THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain

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Can any Canadian reader please help?

 

Another video by Ezra Levant did the round of the blogs a while back. You know it; the one in which he was filmed taking an Alberta Human Rights Commission functionary apart. Now there's a new one in which he takes the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council to task for running a kangaroo court. Looking at the decision on the Council's website, and reading there how the Council is constituted, his basic points seem to be true.

Yet it's hard to believe that Canada censors private media companies while exempting the state broadcaster. It's hard to believe Canada's government is so hypocritical as to describe the Council as "voluntary" while making membership a pre-condition for a broadcasting licence. And it is extremely hard to believe that the rules of natural justice can be flouted in a Common Law jurisdiction like Canada in the way that Levant describes. Can it really be true that he can be judged without being heard? That he can be judged by his competitors and political opponents?

I don't know enough about Canada to be sure whether I can take this guy at face value. His tone is pompous, hectoring and bombastic and he sounds like - to put it mildly - a blowhard. I am not sure I like him, but he seems to be making important points. If they are true, I probably have to refine my personal stereotype of Canada as a relaxed, open, amiable free society. Can any reader help me understand please?

While I await enlightenment, I have to say - in fairness to a country that only Americans seem able to dislike - that at least Canada seems to have political diversity in its media. Nothing like Levant's Sun News segment is possible on Britain's airwaves. And nothing like his broadcast "**** your mother" to his censors is remotely imaginable. Which is - in a way - precisely why I blog.


The feeding frenzy continues

How I misread News Corp’s taxes | MediaFile.

When you run a media business you make enemies. Not least the friends who believe they were insufficiently favoured. Rupert Murdoch's, especially those with axes to grind, love his current discomfiture. Especially the BBC, a state corporation* with a near-monopoly on electoral opinion-forming in Britain; a monopoly that Murdoch sought to challenge. It doesn't make what happened right, but it does explain the focus on a media group that is (as Cranmer has blogged) by no means the worst offender. Analysing data published by the Information Commissioner on the unlawful trade in confidential private information, his Grace came up with the following;

Trinity Mirror: 1663 incidents by 139 journalists
Mail Group: 1248 incidents by 95 journalists
News International: 182 incidents by 19 journalists

He did this by consolidating the data in this table by media group (click to enlarge).

Screen shot 2011-07-14 at 10.52.23

So why is there no hue and cry for the group publishing the papers that are the worst offenders? I can't be bothered to waste pixels on so obvious an answer.

While right-wingers are content for the Guardian and the New York Times to exist (and rather enjoy critiquing their idiocies) left-wingers find the existence of competing views offensive. Indeed, they are marvelously creative when it comes to taking (or pretending to take) offence in order to suppress free expression. In its quest to get its man, Donal Blaney now thinks the Left is overplaying its hand. It seems to me rather that, in their excitement, left-liberals are now firing off random shots like Palestinians celebrating mass murder.

Columnist David Cay Johnston (13 year veteran of The New York Times and author of the snappily-titled Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You With the Bill)) published a story (deleted now, but cached here) claiming that News Corporation received tax credits of $4.8 billion in the last four years. In fact that was the tax it paid. His 'apology' for this 'bonehead error' restated the other critical comments in his original piece:

The other facts I reported remain:

* Among the 100 largest companies in the United States, News Corp has the third largest number of subsidiaries in tax havens, a Government Accountability Office study found in 2009.

* On an accounting basis, which measures taxes incurred but often not actually paid for years, News Corp had a tax rate of under 20 percent, little more than half the 35 percent statutory rate, its disclosures show.

* Murdoch has bought companies with tax losses and fought to be able to use them, which reduces his company’s costs.

* News Corp lawyers and accountants are experts at making use of tax deferrals, though the company’s net tax assets have shrunken from $5.7 billion in 2007 to $3.3 billion last year as the benefits were either used or expired.

Gracious eh? He continues:

So I hope readers will trust that while I made a whopper of a mistake, it has been corrected forthrightly and promptly.

Not exactly, sir. All the damage you could have hoped for is already done. Your original piece has been picked up again and again as a weapon against Murdoch. Just as you hoped it would.

I am no friend of Murdoch, but the more I see of his enemies, the more I warm to him. And the more I worry that, without him, the left-liberal establishment will strangle the free press.

*Please don't ask me why a free country needs a state broadcaster.


I despair

The posh left is triumphant. The people are bamboozled once more by their own sentimentality. A co-ordinated and well-timed plan of attack (judging by the steadiness of the daily leaks) is succeeding.

