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Having watched with utter fascination the incredibly rapidly developing events surrounding the unravelling of the edifice that is the News of the World, I have taken some time to think about what the implications for us, the public, may be.
(A very comprehensive collection of Guardian articles, charting the hacking saga, is to be found on a Guardian page, here.)
Sunday will see the last printed issue of the News of the World. Whatever the reason for Rupert and James Murdoch’s apparently sudden decision to ‘dump’ this long-established title from their News International portfolio – and there are as many theories as there are pundits commenting ad nauseam on our screens, on the radio and in the press – will any of the events of this week make a difference to our lives or our democracy?
Will @mulberrybush, @MagNews and I be able to hang up our keyboards safe in the knowledge that all will now be well with the way the press conducts itself?
The corruption at the News of the World appears to have happened some years ago and those responsible will, with conscientious detection on the part of the Met’s new Weeting Inquiry, be eventually brought to book.
There are gloomy predictions that similarly dirty practices will be found in the way other papers developed their scoops and sensational stories.
But even were every journalist, member of the police force and private investigator involved in the phone-hacking or blagging arrested, charged and appropriately punished, we would still be left, in the tabloid papers especially, with examples of the kind of journalism which harms our democracy and well-being.
The media, including the press, can be very influential. They can manipulate opinion.
The writer of the extract below argues that media has little real influence and cites a very good example of a newspaper’s attempt to claim credit for swaying the public’s choice of Government.
From the Independent:
Leading article: Misunderstanding media influence
“The Sun newspaper decides to rescind its support for Labour and the political world is turned on its head – or so you would assume from the reaction in the rest of the media yesterday. Sky News spent much of the day reporting on the political reaction to the decision of its News International stable mate. One wonders whether this is a good advert for the media “independence” and “plurality” that James Murdoch spoke up for in Edinburgh in August.
…….All this is over the top. And not just because this change in The Sun’s support was heavily signposted and long expected. It is excessive because it reflects a hopeless misunderstanding about the power of the media.”
Written just before the last General Election, about the Sun‘s dramatic announcement that it was switching its support from Labour to the Tories, this article attempts to dispel any belief we may have as to the power of the press to mould opinion.
You will have guessed by the very fact that I help to run this blog, which seeks to help in a small way to bring about a fundamental change in the behaviour of certain elements of our press, that I cannot agree wholeheartedly with the anonymous writer of that piece!
A newspaper may not be capable of manipulating the political leanings of the population by clearly declaring its own. But what it can do, and there are many examples of this behaviour, is to publish confused, partial, even mendacious facts and data.
Below are a few of available links to articles and headlines over the past few months which have been proven untrue or inaccurate:
Factcheck: Is ‘Health Tourism’ Costing the Taxpayer £200m? – Full Fact
(Richard Littlejohn, Daily Mail)
Factcheck: Can the Disabled Claim ‘Free’ BMWs? – Full Fact
(Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Express)
For whatever reason, the careless or deliberate inclusion of skewed or inaccurate facts in articles and headlines is misinforming the reader and misrepresenting the truth. The use of incendiary, insulting, emotive language such as ‘scroungers’,’fiddlers’, ‘workshy’ etc.
When the public are fed the wrong facts, any decision they make, any opinion they develop is not based on truth or accuracy and the paper encouraging rage or contempt is guilty of breaking the trust of us all.
Most journalists are honourable and dedicated to bringing truth and honesty to what they write.
It is the practices of the few which need to be rooted out and exposed.
Hopefully, the promised Judicial Inquiry, announced by David Cameron yesterday, into the culture and practices of the media will ensure that freedom of the press will no longer mean freedom to peddle lies.
How brave was the Dowler family to stand up and criticise their ordeal… ? Then there is this afternoon’s breaking news…
However, much of the press coverage has been about Milly’s family – her father, mother and sister who bravely stood up outside the Courthouse to deliver their verdict on the process to which they’d been subjected. The jury took seven hours to debate and as the verdicts were read out the family broke down sobbing and Mrs. Dowler collapsed, clearly very seriously upset. But was their upset about the verdicts or the fact that the episode of the inquiry into Milly’s death had ended… probably both.
