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.