Thursday, 29 November 2012

On the response to the Leveson Report

After months of investigation, interviews with hundreds of witnesses, and a pretty thorough investigation into the practices of the press in this country, the Leveson report was predictably damning. Also predictable was much of the response to it, particularly from within Westminster. To, very, very briefly summarise the report's 2000 pages, the stuff which seems to have been picked up for highlight is:

A new regulatory body, entirely independent of the government, of serving newspaper editors and of business, should be established.

Some politicians have been much too close to the press.

Press behaviour has, at times been 'outrageous' (see below).

The report is critical of the relationship between John Yates (former Assistant Commissioner at the Met Police) and some elements of the press.

Interestingly, possibly anticipating much of the likely response to his report, he also suggested that legislation should enshrine in law the obligation on the government to protect the freedom of the press.

There are also, of course, ongoing criminal cases with regard to some of the practices that have been uncovered recently, which could add further context to anything Leveson says.

So, what we've got is a call for regulation to punish press excesses, but a recognition that the press freedom which is so long-standing and so valued in this country is to be protected. And a bit of a bollocking for their conduct, of course:

"There have been too many times when, chasing the story, parts of the press have acted as if its own code, which it wrote, simply did not exist. This has caused real hardship and, on occasion, wreaked havoc with the lives of innocent people whose rights and liberties have been disdained. This is not just the famous but ordinary members of the public, caught up in events (many of them, truly tragic) far larger than they could cope with but made much, much worse by press behaviour that, at times, can only be described as outrageous."

I entirely agree that the freedom of the press, so easy to take for granted when it's such a fundamental part of our culture, must be protected. But it's possible to rein them in without damaging that freedom. It would not be difficult to frame some kind of legislation compelling retractions and apologies to be published on the same page, at the same size, as the original story if that story turns out to be false, for example. This would still leave papers free to publish the stuff in the first place, but would perhaps make them more careful to check their facts (a sadly forgotten old journalistic habit anyway) before they ran something. Or perhaps moderate their tone when they run something which basically calls an innocent man a murderer before any trial has been conducted, to cite just one of their recent shameful episodes.

Anyway, needless to say, the politicians have been prompt to respond. Cameron, in typical Tory fashion, has been chief among them in urging caution in implementing legislation. God forbid a Tory government ever had to actually be responsible for something. To be fair to him though, he's accepted most of the report's findings and called for prompt action, as have all the major parties. But he said in his Commons statement that statutory regulation would make the country 'less free'. A glib generalisation, for me, though it's very gratifying to hear politicians of all stripes arguing against regulation of the press - the debate in the Commons this afternoon was pretty intelligent and reasonable by their usual standards, which goes some way to showing how importantly this issue is viewed by all sides of the House.

Clegg, a Liberal in both senses of the word, felt sufficiently differently from the PM to make his own statement, rather than let Cameron speak for the coalition as a whole. He felt the proposals for legislation were workable, and that the press had gone too far to be trusted to act responsibly in future without them.

If I've understood the proposals correctly, it seems that any legislation would only underpin the authority of the new, independent regulatory body, it would not regulate the press itself. For me, the press have pissed away the rights and privileges of 300 years of complete freedom by using those freedoms as an excuse for some of the most outrageous, immoral and apparently illegal practices in the hunt for sensationalist bollocks. With digital media threatening the printed press much worse than any legal responsibilities ever would, that behaviour is not likely to change if it isn't forced to. It's time to do something - like Clegg says, the 'worst thing would be to do nothing'.

Leveson's lessons must be learned, for the good of our society as a whole. Let's hope they are.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Doing your bit

That most unseemly of modern-day phenomena, trial by tabloid, has plumbed new depths this past week. A certain Phillip Schofield somehow managed to make himself look like a complete tit and make David Cameron look good with his utterly ludicrous effort to ambush the PM on TV. He is, obviously, being heavily criticised for it from most quarters, but the damage may already have been done. "Paedo Tories outed on TV," screamed the Star, in typically measured tones.

As a result, senior politicians have been forced to defend themselves against this worst possible accusation from a man who freely admitted he'd just got the list off the internet. The same man who, when equally baseless rumours circulated around a decade ago that he was Jason Donovan's partner, dismissed them as 'just rubbish you find on the internet'. How times change, eh, Phil?

Cameron's response was admirably restrained, to be honest. In hitting out at the move, he urged people to think very carefully before making such accusations about people without evidence, and of course, that such accusations should be made to the police.

With the Leveson Inquiry now formally closed for new information 'except in exceptional circumstances', it's a pity Schofield and/or This Morning's editor can't be dragged in front of it to explain themselves. It was a horrible, base and idiotic thing to do, which could have ruined the lives of anybody unfortunate enough to find themselves on such a list. Schofield and the editorial team should be utterly ashamed of themselves.

