Me, Quoted

I have been quoted in a couple of articles recently, both relating to free speech issues in the UK.

First, I was interviewed by The Booksller magazine, about the government’s proposed law on Criminal Memoirs:

Robert Sharp, campaign manager for English PEN, said publishers still had time to intervene, as the law would not be voted on until after the summer recess. “We have time to play for,” he said. “We would advise that people concerned about this should lobby the Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, or Maria Eagle MP, to revist the bill, to run wider consultation, and come up with more clearly defined, narrower proposals.”

He also warned of “mission creep” arising. “You [could] have a law supposedly about mad gangsters boasting about how they stabbed someone, suddenly being used against someone writing about their harrowing journey through the criminal justice system.”

PEN will be refining these arguments for a campaign in the autumn.

I was also interviewed on the subject of UK libel laws by De Nieuwe Reporter, a Dutch magazine.  Here’s the money quote (literally):

‘Zelfs als ze zeker weten dat ze geen fouten hebben gemaakt, dan nog worden kranten en uitgeverijen gecensureerd door hun verzekeringsmaatschappijen omdat de financiële risico’s te groot zijn’, zegt Robert Sharp. ‘Het stelt rijke mensen in staat om een spelletje ‘High Stakes Poker’ te spelen, waarbij degene met het meeste geld uiteindelijk altijd wint.’

The article is in Dutch, but Google gives an English approximation.

What is Channel 4 for?

I attended the Next on 4 event this morning, where Jon Snow hosted the launch of Channel’s 4 ‘strategic blueprint’. They are placing an emphasis on digital technologies in order to capture young audiences, and have launched a £50 million public service digital media fund.

Crucially, they are cutting their overseas aquisitions budget by £35 million, meaning less US shows. I wonder how this will affect the channel’s ratings over the next few years – surely the popular American dramas and comedies are a key draw?

Chief Executive Andy Duncan also announced that Channel 4 would be facing a £100 million funding gap by 2012 (the year of the digital switch-over), which they would be looking to make-up from public subsidy. The argument is that Channel 4 has recieved, in the form of a free analogue licence, about £150 million in public subsidy per year since it lauched. The channel would now like to see that subsidy continue in other forms. When challenged, Duncan argued that this figure was not some accounting sleight-of-hand, but represented a real edge that allowed them to run the channel in the way they should. Clearly, the money for this will have to come from one of two sources – the government’s central coffers, or the licence fee, but Duncan and his collegaues were relucant to suggest which this might be. In the coming months, we’re likely to see either (a) an ugly scrap between the BBC and Channel 4 over funding, or (b) an ugly scrap between publicly funded organisations on one hand, and commercial broadcasters on the other… over funding. Channel 4 were keen to talk simply about their unique position, but I don’t really see how a conversation can be had without constant reference to the BBC. They need to explain where they expect their new money to come from, and fast.

The conflict stems, of course, from the difficulty in quantifying the benefit of publically funded broadcasting. Often, discussions over public service broadcasting are couched in terms of a polite threat: “Pay the licence fee, or you’ll lose Life in Cold Blood“; “Fund us, or we’ll cancel Cutting Edge and replace it with Celebrity Big Brother’s 100 Greatest Moments“. When put in these terms, or when we consider the unpleasant prospect of the Murdoch-owned media dominating TV news, its easy to see how the arguments for public funding find favour. Though there are occasional controversies (like the Big Brother Race Row, or the BBC’s role in the David Kelly affair), I think the threat of back-to-back Love Island keeps the public and policymakers on-side.

However, a case could also be made that subsidies have the effect of shouldering smaller, regional and TV programme makers out of the market. In this analysis, it is less clear that the public (and our culture as a whole) is being served. Rather than constantly chasing the latest digital technologies, and ensuring every other show has its own blog and podcast, Channel 4 and the BBC simply need to prove that they are fostering the development of such regional talent. If they can do that, then I think they’ll be able to persuade government to give them the funding they ask for.

Cross posted at The Progressive.

Interfering with the Anglican Church

According to my Facebook profile, I am variously an anesthetist, and aesthete, and (less frequently) a non-practicing atheist. But whatever guise I choose for myself, I tend to look upon the tribulations of Dr Williams with the detachment of an outsider. I reason that because I’m not a church-goer, the possible ‘schism’ over gay clergy should not really concern me.

