Tag Archives: Media

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.

It Was Like A Movie

The print and TV news media is full of the highly visual tragedy of the Costa Concordia, run aground and capsized in the Mediterranean.

Describing the chaos of the evacuation, survivors have likened their experience to the film Titanic.

You get this a lot with disasters, accidents and traumatic experiences.  “It was like a movie” say those who were there.

It is a description that grates, however, because those movies in question are attempting to depict a real life incident.  So of course any given real-life carnage is going to be “like a movie” because those movies are trying to be likereal-life accidents!

A less traumatic example might be when a model or movie star is described as being ‘sculptural’ or ‘like a sculpture’.  Well, of course they are, because the sculptor models his artwork on precisely those people!  Its a back-to-front metaphor. Taken to the extreme, one might describe Harrison Ford by saying “he looks like Indiana Jones” or “he looks like Han Solo.”

Yes, yes, I know we describe things via metaphor, and movies are metaphors. But to my mind “it was like a movie” still feels inadequate description of a real-life scene.

Can Publishing Be a Form of Fact-Checking?

And now for some Inside Baseball.

Last week, I managed to irritate legal blogger Jack of Kent (a.k.a. David Allen Green) by suggesting he was being stingy with his links, and then not telling him about it.  This was not entirely true on either count – He was not being as unlinky as I had thought; and I had tried to let him know.

Since David and I have worked together on the Libel Reform Campaign, I assume that he is not going to sue me for trashing his reputation in the Guardian.  However, elements of our exchange got me thinking about issues of ‘responsibility’ in blogging.

Here’s the thing:  When David asked me “why didn’t you check?” I felt strangely short-changed, despitre the fact that I certainly had not checked with him beforehand.  This is because when I typed the original post, I fully expected David to become aware of it. Incoming links and twitter recommendations usually alert people to the fact they are being discussed.  Moreover, I think some part of my subconsicious decided that to cite him was, in effect, an invitation to respond.  The invitation was not explicit, but to me it feels like an integral part of the blogging conversation.

I write this not to try and get myself off the hook for the pint I know I must pay to David, but instead to ask how responsible blogging might be different from responsible journalism. A key pillar of the existing Reynolds Defence (a public interest defence for libellous statements) is the idea of verification before publishing.  But should this hold for bloggers?  What of the idea (which I had internalised until David complained) that the early publishing of comment or allegations on a blog or twitter, is in itself part of the verification and fact-checking process?  For citizen bloggers, publishing a claim online carries the implicit (and often explicit) request – “please help me verify”.

Mainstream media critics of blogging, and the politicians, certainly disagree, and see the publication of anything unchecked as being irresponsible.  I would appreciate thoughts on this from The Man Himself – Could this form of early publication online be considered ‘responsible’, due to the very nature of the medium?

Debating Breivik's Manifesto

As tweeted yesterday, I was asked onto Paul Hammond’s morning show on UCB Radio, to discuss Norwegian gunman Anders Behring Breiviks’ manifesto, which has been published online.  I made the case that, unpleasant though Breivik’s views are, censoring his manifesto would only give him a martyrish status.  Also, the reasons given for suppressing such writings would quickly be used to attack and censor other books (like the Bible).

Here is the audio of my segment [6 Mb].

On the UCB’s Facebook page, a few people raised dissenting views.

… surely the human rights of the Norwegian students and there families should be held in higher esteem the Anders Behring Breiviks. He gave up his rights the moment he blew up the building in Oslo.

I think this is just a confusion of the concept of human rights.  Of course rights such as free expression may be lawfully removed, but its wrong to say that a killer or any other hated person in society can forfeit their rights in this way.  If that were the case, we would call them ‘privileges’ not ‘rights’.

Another common sentiment:

But I would caution against publishingg such material. Not everyone has the wisdom or intelligence to be able to read it. God forbid but what if there was to be a copycat killing because of publishing this?

To this, I am reminded of Bronwen Maddox writing in The Times, discussing the ramblingsof another killer, Cho Seung Hui:

The accusation that the NBC broadcasts may provoke copycat attacks — the most serious charge against the network — appears to rest on a notion of severe mental illness as contagious, common and predictable.

