Thursday, 17 November 2011

Reflections on Media regulation

THE annual conference of the Society of Editors was held this week at Runnymede on Thames.
The event is always on the home turf of the outgoing President, whose term runs from conference to conference. So Robin Esser, executive managing editor of the Daily Mail, must live in the leafy suburbs of Surrey.
But of course the venue, near where that iconic historical document Magna Carta was signed, gave the Society, true to their hyperbolic trade, the excuse to call the conference Magna Carta II, as if it was starring Sylvester Stallone, said one wag.
The name was also the target of extreme Mickey-taking by Justice Minister Kenneth Clarke, one of the guest speakers. He pointed out that the original had nothing to do with freedom of speech, but was rather a stitch up of the king by land-owning barons. The resonance to Press barons was too much of a temptation for Sir Kenneth to ignore.
He was undoubtedly the star turn, not only using his natural charm and wit to seduce a potentially hostile audience, but also getting his message across with maximum effect.
This was that the Government had no intention of introducing statutory regulation of the media, policed by some “ghastly Quango” as he put it.
But the media in general, and tabloid national newspapers in particular, had to be seen to put their own house in order. The public would not allow politicians to let them off the hook over the recent mobile phone hacking scandal without significant reforms.
Hugely enjoyable as the conference was, the over-riding feeling I had was one of déjà vu, followed swiftly by nemesis of the National press.
As Editor of the Bradford Telegraph & Argus I was appointed to the Newspaper Society Editorial committee and served on the Parliamentary and Legal Committee of the Guild of Editors, the Society’s forbears, back in 1990.
As such I was appointed to the original code committee of an organization called PressBof, a sort of media owners’ cabal which paid for and organized the setting up of the Press Complaints Commission. The committee also wrote the code.
It has been added to considerably since, but it was designed to assure the public that journalists and their employers took very seriously their own ethics and standards, which the regional and local media already did.
There was such a difference in attitude that there were many times that representatives of the local press argued that they should split away from the Nationals, so as not to be tarnished by the same brush.
This opinion was resurrected at this year’s conference, but as 21 years before, it falls flat because of the impossibility of deciding where the dividing line should be. What about big regional newspapers or Scottish, Irish or Welsh quasi-national ones?
Another resonance was self-righteous back slapping for the Daily Mail’s new corrections and clarifications column on its page 2. I introduced such a column on the T&A when deputy Editor back in 1988. When I commended it to the distinguished Editors on the code committee, including Sir David English then Editor of the Daily Mail, a couple of years later they looked at me as if I was mad.
They were mystified as to why on earth they should draw attention to their mistakes in such a way? Well they seem to have finally realized that a smidgeon of humility and putting the record straight indeed helps cement a relationship with the reader.
Whether the public will be satisfied by such gestures is doubtful. Other suggestions included only keeping VAT-exemption on newspapers which complied with the code; a regulated kitemark; and only giving recognition of audited circulation figures, the benchmark for advertising rates, to newspapers which comply.
One idea that received no support, even from another guest speaker Chris Patten the new chairman of the BBC Trust, was giving newspapers’ regulation to the broadcasting authorities.
Mr Patten said that newspapers, unlike broadcasters, did not have to be impartial. And, besides, broadcasters had to have more sensitive rules because of the power of moving live images.
The complexities of deciding how to police the media, without imposing any elements of state control, are truly daunting. The fact that the conference coincided with the opening of the Leveson Inquiry into the behavior of the media just underlined the sensitivities.
It was canny of the organizers to also issue the first draft of a report entitled The Test of Democracy by the Commonwealth Press Union at the conference. It highlighted many abuses around the world of Press freedom. It also included a chart that revealed that the United Kingdom is just 19th in a league tale of free media, even as things stand now. Top is Finland.
One striking difference between now and 1990 is that then the old Guild of Editors was completely dominated by regional and local Press representatives. They were no broadcasters and a tiny smattering of National Press delegates.
Now that is completely overturned. A rough count showed that of 175 delegates, just 37 were from the local Press; 47 were academics and secretariats of organizations allied to the media; 45 National newspaper delegates attended; there were more than 20 broadcasters and the rest were New Media, public relations and representatives of organizations like probation and police with a vested interest in the media.
That underlined a point by former Editor Neil Fowler that the whole hacking inquiry was a diversion from the real threat to the media, financial instability.
The truth is that the Internet, social media and other innovations have left the Press in a pretty parlous state. Advertising has migrated on-line to such an extent that, not only can the local and regional press not afford to send delegates to such an important conference, but also can’t afford to recruit or train journalists.
Arguably the most striking contribution of all was from a young lady who had started as an unpaid intern on a national magazine, progressed to national newspapers and ended up on an important Quango. She said she had never been trained as a journalist and had never even seen the Press Complaints Commission Code of Conduct.
Good Grief! Now you know what I mean by the media industry reaching Nemesis.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Heavy burden of claims for Sir Jimmy

There have been an awful lot of claims for Sir Jimmy Savile, since he died yesterday.
It is claimed he was the first Disc Jockey to realize you could run a dance to records, as opposed to live bands which had been the normal until he came along.
I doubt this. Surely the American clubs had already invented this. David Jacobs played records, as did Pete Murray and others before Sir Jimmy made the big time.
Sir Jimmy himself said in interviews that he invented the double deck, allowing DJs to play one record while lining up the next one. That was in the dance halls where he learnt his trade.
That has more authenticity and indeed laid the foundations for the current club DJs.
I heard someone say he persuaded the man who ran Mecca to bring bingo to this country. Whether this was a good thing, they didn’t say. But again I have my doubts.
He was the first celebrity to run marathons for good causes, said some. This was indeed an amazing claim if true, considering the billions of pounds that have been raised for charity since.
And he wore his shell-suits and bling jewellery so setting the template for all those fancy-dress fun runs that have also benefitted mankind.
But whatever claims were true, Sir Jimmy was indeed a one-off.
I met the former miner and wrestler several times, the first time being when I was about 10, around 1960 when my father discovered him in the Glasgow dance halls and brought him to Tyne Tees Television to front a live popular music programme. He had tartan hair at the time, so later hair-styles seemed tame to me.
I then heard him on Radio Luxemburg and saw him as launch host on Top of The Pops before went on to front the very successful Jim’ll Fix It for 20 years. This show really set the template for bucket lists, or wish fulfillment for children.
It was while he was recording this show that I was sent by the Daily Star news desk – it would have been 1973 or 74 - to persuade him to sign a Christmas card I had also had to buy and dedicate it to a terminally ill girl who had written to the paper.
I had to wait outside his dressing room at the BBC’s Shepherd’s Bush studios for a couple of hours before he would see me. He then took the mickey unmercifully about the card I had bought and kept me on tenterhooks for another hour before signing as asked.
It was typical of the man that he could be awkward and wary.
But he could not be faulted for his devotion to fun and good causes. Not only did he raise £40 million for Stoke Mandeville hospital unit for spinally injured patients, he turned up frequently to give morale support.
Less publicly he also spent a day or two a week as an unpaid porter at St James’s hospital in his home town of Leeds.
There was so much to admire about the man, it doesn’t matter if some of the tales were garnished in the telling on his death at 84 years old: RIP Sir Jimmy.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Serendipity triumphs

