Tag Archives: Media

Was John Sargeant right to use the 'N-word' on the BBC?

John Sargeant’s performance on the BBC Newsnight Review show yesterday was bizarre. He managed to say the n-word twice during a discussion of Django Unchained, and later described parts of a TV programme as “American bullshit”.

Among those watching the show, some wondered whether the BBC would receive complaints. Others applauded Sargeant’s no-nonsense approach. I found his language tiresome.

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Get Yourself A Cheap #Leveson Report

Leveson Report
Leveson Report, printed via Lulu.com. The pretty spectrum of blue hues is an intentional difference from the official version.

The Leveson Report is over two thousand pages long, and is published in four volumes. You can download the forty-two page Executive Summary and the four large PDFs that make up the full report from the National Archives (at the grandly named official-documents.gov.uk doman).

If you want a hard copy of the report, The Stationery Office will charge a whopping £250.

However, there is a cheaper option to get a printed version of the report. I have taken the four PDFs and uploaded them to Lulu.com, the print-on-demand website. Each document (I, II, III, IV) costs around £12, and so (with delivery included) one may obtain the entire report for under £60.

Is this legal? Yes. The Leveson Report carries an Open Government Licence (a variation on a Creative Commons Licence) which states that anyone is free to “copy, publish, distribute and transmit the Information”. There is no creator mark-up on the documents (i.e. I do not make any money), so ordering them in this way is analagous to clicking ‘print’ on the PDFs and feeding two-thousand sheets of paper into your office printer!

Why is there such a disparity in price? The answer is colour. The design of the report available via The Stationery Office is printed with a blue spot colour, used in various tints throughout the report. In the cheaper Lulu versions, the content is simply black-and-white.

How the BBC's 'Gotcha' questions hurt democracy

Did anyone hear the BBC Today interview with UKIP leader Nigel Farage this morning? I was tearing my hair out at the inanity of it all.

Presenter John Humphrys repeatedly asked Farage whether he wanted to be Prime Minister and whether he thought UKIP would soon be in Government. This is a no-win question for the Interviewee: if he says ‘yes’ he will be accused of being delusional. If he says ‘no’ he is accused of lacking ambition and not worthy of a person’s vote. So, like all minority party leaders, he was forced to give an evasive non-answer.

This is ‘gotcha’ questioning from Humphrys, and reveals nothing about the matter at hand: why are UKIP doing better in the polls?

There may be instances where ‘gotcha’ questioning is appropriate – for example, to highlight a contradiction in a Government policy. However, the electoral paradox that Farage must confront is not of his making. Instead, it is a feature of the political system. There is no value in wasting broadcast time trying to get Farage to explain this. Voters are savvy enough to understand the conundrum. It is patronising to suggest that Farage is somehow pulling the wool over their eyes.

Single issue parties seeking protest votes is an entirely legitimate use of representative democracy. Any kind of electoral success brings influence and an audience, and so can be an aim in itself , not just as a route to power. When Humphrys and the BBC portray such political activism as fringe or Quixotic, they are being unhelpful to the voters and to the issues. And when this journalistic cynicism is practiced at the expense of actual scrutiny of UKIP’s policies, it is downright harmful and wrong.

#Leveson recommends self-regulation… for the politicians

Right. We all got a bit distracted there for a moment. What were we talking about? Oh yeah…

Almost all the debate about #Leveson so far is over whether the Government should introduce statutory regulation of the press. The other grave issues covered by the Inquiry, and Lord Justice Leveson’s recommendations for how to fix them, seem to have prompted less discussion.

The tunnel vision of the political class, and it’s obsession with press regulation, is partly to blame for this. But it is also the fault of Lord Justice Leveson himself. He offers a detailed plan for how a new self-regulatory body might be emboldened by some kind of law… but fewer ideas on how to regulate the way the media interacts with the police and politicians.

This is a shame, because the ambivalence of the police to the practice of phone hacking (if not outright collusion) was the most shocking of last year’s revelations. It was the failure to properly investigate the phone hacking that made this controversy into a bona fide ‘gate’. Had the police done their job, and not sought friendship and favour with the News International titles and other tabloids, then the entire controversy would have amounted to nothing more than a few criminal prosecutions. Continue reading

Counter-productive Hatchet Job at the Daily Mail

The Daily Mail have published a rather odd hatchet job on Gavin Freeguard, Harriet Harman’s culture advisor. Gavin formerly worked for the Media Standards Trust, who are part of the Hacked Off Campaign. This fact, and some year-old tweets from Freeguard where he (shock! horror!) criticises David Cameron allow Mail journalist Richard Pendlebury to paint Gavin as some kind of Manchurian spad.

We desperately need to hear strong arguments against state-regulation and ‘licensing’ of the press. Left-wingers love to loathe the Daily Mail, but it is a hugely influential newspaper with one of the most visted websites on the Internet. There is no better platform for the arguments against statutory regulation to be presented.

And yet, on the eve of the Leveson Inquiry report publication, there is nothing in today’s editorial on #Leveson. Instead, the Daily Mail editors choose to run a piece which appears to be little more than an ad hominem attack on someone who previously worked for the Media Standards Trust. The pro-regulation camp will spin this a more evidence that the press is unserious about the regulation debate, and more interested in attacking individuals in order to sell newspapers – precisely the sin that (the critics say) makes the case for regulation!

