my tummy,’ she says. ‘I knew what was coming.’

The mature man bent his head and kissed the young teenager – ‘snogged’ is the word she uses.

‘I was so excited,’ she says. ‘I couldn’t believe that he was interested in me, but he was clearly showing that he was. The kiss was very passionate.’

Do we really need this level of detail and flowery prose in an article which is supposed to be about exposing child abuse? This isn’t the first time I’ve read stories in the Mail which are ostensibly censorious but appear more than a little salacious. I recall reading an article about an actress a couple of years ago who was apparently raising her child with a gay man which went into an inordinate amount of detail about her physical characteristics and naked frollicking.

But the killer, for me, is the change in tone when the story examines the case of a female teacher sleeping with a male pupil:

Looking at Dean Dainty – a normal, spiky-haired, slightly scruffy schoolboy – you wonder how any grown woman could think it appropriate to view him as a sexual being.

The relationship began when Dean was 15 and the teacher gave him a mobile phone ‘for doing so well in her class’.

On it, he found her own personal mobile number, and they began texting each other. The texts quickly became sexual. No doubt the schoolboy could not believe that this pretty, blonde teacher might be interested in him.

‘We arranged to meet up, and she swore me to secrecy,’ he says.

He went to after-school break-dancing sessions with her, and she took him into a pub.

The affair was clandestine, with the pair – Dean was by now 16 – snatching sex wherever they felt they would not get caught.

Where are the references to his thighs? Or the talk about how ‘passionate’ their kisses were?

This ambiguous attitude towards paedophilia is of course nothing new in the Mail – it was one of the things that Chris Morris’ Brass Eye Special a few years ago both parodied and highlighted in its immediate aftermath. But we should never forget that these self-appointed guardians of moral virtue are uncomfortably close in attitude to the very people they claim to be condemning.

A tale of three newspapers

I’m on the night shift tonight – got to file an article for Comment is Free at 7am. The big picture is still unclear at the mo so I thought I’d offer my words of wisdom about the London election.

I’ve spent the past month tracking mentions of Boris, Ken and Paddick on Twitter. What I witnessed, particularly today, was about 80% of twitterers mentioning Boris expressing utter disbelief at the prospect of Three Jobs Boz getting the Mayoralty, 5% were petulant remarks from True Blues accusing anyone who fails to immediately see how wonderful he is as being “class warriors” and “inverted snobs” and 15% echoing Charlie Brooker’s article a couple of weeks ago, namely “OMFG LOOK AT HIS FUNNEEE HAIR LOL!!!! BORRIS IS A LEGERND!!!!” I’m afraid to say that seeing the 100th one of these messages today, I started to go a bit funny in the head.

The general impression seems to be that turnout in London is high. Iain Dale seems to think it is limited to the Outer London donut, but my experience from telling in an uber urban Islington ward today is that it is high there too. At 6pm we were being told that turnout there was already hitting 50%.

What I found most revealing today was looking at the coverage of the London elections in London’s free newspapers. For those who don’t know, London now has three of the things: the Metro which is distributed on the tube in the morning and London Lite and thelondonpaper which is handed out in the late afternoon/evening. The Metro and London Lite are both Associated Newspapers, who also publish the Mail and the Evening Standard. thelondonpaper is News International who also publish the Sun and the Times.

The Evening Standard has of course been running a vendetta against Ken Livingstone and not surprisingly called on its readers to vote for Bozza in a leader today. But what of the Metro and London Lite? They have very different demographics: while the Standard is the paper for the middle aged, middle class, stockbroker, its sister papers are for the hoi polloi.

thelondonpaper has had extensive coverage of the Mayoral elections over the last three days. Today’s paper consists of the following:

  • Front page: headline “IT’S NOT TOO LATE”. front page editorial encouraging people to vote.
  • Page 2: pics of the candidates
  • Pages 6-7: general coverage
  • Pages 8-9: Bozza and Ken’s style analysed, with tips on how to get their respective looks

By contrast, this is the coverage of today’s London Lite:

  • Front page: headline “Ken closes in on Boris”
  • Pages 6-7: general coverage.