This is a sneak preview of an article written for Friends of Brewery Arts Newsletter in November:

SERENDIPITY is my favourite word in the English language. Not only does it have a lovely sound, but it also has such a positive meaning: “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”
Since I left The Westmorland Gazette, where I was Editor for ten years, I have been running a media consultancy, Lakes & Bay Communications, which keeps me in touch with many friends and contacts in this part of the world. I now have the time and freedom to make links that would not otherwise be made, and hopefully benefit all those involved.
Such a series of coincidences certainly came into play recently for The Friends of Brewery Arts.
When still Editor I got to know Mike Pennington, owner of Burgundy’s Wine Bar in Lowther Street, which hosted a micro-beer festival the newspaper sponsored.
Several years later, in autumn 2010, I went to interview the principals of Littoral Arts who own the Cylinders estate at Langdale, which was the site of the last installation by the German emigree artist Kurt Schwitters. I was preparing an article for Independent on Sunday about the proposed rebuilding of the Cumbrian barn that housed the artwork, at an exhibition of 20th Century Sculpture at the Royal Academy off Piccadilly in London early this year.
Ian Hunter of Littoral asked me to find a local film-maker to record the events, which I did. I was then asked to help develop the script for the film, arrange interviews and raise funds. So I went to see Mike at Burgundy’s and he kindly agreed to partly sponsor the film.
As a result I found out he was building an extension to Burgundy’s, to include a micro-brewery, and had obtained the recipe for the legendary Auld Kendal beer, originally brewed by Whitwell and Mark, whose brewery became the home of Brewery Arts.
In a completely separate sphere of influence I had met Hilary Claxton while being touted to help set up a new branch of the Rotary in Kendal, a venture that didn’t get off the ground. But Hilary and I had kept in touch and she had proposed I get involved in Friends of Brewery Arts, which I was happy to do as a long-term supporter of the venue.
I attended the fund-raising night, reacquainted myself with Ian Hoyle, who I had known years earlier through the Talking Newspapers charity, and he kindly invited me to attend a couple of Friends committee meetings as an observer.
At the first meeting I attended, I found out for the first time that Margaret Thomas and the Friends were planning a Brewery Story evening, including a talk by historian John Coopey on the building’s time as a brewery.
And what is more, by an amazing coincidence, the date of the event was the same week that Mike planned to produce the resurrected Auld Kendal.
Without my fortuitous intervention no-one would have made that link. It was then just a matter of persuading Mike to bring the new brew down to the Brewery Story evening so the audience could sample it. Very well it seemed to go down, too.
Serendipity triumphed. Perhaps that is what I should have called my company.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Saving the reporter

THERE is a fascinating conference being held on Tuesday morning (September 6) in London. It is being organized by Westminster Forum an organization which puts key figures of the media industry in touch with law-makers and other interested parties to inform legislation. It is entitled Media Forum Keynote Seminar: News now.
Its stated focus is to discuss key issues in the provision of news, from standards, ethics and trust to plurality and media ownership.
Its stated context is: “An early opportunity to examine the future policy and regulatory framework for the news industry, ahead of the wide-ranging inquiries into the culture and practices in journalism.”
A very impressive group of speakers includes: Professor Natalie Fenton, Co-Director, Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre, University of London; Martin Fewell, Deputy Editor, Channel 4 News; Will Gore, Public Affairs Director, Press Complaints Commission; Mary Hockaday, Head, Newsroom, BBC; Tom Kent, Deputy Managing Editor and Standards Editor, Associated Press; Jim Latham, Secretary, Broadcast Journalism Training Council; Mark Lewis, Partner, Taylor Hampton Solicitors; John McAndrew, Associate Editor, Sky News; Martin Moore, Director, Media Standards Trust; Nic Newman, Visiting Fellow, Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University and former World Editor, BBC News Website; Bob Satchwell, Executive Director, Society of Editors and Michelle Stanistreet, General Secretary, National Union of Journalists.
In the chair will be Rt. Hon. the Lord Fowler and Lord Inglewood, Chairman, House of Lords Select Committee on Communications.
Attendees will include: Parliamentarians from the House of Lords, officials from Department for Culture, Media and Sport; European Commission Representation in the UK; and the Competition Commission as well as representatives from 3 Monkeys Communications; African Media Investments; Al Jazeera; Arqiva; Associated Press; BBC; BBC Trust; Bloomberg TV; Cardiff University; Channel 4; Channel 5; Free TV Australia; Guardian Media Group; International Broadcasting Trust (IBT); ITN Consulting; ITV; KPMG; Leeds Trinity University College; Reporters Without Borders; Reuters; Schillings; The Guardian; The Times; Thomson Media Foundation; University of Kent; Warner Bros et alia.
With such an august audience I didn’t think they would miss me and besides I cannot afford the cost or time to attend the conference, which is a shame as it is a subject about which I care passionately. Instead I submitted the following in the hope that it can influence contributions, or be logged in the records of the conference:
My main concerns are:
The impact that social media and internet-driven agendas, allied to a desire by politicians and others to manage the media and a spiralling obsession with celebrities are having on reporting standards;
Profit driven news organisations, owned by large corporations whose primary aim is to please shareholders, are cutting back on reporting staff;
Easy regurgitation of press releases is being used to fill column inches in the regional newspapers and inexperienced interns are being used by Nationals;
User-generated material is seen as an easy way of filling space, whether stories, pictures or comment;
Stories are cut and pasted from one web-site to another without any attempt to check their veracity;
Court cases are widely reported by news organisations who were not present and therefore cannot guarantee the reports are fair and balanced - the courts seem unable or unwilling to police this abuse;
The tendency of readers to click on celebrity stories is being used to unduly influence news values on the grounds that “that is what the public is interested in” without appreciation that expectations of what appears in main bulletins or printed products may differ from on-line offerings;
Reporting of real events involving real people are being squeezed out of the news agenda so increasing the gulf between the media and their customers, which may partly explain the plummeting sales of all newspaper types, and perhaps the explosion of use of social media.
The illegal, defamatory and prejudicial nature of comments on the bottom of stories on web-sites is undermining all the traditional safeguards that made free speech reliant on responsibility.
The end result of all these trends is that the role of the reporter is being undermined, undervalued and risks being destined for the scrap heap.
Who then will produce the truthful, challenging, illuminating material for whatever medium?
I offered these possible solutions:
Ask the Government’s investigations into media standards to include these issues;
Empower the courts (of all kinds) to fine organisations for contempt if they report without representation, forcing them to pay reporters who do attend for any material used;
Proceed with plans to make it easier to give independent non-profit making local newspapers charity status;
Find a mechanic to police protecting the intellectual copyright of news reports, to encourage investigative, pain-staking journalism;
Campaign to raise awareness of the importance of the skills and training of reporters to the wider public, so they appreciate the vital role they play in a democracy.
Some of the above seem daunting and even verging on hopeless, but the hacking scandal and its aftermath may just give a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to address these important issues.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Norway massacres expose media shortcomings

