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

Posts categorized "Journalism" Feed

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.


Finally, a business the Guardian approves of...

Why journalism needs paywalls | Tim Luckhurst | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk.

All my life I have longed for the day when the truth about business would be published in the Guardian. As it happens (no doubt to the horror of some readers) I agree with Tim Luckhurst's basic point. Intellectual property is as valuable and worthy of protection as any other and libertarians should be champions of all property rights. Yes, it's nice to get content for nothing, just as it would be great if Rolex left watches around to pick up for free, but please don't be surprised if supply dries up when creators are not paid. That kind of naivety should be reserved for the Left.

I am not remotely surprised that the media are looking for ways to earn money from online content. I hope they find a good (or preferably several good) business models, so we get some competition. Free content was always going to be a fad that passed as "online" content drove old models out of business. Free online content has of course accelerated that process, cannibalising the print media business.

If you were starting a news business today, the last thing you would do is write a business plan that involved logging and pulping trees for paper, printing on it and distributing it in vans. You would start your business online. Libertarians above all should realise that you would get no investment to do so (even from your Mum) unless your plan explained how you were going to make a profit.

The self-importance of the media is hilarious though. Rather than saying (as is the truth) that "if my boss can't earn any money he will close this rag and I won't have a job," Luckhurst pontificates about the importance to democracy of the news media;

It is time to admit that giving away value is not remotely democratic. In fact it undermines processes that keep representative democracy healthy.

"Giving away value" is not "undemocratic", but plain stupid - and not just in the media biz. The labourer is worthy of his hire, and the capitalist a return on his capital, whatever the business in question.

And when oh when can the poor, benighted taxpayers stop giving away more than half the value of their work, Mr Luckhurst? That's a business model in need of revision too, but I don't expect the Guardian to bleat about it any day soon.


Tory Zac Goldsmith admits he is a non-dom

Tory Zac Goldsmith admits he is a non-dom - Times Online.

Another headline lusciously loaded with malevolent meaning. An "admission" carries the unspoken connotation of guilt, as in this headline we shall sadly never see;

"Labour Gordon Brown admits whole life warped by envy" 

Labour has not learned from Crewe & Nantwich. How could it? It is a party founded on an ideology of class hatred. "New" Labour's only real political innovation has been to create new classes of people to hate. They have added spice and variety to the embittered vocabulary of Leftist hate speech, but they still relish attacking their traditional foes; the successful, the prudent and their heirs. Unless of course, like Tony Benn in his day and the Milliband brothers in ours, they are Labour too. Their family trusts and tax structuring (not to mention their dynastic tendencies) are perfectly fine, of course.

The quality of political debate in Britain drives me to despair. The blogosphere has not really helped in that respect. Given the regularity with which classical liberals are venomously smeared and ridiculed in the mainstream media, it's perhaps not surprising that, given an outlet by blogging, some sought to give as good as they get. Not surprising, but disappointing. It has escalated the war of insults, which increasingly alienates reasonable people from political life, leaving the field to bruisers and back-stabbers.

Much as I enjoy his blogging and recognise the wit behind his delicate use of foul language, I worry about the election of Chris Mounsey of Devil's Kitchen fame as the new leader of the Libertarian Party. I know, like and respect Chris, but I feel he has queered his political pitch with his blogging. Not only will we, his readers, now lose the original (and best) swearblog, but his past writings (of which he has every reason to be proud) will give his opponents every excuse selectively to lower the tone of debate even further.

A recent casualty of the declining standard of public discourse is Anna Raccoon, who has thrown in the towel at her popular blog. I enjoyed her writing very much, but I also enjoy the writing of the gentlemen who stand accused (not by her, but by some or her readers) of "bullying" her into silence. I always enjoyed (though I often disagreed with) both blogs; while always knowing I would prefer to have lunch with Anna.