As someone who is very wary about the prospect of state regulation of the press, I find it very is frustrating that the newspaper that could be the most powerful voice for press freedom is pursuing such a short term agenda, squandering its platform, and undermining the case for press freedom at such a crucial moment.

Neck and Neck in the Polls?

This week, the BBC reports on the US Presidential this week have been consistently reporting the race “neck-and-neck”. This assertion is grounded on opinion polls: the latest BBC report trumpets an ABC News poll which places both candidates on 48% of the vote.

The problem is, one poll does not tell the whole story. Each polling outlet has a slightly different methodology which skews the results. For example, some poll only ‘likely voters’ and some ask everyone; some pollsters call cell-phones, while others use only landlines.

As a foreign media outlet, the BBC is not covering the race with the granularity of the domestic US media.

Rather than report the result of one poll, The corporation would do better to report on the polling averages between polling outfits, and the trend-lines of generated by each pollster over a given period. Both these macro views look better for President Barack Obama, whose polling in the last fortnight has been improving. More importantly, State Level polling shows the President ahead in battleground states like Ohio. Poll analysis site Five Thirty Eight (hosted by the New York Times) models the election on this basis, and is currently putting the chances of an Obama win at 85%.

This does not mean that Obama is coasting towards a second term. Governor Mitt Romney could still win. But given the totality of the polls, President Obama can be said to have the advantage. The situation does not really warrant the metaphor “neck-and-neck” which suggests either horse is equally likely to win. In the betting markets, Barack Obama is the clear favourite. He hasn’t won, but he is ahead.

So why does the BBC cherry-pick a single poll as its headline? Simples: “neck-and-neck” is a more sensational headline than “Obama ahead”. And the more sensational headline will deliver more viewers on Election Night.

Slaves to the Screen

I thought this image posted by Anthony Painter was emblematic of… something.

@anthonypainter: will.he.is #hackneyweekend http://t.co/NUM95DTg

20120626-143734.jpg
As an aside, it is amusing that Twitter thinks will.i.am is a URL, but that’s not what set my mental cogs in motion.

Instead, I was struck by the fact that Antony was at the Hackney concert over the weekend, but was still reduced to watching the events on a screen. I am sure that anyone who has ever been to one of the big summer festivals (Glastonbury, &ct) will have experienced the same phenomenon, that of watching an ostensibly ‘live’ event on screen, because the actual performers are too far away.

I was reminded of a scene in The Simpsons (Season 7, Episode 9, Sideshow Bob’s Last Gleaming, thanks Google, thanks Wikipedia) where Homer refuses to crane his neck to watch the jets at an air show, preferring to let the TV decide what he watches.

One might say that there is no conceptual difference between the a festival-goer watching the concert from the back of the crowd, and a viewer tuning in to coverage of the same festival on a TV set. In both cases, the cameras and the broadcast technology magnify the performer. However, this discounts the value of the atmosphere, the sense of communal experience, one gets from being at the event. This explains why people will stand for hours in order to see the Queen’s white coat in the far distance for a few seconds, rather than simply allow the BBC to give us constant, glorious close-ups of the wDuke of Edinburgh developing a bladder problem.

On a lesser scale, it explains why people choose to watch Euro 2012 (and all the other tournaments) in pubs. Communality counts. It also explains why others will actually travel to the tournament host country, merely to sit in a park and watch the match on a Jumbotron outside the stadium. Proximity counts too.

Nevertheless, I do think that it’s an odd sort of culture that prizes the live and the immediate over the transmitted, and yet those attending live, immediate events still find their experience of the show mediated through a square electronic screen. And we haven’t even discussed the second-order oddness of the TV stations broadcasting the sight of other people standing in a field (or on the Mall) watching a screen, as a form of entertainment in itself.


Related: That thing that happens during a lull in a live sporting broadcast, when the director cuts to a shot of the crowd, and the person spots themselves on the screen in the stadium, and waves at it, then realises that the camera is shooting them from another angle, and so they look around for the camera, and the director cuts back to the action…

All Over Bar The Shouting?

A few days ago I tweeted the following:

I know I should be glued to #Leveson analysis, just have the feeling that it will all play out as it should without me. Passive politics.

A few people asked me about this, and suggested I should care more about this most important of issues.

To be clear, I was not doubting how important the Leveson Inquiry is, or the significance of the scandal(s) he is investigating. Rather, I just have a sense that the issue has reached something of an apotheosis, and that a better order of things will now inevitably result. Henry Porter’s column today captures my thinking:

We can take heart that Murdoch is already finished as a political force here, that the record of his morbid influence is being settled and serious crimes will be prosecuted. What we have to focus on now is protecting our democracy from the influence of such a character again.

Porter goes on to say that there are still questions left unanswered – for Alex Salmond and for Jeremey Hunt, in particular – but I think we can now be confident that those charged with getting to the bottom of this now have the political and moral clout to pursue these issues to their conclusion. A far cry from the days when Tom Watson MP was mocked for his obsession with phone-hacking at News of the World.