Archive for the ‘Journalism and new media’ Category

Justice and the Law

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

The Guardian reports just now that papers have been filed in the High Court showing that the phone hacking culture was endemic at the Nnews of  the World.

Yet the Met Police a few days ago reported they were unab9le to find srifficient evidence to bring ex-editor Andy Coulsonon, now Darvid Cameron’s press officer, to trial.

The Wikileaks’ founder won his appeal at the High Court, the sent back to jail for Christmas, while Swedish lawyers try to force him back to Sweden to face contested sex charges.

Despite the fact that most of the press know how to find him.

He is not fleeing justice.

Just asking for freedom to carry on despite the pressure from the US to nail Wikileaks.

David Cameron and most of the press have lambassted the student march. But a friend who was there saw only police bbrutality.

And the best that Theresa May offers is ‘contact’ witth the duchess!

A Policeman’s lot is now a happy one

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Thanks to Tony Blair’s crafty theft of the Tory law and order vote, they are very well paid. They still mostly have the love of most of the British public, or at least that part of it which is white and not drunk on the streets. And not out on the streets protesting.

And they still have much to commend them. The men in uniform are mostly a friendly presence on the streets, and the height of good manners and sound advice, when it comes to Neighbourhood watch and teaching the kids to ride their bikes sensibly.

I would never want to change them for the gendarmes in Paris, the Germans or the New York cops.

But I get worried about some of the higher echelons, like the Nottighamshire police chief who tried to get out of her speeding offence. By leaning on the man on the beat who stopped her, and alleging that the speed camera was faulty. When her case was eventually reported to the Crown Prosecution Service, she did end up in court. Her defence was that she did not realise she was so going so fast.

I know how she feels, because I have nipped three times in the last three years, for going at 38 mph, 36 mph and 38 mph in 30 mph zones. But when I got beyond the headline I discovered she was going at 79 mph in a 50 mph zone. Even in my Prius, where 30 mph seems like walking, you not when you hit the seventies that you are going too fast for anything but a motorway.

This issue is trivial.

But what is happening at the top is not so trivial.

The cosy relationship between the Met Police and the Murdoch press has helped to swell the Murdoch gold chest. The police are only too ready to help Murdoch to sell his newspapers, and catch out whoever Murdoch wants to catch out. Which includes the Duchess of York as well as footballers who take bribes. And the Met is only too happy to leak the news of those dawn arrests, so that the media cameras can be on the doorstep whenever a newsworthy ‘alleged’ criminal is targeted in his, or her, pyjamas

This afternoon the Met has announced that there is ‘insufficient’ evidence to warrant an arrest of Andy Coulson, or anyone else in the famed News of the World scam, which happened while he was editor, and involved the tapping of Prince Charles’ telephone.

Andy proclaimed that he knew nothing of what was happening in his own newsroom!

Yesterday, as it happens, he had to go to court, to give evidence in a crown court case in Scotland, where a maverick Scottish left-wing politician is accused of lying in court. That was in his civil case, when he sued the News of the World for libel after it had run a long campaign, accusing him of all sorts of sexual high jinks.

Sheridan who is such a maverick that he has fallen out with his lawyers and is conducting his own defence, gave Coulson a grilling, when he once again proclaimed that his men followed the Press Code of Conduct, and did nothing illegal like phone hacking.

Despite his lack of a lawyer, he Is not doing too badly and the Crown has already dropped some of the charges against him.

But in Coulson he met his match. Coulson insisted he was speaking truth.

So on his own evidence he stands convicted of the being a terrible editor, who has no idea what his own staff is doing.

Such a person, is of course, quite unfit to be the Prime Minister’s press story. (If he were a good liar, that might be an advantage in the job, as Alastair Campbell might agree, in the bar, but not necessarily in court.

Meanwhile the Met is fuelling the flames of media stories about ‘violent’ demonstrators.

It might have ended with a gun battle on our streets.

But not because any of the protesters were carrying fire arms or petrol bombs or plastic explosives. But because, and I speak with the authority of the Daily Mail report, the police were seconds away of opening fire on the protesters, one of whom is ‘alleeged’ to have poked a stick through the open window of the Royal car.

The British bobbies are alive and well and are mostly a credit to the nation. But currently they are led by not a few donkeys in the higher echelons.

Was it a riot or a peaceful demo?