In her parting post, she wrote;

It seems to me that the world of blogging is fuelled by petty jealousies, vitriol, feuds, unsubstantiated allegations, apostrophe police, and a whole host of people who in another age would have been happy twitching their curtains and writing letters in green ink. I have watched in horror as several new forums have descended into a cesspool of hatred and nastiness, and you know what? I got up this morning and decided that I just didn’t have the energy any more, or the thick skin, to do it any longer.

Save as to the thinness of her skin, as to which she is best able to judge, she is quite wrong. There are many corners of the political blogosphere where civilised debate is attempted. Her bitter words will help mainstream politicians and journalists build their dismissive stereotype of bloggers. As if the professions that spawned Lord Mandelson and Alistair Campbell had any moral standing to criticise.

A sad week then. One more reasonable voice falls silent, enemies of libertarians are licensed by the party to call us all c***s, and the political charlatans mob the toff de jour as if it were still the 1950s. I have been both poor and prosperous in my life and I can't correlate the contents of my bank account to my wisdom or morality at the time. The only remarkable part of Zac Goldsmith's story is, though even better placed than Anna to kick back and enjoy life, he is prepared to give up his non-dom status to become an MP.

Even those who envy his wealth certainly can't fault the man's enthusiasm.


The Prime Minister and the grieving mother

FT.com / UK - Brown looks at £1bn helicopter order.

I wonder if the linked story has anything to do with this? If so, Mrs Janes' shameful conduct in secretly recording and publishing a private call has at least had some good result. That still doesn't make it right.

The Sun's approach to this story, which demonises Brown (a man well worthy of it) for something irrelevant, is unprofessional. He is partially sighted and his handwriting is understandably poor. If he makes a spelling error, it is hard for him to detect. He is an over-promoted economic policy wonk, not a writer, and has had his letters typed for many years. It was very proper, indeed admirable, for him to write a personal, hand-written note to Mrs Janes. She should have received it in the spirit in which it was sent. Her reaction is emotional, unreasonable and unjust and the Sun's exploitation of it is sickening.

Labour's opponents will be tempted today, remembering the exploits of Alistair Campbell and Damien McBride, to sneer that those who live by the sword shall perish by the sword. New Labour corrupted British political journalism; combining bribes of privileged access and bullying to make poodles of those who should have held them to account for their actions. Now they are weak and near defeat, some poodles are taking a cowardly chance to nip at their ankles. It's hard not to enjoy it, but that would be to make the mistake of accepting the despicable standards of journalism Labour has set.

We should demand better of the next government. It should not spin, bully or play favourites. Its ministers should treat journalists with the respect their profession deserves (even if some individuals within it deserve none). They must be open to be interviewed by serious journalists from all political points of view. Most difficult of all, if they are to do a good job, they must focus on the merits of their policies more than whether their press coverage is good or bad.

If the New Labour spin catastrophe teaches us anything, it is that sustained press manipulation will be detected and despised. In the end, burying bad news leaves a disgusting smell. As Abe Lincoln said, you can't fool all of the people all of the time. In the long run, it's better not to try. If a Conservative government behaves properly in its dealings with journalists, it will surprise and confuse them immensely. Labour has been in power a long time. Many British political journalists have no experience of honest dealings. Some - accustomed to bullying - will attack perceived weakness. Over time however, respect that can never be stolen or extorted can be earned - and reciprocated.

Call me naive, but I hope never to learn that a Conservative Minister or aide was responsible for promoting or seeking to benefit from such a disgusting, exploitative story as this one. Just as I hope that none will ever seek to benefit from smearing the private lives of their opponents or outing their personal foibles, whether they mask their prurience with references to "trust" and "honesty" or not.

I am sorry for Mrs Janes loss. We owe her son a debt of gratitude and respect. But his death does not give her opinions one grain of extra weight. She should shut up and pay her late son the respect his memory deserves in her grief. If they are wise, anti-Labour commentators will shut up too. There is no story here.