The four-week trial saw Milly’s father, Robert Dowler and her mother Sally subjected to cross-examination by Bellfield’s defence team. Each of them had broken down in the witness box – it was suggested that Milly may have run away because she was unhappy at home. In their statement outside the courthouse the Dowler family said that the process had been “mentally scarring” and that the justice system was loaded unfairly in favour of the criminal http://is.gd/T57Hfx.
There have been different accounts of this from the Police and the Defence team, defending their actions although the Police did apologise and has called for changes. Surely the Chief Constable was aware of how the family were being treated? This was a high profile case. Wonder if an apology would have been made had the Dowler family not read out their statements? http://is.gd/7kRgug.
The defence barrister, Jeffrey Samuels QC, has been unavailable for comment. A spokesperson for the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) argued that the adversarial nature of trials is fundamental to justice. http://is.gd/ogZfCM. He may have a point. But what about the reporting. Should parts of this trial been held in private.
Finally, it transpires that although the jury debated for seven hours, and this was on the issue of whether Levi Belfield had abducted another girl Rachel Cowles, the judge discharged the jury without reaching a conclusion. The judge blamed the media coverage of the trial. http://is.gd/MXtmLW,
So basically the media got the in way of a fair trial of Levi Belfield the man suspected of also trying to abduct Rachel Cowles. The attempted abduction file will lie on file. Clearly questions will be asked about the Judge’s decision to dismiss the jury.. it appears that the Attorney General’s office will be looking into it.
Yet again the media is in the spotlight. In May the Attorney General’s office won permission from the high court to bring contempt of court proceedings against the Sun and the Daily Mirror over their coverage of the Chris Jefferies in December last year. He was the man who was arrested on suspicion of murdering Joanna Yeates in Bristol. A date is awaited for the case to be heard.
This afternoon, as I write this blog, the death and reported possible suicide has been announced of Mr. Christopher Shale, a Snr Conservative in David Cameron’s constituency. I won’t say too much as it is early days but as the circumstances of Mr.Shale’s death unwinds, one has to wonder if external bodies had a role to play – all roads appear to point in that direction! http://is.gd/Tqk15v and http://is.gd/YwrYMZ. Questions arise here too…
At this stage, despite what our political beliefs may be, we should consider the feelings of Mr.Shale’s family. This will be a very sad time for them.
But watch this space…
Some of the latest media coverage : Dowler family
The Telegraph – Chief Constable talks about ‘shock’ of experience for the Dowler family http://is.gd/fOi4ES
The Indy – Lawyers defend cross-examination of Dowler family http://is.gd/ogZfCM
The Mail – Murder tore Milly’s family to shreds, and the legal jackels feasted on what was left http://is.gd/XojSJ4
The Mail – Police & Lawyers blame each other for ‘inhumane’ court ordeal http://is.gd/MkCCoD
The Guardian Milly Dowler’s family solicitor re phonehacking Milly’s voicemail http://is.gd/YvqeJA
Some of the latest media coverage : Christopher Shale
The Guardian – Christopher Shale found dead.. http://is.gd/Au05rZ
Daily Mail – Did Cameron’s ‘rock’ die of a heart attack 20 hours before his body was discovered in a portable toilet at Glastonbury? http://is.gd/yRw5HN
The Telegraph – Tests to reolve mystery death… http://is.gd/BBW0sg
The Telegraph – Christopher Shale – big society man http://is.gd/zX72OT 26th June 2011
Sky News – announces Post Mortem on Christopher Shael is ‘unascertained’ 27th June 2011
The Indy – ‘Top Tory’s festival a mystery’ Undetermined pathology findings re death of Christopher Shale http://is.gd/YWC5lI
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How lucrative is the private health & care home business and who are some of the figures behind such businesses…?
Initially the issue was about the appalling treatment residents suffered as shown on the recent Panorama programme. However, as more information comes to light, more questions arise about the ‘care industry’!