No-one sees the elephant in the room (the bloated, biased and soon-to-be-even-less-challenged state broadcaster). When people talk of Murdoch owning 40% of the British press, no-one takes any account of Auntie's dominance in forming British opinion.

Once again, the knee-jerk reaction to wrong-doing was not to leave it to the prosecutors. Instead - stupidly - it was to call for even more law. Law that will raise barriers to entry in the media, therefore reducing diversity of ownership and accelerating the decline of the dead tree press. Law that will put a chill on free speech and reduce the newspapers to the same subservience to the liberal elite as the BBC.

It's no-one's damn business who owns a newspaper. No more than it's anyone's business (but mine) who owns this blog. There is no need to regulate the press at all, beyond the ordinary obligations of all citizens (many of which the British tabloids have clearly broken). There is now no hope however - with cross-party agreement on Labour's impudent motion on Thursday - of avoiding even more regulation. Soon, there will be a frenzied settling of the elite's scores, and we will become less free.

Our nation sickens more. All our 'remedies' are poison. It's our own fault.


The fight is on

David Cameron's self-serving attack on press freedom - Telegraph.

The oligarch supporters of President Yeltsin discovered by accident how to get their drunken but reliably corrupt puppet re-elected, despite national embarrassment at his failings. In desperation, they bought the national TV stations, whose newsdesks informed the political opinions of a decisive majority. To their surprise it worked. Their unsavoury skins were saved.

When Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was made Yeltsin's political heir, their media machine got him elected. They were confident he would reward them, but they underestimated their man. He and his "Chekist" faction didn't want to depend on them for power, so they seized those TV stations "for the nation". They used them to develop what they amusingly call a "managed democracy".

Having ensured a consistent line from key news desks, they found they could cheerfully ignore the otherwise free press. You can read criticism of VVP in Russian newspapers and magazines. You can hear it on local TV and radio too. He will happily point to it as evidence of Russia's free press. But you won't hear a word of effective criticism on national TV, which is all he cares about.

The occasional murder of a journalist seems born of exuberance, not necessity.

Living in Russia for several years, I wondered if the Chekists got their ideas from observing the relationship between the BBC and the British ruling elite. Why did the Conservatives not win the last election outright, despite economic circumstances that would have made Labour unelectable in any other place and time? Two reasons. Firstly a rigged election system. Voting figures that would have given Labour a working majority were insufficient for the Tories. Secondly the BBC News team (and their incestuous faux-competitors at Channel 4) did the same job for Labour that their Russian counterparts do for United Russia. The same team now consistently keens and wails about "Tory cuts" despite the fact that public spending is still rising, thus keeping the hapless Boy David firmly to leftist lines in all key respects.

By the way, how can that rigged election system remain in place? Because the BBC will never give airtime to anyone who points it out - and will report any attempt to reform it as Tory election-rigging. So there's really only one reason.

Love him or hate him (and he doesn't make himself easy to love) Rupert Murdoch represented the only well-funded and plausible threat to the BBC hegemony in British opinion-forming. For the good of the same ruling elite that loved him when they were successfully bribing him to do their bidding, he therefore had to be stopped from gaining full control of BSkyB. His reported remark that Sky News would be more like Fox News if his British management ever listened to him made that very clear.

Search Twitter today for the hashtag #newsnight and see the vengeful, malicious British Left in full triumphant cry. Having pitched the pompous right-on comedian Steve Coogan against a carefully-selected rat-like specimen of the tabloid press, the BBC's Newsnight team could barely contain its near-sexual excitement last night. It was glorying (as the BBC has for days) in doing immense damage to its only serious enemy.

Today's Telegraph leader has it almost right.

To punish the whole of the press for News International’s misdemeanours is wrong; so, too, is the sneering disdain of the political classes for the tabloid newspapers that are read by the majority of their constituents. It was a revolting spectacle to see Labour politicians cheer the closure of one of this country’s oldest newspapers, with the loss of 200 staff, most of whom had nothing to do with the scandal – especially since they only found their voice once News International had ended its support of their party.

Why almost? Because this is not about "them" - the Press, but about us, the people. What the dangerous new coalition of vengeful slebs, spurned and furious Labourites and politicians determined to ensure no repetition of the expenses scandal threatens is our very way of life.

The Britain I knew and loved, now fighting for its feeble life, was formed by centuries of press freedom.  The broadsheets might debate the issues of the day, but few were following them. It was the ferocious tabloid press that kept the elites in line. It instilled fear into those who, by dishonesty, excess, immorality or even mere snootiness towards the public that feeds them, deserved popular disapproval.