After all the mobile telephone hacking coverage over the last month, the media really need no more calamities. Newspapers in particular need to show level-headed awareness of the public’s mistrust, show they are responsible and get it right.
So what happens when a major news story comes along to divert us all from the navel-gazing, self-destructive hacking coverage? The media make a complete lash up.
The Norwegian bomb and shooting tragedy not only exposed the limitations of newspaper deadlines, it also exposed the degree to which speculation and downright guesses have replaced real news coverage. But worst of all it highlighted Islam-phobia of the crudest kind.
The worst performance came from the Sun, just the publication which had the most to gain from showing restraint in the wake of the News International scandal. Their headline on Saturday was Norway’s 9/11. It wasn’t September 11th, or even November 9th. There were not 3,000 dead. No plane flew into a building.
But of course the message they wanted to portray was that Muslim terrorists had struck in Europe. In this respect the Sun was no worse than the BBC who for hours on Friday afternoon and evening was parading expert after expert to say the bomb attack showed all the signs of Al-Quaeda.
Then when the shootings on Utoya became apparent, we were all reminded of Mumbai. There was much speculation about the attacks being Libyan revenge on the Norwegians for that country’s support of the rebels trying to overthrow General Gaddafi. This all turned out to be nonsense, as we now know.
It wasn’t that late on Friday night that it started to dawn on everyone that the man responsible for the two massacres was a lone, Nordic-looking man in a police uniform. But that didn’t stop the Northern Editions of the National newspapers getting it horribly wrong on Saturday morning, by which time their readers knew the awful truth.
The BBC spent most of Saturday trying to repair the damage to its credibility, with justified examination of Anders Behring Breivik’s Christian fundamentalism and right-wing views.
Fundamental Christians is not a phrase that crops up often in media coverage of terrorism, in marked contrast to the phrase fundamental Muslims.
I have had many challenging discussions with Muslim friends over the years about the way the Media seizes upon the fact that terrorists are labelled with the Islamic soubriquet.
“Why does the media always revel in calling terrorists Muslim when most followers of the religion are decent, law abiding citizens who find terrorism abhorrent?” they ask. It is a hard question to answer, especially when Irish terrorists were rarely labelled Catholic or Protestant, or Christian for that matter.
So when Sunday’s newspapers came out it was interesting to see how the newspapers would approach the story now they had the whole picture.
Well Norway’s disaster was displaced as the lead by Amy Winehouse’s death or Daniella Westbrook’s newly found Christian beliefs. The comprehensive coverage of the events of Oslo and Utoya was largely taken up with detailed descriptions to show the full horror of the events.
But there was very little examination of Breivik’s motives and background. The Guardian web-site was a notable exception, going for a line about his links with British right wing groups, the obvious follow-up in my view. But even they down-played the Christian angle.
The media was probably right not to labour his Christian beliefs, as no right-minded follower of the teachings of Jesus Christ would do what Breivik did, just as most Muslims would be horrified by the actions of fundamental terrorism by people who follow their religion.
It is no wonder so many young Muslims feel alienated by the British media. Let’s hope the headline writers remember Norway’s example when the next outrage is executed by a mentally-deranged loner or small group. I wouldn’t bet on it though.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Hugh Grant takes moral high ground

NOW that the BBC and The Guardian have forced the rest of the media to wake up to the hacking scandal, it is time to return to this subject.
I have written before that an Editor ought to know the strength of the source of a story that is being considered for publication.
That is why Andy Coulson had to resign from the News of the World. Either an Editor knows that a story is based on hacking mobile phones, in which he or she is complicit in breaking the law, or not, in which case the Editor is not doing the job properly.
At first sight, Rebecca Brooks, or Ward as she was when she edited The News of the World before Coulson, and later The Sun, seems to be in an untenable position.
As chief executive of News International, the publishing overlords of the two Murdock red-tops, she has now sent an e-mail to all staff saying how appalled she is that murder victim Milly Dowler’s mobile phone was hacked by a private detective working for The News of The World. She pledged that every effort would be made to get to the bottom of this allegation.
Her move comes the same day that it was revealed that the families of the Soham murders may also have had their mobiles hacked, when Ms Wade was editor.
Roy Greenslade, a leading media commentator, and himself a former red-top Editor, has called this e-mail disingenuous.
It is difficult to disagree with his analysis. Whether she knew of such activities or not, she was culpable.
The British Press is one of the most competitive industries in the world. Dirty tricks have become endemic in its fierce culture. A former Sun journalist once told me the only editorial policy worth telling journalists to remember was: Get it first, but first get it right. He might have added the adverb: Legally.
The absence of this qualifying word from the culture of national newspapers has led to subterfuge, bullying and bribery becoming common practice to lesser or greater degrees, depending on which newspaper journalists work for.
Actor Hugh Grant was on 24-hour television last night arguing for a public inquiry not just into the actions of journalists, but also the police for failed previous investigations and politicians for being too buddy with newspapers, particularly Rupert Murdoch’s. He called it a cosy cabal.
He has long led a campaign for protection of privacy, which until recently has been largely restricted to celebrities like entertainers, footballers and politicians.
It is interesting to see where this shift in public opinion may go, with England footballer Rio Ferdinand’s legal action against the Sunday Mirror for reporting his alleged affairs being a good yardstick. It comes to something when Hugh Grant comes to represent the moral compass of the nation. But now that ordinary people are seen to be victims of the phone-hacking scandal, I suspect he represented the views of most of the public. We live in interesting times.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Protesters mingle with shoppers