Today’s Daily Mail Headline : No 10 Man at heart of care homes scandal : Blair aide’s key role at bank that oversaw sale of troubled Southern Cross empire
Jeremy Heywood is now David Cameron’s Permanent Secretary at Downing Street – he is tipped to be the next Cabinet Secetary. No mention of that in the headlines – the headlines concentrate on Heywood being close to Tony Blair ! Also he spent some time in Gordon Brown’s government too. Hmm… a case of the right wing press looking after the right wing government… A rather biased edge in reporting here which of course is why #pressreform was established – to expose/debate about the media especially unfair reporting, but rarely has it been so blatant ! But that point isn’t the main crux of this blog… It merely opened up what appears to be a rather large can of worms… read on..
Within the Daily Mail article the name of Baroness Sally Morgan of Huyton appears.. She is a Non-Executive Director of Southern Cross, having taken up her post in 2006. She is a Labour peer and was filmed along with Stephen Byers, Geoff Hoon and Margaret Hewitt in a Dispatches programme entitled ‘Politicians for Hire’ where it was suggested they could provide access to government for the business and corporate world – for cash ! Remember it ? http://is.gd/THaxBo I understand that The Baroness was cleared http://is.gd/03dVmc by a sub-committee of the House of Lords. Then there was the expenses issue http://is.gd/5t5SPE
It appears that more and more people are complaining about what is and what is not appearing in the newspapers, the emphasis placed up on it and how news is reported on tv with suggestions that ‘this just isn’t fair’. Some take up their complaints with the Press Complaints Commission and here are some recent cases
http://3.ly/pFyt some would say not too serious. What about the more serious one’s…
So what is the PCC, under whose jurisdiction does it operate and who funds it ? Well, here lies a story…
For starters I find that “The independent Chairman is appointed by the newspaper and magazine publishing industry” according to the PCC website. Independent ? Really ? Why would the newspaper and magazine publishing industry appoint the Chairman… I can see that such an action would be in their interests… Aaaah, I get it… on further investigation I find that the PCC is funded by… the press ! Yes, the press ! I suppose this is where the term ‘self-regulation’ comes into reality.
How can it be right that the press can fund a Commission to investigate complaints about the press ? How can the press insist that the only option available to complainants is for them to complain to a body which has been created by the press and is based on a Code which the press drafted. Yes the Commission drafted it’s own code – by members of the Press ? The press of course has access to lawyers to defend their case. Many individuals do not ! And there appears to be no element of appeal ! Here is the editors’ code of practice http://is.gd/5UyplF
You’ll be comforted to know that the editors’ code of practice is periodically reviewed by “a special committee of editors” ! Yes editors ! The Chairman of that special committee I gather, is Paul Dacre from the Daily Mail http://is.gd/6t1bZ6. The Chair of the PCC itself is Baroness Peta Buscombe, a Conservative Peer. There’s an article relating to her and the PCC here http://is.gd/AZFzCE and it’s an interesting little story!
I began to search to find out how and why the PCC was established in the first place. It seems that it replaced a body called The Press Council which was considered not to be fulfilling it’s role from what I can gather. So the PCC was formed in 1991. Seems a long time ago and the media and press has changed since those days… one example being that there wasn’t the incessant coverage of 24 hour news that we have today. Don’t think the ‘paparazzi’ was around either? It seems to me, and I know to many, that the press just appear to get away with whatever they wish to write… Once the headline is there, it’s there. If an apology is ever given it’s usually on page 17… hidden away. Broadcasters seem to believe that we’ll believe anything they spout forth ! That really isn’t the case at all… We’ve all become media savvy and it’s time the press woke up to it ! They treat us as though we’ve just landed on planet earth…
And finally who is the PCC accountable to ? I’m afraid that is an answer I cannot give as I’ve not been able to find any reference to the PCC being accountable to anyone but itself !
And if you’re really interested here’s some further information :
Website of the PCC http://is.gd/TBtOaB.
