Friday, 26 November 2010

Why police keep media in the dark

ANYONE who wonders why newspaper sales are declining and why the public believe crime rates have risen, when they demonstrably have gone down, should have a look at a tremendous story on Hold the Front Page.
Here is the relevant link:
First credit where it is due to the Yorkshire Evening Post who used Freedom of Information legislation to find that police had responded to more than 2,000 incidents over the weekend of England’s departure from the football World Cup Finals, yet gave out just three statements to the media.
The story quoted the police as saying it was not their job to provide a news release service and they evaluated every incident before deciding whether to give it publicity.
The comments below the story are even more interesting, lifting the lid on years of frustration and anger from the media about how police attitudes have changed over the years.
Icons of the regional press, like former Editor Barrie Williams, joins the debate pointing out that in a democratic society police do indeed have a duty to inform the public through the media what they are asked to get involved in.
He is largely supported on a media-targeted web-site, but there are contributions from those who say it is the fault of the Media that they have come to rely on press offices and have run their own staff down so far that they couldn’t find their stories by more traditional direct means.
They are all right, of course.
For twenty years or more there has been a campaign among human rights lawyers and data protection zealots to stop the police and other authorities from giving to the media personal details of accident and crime victims and everyone else involved in public incidents. Largely the police have caved in to this pressure.
All they needed to do was say that releasing details helped them solve crimes and helped them winkle out information crucial to the background of accidents. These considerations should over-ride all bogus claims of privacy.
Instead careerist officers preferred to play the anti-media card and join in the pursuit of the individual’s rights. Never mind the rights or benefits of the community.
One day society will learn that the latter are more important than the former. Until then the media have no chance of being told what the authorities decide in their wisdom to keep to themselves.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Powerless in the world-wide web

TECHNOLOGY is great when it works. When it doesn’t, it is a mind-numbing, business killing, debilitating nightmare.
None of these thoughts is very original, but I am prompted to utter them because of a chain of telecommunications challenges that have dominated my week.
First the landline in and out of our house went dead, overnight Monday to Tuesday. I used my mobile to telephone BT who supply the service and found myself talking to a nice young lady, by the sound of her, in Bangalore.
I pointed out I was paying for the phone call, so she agreed to ring me back. When she did, and while she had me on the phone, she did a diagnostic and found that BT had an “underground” problem. It could not be fixed straight away as a contractor had to be called in.
I had no choice but to accept this, forgetting that the internet line on which both my, and my wife’s, businesses depend used the BT lines. So that jacked up the scale of the problem.
I phoned Bangalore again. They repeated there was no hope of repair until Friday. Then we started getting phone calls on the landline. But when we tried to ring out the line was so crackly that it was impossible to conduct a conversation.
The internet was lost most of the time, although flickered on tantalisingly now and then.
On Wednesday morning my mobile stopped sending SMS messages, commonly known as texts. All attempts met with the little red cross that means a message has not been sent.
I couldn’t use BT to phone the company which supplies my mobile service, Vodafone, as recommended, so had to ring on the mobile. That meant they had to talk me through the procedure, then ring off and then ring me back to see if it worked.
The SMS had apparently lost network connection, although how it could do this and still make calls was beyond me and the nice young man, from Cairo in Egypt this time, who talked me through the process. We ended up shouting at each other, in an entirely friendly way, across the world’s airwaves down my crackly BT line.
The solution worked, although the Vodafone signal continued to be weak and remains so.
On Thursday the telephone man arrived and used all his clever gizmos to find the fault, which turned out to be a tree interfering with the line 60 metres from my property. It was too high for his ladders so he, and we, had to wait for a cherry picker from another job.
This finally arrived Thursday tea-time and the BT line was restored, along with the Internet and no more crackly phone calls.
Two hours later the electricity went off all together, so the family stumbled around in the dark with torches, making frantic phone calls and being updated on the fault, which turned out to be caused by a fire in a sub-station. Electricity was restored two hours later.
By then I had given up all hope of getting any work done. From Bangalore to Cairo to Britain there were people tried to solve my telecommunications problems.
I lost three days all together. I couldn’t even post this blog until BT had sorted the “underground” cable, which turned out to be so over-ground they couldn’t reach it.
Before rural England gets too uptight about broadband speeds, perhaps it should insist that fundamental modern services, like mobiles, telephones, Internet and even electricity actually work at all.

Monday, 8 November 2010

The real threat to BBC journalists

THERE is something about being employed by the BBC which shields employees from the real world. That sort of naive idealism is part of its charm and also why it sometimes has a head-on confrontation with the Government, whichever party is in power.
But I fear that its journalists are about to get a rude awakening. The National Union of Journalists has warned the BBC it faces a fresh wave of disruption to news broadcasts that could affect programmes over Christmas.
But in this household at least we actually preferred the presentation of the news by bosses as they battled over the weekend to keep programmes on air during a 48-hour strike organised by the NUJ in a row over pensions.
Perhaps that was because high-profile presenters such as Nicky Campbell, Fiona Bruce, Bill Turnbull and Huw Edwards supported the walkout, leaving the way for less histrionic replacements. Perhaps it was because the facts were given without the endless verbiage of one journalist interviewing another.
The next 48-hour strike, is planned to take place on November 15 and 16. But the NUJ really needs to warn its members what would happen if the BBC was run as a commercial organisation.
The bean counters would be saying to the editorial managers: “Well you managed quite well without those journalists. Why do you need so many?”
Someone in accounts would be measuring the number of stories filed without the journalists and comparing the number with what happens when the journalists are at work.
Quality would be out of the equation. The time taken to research or interview contacts or monitor sources would be ignored.
And next budget time, the head count would be queried and the number of journalist jobs would be cut.
There would be no redundancies, no announcements, no high-profile confrontations. Vacancies would be left unfilled. Journalists would be allowed to retire early.
Particularly vulnerable will be the producers and desk heads who monitor reports to ensure they are accurate and relevant.
Already the war of words has started. BBC chiefs said only one in six employees had joined the strike and that its output was not as badly affected as it feared.
In an email to staff, director general Mark Thompson said: ‘No BBC services have been blacked out or gone off air. However, a few programmes have been lost and our ability to deliver the normal scale and quality of news and journalism to our audiences here and around the world has been impaired.’
Mr Thompson knows that if he doesn’t admit some impact during the strike, he will be undermining his own case when he goes into battle with the bean-counters.
But in austerity Britain with a Government bent on cutting costs, the journalists will not be sure of him winning those battles in the wake of their own strike.
If the BBC doesn’t tackle a £1.5billion pension deficit by putting a cap on rises in pensionable pay at one per cent after April they will have to cut costs elsewhere. It will not have escaped those who hold the purse strings that a deal had been agreed with the other major union, BECTU, which represents camera crew and technicians.
It is only human nature that when the cuts come, the journalists will be in the front line.