THE sun shone and the heat of the midday sun made sun cream advisable as the protestors marched down the main shopping mall.
But this was not Syntagma Square, the focus of the Athens riots against austerity measures by the Greek government.
It was the charming market town of Kendal, on the fringe of the English Lake District. Being shire country, petrol bombs and stone throwing were replaced by whistles and slogans shouted over loud-speakers.
There were just two unarmed police officers to ensure the health and safety of the marchers.
But no-one should mistake the civility for lack of passion or underestimate the resolve of the people giving up their Saturday lunch-time to make known their anger.
The marchers were protesting at thousands of teaching assistants and other council employees having their pay cut by up to 30 per cent in an equal pay exercise.
Most of the affected workers are women.
A total of 8,000 workers, employed by one of the smallest counties in Britain, have been given notice of being dismissed and re-employed on new terms and conditions to which they object. That represents half of the total Cumbria County Council workforce, including everyone from social workers to cleaners.
Westmorland and Lonsdale MP, Tim Farron, who joined the march, has warned that the council faces a tidal wave of employment tribunals over the plan for force through a new pay matrix under the single status scheme.
Single Status is the title given to a national agreement between the Labour Government and trade unions back in 1997, which aimed to harmonise terms and conditions of service for public employees, removing any unfairness in pay and rewards arrangements.
The council has already paid out £40m in back-pay, compensation and legal fees, as a result of the exercise.
Teaching assistants from across the county handed over a petition signed by over 1100 local residents to the county council asking them to think again about the single status plans. But the petition was ignored by the Conservative-Labour coalition that runs Cumbria.
Children’s Services cabinet representative, Liz Mallison, said their roles were being reviewed by head teachers, but the dismissal letters would stand.
MPs from across the county decided to write to every other English local authority to ask them for details of their implementation of single status. To date around fifty replies have been received – all indicating that there were either no pay cuts or only minor pay cuts to teaching assistants salaries.
Mr Farron, Liberal-Democrat national president, has written to the leader of Cumbria County Council asking him to call off the deeply controversial and unpopular single status programme.
“I’m sure that this shows that single status is supposed to be a rigorous exercise that harmonises job roles, terms and conditions. It is clear after the conclusion of stage three appeals that there is widespread confusion and dismay amongst county council employees and each section of the process has been rushed, conflicting information has been sent out by your authority,” he wrote.
Most of the staff affected are represented by the public services union Unison, which helped organise yesterday’s march, even though they did not join Thursday’s day of action.
It says it may ballot members for industrial action over Cumbria County Council’s controversial single-status pay review. It says the job-families approach used by Cumbria County Council, which groups together people doing different jobs, is “inherently unfair”.
The average reduction to salaries of the exercise is £3,390 a year. Cumbria’s 3,500 teaching assistants are among the losers. Full-time teaching assistants currently earn between £14,700 and £16,800 a year. The typical salary is likely to fall to £12,500 once single status is implemented.
Employees subject to national agreements like teachers and fire-fighters are not affected.
The teaching assistants have struck an emotional chord with the public because in Cumbria they have been given particular responsibility for children with special needs, meeting parents out-of-hours, adapting curricula to suit their charges and preparing for Ofsted inspections, some working up to 50 hours a week to do so.
A Cumbria County Council spokesman was unrepentant at the letter saying that it was the correct procedure.
“Under single status everyone was reassessed on the same basis in a matrix of jobs, so that there can be no unequal pay claims, which previously cost the county £40 million.
“Everyone is then offered new terms and conditions. If people sign the new contract, that’s fine and it becomes active on October 1, 2011.
“Those staff who haven’t signed, for whatever reason, then we have to give them 90 days notice, which is why the letters are going out now.
“If they turn up for work on October 1, whether they have signed or not, then by default they are accepting the new terms and conditions.”
Human Resources experts warn this strategy could lead to claims of constructive dismissal by those who quit instead of accepting the changes.
One of the affected teaching assistants at the march of around 80 people in Kendal was Sue Ireland of Burneside, who has worked at Sandgate School for 18 years.
“The way Cumbria has implemented single status has been an absolute farce,” she said. “We were all asked to provide evidence of why teaching assistants should be one a higher level of pay, but then we weren’t allowed to attend our own appeals.
“We are not militants. We love our jobs and being there for the children. Cumbria is just devaluing our jobs and professionalism after years of training.”
Mr Farron and the speakers pledged that their fight would go on.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Making radio waves

THE LOCAL MP is expending more of his considerable energy trying to save BBC Radio Cumbria from the cuts that the corporation is having to make.
He says the BBC has suggested in its ‘Delivering Quality First’ document that many local programmes could be replaced and only a skeleton local service be maintained.
The BBC is already running pilot schemes for this kind of programme-sharing service in the south-east of England (for drive time on Radio Surrey, Radio Kent and Radio Sussex) and Yorkshire (for mid-afternoon on Radio Sheffield, Radio York and Radio Leeds).
Mr Farron, the Liberal-Democrat member for Westmorland and Lonsdale, argues that BBC Radio Cumbria has a unique role in providing news and information county-wide and has been an extremely important source of information for Cumbrian’s during times of crisis such as the 2001 Foot and Mouth outbreak and 2009 Cumbrian floods.
Unfortunately that assumes that Cumbria needs a county-wide service. Despite almost 40 years of propaganda there is still little evidence that people in Barrow want to know what’s going on in Carlisle, or people in Kendal care about what happens in Workington.
Of course there are examples, like the two cited by Mr Farron, of wider interest, but when that happens the national and regional services are adequate. The rest of the time, Radio Cumbria trots out a never-ending stream of trivial tittle-tattle, more often than not based on national magazines and surveys, and parochial news.
Mr Farron recently wrote to the Chairman of the BBC Trust, Lord Patten, to express his concern about the proposals. He is now asking local residents to email the Director General of the BBC, Mark Thompson, to let him know their views about the plans to axe Radio Cumbria.
A composite service provided for the old county of Cumberland, lumped in with Newcastle and Durham; and for the old county of Westmorland and Lancashire North of the Sands, based in Preston, would far better reflect the actual loyalties and interests of the population.

Campaign reaches climax

At the risk of sounding like actress Meg Ryan in the film When Harry met Sally when she demonstrates in a crowded cafe how women fake orgasm, I wanted to scream Yes, Yes, Yes on reading reports of a speech by a Government minister this week.
Shadow culture secretary Ivan Lewis was giving a speech at a conference on the impact of MediaCity in Manchester, when he said opponents of the BBC’s decision to relocate parts of its television and radio output to Salford were living in the dark ages and should drop their outdated prejudices against the North of England. Yes.
He said the corporation would be strengthened by employing a more diverse talent pool and viewing events not solely through a London-centric prism. Yes.
Detractors he said should stop seeing Britain as London plus the rest. Yes.
As a freelance based in the Lake District, which attracts 15 million visitors a year, it is so frustrating trying to convince London-based news organisations that events in Britain’s playground are of any interest to their readers, viewers and listeners.
As newspapers have shed jobs, they have less staff based in the North; and they have become totally reliant on the same homogenous diet of politics, celebrity and economy.
They increasingly ignore the lives of real people, and wonder why their sales have plummeted. This trend may not be wiped out by a move to Manchester, but it will break the stranglehold on their imaginations caused by the obsessions of the Capital.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Proto-feminist remembered

AFTER my story was butchered by the Daily Telegraph in-paper and rewritten on-line, I thought I would publish what I actually wrote.

AN historic picture commissioned to mark the inheritance of five castles by a prototype feminist has been reunited for the first time in its new home.
Lady Anne Clifford defied her father, husband and the first King of England and Scotland for decades to inherit an estate of five great castles across the North of England.
Known as The Great Picture, a remarkable triptych or three-sectioned format typically reserved for religious works, it was commissioned by Lady Anne in 1646 to mark her final succession to the inheritance that she had always felt was rightfully hers.
The redoubtable and determined Lady Anne, countess of Pembroke, Dorset and Montgomery (1590-1676), spent much of her life in a long and complex legal battle to obtain the rights of her inheritance.

Anne Clifford was born at Skipton Castle, the daughter of George Clifford, 3rd earl of Cumberland and his wife Margaret. Her father was an extravagant courtier and naval admiral who had risen to fame within Queen Elizabeth's court as a skilled jouster.

Anne's two brothers died young, leaving her as the only surviving child of the family. She was educated by her mother and by her tutor Samuel Daniel, developing a love of literature, history, the classics and religious works.

When Anne was 15, her father died. She was upset to find that she did not inherit her father's vast estates - the Clifford family lands were extensive and included the great castles of Skipton, Brougham, Brough, Pendragon and Appleby.

George had left these lands and titles to his brother Francis Clifford, leaving Anne £15,000 in compensation, in direct breach of an entail which stated that the Clifford estates should descend lineally to the eldest heir, whether male or female, dating back to the time of King Edward II.

The earl of Cumberland had not recognised the strength and determination of his daughter. From that moment, Anne's mission in life was to regain what she viewed as her rightful inheritance.

Her mother Margaret, as her guardian, initiated claims on Anne's behalf to both the Clifford's baronial titles and the estates, but the earl marshal's court refused the claims in 1606. Margaret's archival researches demolished Earl Francis's case for all the estates in the court of wards in 1607, the judges deciding that the Skipton properties were rightfully Anne's. Her uncle, however, refused to yield up the estates.