The governanace of the PCC : An independent review http://is.gd/TBtOaB
er.. who undertook the review ? Hmmm…
This week-end has seen the unfolding of criminal activity that cannot be ignored however much the press would like to ignore it… The press of course are usually the one’s to break the news where unfairness is seen to be playing a part or where criminal activity takes place and is of public interest. But this story is about them!! And it has taken months to receive the tiniest smattering of coverage. Now we are beginning to find out why…
More newspapers appear to have been caught out in the phone-hacking saga – the first person to break this news was a lawyer. Since then others have come forward… Are people frightened of the press for some reason ? And let’s not forget that phone-hacking is illegal.. This is a very serious matter. We have No 10 involved, the judgement of the PM, a former Prime Minister who believes his phone was hacked, members of the Royal Family, various celebrities, other Members of Parliament, Vodafone is in there somewhere… Have I left anyone out…. I’m sure there’s someone else… of course, one Mr. Rupert Murdoch, for whom all roads seem to lead in this issue. So where does this leave the BSkyB application ?… Are we really confident that Mr. Murdoch’s application should go through without a blink ? I, for one, am certainly not ?
This week-end has seen news uncover that makes it apparent that ‘things have been going on’ for a long time. One question that springs to my mind is – who holds the power – and who exactly runs this country ?
But not to worry – we can always turn to the PCC !
Let us know what you think ? Your views are important…
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Promoting accuracy in public debate
It’s a rare day which doesn’t see the group whose logo is reproduced at the head of this page checking facts which appear on the printed page of a newspaper or are uttered by ‘experts’ and politicians.
Prompted sometimes by a member of the public, concerned that what they’ve read or heard may not be true, and sometimes I suspect out of a doubt in their own minds, the team at Full Fact research the data until they have got to the bottom of the problem. They then publish their Factcheck results online on their website as well as to the increasingly wide audience of Twitter.
They appear to be refreshingly non-partisan and fair in the way they present their conclusions, unlike the many of the sources of the ‘facts’ they investigate!
More and more, Full Fact is becoming a real force in holding organisations, especially the press, to account and have had a great deal of success in extracting corrections to articles which contain inaccuracies.
Tonight, a tweet from Full fact appeared on my timeline containing the following link: Newspapers Correct Incapacity Benefit Claims After Full Fact Complaint .
I had noticed what appeared to be exaggerations and inaccuracies in an article in the Express on April 28th
and wrote a blogpiece in an attempt to show how such a piece could be divisive and hurtful to the subject of the article.
Full Fact went much further, examined similar claims printed in the Sun, Telegraph and the Daily Mail and have managed, by way of complaint to the PCC, to wrench an agreement from all three newspapers to print corrections to their articles.
The process was not easy:
If any justification were needed for the setting up of Full Fact, the final paragraph of their announcement of their success says it all:
I looked at BBC News, Sky News – nothing happening ! So I sent a couple of tweets along the lines of ‘Wakey Wakey…. are you aware of what’s happening?’. The Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger was the first journalist in the UK to latch on to what was happening and the following piece came out at 4.00am http://is.gd/B9hFUb and eventually the BBC and Sky woke up – I even sent them tweets saying ‘Wakey wakey something big is happening’ ! But CNN was on the spot and on the ball ! Obama made his statement http://is.gd/Xm1AiT.
And then the news began to roll… Oh and goodness me, did it roll ? Well and truly. Experts were called into CNN, Fox News which was.. er… was er.. Fox News! I’ll choose not to go there… I didn’t stay there anyway ! Experts were called in and asked for their opinions. CNN showed people waving, screaming, shouting and cheering from the railings in front of the White House and the cheering and dancing continued later in Times Square and other places in the United States. Clips of 9/11 and the atrocity of the twin towers were shown… Yes, the man most wanted had been found and now no longer existed. Osama bin Laden was dead. Cameron looking a little bleary eyed, sporting a different sort of unruly hairstyle gave his response http://is.gd/tFvYLk.
