27 August 2011

The Pane of Glass

In all the discussion after the riots we heard an interesting story about a lecturer. He began lectures on society by bringing out a pane of glass. As he holds it up he asks questions, if this is all that separates people who want something from the things they desire then why is it that most of the time in most places the glass remains intact? Why is it that we do, most of the time, choose order?
This has been an extraordinary year.
·         We have seen the Arab spring, applauding as the young people of Egypt overturned a regime with their powerful hope for something new and better, and we have seen the dictator wheeled into court on a hospital bed.
·         We have seen the fires being lit in Greece as the impact of the damage done by the banks becomes intolerable for sections of the population.
·         We have seen half a million people make their way to London for a quiet orderly well marshalled political protest, with a fringe of disorder.
·         We have seen Murdoch, the controlling force behind such a powerful media empire brought to answer questions, and we see that he is in the end an old man, with an incomplete grasp of the actions done in his name.
·         We have seen a deluded young man systematically acting out his fantasies in Norway, leaving behind the deep grief of so many families and a whole nation.
·         We have seen fires being lit and panes of glass being broken in this country as unanswered questions over a killing ignited passion in one community, and then as the news coverage of firs dominated our screens, spread to many more.
·         We saw groups of young people caught up in the moment, for that mad moment choosing disorder, and we saw people die as a result.
·         We have seen a tsunami of comment and opinion as many people reveal their attitudes about society in an attempt to tell story of the riots in a way that justifies their beliefs and their actions.
·         We have seen the courts respond to the mood expressed in much of the press and impose sentence that seem to many to be out of all proportion. We see the Police commit themselves to spend two years working through CCTV pictures to bring the rioters to book.
·         We have seen the Arab spring turn to autumn as columns of excited young men high on powerful emotions shoot their way into Tripoli. And we have seen the media enter a hospital where hundreds of wounded people were left to die.
This has been a year in which all of us have been reminded just how thin the sheet of glass actually is.
The idea that we can stop the glass being broken by CCTV and police men with riot shields is in the end a fantasy. The glass only remains intact by consent. It is intact if people make the choice that it should be so.
There are an increasing number of people seeing the scale of the challenge that this presents us with.  There are so many that I could mention, here are couple.
Marc Reeves @Marcreeves of the Birmingham Post has come forward with his assertion that Business as usual is not an option.
Billionaires in US and France have raised the question of whether they should be asked to contribute more, whether it is in anyone interest that society should be as unequal as it is. Many politicians in this country have been reading the Spirit level.
It is good that people like Charles Moore and Marc Reeves are challenging their readers. It is wrong to allow people to make the assumption that the pane of glass will remain intact if the energies of our young people cannot, for whatever reason, take a positive form.
Delivering a positive future now at the time when austerity means everything seems so much more difficult can only be done if we begin the urgent task of re-imagining our society in a way that will satisfy the needs of all our people, now and into the future.
It is tempting to pat ourselves on the back and congratulate ourselves that democracy, the way we do it, is now being gifted to Arab countries, but here we are seeing big questions about our own democracy. It is the thinnest of veneers, and it may no longer answer to its purpose.
My favourite quote from Benghazi was the graffiti seen on a wall that read “we want institutions”. In Libya now they will face the task of forming institutions with a mixture of hope and fear.
In this country Many of our institutions, Parliament, the press, the NHS, the Justice system are now under the microscope. What we see is not always pretty.  Maybe if we want that pane of glass to remain intact it is time to say “we want institutional reform”.  

Talking tough on riots may have unintended consequences.

Perhaps over the last few weeks I have become mesmerised by the press coverage of the Riots.
First we got the dramatic footage of the fires and broken windows, Kids in hoods hurling stones, police in riot gear. They we had the tsunami – a relentless tide of opinion and comment.
The remarkable thing about this was that we did not know the details, none of us did. We did not know who had done what and what their motivation or circumstances might be, but this stopped no one. Having an opinion mattered, and opinion filled the 24/7 news services and the press.
The riots were frightening for many people- for very good reason. They take away the comfortable assurance that all is well, and show us just how easy it is for order to break down. For many people it was important to try and understand why things had gone wrong and to work out how re-occurrence might be prevented. For others, with a different view of what people are, there was a desire for punishment and justice. Without the benefit of facts the only thing people could do was to fall back onto their prejudices, their deep seated beliefs about the nature of the world.
Earlier this summer I stood on the spot of the last public hangings in Scotland, in the theatrical space of Edinburgh’s  Grassmarket. It was easy to imagine the crowds that would have gathered for these spectacle, and the way in which the demand for “justice” can bring out some of the cruellest instincts of our species.
I do not know what David Cameron believes. I find it impossible to see beyond the face that he presents, but these riots, at a time when country after country is experiencing unrest must have been deeply alarming for him. He will have known that he had a duty above all else to be seen to make it stop. He had to make a response, a choice, and I think he fell back on what will have felt most comfortable to him. He spoke to those instincts that we see floating to the surface each year at the Conservative party conference.
The right wing press claim to speak for the people they aim to influence. He reflected back the messages that the right wing tabloid press were giving and legitimised their demands for tough justice.  We have seen over the last weeks the way in which this has been translated into ways that the courts have handled individual cases, which does already seem to many people un balanced and unwise.
The court of appeal is already dealing with the flood of referrals, undoing some of the less acceptable sentences which have been given.
This is good. The justice system knows that it is important that there should not be long term damage to the legal system as a result of justice at a time of panic.
What finally got me back to my keyboard, blogging again, was this article – Tough Luck for the Luckless, by Zoe Williams – which gives us some deeply uncomfortable pictures of some of the very  vulnerable people who are now appearing in our courts. She shows us a young man with Schizophrenia  and a homeless young man covered in untreated tumours, both caught up at the very edges of the unrest, both jailed. These are people who need the care of a decent society and certainly should never be directed to the prisons for the tiny offences they are said to have committed.
Zoe is angry. So am I. I want to say - not in my name, this is not the kind of justice I want to see.  I hope that someone showed David Cameron Zoe Williams article and that he has the opportunity to reflect on some of the unintended consequences of calling for tough justice.