In 1609 Anne married Richard Sackville, third earl of Dorset (1589-1624). Her husband took charge of her lawsuits and in 1615 the court of common pleas decided that he and Anne could chose between two different halves of the estates, but could not have all of them. Anne refused to comply - she wanted all of the estates.

Defying the pleas of her husband, and even pleas from King James, she continued to fight and against their wishes, in 1616 she travelled north to see 'her' estates and visit her mother at Brougham Castle, the only person left who supported Anne's claims.

Margaret died a month later. With her death, Anne lost the only person who was prepared to help her fight for her inheritance. She later erected a monument at Brougham, today known as the Countess Pillar, in memory of her mother.
After her mother's death in May 1616 Anne was isolated, but she refused to yield her claim on the estates despite unpleasantness from her husband and incessant pressure from James I's courtiers.

Despite ill health, she refused to accept a settlement of the dispute in February 1617 whereby all the estates were given to Earl Francis and his male heirs, and £17,000 was given in compensation to Anne. Her husband quickly pocketed the money and Anne was left with nothing.

Only in 1643, after the struggle of a lifetime, did Anne regain the Clifford family's lands after the death of her cousin.

After the Civil War, in 1649, when she was 60 years old, Anne moved back to the north. She spent the next 26 years of her life restoring the mostly ruinous family castles to their former glory (Skipton, Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham Castles). She also built some almshouses for poor widows in Appleby and restored several churches in the area. Anne died in 1676 at Brougham Castle, in the room where her father had been born.
The Lakeland Arts Trust acquired The Great Picture in 1981 to keep it in the North West where Lady Anne had ruled over her estates, and the triptych hung in her castle at Appleby until the late 1990s.
When Appleby Castle closed to the public, the two side panels were installed at Abbot Hall. The central panel, however, posed difficulties for display: it was too large to fit into the Georgian-proportioned building by conventional means.
Apart from a brief period of display at the Tate Gallery in 2004, it has remained in store ever since.

The left side panel of the triptych depicts Lady Anne Clifford at the age of fifteen, when she was disinherited. Portraits of Lady Anne’s governess, Mrs. Anne Taylor, and her tutor, the poet Samuel Daniel, are placed above the shelves of books, which include titles by Ovid, Chaucer, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. These elements of the composition highlight Lady Anne’s education and refined upbringing.

The right side panel shows Lady Anne in late middle age, when she finally regained the Clifford estates. Portraits of Lady Anne’s two husbands hang behind her: Richard Sackville, third Earl of
Dorset, who died in 1624, and Philip Herbert, fourth Earl of Pembroke and first Earl of Montgomery, died in 1650.

The central panel depicts Lady Anne’s parents, Margaret Russell and George Clifford, third Earl of Cumberland, with her older brothers who did not survive to adulthood: Francis (1584-1589) and
Robert (1585-1591). On the walls behind the family group hang portraits of Lady Anne’s four aunts.
As Lady Anne was not born until 1590, she does not appear in the central panel, but Lady Margaret’s gesture hints that the daughter who would ultimately become the Clifford heir had already been conceived at the time of the original painting.
The triptych has been attributed to Jan van Belcamp (1610-1653), a Dutch artist active in England who was a specialist in this genre.
In order to reunite the three sections, the central panel, which measures over 2.5 metres (9ft) x 2.5 metres, was yesterday (Tuesday) carefully lifted through an exterior window and installed in the refurbished display area at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal. A team of ten curators, technicians and joiners were on hand to ease it through the window with inches to spare.
New interpretation of the triptych and information on Lady Anne Clifford will set the stage for this magnificent painting to be enjoyed by the public in its complete state, as it was meant to be seen.
A spokesman for Lakeland Arts Trust said: “The triptych contains a wealth of fascinating symbols and references which provide unique insights into the culture of the seventeenth century. The Trust is delighted that this extraordinary painting will be displayed as a whole at Abbot Hall for the first time in its history.”
The costs are being met by author and historian Mary Burkett, who was director of the Trust when they acquired the picture.
She said: “Lady Anne Clifford was a woman of so many qualities with a huge historical influence on literature, art and archaeology. She set an example in how she looked after her staff and properties. She was a real star.”

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Cricket through transatlantic eyes

THE news that seasoned criminal George Davis has had his conviction for a bank robber y back in 1974 finally quashed by the High Court as unsafe, 37 years later, reminds me of one of the best pieces of journalism I ever read.
In 1975, at the height of the George Davis is Innocent campaign, I was taking a career break and bumming around Europe when I saw a headline in a newspaper on a stand saying something like “English Media’s obsession with dug field”.
Being obsessed with cricket and journalism I had to buy a copy with the few francs I had left.
The newspaper was the International Herald Tribune, a joint venture by American newspaper publishers to produce a newspaper for its ex-pats and travellers in Europe. It had its own office in Paris and told of World events from an American point of view.
The headline referred to the digging up of Headingley’s wicket in the middle of an Ashes cricket Test between England and Australia, thus ruining the match and the series.
Responsibility was claimed by the Free George Davis campaign, otherwise knows for putting graffiti on bridges throughout London and elsewhere.
Not unnaturally this received blitz-style coverage on all the front pages of the newspapers of the day.
The Tribune article was making the point that with all the events going on in the world, including the Labour party’s corruption nemesis at the end of the Poulson affair, English newspapers were somehow strangely obsessed with a cricket “wicket”.
And here is the best bit: the Tribune piece was aimed at Americans, who play baseball not cricket. In baseball the state of the ground between bowler (or pitcher) and batsman (or hitter) is completely meaningless, as long as the pitcher is on a mound.
So to explain the fuss, the article had to go into detail about why the digging up of the wicket mattered, explaining that in cricket the ball usually bounced, what this meant to the trajectory, and so forth.
The story was in that page one anchor slot many serious newspapers use for the off-beat, whimsical tale. But the explanation had to go on for so long the article had to be turned inside.
It was priceless and I often wished I had kept the article as an example of good journalism. Nothing was assumed as known by readers. Everything was explained.
It also provided the ultimate proof that not only are England and America two countries divided by use of the same language, they are also two countries divided by their shared loved of Sport.
Cricket th

Cheryl pet had nay chance

(Sorry this was due to be posted in May but Blogspot’s problems intervened)
No one should be surprised by the decision to drop Cheryl Cole as judge on the US version of The X Factor.
The Geordie songbird may have been taken to the hearts of the fans of the British version of the programme, but reports suggest that not only is she not glamorous enough for Fox TV, she is also unintelligible to American audiences.
If the Americans needed sub-titles for the film The Full Monty, which they did even though that featured the relatively mild accent of South Yorkshire, then they would have had no chance with the Tyneside version of English.
By a strange co-incidence the news broke almost exactly a year after the tragic killing spree in the Whitehaven district of West Cumbria by crazed gunman Derrick Bird.
I was employed by the National Broadcasting Corporation to mind and support their TV crew when they came up to the port on the day after the deaths.
They charged me with finding eye-witnesses willing to be interviewed.
Imagine how pleased I was when I found a taxi driver who not only knew Bird well, but also saw some of the shootings, and was willing to be interviewed on camera.
I rushed back to the reporter and crew, dragged them to the rank where he was sitting in his cab and cameras rolled as he gave a blow by blow account.
After about five minutes the Americans called wrap and wandered off. I proudly asked if they were pleased only to be told that no, the interview was useless.
“Why?” I asked in disbelief. “Because no one in America would have understood a word he said,” I was told, “and we don’t do sub-titles on news reports.”
If the West Cumbrian burr was beyond our transatlantic cousins, then Cheryl would have nay chance.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Where's the attribution?