In the hours that followed many comments, opinions, pictures, new and historical videos were conveyed. It all poured out very quickly and presenters were almost tripping over each other such was their zeal to be the first to break each little teeny weeny minute piece of news. Statements were made, not all matching by any means. Different accounts were given – all by no-one who was actually there but nevertheless each and every word was given as gospel… convincingly… but even so some were not accurate! A photograph of bin Laden was circulating on twitter and did so for hours before it was announced that the photograph was actually two years old ! http://is.gd/5ZmZ3X Of course by the time I publish this blog, that may have been retracted and proven to be accurate !! Even now over 12 hours later the pieces of news that were breaking then are being ‘corrected’ or as they would prefer to say, ‘confirmed’ at this time. It was dramatic, make no mistake of that. Shock and excitement being conveyed. Most of the news, of course came via tv stations. A flavour of the day : Sky http://is.gd/s2oDqn BBC blog http://is.gd/j6om5P
BBC News http://is.gd/GVAgdz View from Israel http://is.gd/lFRLTg FoxNews http://is.gd/oyggfg
But how did all this begin? Why did Osama bin Laden become such a venerated & worshipped figure amongst some – yet feared and hated by others ? I don’t think anyone on any tv station has raised this today, (apart from him heading a terrorist organisation) yet there has been much speculation as to who his successor might be – almost along the lines of who the next Pope would be ! What about Al Qaeda… it’s future… But who/what is Al Qaeda and why has it become part of our lives ? I would have thought that after such an event as has been reported today, that this question might have been examined but instead we’ve been awarded different accounts of the same story hour after hour… It all began on 9/11 or did it…? Doesn’t it go back further ? Where do we go from here ? Do we want the same relationship. I’m not sure that I do… Do you ? How did it all begin ?
A quick potted history : The commencement of Al Qaeda is usually traced to the 1979 Soviet War in Afghanistan. The US was of the opinion that the Soviet support of the Afghan Marxists against the Afghan Mujahedeen was an indication of Soviet aggression and a way of expansion. Clearly the US felt uncomfortable. Operation Cyclone was launched via the CIA which forwarded funds through Pakistan’s Intelligence agency to the Mujahedeen. Osama bin Laden approached the wealthy of Saudi Arabia to fund some organisations to fight the Afghan Marxists such as the Maktab-al-Khidamat group from which Al-Qaeda was created. In 1989 the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan but the communist Afghan government remained in power for a further three years, eventually over-ruled by the Mujahedeen which struggled to successfully provide an administration. I well remember the dreadful scenes from Afghanistan during that time and we have certainly seen them in recent years. Continual fighting left the region devastated. The struggle then spread to other parts of the world by some Mujahadeen and various organisations were created to take the struggle further, one such organisation being Al-Qaeda which I understand was created & headed up by Osama bin Laden.
The above all occurred before 11th September 2001 – or as we have come to know it – 9/11. We know what happened that day. Afterwards, Bush reacted, deided to go into Iraq taking Britain with him ! And we were part of a fully fledged war in the middle east. The US is still there… but do the American people wish to draw a line under all of the above ? You bet they do ! So where now ?
Without doubt Al Qeada will be appointing a new leader, if it hasn’t done so already. Maybe the first indication we receive of that will be a violent one, injuring many many people. I sincerely hope not but it’s likely and we are reaslistic enough to face up to that fact. Warnings to be vigilant have already been issued by the US Govt and the UK Foreign Office. I think we all reckon on revenge being taken for the US taking the life of Osama bin Laden. Can it be avoided ? Well, bin Laden brought various grievances and some of us will remember that these included the presence of US troops in the Middle East; the brutality and treatment of the Palestinians; and the continued sanctions against Iraq.
Do we argue with any of that ? Do we and the US have such concerns… ? Haven’t we aired such grievances…? Am I saying that we have common concerns about what is happening in the world ? I think I am…. Is it just too simple to sit down and talk… before any more lives are lost… To do so we need to be chasing an agenda of peace, not war. We ALL need to be able to ‘Turn the other cheek’ and to take one quote from the Quran ‘Turn thou then from them and say, ‘Peace’. Would that be possible… would it ? Could we do that ? After all, where does fighting and war take us… ? Is it too much to ask ? Or maybe not enough…. Ask yourselves, what is the alternative ? More of the same… more lives lost… we all lose loved one’s in the end. Is that what we really want ? Losing mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, children…
Could world leaders take us there ? Would it be possible ? Are they ready for that ? How would the media handle such a thought, such a consideration? Would it be as ‘thrilling’ for some as the news which has broken today? Would it sell newspapers or would the thought of peace not be quite so sensational? Oh I’m not naieve to believe it could happen without serious repercussions from some quarters… or that it could happen overnight, or could it ? Isn’t it worth a try ? For all of us and for our children ? For peace, not war…