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Television viewers all over the world may have had difficulty in deciding whether yesterday’s London demo over tuition fees was a protest by the nation’s students and school children or mob violence orchestrated by a few extremists using rent-a-mob tactics. Even journalists covering events like this have great difficulty making up their minds. They can only see one small part of the scene.

But the Daily Mail found it easy to make up it’s mind. This is the headline from Mail Online.

Pure terror in her eyes: Charles and Camilla surrounded by baying tuition fees mob who attacked their car screaming ‘Off with their heads’

Read the story and look at the many photos and decide for yourselves just how much evidence there is to support this angle. Of course, we expect it from the Daily Mail which has been training its journalists, since it was founded by the first Harmsworth in over one hundred years ago, to distort the truth. The online version produced by the fourth generation of the family, has adopted the tactics to the new media, has achieved outstanding success in the lost two years outstripping all its rivals and now attracting over 30 million readers.

That success is partly to do with the sensationalism but also because the Mail, unlike most of the other tabloids, intersperses the sexy bits with lots of factual reporting. So it matters.

As does the reporting of the heavy television channels and the serious newspapers, which are too ready to talk about ‘rioting’ and all of which highlighted the attack on Charles and Camilla. But even for the tiny minority off the main demo who were involved in that, it does not seem that terrible. They rocked the Rolls, broke a window and splashed paint on the mudguard. Some shouted ‘Off with his head’. But no-one popped a petrol bomb through the open window.

The television pictures make it clear that there was ample heavy-handed behaviour by the police as well as one sticks thrown and metal barriers pushed by the protesters.

But for an overall verdict I offer the police version, which reports that ten policemen and 38 protesters ended up in hospital. Given that protesters as far as possible look after their own injured, because they don’t want them to get arrested, the probability is that civilian casualties were far larger.

The police won this battle. But whether they are winning the war for public confidence in these troubled times is much more doubtful.

Phillip Knightley on Wikileaks

Friday, December 10th, 2010

(This is Knightley’s view of the Wikileaks saga. He is just about the best qualified journalist I know to put it in perspective. Witness his journalism over sixty years and his books, including Philby, KGB Master Spy and The First Casualty, still the definitive work on how Governments distort the truth in the reporting of wars. His website is

It is becoming clearer day by day that the Wikileaks saga has changed journalism and citizen’s relationship with government forever. This is not about some temporary embarrassment to governments and their leaders but a sea change in the way we are ruled and the information we are entitled to expect about how decisions about our future are made.

Journalists have always known in their heart of hearts that their reporting on government has only been half the story. How to get the other half? How to sort out the truth from the propaganda? How to learn what is really going on—as distinct from what our leaders tell us is going on. Julian Assange and the whistle-blowers who have provided his organization with its sensational material have answered this.

Naturally, governments are not pleased. Assange is in jail in Britain over what looks like a very weak case—suspicion of rape in Sweden earlier this year. He has been labeled “a criminal” for facilitating the release of the secret documents, although no one can say what crime he has committed. The US authorities continue to do their best to close down the Wikileaks websites. Many of its bank accounts have been frozen. The more extreme elements on the American political scene have called for Assange to be kidnapped and “rendered” to the USA for trial, or failing that, for him to be assassinated.

But Wikileaks has them all over a barrel. It did not steal the documents; one or more whisteblowers did. All Wikileaks did was to publish them. So did the New York Times and thousands of other newspapers throughout the world. And freedom to publish material, secret or not, offensive or not, is enshrined  in the American Constitution and has been confirmed by the US Supreme Court case of Near v Minnesota, 1931.

The government of Minnesota had banned publisher Jay Near’s anti-semitic, bigoted, racist, scandal-ridden sensationalist newspaper.

The American Civil Liberties Union appealed on his behalf to the United States Supreme Court, arguing that freedom of speech was absolute. The Court agreed 5-4. Chief Justice Charles Hughes summed it up

brilliantly: “The rights of the best of men are secured only as the rights of vilest and most abhorrent are protected.”

As for those who have argued that the Wikileaks material has destroyed the diplomatic process and that for diplomacy to function there must be some things kept secret, have they forgotten President Woodrow Wilson, who made “open diplomacy” number point of his famous 14 points in 1918.

“Diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view”, was Wilson’s argument and he would certainly have approved of Wikileaks actions, in contrast the current US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who has called them “an attack on America’s foreign policy interests”

and on “the international community”—though she failed to specify which community members were the victims, or of what they were the victims.

There has been some criticism of the media for concentrating on the more scandalous side of the revelations rather than on the terrible injustices revealed, such as that inflicted upon Khalid El-Masri. A German citizen, he was kidnapped while on holiday in Macedonia, taken to Morocco by CIA agents tortured there and later in Afghanistan on behalf of the US government.

The Americans eventually realized that he was who he  had always said he was, a victim of mistaken identity. They were reluctant to release him, despite orders to do so from the then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, because “he knew too much”. He was eventually dumped by the roadside in Albania.

Back in Germany he complained to the German authorities who issued criminal proceedings against the CIA officers responsible for his kidnapping, imprisonment and torture. The Wikileaks documents reveal that the US embassy in Berlin pressed the German government to block the proceedings because the outcome could have “a negative impact on bilateral arrangements”. The German government acceded to the request.

If that is the way that international diplomacy functions, then the sooner all is revealed the better. Unless the US Government succeeds in shutting down Wikileaks—and I do not think liberal America would stand for this—then Assange and his organization has a lot more suprises in store for us.

Copyright: Phillip Knightley

Wikileaks hounding is politics not justice

Tuesday, December 7th, 2010

A sad afternoon for British justice. A British judge has joined in the harrassment of Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, which has been led by the US government, which has been embarrassed by the massive leak of its diplomatic cables. Assange has been refused bail and clapped in jail because the judge says he might flee from justice.

Despite the fact that  Assange gave himself up voluntarily. Hopeful that British justice would not bow down to political pressure.

Which it has done. The US government is after Assange because of the leaks but that was not the issue before the court today. Assange, an Australian,  is being extradited to Sweden to face charges of sexual assault on two women, which he contests. The case against him was dropped by one Swedish prosecutor. But another prosecutor is eager to get him in court in Sweden, which now has a right-wing government.

British judges, along with most Brits, still see Sweden as a model Social Democratic government. The mainstream British media has not paid much attention to the massive recent changes in Sweden.

The essential truths of this change have been catalogued in triology of novels, written by a Swedish journalist, which has hit the best seller list and the cinema screens.

The girl with the dragon tattoo is a fictional invention. But the political climate in which she operates is authentic.

But judges don’t read many novels and when they do, they see them as entertainment.

They do not share my view, based on long experience, that really good novels, often get closer to the truth than a lot of journalism.

Sweden, 2010, is only too ready to jump to the tune of American consumer capitalism. And Cameron’s coalition government is another eager ally.

By contrast, true lovers of the American Dream, are only too aware that capitalism’s excesses need to be checked. The role of the press in so doing is enshrined in the American constitution. To which all Presidents adhere.

Most of the time.

Currently, the Obama administration has forgotten this.

Today, they welcomed the imprisonment of Assange. For weeks now, they have been trying to crush Wikileaks, bullying companies like Amazon to ban it.

Sadly, they may succeed.

But they have totally failed to suppress the leaks.

Thanks most importantly because the most important of the millions of words in the leaked documents have been printed in a few of the world’s best newspapers, such as the New York Times, El Pais in Spain and The Guardian in Britain.

They were chosen by Assange.

And if ever he is brought to court for putting lives at risk, which is the US allegation, his choice of partners is a good defence. He chose, not the Daily Mail or The Sun, who might have been happy to pay him handsomely for the sensational tit bits, but The Guardian.

Which, of course, is also in the entertainment business. But which still has scruples and a regard for responsible journalism.

Most of the time.

The Sun also sets

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Rupert Murdoch’s internet strategy has failed in a catastrophic way. And none of the world’s mainstream media has noticed.

The evidence is not in the online circulation of The Times, which has plunged since Murdoch decided to charge viewers who wished to view it online. This has been covered exhaustively.

The evidence is from The Sun, the paper which made his fortune, and made him a major player in the world’s media.

Murdoch bought The Sun way back in the 1960′s from the Daily Mirror group. The paper he bought was originally Britain’s only large circulation left wing daily newspaper, originally half owned by the trade union movement. The Daily Mirror’s Hugh Cudlipp had relaunched it in the 1960′s under the title of The Sun. It continued to lose money so Cudlipp sold it to Murdoch for a song.