I WAS beginning to think I was the only person troubled by the unquestioning reportage of the assumed assassination of Osama Bin Laden and four of his supporters, wives or bodyguards.
Thank goodness for the Independent, for whom at least two correspondents were willing to doubt the version of events being put out by US President Barack Obama and his acolytes.
The cry of American journalism used to be “attribution, attribution, attribution.” Reporters were taught to take care that they made it clear when they were communicating someone else’s version of events, unless they had witnessed them directly.
Sometimes this was taken to ridiculous extremes, as in “President Kennedy was shot dead in Dallas today, according to police” when the event had been seen by millions on television.
But at least that mind-set would have prevented the outrageous gullibility of the media in the wake of the Bin Laden incident. Here are some of the statements made by the media in Britain, particularly the BBC, with the required attribution in italics.
Osama Bin Laden was shot dead today, according to US President Barack Obama. None of the news agencies witnessed the shootings, nor can they be sure the dead man is Bin Laden.
There was a fire fight when Bin Laden refused to surrender, according to American sources. Again no impartial members of the media saw what happened and shouldn’t have reported the official line as fact. He could have been shot in the head, or in the back, or both.
Bin Laden’s body was buried at sea to prevent his grave becoming a shrine, alleged the White House. Even if the dead man was Bin Laden, how do we know he was buried at sea, and even if he was, how do we know the motive was to prevent his grave becoming a shrine? We don’t. Bin Laden, or his double’s body, could be laying on a slab in an American laboratory for all the media knows.
Even the supposed DNA testing of the deceased was just too glibly accepted as evidence by the media.
Geoffrey Robertson QC in The Independent points out that Justice, the word used by Obama to describe the death, used to mean arrest, trial and sentence after due process. Yet no other correspondent I saw, with one notable exception, questioned the wisdom of the President’s use of words. Robertson also argued cogently why it would have been wiser to capture Bin Laden alive and put him before a tribunal.
The other exception was The Independent’s peerless correspondent Robert Fisk who, in a brilliant personalised news report, bemoaned the triumphal references to resounding victories. He also pointed out that if the dead man from Abbottabad turn out not to have been Bin Laden, Obama will lose the next US election.
His shame will be no greater than that of the media who so slavishly reported events they couldn’t possibly verify as facts.
These events unfolded just days after similar unquestioning coverage of the bombing of a so-called command centre in Tripoli, that turned out to be a mansion in which President Gaddafi’s youngest son and grand-children were killed.
There is unlikely to be any independent analysis of those cold-blooded killings now they have been overtaken by the Bin Laden story, but both cases show how our view of these momentous times are being manipulated with the complicity of a lazy and unprofessional media.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Gone but not missed

I AM strangely elated by the news that the owner of the Daily Sport and Sunday Sport newspapers has said that it is to enter administration after failing to pay off its debts.
I have lots of reasons to hate the publications. They were obscene and an anathema to real journalism, in that truth and accuracy played no part in decisions to publish.
Their attempts at humour, like Lancaster bomber found on the Moon or Elvis Presley is alive and well and living wherever, were mainly just stupid.
Most seriously they fuelled the calls for regulation on the Press.
When the media was trying to fend off active political campaigns to have them censored by politicians and their appointees, The Daily Star sent a reporter under cover into a hospital to photograph and interview the ‘Allo ‘Allo actor Gorden Kaye who had a terrible head injury from a freak road accident.
This was portrayed as proof of need for regulation, when no legitimate newspaper or broadcast medium would have dreamed of such an intrusion.
The trouble was that the Daily Sport wanted it both ways. They wanted to join the club of the media but didn’t want to obey any of its rules.
Sport Media Group (SMG), which in 2009 was saved from going out of business by former owner David Sullivan, has ceased trading with immediate effect.
The announcement came after the group warned it had experienced "an insufficient recovery" in trading since the adverse weather in December last year. This was as truthful as their stories.
The fact is that the Daily Sport filled a very narrow niche market, for a few years, and was now obsolete. Its place has been taken by the Internet.
That’s where people look for irresponsible, unregulated, frivolous, celebrity-driven news. If they want serious information and responsible reporting they turn to the traditional media.
Daily Sport, which specialises in celebrity news and soft porn stories and images, and was launched in 1991 by Mr Sullivan, had had its day.
I feel sorry for the 130-odd staff it employed, but its demise has been on the cards for some time. At its peak Daily Sport circulation, in 2005, was 189,473, the Saturday edition at 110,785 and the Sunday Sport at 167,473.
SMG withdrew its titles from the official newspaper industry monthly circulation audit after sales plunged and left each title at around a third of peak levels.
The company confirmed on Friday it had ceased trading - meaning its papers will not appear on news-stands - and it is set to appoint an administrator.
The chosen firm will seek to sell or close the operation. If shut down, it will be the first national newspaper to fold since Today in November 1995.
If any newspaper had to close, I am glad it was the Daily Sport.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Silence on regime change

THE BBC’s reporting of events in Libya, already outrageously slanted, hit new depths of journalism tonight. The other media are nearly as bad.
The military action by America, the UK and France, from bases in Italy, was sanctioned by the United Nations on the understanding that it was to be confined to protecting Libyan citizens from attack and slaughter by the forces of dictator, Colonel Gaddafi.
They were specifically told that they were not to aspire to regime change.
This was very lucidly and eloquently explained by Penrith and Border MP, Rory Stewart, on Question Time last Thursday, when the unconventional Conservative MP warned of mission creep, as the Americans call it.
So what has happened? After bombing forces loyal to Gaddafi as they were said to be about to attack the rebels’ base city of Benghazi, the allies have been laying a trail of destruction across the North East coastline of Libya, clearing the way for the rebels to follow.
This is an obvious and blatant contravention of the UN resolution. It is not protecting Libya’s people from attack. It is giving the rebels clear military support.
That is interference in a civil war. Earlier today the Russians, who were so sceptical about the UN vote they abstained, pointed out this deception.
But what do the British media do? They ignore the Russian comments and blithely continue reporting the allied action without any analysis.
This evening the BBC and national newspaper web-sites were still lauding the “untrained” rebels for defeating Libya’s professional army, as they closed in on Colonel Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte.
Upbeat jingoistic language, like “the rebels have made lightning advances west from their stronghold in Benghazi”, litter the news channels.
But it is obvious that Gaddafi’s loyal troops dare not fight back, otherwise they will be bombed out of existence by the missiles from warships and aeroplanes. Some of the eye-witness reportage, notably in the Independent on Sunday, showed just how brutal and horrific these attacks on Gaddafi’s soldiers had been.
If this is not engineering regime change, I don’t know what is.
This issue ought to be right up there at the top of the BBC’s news agenda, not ignored as it was on the main news bulletins.
The public may support David Cameron’s decision to send troops and machines of war to Libya , but opinion polls would suggest the opposite.
It was not comforting to realise that he was only now starting to make contact with these rebels and find out what sort of people they are and what their aims are.
It is not the media’s job to decide what is right or wrong. But it is their job to highlight inconsistencies between what the Government says is the policy it supports and the reality on the ground. That is why licence fee payers pay for reporters to travel to these foreign trouble spots.
For reporters and camera crews to meekly follow the military line without putting it in political context is a betrayal of their profession.

