Archive for ‘Standpoint’

July 3, 2014

Propaganda shouldn’t pay

As with Nye Bevan and Conservatives so with me and PR departments: “No amount of cajolery, and no attempts at ethical or social seduction, can eradicate from my heart a deep burning hatred for press officers. So far as I am concerned they are lower than vermin.” Or as the BBC’s economics editor Robert Peston put it in his recent Charles Wheeler lecture, “I have never been in any doubt that PRs are the enemy.”

Let me explain how they are the nearest thing to prostitutes you can find in public life.

Carry on reading

June 2, 2014

When journalism dies

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For here is what no one understood: the web would indeed set people free. It would empower the masses and tear down hierarchies. But once the web had destroyed the old funding model for journalism, no one would take the place of the reporters who trudged along to crime scenes, meetings and court cases. It turned out that unless a news organisation trained people to do it, paid them to do it and ordered them to do it, no one would want to do a difficult and at times boring job for nothing.

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December 20, 2013

How Hacked Off threatens the BBC

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The idea of freedom of speech is in a dangerously enfeebled condition in Britain. Hardly anyone understands why no editor has agreed to comply with the state’s attempt to regulate the press — a measure which takes us back, if not to the court of Henry VIII, then at least to the Stuarts and Presbyterians John Milton fought. “But the BBC is regulated,” people lecture me in a voice of irritated incomprehension. “It is not in the government pocket, or a propagandistic state broadcaster. On the contrary, it is impartial and far less propagandistic than half the newspapers and websites you are perversely seeking to defend.”

I try to tell them that the BBC keeps its independence because a forest of free institutions surrounds it. Allow the state to fell the trees and a cold wind will blow through the corporation. No one should doubt that the state is now sharpening its axe and running its finger along the blade. The celebrities and media studies academics at Hacked Off have pushed the politicians into illiberalism — not, I should add, that our leaders required much of a shove.

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December 11, 2013

Britain’s culture war extremists are a threat to freedom

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The new web journalism allows you to discover what readers want by seeing how many hits an article attracts — and I wish it didn’t. I now know that if I want to impress my editor at the Observer — and what journalist does not want to impress his or her editor? — the easiest way to make my piece the most-read article on the Guardian and Observer’s comment site is to launch an attack on the Tory press in general and the Daily Mail in particular. The more vitriolic I am, the more filled with hate my prose becomes, the more, in short, that I write like the very tabloid journalists I am condemning, the more the readers will like it.

To make sure my piece is a success, I will imply or state outright that the Mail brainwashes its readers, reinforcing their sexism, racism, homophobia and contempt for the poor. When you assign that level of malevolent power to a newspaper the only logical conclusion is that it should be censored or banned. For how can you fight prejudice while allowing the propaganda that creates it to continue unchecked?

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Equally if I were a columnist on the Mail or the Telegraph, I would tear into the BBC. I would say that it was a nest of moneyed hypocrites, whose managers spouted leftist opinions, while pocketing the taxes of hard-working licence-fee payers. The phrases “Hampstead liberal”, “fashionable views”, “poll tax licence fee”, “dumbed-down” and, above all, “bias” would dot my piece like parmesan shavings on pasta. ..

Carry on reading

September 6, 2013

The BBC drives out its mavericks

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Journalists like nothing better than writing about each other. It is good manners and a good discipline to wonder why anyone else should care. On the face it, no one should bother about television’s pecking order. As long as there is one good current affairs show, why does it matter if it is on Channel 4 or the BBC? But the reasons Newsnight’s journalists are leaving are not as parochial as they seem. They tell us how hard it will be not just for the BBC, but the civil service and judiciary as well, to maintain the “impartial” traditions of the 20th century in the new world.

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July 1, 2013

Left-wing comedians who aren’t so left-wing after all

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Broadcasters are becoming bothered by a question that ought to have worried them years ago: why should Daily Mail readers pay the licence fee? If principled people ran the BBC, they would not need to ask it. They would declare that they did not want the tainted money of their enemies. They would say, “We deplore the sexist and racist assumptions of right-wing Conservative and UKIP voters, and want to be free as free to criticise them as anyone else.”