Murdoch transformed it, from a serious newspaper, to a tabloid, whose main feature was the half-naked woman on Page Three. It made his fortune, brought a circulation bigger than the Daily Mirror. Gave him the money to buy The Times and the political clout to demand tea and sympathy at 10 Downing Street.

Fast forward to 2010, when The Sun is still selling a few million at the newstands, but which has been outstripped online by the Daily Mail. Which does not go in for soft porn, a la Page Three. But which knocks the current Sun into a cocked hat by its coverage of the lives of the starlets.

Unlike The Times, The Sun, is free online.

The working classes, and the rest, can read their brilliant sports coverage. (That was Murdoch’s party line in the 1960′s. Brit males did not buy The Sun for the Page Three pics, but because it had brilliant sports coverage.)

This same out-of-touch Rupert Murdoch is also trying to grab 100 per cent ownership of Sky Television, where he has been more successful.

Apparently, David Cameron, is only too eager to here what his has to say.  Because – evidence Murdoch’s recent milliion pound contributions to the American Republican Party – Murdoch is not going to support Labour, under its present leadership, or even the LibDems.

Cameron’s own goal

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

David Cameron may well go down as the first British prime minister in history, whose downfall started, when he decided that scoring goals for British football, was a priority job. The fact that FIFA has not chosen England to host the World Cup, would not have been a cause for national mourning. And, maybe he thought that if he won it for England, the people would be on over-joyed they would forget about our financial crisis. And the growing number of people, who are being deprived of their jobs, and their livelihood by his government.

Harold Wilson, played to the press, by courting the working class vote, by appearing at Huddesfield Town football matches.

But he never thought that what happened in football was more important than what happened to the national economy.

Cameron, could, with dignity, have made his speeches, but entrusted his Culture minister with the job of pressing England’s case.

That he chose to go himself, was a grave misjudgment.

Lessons of Brit World Cup bid

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

Let’s face it, our government shot itself in the foot in this much heralded World Cup bid. They fielded a team which played well with the British media. The newly engaged Prince William, the tele friendly Prime Minister, both briefed by the hero of football past, David Beckham, who long since left these shores to earn a banker’s salary in foreign parts. They sent in the big guns to blast their way to victory.

Losing all sense of proportion.

Football is, after all, just a game. To the rest of the world, the fact that our prime minister fronted the bid, was sure indication that we were trying bully boy tactics. Not content with the fact that our tourist trade is going to benefit from our hosting of the 2o012 Olympics, we were stripped naked and shown to be hustling for World Cup tourist business in 2018.

Worse than that the protagonists tried to get the BBC to halt the broadcast of it’s long investigation into corruption in FIFA, the World Cup governing body. It was tactless, they said. Thank God,  the BBC did not cave in, risking further disapproval from the Cameron government, which has already slashed its budget.

Last night, a grinning David Beckham assured us on British TV that our bid was going well. In fact, we got two votes in the first round. Which is open to legal challenge if any of the three FIFA members accused, wants to challenge the BBC’s facts.

But, maybe, just maybe, the FIFA decision had nothing at all to do with the BBC.

The winner for 2018, Russia, is one of the great footballing nations of my lifetime. The Moscow Dynamoes enchanted the Wolverhampton football crowds of my youth.

Yet astonishingly, Russia has never been asked to host the World Cup, since it started in 1930. No doubt the reason for that is to do with the fact that the World Cup was run by the west, when the old Soviet Union was the enemy.

So Russia deserves a chance, for its football, not its political structure.

But what is one to make of the 2022 choice Qatar?

That does suggest that FIFA is in need of reform.

Maybe the choice was made because of bribes, because Qatar, is richer, than, say Ireland, which has many more football fans.

Or maybe, it is made to encourage Qatar, and other nations who don’t have football as the national sport, to jump on the football bandwagon.

What rubbish!

Thanks to human inventiveness, it is now possible to play football on plastic turf in the desert. But not very enjoyably. Football keeps you warm in cool climates.

And unlike cricket you can play the rain as well.

His mother’s son

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Prince William has won the hearts of our country. Although yesterday’s photocall for the world press was carefully orchestrated by Palace officials, the message was clearly William’s own. He gave his chosen beloved the ring which his Dad gave his mother, Diana, on, what we all know was that terrible sham of a fairy tale wedding, when Prince Charles, made the kind of marriage he thought  was the right one for his constitutional role.