Friday, 18 March 2011

County name in a pickle

CAN there be a more ridiculous demonstration of the nonsense surrounding the non-county of Cumbria than today’s ruling that Cumberland sausage has been granted Protected Geographical Indication status under European law.
It says that Cumberland sausage has been successful in its bid to be made only in Cumbria.
Why? Cumberland means the traditional county North and West of Orton Scar.
Cumberland doesn’t mean Cumbria, which was an administrative county invented in 1974. It doesn’t include Westmorland, Lancashire North of the Sands or those bits of Yorkshire North Riding, like Sedbergh, that were nicked, to make Cumbria.
The Cumberland Sausage now ranks alongside the likes of Champagne, Parma ham and Greek feta cheese in having Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status under EU law. Other protected UK food and drink products include Cornish clotted cream and Stilton cheese.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the move would guarantee its heritage and be a major boost for Cumbria's butchers.
To display the PGI mark, the sausage must be produced, processed and prepared in Cumbria and have a meat content of at least 80%. Recipes vary from butcher to butcher, but must include seasoning and be sold in a long coil.
That may be good news for the customer, but it has nothing to do with geographical origin.
If any proof was needed, it comes in the distinctive shape of Peter Gott, of the Cumberland Sausage Association, who said: "This is a great milestone for the county and a well deserved place in England's food history for a truly sensational, diverse food product."
Peter of course is Westmorland through and through, with his farm near Endmoor south of Kendal.
Food minister Jim Paice carried on the confusion when he said: "We're justly proud of British food and I'm delighted to welcome traditional Cumberland sausage as the first of our many fine sausages to win protected status.
"This should be a significant boost to Cumbrian producers, who will now be able to prove that their product is the real thing."
He obviously cannot tell Cumberland from Cumbria, either.
Westmorland Sausages are just as good, if slightly different from, Cumberland Sausages. But today’s ruling makes no mention of them.
Now if someone wants to use a recipe for Cumbrian sausages, then they could be said to come from Cumbria. But Cumberland Sausages can’t come from Westmorland, Lancashire or Yorkshire.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Bad law proposal

Oh no, not again! MPs are planning to introduce yet another law to interfere with freedom of speech, when it is completely unnecessary.
Granted, politicians often use leaks to the Sunday newspapers to test out public opinion. If their latest wheeze meets a hostile reception, then they can abandon the promised legislation and blame the journalist for making it up.
But the article in the Sunday Times saying the media face a ban on naming criminal suspects had the stamp of official approval. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke and Dominic Grieve, the Attorney-general, no less are said to be supporting the idea.
It comes in a bill tabled by Conservative MP Anna Soubry in the wake of the publicity surrounding the arrest of the retired Bristol schoolmaster Chris Jeffries, who came under the spotlight while being questioned by police investigating the death of Joanna Yeates. Another man has since been charged with her murder.
Now I have blogged before on how disgracefully Mr Jeffries was treated particularly by the tabloid national Press, although the BBC and other electronic media were nearly as bad.
But we don’t need new laws that are almost certain to be interpreted in such a way as to inhibit perfectly legitimate reporting. Just use the laws we already have.
Ms Soubry was reported as saying that the law as it stands means an innocent person can be vilified, have their lives dismantled and their reputation sullied with complete disregard to his or her right to privacy.
That is just wrong. Broadly defamation and contempt of court ought to have the media in a completely water-tight pincer movement once an arrest has been made.
If they vilify someone who is arrested and later proved to be guilty, then the courts can and should prosecute for contempt. If the person is later proved to be innocent, like Mr Jeffries, then he or she can take the media to the cleaners through this country’s draconian libel laws.
The problem is not lack of legislation, but both individuals’ and the authorities’ lack of determination to implement those restrictions which already exist.
Interestingly Ms Soubry worked as a newspaper and television reporter before becoming a barrister and then an MP. She should know better.

Barn befuddles critic

THE Sunday Times’ formidable art critic Waldermar Januszczak went way too far in his scathing attack on the current Royal Academy of Arts exhibition of 20th Century Sculpture at the weekend.
Even though his newspaper was supposed to be the media partner of the RA for the exhibition which is the largest of its kind for 30 years and runs until April, he is entitled to have a negative view.
He has every right to criticize, as he did, the omission from the artists exhibited of the likes of Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread, Richard Deacon or Antony Gormley.
He is paid to be perceptive enough to point out that the preponderance of ancient artefacts, many of which are superior to the modern sculptures they inspired, rather confuses the point of the exhibition.
But he was not entitled to be downright rude to the curators Dr Penelope Curtis and Keith Wilson, calling them dunces, when he entirely missed the point of the Kurt Schwitters barn in the forecourt.
If he had bothered to ask them, as other newspapers did, he would have been told that the barn was designed to shock viewers into expecting the unexpected.
The barn was a symbol of dark and lonely places that artists work. It represented the artists who are ignored when they toil in unfashionable parts of the country away from the cultural capital. Its inclusion was designed to be a thorn in the side of Metropolitan establishment.
He ignored completely the fact that without Kurt Schwitters, who invented Merz and pioneered Collage and other art using the detritus of modern society, that there would probably have been no Richard Hamilton or Peter Blake in the 60s and 70s and no Tracy Emin or Damien Hirst, whose work Mr Janunszczak obviously admires, in the 21st century.
He claimed that Schwitters was not British. This is disputed as his citizenship papers arrived the day before he died in Kendal in 1948. But his only surviving Merz installation was made in that barn and can be seen to this day in the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne. He also influenced hugely British art in the second half of the 20th century.
Far from being dunces, the curators of the exhibition demonstrated a knowledge and emotional understanding of their subject that rather dwarf those of Mr Januszczak. Goodness knows what he would have written if his newspaper hadn’t had a vested interest in this brave and thought-provoking exhibition.