UCB is a Christian radio station, and as such there were a few comments invoking the more nebulous concepts of God and Satan:

He had his foot in satans kindom, he is a freemason wich is v evil ,he also listend 2 chantin an playd demonic games on computa,he gave the devil an entrance 2 his mind.ther so much ocult activities that warp the mind an insesetive the value of life

I don’t think this is helpful.  Evil and even satanic Anders Breivik may be, but these are adjectives to describe his end state of mind, not the process by which he became like that.  Explaining a good or a bad act as being the work of God or Satan is a way of avoiding hard thoughts and (maybe) a difficult truth.

On Linking To Your Enemies

In my morning trawl through the Internet, I noticed two examples of a practice that has become mainstream: denying the object of your opprobrium a link.

First, the fascinating Brian Kellet writes this, in a fisk of a Liz Jones column about the NHS says:

I’m not going to link to the original story because I don’t want to send visitors to the rag that is the Daily Mail.

Then, in a battle of the pseudonyms, highly respected legal blogger Jack of Kent decides that he is going to have an argument with Gudio Fawkes, but without actually namechecking Guido or linking to the ridiculous Death Pentalty campaign he just launched. I’m particularly disappointed in Jack of K, as he writes, in his very next post, that one should “use links and sources wherever possible.”

Linking out, regardless of whether you agree with the person you”re linking to, should be the standard for blogging, just as it is for academia. It is the link to sources which gives the work credibility. In contrast, anonymous gossip disguised as lobby reporting is one of the reasons why there is so little trust in journalists at the moment (a topic discussed at the recent POLIS journalism conference, where I asked a panel of spin doctors and hacks whether the press should abolish anonymous sources)… and the fact that a tabloid does not have to cite its sources is one of the reasons why #Hackgate could happen.

Moreover, we know that our online bubbles are not as diverse as we like to think. Safe silos like Facebook actually filter content to prioritise those people that you already agree with, and our failure to link out just strengthens the confirmation bias. I disagree with Paul Staine’s worldview and his approach to blogging, but I do actually want to know what he is saying about the death penalty, the better to campaign against him.

So, just as we’ve stopped using the Blame The Daily Mail cliche as a substitute for actual political analysis, can we have a moratorium on the whole “I’m not linking to those people” schtick, please? I know we can Google pretty much anything we want to these days, but not everything appears on page one of the results. Worse, a failure to link looks a bit sly and scheming. Let’s leave the obfuscation and misdirection to those outlets with lower standards: The Newspapers.

The Corrupt Corporate Culture At the Heart of #Hackgate (Part II)

'Son of Murdoch' by ssoosay on Flickr

‘Son of Murdoch’ by ssoosay on Flickr

The phone hacking scandal is becoming increasingly confusing.  During the debate on the issue today, I confess I became utterly lost by Ed Miliband’s long explanation of the relationships and personalities involved.  David Cameron was able to use phrases like “conspiracy theory” and “tissue of intruige” which brand the scandal as a Westminster fabrication.  John Rentoul is right to say that Cameron’s critics need much simpler language to explain the problem with the Prime Minister’s judgement and relationships.

Labour’s tactic is to doggedly pursue the ‘smoking gun’ of lore: the archived e-mail or the scribbled note that proves that Cameron knew more, and knew it earlier.  At yesterday’s select committee hearings, the questions were pitched to discover similar key facts that could skewer Murdochs R and J.

This is risky in both cases, because such evidence may never emerge.  It is also counter-productive, because on the meantime, both the politicians and media barons get to punt the difficult questions with “let’s wait until the inquiry” or “I don’t want to jeapordise the criminal investigation”.

A narrow fixation on evidence that could further damage the Prime Minister, or ruin Rebakah Brooks, means that the wider issue – polical, police and corporate corruption – is left to fallow.  Rupert Murdoch presided over the expansion of a corporate culture in which the phone-hacking of murder victims and other obscenities were the inevitable end result.  Whatever he knew and whenever he was told, he is at fault, he is to blame.  Meanwhile, David Cameron’s first act as Prime Minister was to employ someone who he knew had come straight from that morally barren Hades.  There may not be a smoking gun, but you can almost see the steam coming off this scandal.