Even though he was deeply in love with his current wife, who, at that time, happened to be married to one of his court. Parker Bowles.

The Palace officials hyped up that marriage, suggesting that Charles was marrying a woman of the people. The media bought it, because, unlike Prince Philip, Diana did not have royal blood. Buy, of course, she was an aristo, whose family dated back to the Duke of Marlborough, a family line which had produced, amongst others, Winston Churchill. Which played well with the US market, who loved, and still loved Winston, but have not warmed to any subsequent British  PM, apart from Margaret Thatcher.

Kate, like Diana, had the sort of looks which had men gagging for it. But, unlike Dianna, she had a university education, and before that a schooling at Marlborough, a not bad public school (for American readers, this means private school, for which her parents had to pay.)

So she  is her own woman. She  knows, better than most of the media commentators no today’s events, that her husband is not such a great catch, although she loves him.

Although at the moment he is front page news, her husband faces the prospect of spending most of his life as a minor Royal in the soap opera.

It is not at all impossible that our Queen might live to be 110, which means that William has another 16 years  before he is even the Prince of Wales. And his Dad might well live to be 100.

Science shows that the most reliable indicator of long life is heridity. And the Royals are long-lived. And also that the rich live longer than the poor. And the Royals are super rich. Charles, who does not hit the bottle and the fags like his grandmother may  well live to be 100, by which time William will be 68. Beyond the usual retirement age.

That does not matter for the governnaunce of Britain, which is ruled by Parliament and the cabinet.

Not  the monarchy.

The only discordant note today was  from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, who described it ‘as  great day for our country’.

No doubt in the hope that the feel good news of the Royal Wedding would help him to push through his programe which will  make the poor poorer.

He forgets that the monarchy was saved by a New Labour PM, Tony Blair, who took on the Queen, when she was insensitiwe to the mood after Diana’s death.

The Queen and the other Royals learned from that.

But not Cameron.

Yet another Royal Wedding

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

Our Royal Family is so big that Royal Weddings are happening every year or so. This one, however, is a biggie because Prince William is second in line for the top job. So that Kate Middleton stands a chance of becoming Queen while she is still young enough not to be fired as a television presenter. Though that is by no means certain. Prince Charles, now happily married, could well bumble on for another decade or two, disfiguring the landscape with retro old buildings. Another two or three Poundurys, dominated by Tesco supermarkets, who seem to relish old fashioned buildings. And, of course, the Queen, given the wonders of modern science as well as her own toughness, may well live to be 110.

Nevertheless, BBC Television devoted the first half of  the 10 PM television news to the news from Buckingham Palace. And this morning’s newspapers are having a field today. As well they might. Royal Weddings sell newspapers. The Times no doubt is already planning its special supplement.

And it is a welcome bit of good news for the coalition. Not because the British public will be so distracted by the hype that the un-employed will forget that they are un-employed. But because a summer Royal Wedding will give our economy a much needed boost. Tourists will come in their millions. Heads of state will be filling the most expensive rooms at our poshest hotels. Hundreds of new entrepreneurs will be starting new businesses making souvenirs  in all shapes and sizes. Not just mugs and plates, but DVDs and computer games!

Republicans in Britain are still very thin on the ground, with only The Guardian making their case. And then only spasmodically. And even the Republicans have a grudging admiration for the ability of the Palace and its advisers to put on a good show. In 1947, when our present Queen got married, the Royal Family had to be seen buying their wedding outfits within the severe limits of their ration coupons. This time around, they have no such inhibitions. They can use the event to give a boost to British fashion, which is still a world leader.

And, this  time around, the Royals have chosen a real commoner. Prince Philip was not only a Royal himself, he was a second cousin of the Queen. Diana, although she was  advertised as a commoner was in fact the poor relation of one of our most aristocratic families. By contrast Kate Middleton comes from a middle class family on the way up. But she is well schooled in the ways of the elite. She met Prince William at St Andrew’s University, which is not as academically celebrated as Oxbridge, but is a much favoured choice for the children of the elite.

For myself I plan not to be in London on the day. As it happens we are planning a family wedding this summer which will probably be on 23 July in Dorset. I hope the Palace chooses the same date. It will give all our friends an opportunity to get away from the mob in London. And, if the recession is biting, we can let our London flat to a couple of Royalists for the weekend.