16 August 2011

New Revelations in the News Int Hacking Case

Documents recently submitted to the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee, in reply to questions asked in connection to their inquiries into the Phone-hacking scandal, centred at the moment around Rupert Murdoch's News International, have been made public today.

Links to the documents can be found here : Guardian

Clive Goodman's Letter to News International : Guardian 

Cliff Hagen
VIDEO: Phone-hacking denials: what Murdoch executives said via

Most of the latest links to newspaper articles and blogs can be found under the phone-hacking tab on this blog. 

5 August 2011

Can the Mail 'stoop any lower'?

Mail front page: July 5th 2011
The picture of Sally Bercow is linked to the Mail article here (istyosty link) and first appeared in an earlier story which appeared in the Mail as far back as February here and here. (istyosty links)

The Mail has an ongoing, intermittent campaign to ensure Mrs. Bercow is seen by the public as a dreadful example of everything that is deplorable in the behaviour of the women of today.

In the article today, Sarah Nathan describes her as 'shameless', 'embarassing', 'outspoken', and goes on:-

"Celebrity Big Brother will start on August 18 and a show source said: ‘Sally is obviously not shy and has never made it a secret that she has views on nearly absolutely everything.

‘It’s fair to say that she’s a professional antagonist – the house will not be boring with Sally in it.’"
But the real coup de grace, the killer put-down, comes from someone much closer to the political sphere in which Mrs. Bercow's husband moves: - 

But last night Tory MP Rob Wilson said: ‘John Bercow said he wanted to restore respect and dignity to Parliament in his manifesto for Speaker. I am not sure how Sally Bercow  going on one of the country’s tackiest shows helps.
‘Is it really appropriate for the Speaker’s wife to use Parliament for her own financial gain? After all, the only reason for the invitation is because her husband is the Speaker.
‘I would urge her to think very carefully about what she is doing.’
The article's purpose is crystal clear:- vengeance against the Bercows and an overt condemnation of a show hosted by Dacre's arch rival Richard Desmond.

Sally Bercow has been a target for the Mail for many months and today's article is the latest episode. Mrs Bercow appears able to shrug off the criticisms and slurs, at least in public, and has won admiration from many for her courageous determination not to alter her behaviour to suit a newspaper which seems to be keen for women to adopt the attitudes and standards not expected of them since the 1930s.... 

Sally Bercow
Now *seriously* tempted to go on Big Brother as riposte to those banging on abt "dignity of the Speaker's office". I am *not* the Speaker :)
Sally Bercow
*coughs* if I were to do any reality show (Big Bro, Jungle, whatever) a 6-figure sum would go to charity. Rude not to, no?
John Bercow

John Bercow, however, gave a rare, fleeting yet powerful insight into the effects a newspaper's vindictiveness can have:

Excerpts from a Patrick Wintour Guardian article: June 7th 2011:

"The Commons Speaker, John Bercow, has risked his political neutrality by describing the Daily Mail as a "sexist, racist, bigoted, comic cartoon strip".
He also apologised for breaking the trade descriptions act by describing the Mail as a "newspaper".
His stinging remarks came at a question and answer session with the political commentator Steve Richards at Kings Place in London."

Later in the same article:

"He defended the right of his wife to express her views on a daily basis on Twitter. "She's free to do what she wants. Sally is my wife, but not my chattel or my property. The duty of impartiality doesn't extend to her – there isn't a Mrs Speaker – and it's a spectacularly sexist idea that Sally should have to be silent.""

There has long been a bitter feud between Paul Dacre, proprietor of the Mail, and Richard Desmond, who owns the Express and the new home of  'Big Brother', Channel 5. In October 2006, it was reported in the Press Gazette :-

Paul Dacre
"Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre has revealed that he thinks Rupert Murdoch has been responsible for dumbing down The Times and that Daily Express owner Richard Desmond "doesn't respect journalism"."
Richard Desmond
 "Discussing the Express, the Mail's mid-market rival, and its owner, Richard Desmond, Dacre said: "It sells 800,000. It's run by a man who doesn't respect journalism, doesn't like journalism. I don't know what it says about politics when politicians take donations from people like that in order to get permission to buy a newspaper."
He added: "His circulation is in permanent freefall. He produces a very poor paper. I'm not going to mince my words. I thought it was a very sad day for Fleet Street when a pornographer was allowed to buy a once-great national newspaper.""

This demonising of a rival proprietor rings exceedingly hollow when the reader is aware of the often openly salacious feel of  many of the articles in the Mail and Mail Online. This is the very personification of a pot calling the kettle black!

All in all, this article hits a whole flock of birds with one well-aimed boulder, and: -

1. Scores another point or two in the Dacre v Desmond battle
2. Bashes the Bercows a little more
3. Gives British women lesson #287 in how to behave decorously and stand by their men
4. Enables us to sleep soundly in our beds safe in the knowledge that the Keepers of the Nation's Morals, the Mail and Mr. Dacre, are ever watchful.....