I would never usually advocate such a thing, but there is a demonstrable need for legislation to stop this type of gutter journalism. It's particularly outrageous from a publicly funded organisation, by the way. The Beeb's DG has resigned this past week in the swirling scandals generated by Jimmy Savile and a subsequent piece on Newsnight which made similar, if probably better-worded accusations about a senior Scottish Tory. He, perhaps alone in this, has acted honourably - it's time for others in the press to follow his example and have a look at themselves.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Can't please everyone, can you?

It seems the re-election of Obama to the Presidency in the US has not made quite the positive impression on absolutely everybody that it may have done on some of us.

Everybody's favourite bad-haired billionaire Donald Trump can only be described as less than pleased by the outcome. He didn't hang about in expressing his opinion as to the outcome of the thing, and it was quickly picked up by the world's media. An example of the response here, with much of what he said, but to pick out a couple of favourite highlights:

"Lets fight like hell and stop this great and disgusting injustice! The world is laughing at us."

"This election is a total sham and a travesty. We are not a democracy! Our country is now in serious and unprecedented never before."

Hmmm. Those pesky democracies which, when the result doesn't go your way, aren't democracies, can rather wind up somebody who thinks that their wealth gives them the right to do what they want, can't they? Surely, since he's quite so rolling in cash, the universe should arrange itself as to his wishes. I certainly know what I'm laughing at.

The very mechanism by which the American people have decided their own short-term political future has him screaming like a spoilt child. It's quite amusing - partially stymied in Scotland by locals who didn't want a golf course, and wind farm and hundreds of homes on their doorstep, and now again in his home country by the votes which are among the few things he still can't buy. Lovely.

As for the content of his rant itself - if anything, the world is in fact, I think, drawing something of a collective sigh of relief. With all the pollsters claiming it was too close to call, the voters in the end gave Obama a reasonably comfortable victory, and a firm mandate to at least try to make some of the real change he's been striving for. With Congress and the House of Representatives so split it's difficult to see how he'll ever be able to get anything too radical through, but at least he's still there to try.

As for Romney, you have to wonder how much some of what he, and other Republicans, have been saying lately has worked against them. I've written in recent entries on some of the scandalous comments coming out of the Religious Right's mouths lately - just maybe they stirred something in more rational-minded people and got them out there to vote.

Whatever actually settled it, I'm glad it's gone the way it has. These are unstable times and the last thing I personally wanted to see in the White House right now is a right-wing religious fundamentalist on some kind of modern-day political Crusade. Let's all hope Obama doesn't squander the opportunity the voters have given him, with any luck getting up Mr Trump's nose again in the process.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Just like buses

You wait months for these, think they're dead and buried, and then two come back in consecutive days. Flush from having a story published online yesterday, I've just been told that I've actually won fourth prize in this competition, which I entered back in summer. Or 'summer', as it's now known this year.

I can't point you to the story itself yet, as it's going to be published (in print!) in an anthology of the best entries. But I can tell you how gratifying this is, and what a spur it is to get writing again when the inspiration to do so had gone missing these past couple of months.

When the story's out, I'll point people in the direction, if anybody's interested.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

We should all feel the loss of a good man

Some time ago, I wrote an entry about a woman I'd never met, the mother of my best friend since childhood, taken by cancer when my friend was still a teenager. Just yesterday that same friend also lost his father, again to cancer, and finds himself parentless at just 41.

I cannot begin to imagine the pointless fury I'd feel at such indifferent cruelty on the part of an arbitrary, mindless disease were the same thing to happen to my parents, but, having spoken to him, I know he'll deal with it stoically and with fortitude that would probably be lacking in my own case.

His dad was an old-fashioned gentleman (I mean that as the highest possible compliment) of the very strongest morality. Fiercely independent, private, stubborn (though always with a glint in his eye), his sense of right and wrong could be absolutely relied upon. I first met him when I was just just a kid, and his character and innate goodness were obvious even to my ignorant then-16-year-old eyes. That did not change right up to the last time I saw him, just a couple of weeks before he passed away.

He and his 90-odd-year-old neighbour, also a widower, looked out for each other right up to the point where neither of them could do so any longer, and he talked eloquently to us, the next generation down, about what he'd seen and done.

When somebody good, somebody who's left, particularly in his children, something positive to the world, is lost to it, we all lose something. I have nothing but admiration and respect for his memory, and can only pass on my sincerest condolences to his extended family. Most particularly his son - my mate - and his daughter, both astonishingly strong, exemplars of care and attention that they've been. They were both with him right to the end. He can have asked for no better company during his last few days - my heart goes out to them.

I've had a short story published

The lovely people at Wyrd Books, who specialise in gnosis, the supernatural, the inexplicable, have been kind enough to publish a short story I sent them. The way their site handles text has made line endings, italics etc a bit awkward, but the words are all there.

If you're interested, you'll find it here.

I have short stories entered into various competitions all over the place, but this is the first I've had any kind of success with. I'm clearly some way from being of sufficient standard to actually be published in print, but I'm nonetheless pretty happy that somebody in the professional writing 'industry' saw something in this piece, at least.