Unfortunately for its reputation for probity, the BBC has been playing the hypocrite for years. On the one hand, it justifies taking a flat-rate tax from every household in the land by pretending that it is fair and balanced. On the other, whenever there is a political slant on drama and comedy it leans to the left (Jeremy Clarkson — the broadcasters’ equivalent of the token black — being the exception to the rule).

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May 30, 2013

If the BBC were honest, its viewers would know how few stories it breaks

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A few weeks ago, Sean O’Neill, the crime correspondent of The Times, claimed that Lord Hope, the former Archbishop of York, had covered up allegations that a senior Anglican clergyman had abused choirboys and school pupils.

You have to have worked in a newsroom to know how hard it is to break a story like that. How do you get victims to talk to you? How do you know whether you can trust them? Accusations of sexual abuse are hard to prove. In the absence of forensic evidence, impossible to find years after the alleged event, they often come down to “he says, she says” or in the case of many paedophiles, “he says, he says.” Then there are Britain’s ferocious libel laws to navigate.

Nevertheless, O’Neill stood-up the story, and went home convinced that he and The Times would receive some credit for publishing. The next morning the Today programme reported: “It has emerged that the former Archbishop of York had covered up allegations that a senior Anglican clergyman had abused choirboys and school pupils.”

Emerged? Does the BBC think that stories appear like rocks at low tide? Does it imagine that passers-by can point their fingers and say, “Oh look, evidence of corrupt political donations has emerged”?

Carry on reading

May 1, 2013

A plane carrying a reporter and editor crashes in the Sahara….

nntz313.3A plane crashes in the Sahara. Only a reporter and an editor survive. At first they hope that rescuers will see the smoke rising from the wreckage. But the fire dies, and no one comes. They are lost and alone under a merciless sun, and start walking.

For days, they march in horrendous heat. Their water runs out. Their skin peels. Their minds reel from sunstroke. Finally, they collapse — blistered and dehydrated — at the bottom of an enormous sand dune.

“Let’s curl up here and die,” gasps the editor.

“No!” cries the reporter. “We cannot give up. Let’s climb to the top of the dune and see if there’s any hope.”

They stagger up — two steps forward, one step back — and reach the top of the dune.

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March 30, 2013

Writing by committee

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Look at the Edinburgh Television Festival. It never debates why Britain once exported quality dramas and imported game shows, and now gets its best dramas from abroad while pumping out lightweight and formulaic programmes. The executives who take the stage are as complacent and as self-congratulatory as bankers before the crash. The otherwise excellent Mark Lawson will never devote an edition of a Radio 4 arts programme to asking why Nicholas Hytner, the director of the National Theatre, can produce shows the world wants to see when Ben Stephenson, the BBC’s Commissioner of Drama, cannot.

You find an admission that America and Scandinavia are now producing better television only in the willingness of our companies to, well, “borrow” their ideas. I am not going to mock. I don’t mind British commissioning editors ripping off foreigners. There is no copyright on ideas, and originality is overrated. The real question is not whether a British company has stolen but whether they have stolen with style; whether they are cat burglars or muggers; whether they can make something new out of someone else’s idea or just smash and grab it.

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March 28, 2013

Feminism Or Islamism: Which Side Are You On?

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What is the problem? Why can’t you oppose, say, the war in Afghanistan, if you wish, while also opposing the subjugation of women? Why can’t you say that Western societies give women greater rights, while also opposing this or that Western policy decision or politician? Why, in short, can you not walk and chew gum at the same time? I don’t mean to single out academics for special condemnation. The postmodern university may not be able to guide society, but it reflects its deformities and double standards. I know civil servants, liberal journalists, broadcasters, politicians, diplomats and police officers who never read an academic paper from one year until the next. They will condemn the gender pay gap or the sexual abuse of white-skinned women, but stay silent about the religious oppression of brown-skinned women. Fear of violent reprisals, fear of causing offence, fear that their enemies will denounce them for possessing a racial or sectarian hatred play their part. On the Left, there is the strong fear of accusations of complicity with the status quo, which never go down well in arts and humanities departments. Tax quotes one left-wing academic booming at a colleague: “Secular feminists’ concern that Muslim fundamentalist religious codes impose and sanction violence on women and queers relies on a myopia that understands Muslim women only as victims of Muslim men and Islam, ignoring the role of imperial violence in defining Muslim realities around the world.” No one looking for tenure wants to hear words like that directed against them

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