Monday, 24 January 2011

A job application

Dear Mr Cameron,
I would like to be considered for your current vacancy for a communications director.
Now that nice Mr Coulson has fallen on his sword over those annoying mobile phone tapping allegations when he was in his previous employment as Editor of the News of the World, I believe the time is ripe for you to go for a different type of replacement.
It would be wise of you to distance yourself from Mr Coulson’s former boss, media magnate Rupert Murdoch. If you go for another employee of his, there will be considerable concern in the wider political community. If you go for an employee of a rival, you risk the wrath of the Murdoch clan.
Although I have experience of working for the national Press, most of my 40 years in journalism have been with the regional Press, 25 of them as a manager.
The regional Press routinely sells more copies in their circulation area than all the National Press put together, so in a sense they are more successful.
They are also nearer to the communities that they serve, so that they are used to having to be held responsible for what they say, unlike the Nationals.
You have espoused a new strategy of Localism, so it would fit to have a communications director who understands how Localism works.
We have met when you were still just the leader of the Conservative Party and came to the offices of The Westmorland Gazette, of which I was Editor at the time, to support your local candidate Gareth McKeever against the sitting local Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron.
The fact that Mr Farron had the second largest swing to Liberal Democrats in the country in the subsequent general election was no reflection on your performance that day, as you were clearly well briefed on the issues affecting a largely rural constituency. Your answers were articulate and straight-forward.
It is rather ironic that your party has ended up in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, but my knowledge of both sides could also be seen as an advantage.
There are two possible obstacles to my appointment. But obstacles are there to be leaped.
The first is I wouldn’t dream of moving from the Lake District to London, so I wouldn’t be able to join you daily in the bunker in 10, Downing Street. However in these days of new technology, that shouldn’t be a problem. E-mail, Twitter, Facebook and Skype could all be used to improve communications, albeit at a distance.
Second, your policies on the National Health Service, Education, economic deficit et alia seem ill-thought out and are abhorrent to me. But it is reported that you like a Communications Director who is prone to argue with you and give you a dose of reality, so even that could be seen as an advantage.
I look forward to hearing from you soon,
Mike Glover

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Communication breakdown

NOW that the weather has returned to just normal winter rather than the extremes, it is time to reflect on all the disruption. One lesson needs to be learned by major companies everywhere: the importance of communication.
Recalling the disruption to flights, car and train journeys and facilities supplies, the same message came from customers everywhere: why couldn’t we be told what was going on?
Whether it was passengers stranded at Gatwick, trains abandoned in Peterborough (and elsewhere), or the good people of Ulster unable to have water delivered, it wasn’t so much the interruption to normal service which upset people, it was the inability of the companies to keep a good stream of information flowing.
When heads eventually rolled, it was usually for the short-comings in informing customers, rather than for the interruptions themselves.
It is amazing that in the 21st century, business has still failed to grasp how important good communication is.
It’s not as if it is hard to prepare for these emergencies. Most firms have a business continuity plan, or disaster recovery plan, or whatever else they call it.
They just forget to build in a section to deal with telling customers what is going on.
All they need are lists of clients to hand; staff on standby to man a communication centre and a good supply of the latest information.
There may be issues over mobile phone reception, which is particularly important in real life-threatening circumstances, but these can be overcome with the right planning.
There may be issues about accurate weather forecasts, but an open and honest admission of when this is likely to be the case will overcome these.
In short, there is a lack of commitment to put resources into communication. It would be cheaper to prepare than face frustrated, angry and litigious customers after the event.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Media outside the law

THERE is nothing new about national news organisations working beyond the law.
When I was a reporter on Fleet Street in the 1980s news rooms routinely had clandestine copies of what were known as reverse directories.
These were compiled for telephone companies to trace faults quickly. They were listed by addresses, with the names and numbers of every household and company phone identifyable by address, and listed alphabetically by streets.
They were strictly controlled, but newspapers got hold of them by bribing telephone engineers and they were hugely useful.
If an incident happened at an address, reporters could look up the addresses nearby and then phone the people who lived there to get eye-witness accounts.
This was in direct contravention of telecommunications legislation. But who was going to know?
The new technology opens up all sorts of potential transgressions of the law as demonstrated by the News of the World mobile phone tapping saga, which just won’t go away despite former Editor Andy Coulson’s resignation in the wake of jailings three years ago.
It has now been revealed that one of their senior executives has been suspended over phone hacking claims involving the actress Sienna Miller.
News of the World executive Ian Edmondson was suspended after the new claims emerged.
A document lodged in the High Court links Edmondson with the interception of voicemail messages from the phones of Miller and Jude Law.
Solicitor Mark Thomson has said paperwork and other records seized by police from private investigator Glenn Mulcaire implied Edmondson was linked to the hacking.
Mulcaire and former News of the World reporter Clive Goodman were jailed at the Old Bailey in January 2007 after they admitted intercepting messages.
A News of the World spokeswoman said: 'A serious allegation has been made about the conduct of a member of the News of the World staff. We have followed our internal procedures and we can confirm that this person was suspended from active duties just before Christmas. The News of the World has a zero tolerance approach to any wrong-doing.'
Miller is suing the News of the World's parent company, News Group, and Mulcaire, accusing them of breaching her privacy and of harassment.
This is highly embarrassing to the newspaper world in general and Rupert Murdoch’s empire in particular. The fact that Mr Coulson now works for the Conservative hierarchy as a communications director adds spice.
If he didn’t know that intercepted mobile phone calls were the source and justification for running news stories, then he wasn’t much of an Editor. How else could their veracity be ensured?

Murder hunt reveals strained relations

Joanna Yeates's landlord, who was arrested over the disappearance of the landscape architect and later released, may yet be compensated generously for his public humiliation and ridicule.
Former English master Chris Jefferies has already announced that he is considering suing police for wrongful arrest. But far more lucrative will be the writs he could issue for libel against practically every media outlet in the land.
The rawest trainee reporter is taught that you don’t imply guilt against anyone until arrest and trial are over. Otherwise you can be at risk of contempt of court and defamation.
But hardly had he been questioned by police than TV, radio and newspapers were calling him Mr Weird, reporting alleged instances of alleged bullying against pupils at schools at which he taught, and even suggesting he might have been involved in another death of a young woman a generation previously.
If he gets his hands on a decent lawyer, he could have pay-outs that would dwarf a national lottery rollover.
Many nationals have been quick to try to minimise the damage, quoting friends as saying he expects to be cleared of any involvement in the death 'within days'.
The 65-year-old, who was questioned by detectives for three days before being released on bail, wrote in an e-mail that 'the ordeal is almost over'. The ordeal may only just be starting for Editors and their minions who allowed such prejudicial reporting in the first place.
This no doubt adds to the stresses in the relationship between police and the media, which culminated in officers investigating the murder of Jo Yeates to ban ITV News from a press conference.
The move came after reporter Geraint Vincent suggested detectives were not carrying out routine inquiries properly during last night's News at Ten.
Bristol and Avon police hit back by complaining to Ofcom for what it called 'unfair, naïve and irresponsible reporting' during the piece to camera.
Detective Chief Inspector Phil Jones - who is described as a highly experienced officer -has come under increasing pressure to make a breakthrough in the 'complex' investigation.
During the contentious report, a former murder squad detective suggested that 'certain routine inquiries' such as a new painstaking search of the scene where the body was found had not been carried out.
Meanwhile, the police officer in charge of the investigation took an apparent side swipe at a national newspaper by rubbishing the significance of CCTV pictures published in The Daily Mirror.
Days after her body was found, Miss Yeates' father David claimed his family were being kept in the dark by police investigating the killing.
It is all very unsavoury and unhelpful to the investigation. Behind the rows lie around quarter of a century of worsening relations between police and the media.
Ever since the Human Rights Convention was adopted by Britain and Data Protection laws were introduced, police have tried to control what the media report and filter information through media departments instead of letting officers form relationships with journalists they believe they can trust.
A generation of police officers treats the media as untrustworthy, unscrupulous and intrusive. A generation of journalists treats the police as obstructive, unhelpful and hostile.
It is no wonder they fall out so spectacularly.