Not Quite Censorship, but…

Virgin Pendolino at Euston

The Daily Mail is angry because Virgin Trains has decided not to stock the paper on its trains any more. The paper has accused the train company of ‘censorship’.

Hmm.

First of all, Virgin is a private company. Ultimately, it has a right to stock whatever it wants in the shops on its trains, and enter into the deals it wants to regarding distribution of free copies to its first class passengers. As Jane Fae says in a column for the Guardian, clearly the company has decided that the Daily Mail is not ‘on brand’.

Continue reading “Not Quite Censorship, but…”

Shame and Legacy

In a comment about Donald Trump’s most recent abuse of power, Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald uses an interesting turn of phrase to describe political legacies: “Cowards are not the people schools are named for.”

Speaking on the Ezra Klein Show podcast this week, former Obama speechwriter John Favreau diagnosed the current American political malaise as being essentially about shame… or the lack of it. He and Klein noted that many of the guard-rails to good, democratic behaviour in politics, especially American politics, depends upon the idea of personal shame. People, even (perhaps especially) politicians, care about what other people think of them, and this moderates their behaviour. Politicians like Barack Obama cared deeply when they were criticised, even if that criticism came from their political opponents. This drives conciliation and compromise with the ‘other side’ and can also foster respect, understanding and bipartisanship. This is what a polity requires to maintain a functional democracy. Continue reading “Shame and Legacy”

This Is About Ethics In Spy Games Journalism

The  Intercept journalist James Risen has published a fascinating retrospective on his time covering intelligence and security for the New York Times. He discusses how many of his stories exposing CIA wrong-doing during the Bush Administration were spiked by editors who nevertheless gave front-page coverage to stories that appeared to confirm the existence of the fabled Weapons of Mass Destruction that were the pretext for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

He also writes about his court appearances in 2014 and 2015 when the Obama Administration threatened him with imprisonment for not revealing confidential sources in stories about the CIA’s activities in Iran.

NYU Professor of Journalism Jay Rosen says this was “the most important thing published about journalism today.” Risen’s piece made me think of this tweet from the last days of 2017:

Risen’s account of when and why some of his stories were spiked reminded me of the wonderful ‘Road To Damascus‘ episode from Season 2 of Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. It deals with the story of how the CIA recruited a double-agent, how that fact was leaked to journalist Tim Weiner, and how the reporting of that story in the New York Times probably caused the death of that double-agent. It was one of the most compelling things I listened to in 2017.

Discussing Free Speech on BBC Radio London, again

I was on BBC Radio London this morning, talking to presenter Nikki Bedi about free speech. It’s a topic of conversation today because Universities Minister Jo Johnson is about to make a speech in which (apparently) he will suggest that higher education institutions should be fined if they fail to protect freedom of expression. He has taken aim at the practice of no-platform policies before.

You can listen to the discussion on the BBC London website. My contribution is 1 hour and 17 minutes into the show, at about 8:20AM. Continue reading “Discussing Free Speech on BBC Radio London, again”

Adam Wagner on the tabloid framing of human rights

Adam Wagner is a human rights barrister and founder of Rights Info, and organisation that promotes public understanding of human rights. I’m a huge admirer of the project (and Adam!) and have written for the site in the past.

Following yet another Daily Mail headline that disparages the idea of human rights, Adam posted a couple of Twitter threads in response. The first was about why investigations into alleged human rights abuses by British soldiers is important and necessary. The second was about how the tabloids ‘frame’ human rights stories, and how fact-checking them is not enough if we want to ensure public support for our rights.

I’ve blogged about this communications challenge before, but I think Adam puts it particularly well. I anticipate referring back to this in the future, and make no apology for reproducing the entire series of Tweets below. Continue reading “Adam Wagner on the tabloid framing of human rights”

The Authoritarian Instinct

Donald Trump

This checklist for ‘surviving an authoritarian regime’, posted in January this year by the Polish journalist Martin Mycielski, is uncanny in its alignment with the first year of the Trump administration.

https://twitter.com/mycielski/status/824105749823574016

Attempts to delegitimise independent media? Check. Creating chaos and constant conflict? Check. Denial of verifiable facts? Check. Fabricated scandals? Check. Continue reading “The Authoritarian Instinct”

Blackstonian Free Speech

I have finally started reading The Great Dissent by Thomas Healy. It’s history of how United States Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes came to write a famous defence (or should I write defense?) of free speech in the case Abrams v. United States. It’s a fascinating account of how someone with entrenched conservative views changed his mind, and also a useful potted history of the concept of free speech. I’m making plenty of notes and bookmarking several passages. Continue reading “Blackstonian Free Speech”

Ungerechtigkeitfreude

In a dark, personal and fascinating essay on Josef Mengele, my former colleague Jo Glanville sticks a pin in a very particular feeling experienced by those of us who work in human rights campaigning:

Had I developed an unhealthy attraction to stories of the most extreme inhumanity? I asked myself similar questions when I left journalism to work in human rights. I often used to discuss with my colleagues the adrenaline rush that would come when we heard about a new case of imprisonment, prosecution or worse, giving us the energy to take action, but it was disturbingly close to a sensation of excitement. Perhaps my motives were irrelevant, since the work was clearly necessary: whether researching historic human rights abuse or campaigning for current cases. But the intellectual thrill that can accompany investigating or campaigning against the darkest events, alongside a repulsion at the atrocities, continued to disturb me.

I call this thrill Ungerechtigkeitfreude – ‘Injustice joy.’ But I do not see it as a negative emotion. The feeling of excitment comes from the recognition that a particular human rights violation—one that sits squarely within the mandate of your organisation—offers a clear opportunity to make a case that could catalyse change. It is the recognition of an opportunity to spin an act of destruction and oppression into something positive.

I imagine that scholars of fascism, genocide, and its intersection at the Holocaust, have similar muddled feelings. As one accrues a deep historical understanding of how something terrible came about, one also gains the ability to recognise parallels in our own time and place. Which in turn offers the opportunity to sound the alarm and divert the problem.

It is a recognition that, while we have no power to change the past, we do have an opportunity, every day, to change the future for the better.

Radical Redistribution

My erstwhile colleague Jessica Prendergrast has just published a fascinating post on the problems of social mobility in coastal towns and rural areas. Its a response to the Social Mobility Commission’s fifth ‘State of the Nation’ report. As one of the directors of the Onion Collective in Watchet, Somerset, Jess has been deeply involved in the development of community projects and social enterprises for many years.

Here’s an idea a bold government could implement: Continue reading “Radical Redistribution”

Twitter Betrays The Promise of Free Speech For All

Buffalo Jump at Wind Cave National Park

Writing in the Guardian last week, Carole Cadwalladr lamented the way in which Twitter catalyses and facilitates global bullying. This prompted a short exchange between me David Heinemann from Index on Censorship. We noted the betrayed promise of free speech for all that social media offers, and what—or rather, who—might solve the problem.
Continue reading “Twitter Betrays The Promise of Free Speech For All”