The BBC is a primary source of work for Coogan. It has the ability to enhance the career of Hugh Grant. They and other celebrities have their own reasons (for which the public had no sympathy before Millygate) to hate and fear the tabloids. After all these are the papers that personify the prurient interest in their private lives of the British public on whom they live - and for whom they feel such disdain.

We know what they want from new regulators. We also know what the BBC and Guardian will want. Most of all we know what the politicians of all parties will want. But it's not their disparate agendas that are the problem, it's what they have in common. That is a desire for working people to have neither ready access to anti-statist views, nor regular evidence of the moral corruption of the British ruling elite and its luvvie running dogs.

We don't need to like Mr Murdoch to recognize this. His employees' disgraceful misconduct has given our elites their greatest chance for decades to undermine that sturdy contempt for the powerful that makes us free men.


Our enemies are circling

Phone hacking scandal: enemies of free press are circling - Telegraph.

Andrew Gilligan, on the Daily Telegraph website, nails the very point I have been pursuing here:

...hateful as the behaviour of some journalists has been, we may now face something even worse. For many in power, or previously in power, the News of the World's crimes are a God-given opening to diminish one of the greatest checks on that power: the media...
...The "journalistic culture" Campbell has spent the past 10 years complaining about is not newspapers that have invaded people's privacy – but newspapers that have been too unkind to important public servants such as himself.

A carefully-timed campaign this week launched missiles of elderly data at the public with shiny new warheads in the shape of the Milly Dowler/military widows revelations. I would love to know how long those warheads were stockpiled before launch. The aim of this attack was clearly to destroy News International's chances of challenging the BBC News political line. On that, the dust has yet to settle. I fear the collateral damage to press freedom and to political accountability will soon become clear.


Rupert Murdoch is a business genius?

When the News of the World (closure of) is the news | Samizdata.net.

As Rob comments on the linked story over at Samizdata:

Great opportunity to cut staffing costs and still have a Sunday paper, while keeping all the advertisers. How would Murdoch have sacked all those people without a squeal from the left without this convenient problem?

The quaint British model of having a separate staff and overhead to publish differently-branded Sunday versions of a newspaper is costly and of no particular benefit to the proprietors. Will any of the other owners be able to get the Labour Party, BBC and trade unions to applaud job-destroying restructuring? I doubt it.

I am sure Mr Murdoch doesn't welcome this situation, but he's already found one way to take advantage of it. I take my hat off to him even as I ponder what his next "win" might be. How else is one to interpret his throwing Andy Coulson to the wolves but as a rattle of the sabre in David Cameron's direction?

General elections boost viewing and circulation figures for news media no end. Hmm.


Justice: RIP?

Justice: RIP? | Beneath The Wig.

In the wake of Levi Bellfield's conviction for the murder of Amanda ("Millie") Dowler, I have been conducting an unpopular defence of our adversarial system of criminal trials over at the excellent blog of Inspector Gadget. It's an important issue. Our rights to be presumed innocent if accused of a crime and to have our arguments put vigorously in open court to an independent judge and a jury of our peers are more important than our right to vote. Before anyone indignantly tells me that we owe those rights to politicians, please remember they predate democracy in England by centuries. The right to choose our masters is less valuable than the restraints on their power. Democracy itself has, after all, proved to be no restraint, as politicians bribe election-swinging minorities of voters with cash extorted violently from others.

The debate at Gadget's gaff has been depressing. If some of his readers are representative of Britain's police, our ancient rights are neither understood nor valued by a constabulary that would give us up to Continental style inquisitors in a heartbeat. The Bill, it seems, regards defence lawyers as the enemy; stereotyping them coarsely as mercenaries who profit from keeping offenders at large. That part, at least, is sadly not surprising to me. Burglars stole all our wedding presents in the weeks after our marriage. At the time I was practising (as I did for one year after qualifying) as a criminal lawyer. Mrs P. and I have a sad, humiliating memory of our tiny flat full of amused police officers (including an inspector). They showed up to gloat when they learned over their radios both that a criminal defence lawyer had been burgled and that he was living (we are self-made and were just starting out) in entertaining poverty. There was scarcely room for the scene of crime officer to dust the place for prints.

Even more depressingly, the influential Conservative blogger Ellie Seymour has failed to live up to her surname and joined the blindly sentimental tabloid frenzy claiming that the treatment of the Dowler family by Levi Bellfield's defence team amounted to a "travesty of justice". In particular she calls for defendants to be forced (at gunpoint, Ellie?) to testify. If neither our Conservatives nor our policemen understand or value the presumption of innocence and our open, adversarial system of justice, what hope is there for Liberty?