But now I’m wondering whether that is the correct view. Looking again at the word ‘Anglican’, it occurs to me that this particular Communion of Churches might actually be considered an exporter of British ‘soft power’ and influence, much like the British Council. The Church of England is still a formal branch of our state, and Anglican Bishops sit in the House of Lords. Furthermore, it is the British Prime Minister who effectively appoints the Archbishop of Canterbury. So I would say that the Archbishop and his Church are formal (though obviously not democratic) representatives of our country.

If The Church represents us all, is is not reasonable for atheists, agnostics and secularists to poke their nose into its affairs? Traditionalists say that Britain is still essentially a Christian country built on Christian morals. If that is the case, and while Church of England retains its privileged position in our political system, then I would say that us non-believers have the right to interfere in its policies and rulings.

I imagine that such an interference, should it come, would require Dr Williams to take a more liberal approach to homosexuality. He should commit the Church of England to a more tolerant stance (which we suspect he favours anyway).

Some might say that by taking an approach that is too liberal, Dr Williams will only catalyze the ‘schism’ in the Anglican community. Indeed, Dr Williams himself seems to hold this view. However, this is actually a very odd way of looking at The Church and at religion in general. In other situations, such as over the use of contraception or who to vote for in elections, we assume that the officers of religion hold enormous power over their flock. We assume that the pronouncements of an Ayatollah here or a Cardinal there, will inform, sway and change the values of their congregations. In a way, it is odd that we do not assume a liberal sermon from the most senior Anglican bishop would have a similar effect.

Yet, what else can inspire a better attitude to homosexuality, other than standing up to the conservatives, demonstrating that their intolerance breeds nothing but hate and harm? Its time for the Archbishop to speak up for the values of love and tolerance which Jesus stands for (regardless of his alleged divinity), and show that those values are embodied by homosexual members of the Anglican Church. He should hope and trust that the schism, when it comes, occurs (as it should) within the congregations of the conservative African Churches, rather than between Churches within the communion. Such an outcome is by no means guaranteed… but hey, that’s what Faith is for. Go for it, Rowan.

Remedy Scotland

One thing I have witnessed “first hand” is the anxiety – nay, terror – induced by the shocking MTAS system for appointing junior doctors. Various aspects of the mis-management continue to be discussed in the blogs and in newspapers, including the dumbing-down of the profession and the fact that some people are having to take on lower grade positions.

So, while I can concede that there are dozens of political groups that I could campaign for, I’ve lent my support to the junior doctors at Remedy Scotland by setting up a campaign blog for them. They have quite a focused campaign, with an achievable reform agenda, in a single policy area, so I am hoping that it can be quite incisive. Since so many people in Scotland will be affeced, a fairly disparate group of people will need to be mobilised. I am planning to utilise the full arsenal of Web 2.0 technologies to help spread the message. Expect blog buttons and such things very soon.

Do please visit the site and sign the petition. There is also a protest march planned for mid-July, in Glasgow.


Scottish Roundup and Rights Affirming Laws

In the absence of the stalwarty DoctorVee, I have edited this week’s Scottish Roundup. I actually found trawling through loads of politicians’ blogs quite encouraging. People have a genuine passion for making things better (although of course, they all have a slightly different conception of how that might be achieved). Yes yes, I know “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”… but so is the forked path to progress and prosperity.

I included in the round-up a post from Rhetorically Speaking, about the fact that the Executive have legislated in favour of women being allowed to breastfeed in public. Much has been made recently of Labour’s frenzied approach to law-making, with apparently a new law being made every three hours since they came to power. I wonder how many of these were laws that affirmed a citizen’s rights, as opposed to laws which took rights away?


Just spotted a post from Tim Worstall on the issue. There are some pertinent points in the comments. My favourite is from Little Black Sambo:

This is entirely consistent with the new understanding of law. The purpose of making a law is to “send a message”.

Stalinist Santa?

Tis now the season to be jolly, so I have posted something festive over at The Sharpener: Would you let this man into your home?

It concerns the politics of Father Christmas, who by my analysis is a dangerous Stalinist. If you think he is of a different political hue, then please do visit The Sharpener and set me straight.


Now reproduced in full, below.

There’s a crude and simple way to distinguish, should you care to, your right from your left. Waistlines.

I’ve been reading Paul’s polemic, which states that Left-wingers are fatter than Right-wingers. It occurs to me that Father Christmas is a well-known fat bastard, famous for (among other things) scoffing mince-pies and slurping sherry that is not his own, at fire-places up and down this land. He would definitely be a ‘Lefty’ by Paul’s criteria.

This hypothesis is certainly backed up by other facts too. He wears red tunic, long time favourite colour of the revolutionary left. And of course he is interested in the systemised redistribution of presents, in apparent disregard of market forces.