And the Metro? The paper with the widest circulation by a factor of more than two?

  • Front page: nothing. nada.
  • Page 23: half a page of jokey coverage.
  • Er…
  • …that’s it?

It’s quite clear that the Associated Press were trying their best to depress turnout. So full marks to thelondonpaper, which has easily had the best and most balanced coverage. The fact that News International are angling for the license to distribute a morning paper on the tube is, I’m sure, a complete coincidence.

Ham: Are You High?

Readers may recall me mocking the Ham and High a couple of years ago for condemning the Labour party’s “flying pigs” advert on the grounds of anti-semitism. Words therefore fail to learn that the same paper has allowed the BNP to take out paid advertising on their pages.

The paper appears to have confused the two concepts of “freedom of speech” and “suckee suckee – one dollar!” – to be fair, many people who lack a moral compass do. But does anyone seriously believe that if this advert had been anti-jewish as opposed to anti-muslim they would seriously go ahead with it? In that part of North London?

Nick Clegg: video killed the media star?

I’ve finally got around to watching Thursday night’s Question Time Lib Dem leadership hustings. Not much for me to add that hasn’t already been said by so many others. It was no knock out, but the clear consensus (which I agree with) is that Huhne won on points although Clegg recovered well in the second half. In the interests of balance though, I have to agree with Aaron Heath at Liberal Conspiracy: Huhne’s tie should be tried at the Hague for crimes against humanity.

I’m always being told that Huhne is boring and dry. He wasn’t on Thursday. He managed to combine passion and principle with clarity and intellect. Even at his best, Clegg only really scored highly on the first two.

I’m beginning to think that it may be TV that will do for Clegg. What’s clear is that while people like myself have been quick to point out that he’s a media star, it’s the newspapers – not the broadcasters – who are saying that. The Guardian has come out for him this weekend, but failed to come up with a good reason why. Apparently he is “fluent” – well, he hasn’t been fluent in either of his major TV tests so far, unless that fluency is in waffle.

Paradoxically, while the print media is more biased it can also be more forgiving of politicians’ shortcomings. Fluff a line in a newspaper interview and the journalist will always accept your second “take”. Fluff a line on live television on the other hand and it’s there for all to see. Steve Richards, newspaper journalist would never have exposed Nick Clegg in the way that Steve Richards, television interviewer did without even trying.

Clegg must surely realise this. Why then did he allow himself to get blindsided by Dimbleby’s interjection about an article he wrote during the last leadership election when he accused Huhne of opportunism. Surely there’s someone on his campaign team working on rebuttal? Like the tax fluff the week before, this should have been swatted away with ease.

Indeed, it is interesting to watch how Clegg dealt with Dimblebum: in short he didn’t. While Huhne was always quick to interject and get the last word (with those “sharp elbows” of his he was telling us about last week) and treated Dimblebum as a steam roller would a bicycle, Clegg kept listening to him, getting steered off course.

Daniel Finklestein is at least one print journalist for whom the penny is starting to drop:

Clegg is an intelligent and charming man, which is why journalists generally like him, but he seemed lightweight and uncomfortable last night. He hadn’t very good lines to take and his position on Trident (almost the only substantive thing he said) is incoherent.

This is serious stuff for Nick Clegg. Being “telegenic” has up until now been his biggest USP. It isn’t any more. He’d better manage to knock up something bloody spectacular on the Politics Show later today or his big mo will start to sink like a stone.

Incidentally, I notice that the Scott Press has started claiming that this election is a contest between a social democrat and a liberal. All I can say to that is that as someone who was arguing earlier this week for the party to put more emphasis on taxing income less and wealth more, and who is very conscious of the fact that the candidate closest to my own view on this is Chris Huhne, I was pleased to see the Guardian remind everyone this weekend that this position has at least one high profile exponent: J. S. Mill.