I was girding up my loins to write a piece here summarising my comments elswhere, when I read the linked post. It makes further effort on my part redundant and I hope as many people as possible read it. It is an important antidote to the sickly, cloying, Oprah Winfrey-style, sentimentalism of the media coverage of the Dowler family's ordeal. Hypocritical coverage given that the media's sickening pandering to the prurience of the British public made it an ordeal. Not to mention of course the prurience of the investigating police officers which had them taking their eye off the ball (the metaphorical ball, not the one in the father's gag).

I can't help but feel that the hue and cry for Bellfield's legal team is a cynical attempt to distract attention from the failings of others. The cosseted, self-esteem-laden products of our "all must have prizes" education system and our "no-one must be offended" victim culture may whinge and moan about the rigours of a trial their yeoman ancestors would have handled with courage. Our political class may curry favour with the ignorant by betraying the rights that made us free. Our journalists may sell papers with prurience and hypocrisy. Our constabulary may seize the chance of using a hard case to demand bad laws to make their lives easier (and ours more dangerous). But justice has, for now, been served. I am not optimistic, given all I have read, that it will always be so in this country.


Why don't we have politicians like this?

 

I don't ask because of his policies but because of his honest, direct style. Since the days of Tebbit and Thatcher, there has been next-to-no honesty in our national debate, precisely because of the galvanising effect of their transparent honesty on the working-class electorate. Is it too much to ask that our state is run by people elected on the basis of honest debate? Apparently it is, because it means we, the people, will not make the choices the statist establishment wants.

Political correctness is not a fashion or fad. It is a deliberate construct designed to stifle debate. It amounts quite simply to smearing all who venture an opinion outside left-liberal parameters. It has turned "Tory", "Conservative","right-wing", "free enterprise", "entrepreneur", "banker", "businessman" and even "libertarian" into terms of abuse. To describe oneself in those terms now seems more an admission than a boast. It will take politicians lke this guy - ideally of all political and economic persuasions - to restore honesty to our political lives.

Given how well dishonesty has served those now in power, it's sadly rather hard to imagine.

h/t Peter Risdon


This is a respectable family blog, but...

Студентки МГУ разделись для В.Путина :: Фоторепортажи :: Top.rbc.ru.

Miss April

Those of you who have been reading about the Moscow University journalism students' birthday tribute to Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin may be curious to see the calendar concerned (link above). While I do miss Russia a lot, you can imagine that it's not for the quality of the journalism there. That these young ladies are already sucking up to the ruling elite so early in their journalistic careers gives little hope for improvement.

I suspect the late, valiant Anna Politkovskaya, would not turn as much in her grave as puritanical anglo-saxon readers might imagine. Still, I can't imagine she would be impressed by the sycophantic messages adorning the photos.


Woman of the year

2009 in review: MPs' expenses | World news | The Observer.

Heather-Brooke-outside-th-001
Heather Brooke gave us our only political hope of 2009. She is what all our journalists should be. She explains her motivations for researching MP's expenses succinctly (and rather sadly) in the linked article;

I was trying to make sense of the way the country worked for myself, having just moved here from America. It seemed crazy, very hard to find out what public money is spent on. In America we think, "We're paying for it and we want to know where every penny is going." Here, there's a terrible apathy.

Britain's apathy is indeed terrible - and terribly dangerous. In my years in Russia I learned that voter expectations set a ceiling on political morality. If an honest man ran for office there, first people would laugh at his naiveté. Then they would disbelieve him, assuming he was laughing at theirs. Soon, given that everyone assumed he was a crook, he would decide he might as well become one.

This is the helter skelter of negative expectation down which Britain is careering. My elder daughter once told my wife "Dad is not a cynic. He's a frustrated idealist." Perhaps so. Certainly, I believe that once a nation truly lowers its sights, it is finished.

Russia is - and has always been - potentially far richer than Britain. It has vast resources, endless land and highly educated people. It has a truly magnificent culture and a strong patriotic spirit. It should be the richest nation on Earth, by quite a long way. But it is a cold version of Nigeria because its people expect too little of their political class. That, ladies and gentlemen, is true apathy. Corruption is its inevitable consequence. Left unchecked, it's terminal.

Next year will see a new government in Britain. Left or Right it will - sadly - be statist. Many politicians know full well that our state has already over-reached, but will continue to pretend. Why? Because they face - like every democratic government - a population clamouring childishly for simple solutions to life's problems. For a politician to maintain his idealism - even the frustrated variety - in such circumstances is tough. We really need them to try though. After a year in which they were caught with their hands in the till, we also need opportunities to catch them doing something right.

I have seen the alternative and it's not pretty.