Don’t let that beard and Norwegian charm fool you. This guy is no hippie. He is a dangerous authoritarian. If you do not conform to his insidious conception of ‘nice’ you risk being classified ‘naughty’ and denied basic presents. Everyone is kept under surveillance, parents are turned into informants on their own children and Santa catalogues the good deeds and the bad. What is more, he can only deliver his presents if he keeps a comprehensive computerised database of names and chimney locations. It is only a matter of time before this information is shared with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny, and before you know it a cheeky request on a Christmas list from five years ago could see you lose all profits from your tooth harvest.

Its not as if the system fosters any kind of equality anyway. We all know that although Santa’s ‘presents for all populism might appear to treat each case on its merits, but when the service is applied on the ground we find evidence of blatant institutional racism. It is a well-known fact that Father Christmas is less likely to visit children from Muslim, Hindu and Sikh families. Yes yes, we’ve all heard the excuse about a lack of available chimneys, but I notice that Santa will gladly slip in through the French windows for middle-class atheist families. He is also happy to pocket the filthy shill from Coca-cola Company for corporate sponsorship, but do you see the elves getting a pay-rise? No, the fat bastard Father Christmas is a Lefty in name only.

Time was when young people would have cared about the questionable ethics of their largest benefactor. But not this generation. Oh no. The ‘me’ generation too busy talking about X-boxes and X-factor to even consider whether Santa’s seal-skin boots were bought Fair Trade or not. They see the presents dangled in front of their eyes, and once again they fall for his patter. They will let him into their bedrooms, and there is nothing the parents can do about it. Only when Santa has sledged off into the night sky will the parents be called to sort out the misery in his wake. Once again, the cumbersome, centralised, present giving system will not have supplied batteries for the presents, and decent, hard-working parents will be called in to pick-up the tab.

Today in the media…

A full schedule for a lot of people today, it seems.

Sunny Hundal of Pickled Politics is going to begin a media blitz today, with an article in the Guardian and some radio appearances, promoting his New Generation Network.

Edinburgh blogger Devil’s Kitchen is making an appearance on 18 Doughty Street today too.

Finally, the BBC Asian Network Report will be airing a documentary Sex, Lies, and Culture, co-produced by the BBC and myself for Fifty Nine:

Are young Asians taking unnecessary risks with their sexual health? Brook Advisory Services, the national sexual health charity, are calling for further investigation into worrying information about Asians visiting their Birmingham clinic. They found higher proportions of Asians were likely to have unprotected sex, and to request emergency contraception, pregnancy testing and referrals for an abortion. They were also less likely to be tested for sexually transmitted infections. The Birmingham clinic saw aImost 4, 500 Asians under 25 years old last year, fewer than other ethnic groups. In Sex, Lies and Culture Anita Rani investigates whether the strict attitudes of older Asians has created a generation which isn’t informed about safe sex.

There should be some media coverage of those issues on the BBC 6 o’clock News, and also in The Times.

More soon…

The Impact of Blogs

There has been a spate of articles in recent months about the impact of blogging. I wrote a short article for October’s Writing Magazine, tackling the subject from the point of view of the aspiring writer. It was fun to try and condense all I have learnt into just a thousand words. I guess seasoned bloggers will find very little here that they don’t already know, but I hope it provided some thinking points for those who have yet to venture online.

Call it blogging or ‘citizen journalism,’ online self-publishing is becoming an unavoidable part of human discourse. High-profile bloggers are invited to comment on radio programmes, while broadsheet newspapers run a daily round-up of the ‘blogosphere’. Top American blogs (such as Instapundit and Boing-Boing) receive thousands of hits every day. Every political campaign has an associated blog, and MPs are using the medium to re-engage with their constituents. In March, the Guardian inaugurated, a ‘super-blog’ with contributions from the paper’s regular columnists.

Clearly, blogs are something that writers must engage with. The Internet is changing the nature of writing – especially journalistic writing. Aspiring and established journalists should seek to understand the implications of this 21st Century medium… even if they have no intention of writing anything online themselves.

Continue reading “The Impact of Blogs”

War and Peace at T'Sharpener

Its been a little while since I engaged with the Iraq War debate. A short piece from me at The Sharpener resurrects the perennial argument of whether it was right to invade when we did:

As people come out with expressions of regret that they supported the war, they rarely do so with reference to those who do not regret protesting against it. I wonder if there are any hawks out there who now think that some of the protesters had a point? Reading people’s analyses of their own decisions on the matter, it is as if there was no opposition to the war but a bunch of shrill communists who took a stroll through Hyde Park.