Not Saussure

June 13, 2007

Blair and the feral media

Filed under: Blair, Politics, press — notsaussure @ 9:03 pm

What is one to make of Tony Blair’s reflections on the media yesterday? I’m linking, by the way, to the BBC transcript rather than the one on the Number 10 site because, for perfectly understandable but pleasingly ironic reasons, the BBC one is a more complete and accurate account of the great man’s words; the version on the Number 10 site excises the passages

We paid inordinate attention in the early days of New Labour to courting, assuaging, and persuading the media. In our own defence, after 18 years of Opposition and the, at times, ferocious hostility of parts of the media, it was hard to see any alternative.But such an attitude ran the risk of fuelling the trends in communications that I am about to question.


When I fought the 1997 election – just ten years ago – we took an issue a day. In 2005, we had to have one for the morning, another for the afternoon and by the evening the agenda had already moved on,

explaining the absence with the chaste comment ‘[Party Political content].’

I was puzzled by his description of the media as ‘feral,’ a metaphor that takes us into all sorts of strange places. What sort of wild beast does he have in mind, one wonders; are the media a tiger, on whose back he has taken a ride and is now he finds it difficult to dismount, or are they savage wolves, whom he would like to domesticate into pet dogs (very loyal to their masters, dogs)? Or are they like the feral children who so worried Mr Blunkett and Mr Blair a few years ago, and who need ASBOs to sort them out? Or does he just mean the press have been beastly to him recently? (more…)


May 31, 2007

Our son of a bitch….

Filed under: civil liberties, Politics, press — notsaussure @ 12:03 am

Via Matt at An Insomniac,the depressing, though perhaps unexpected, spectacle of a huge assembly of Guardian readers queueing up in Talk is Cheap Comment is Free to endorse censorship and the shutting down of TV stations by Hugo Chavez, criticism of whom is apparently now punishable by 30 months in prison. One of the few dissenting voices notes,

Chavez may be a son of a bitch but he’s the liberals’ son of a bitch.

My favourite, though, is someone who quotes Article 57 of the Venezuelan constitution, apparently protecting freedom of speech, and asking

Can you now state the law that protects freedom of speech in the UK or USA for example?

Someone else helpfully draws his attention to

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievance.”

I thought of pointing to Article 125 of the Soviet Constitution of 1936

ARTICLE 125. In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system, the citizens of the U.S.S.R. are guaranteed by law:

1. freedom of speech;
2. freedom of the press;
3. freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings;
4. freedom of street processions and demonstrations.

but I don’t think CiF readers do irony too well.

There may be a case for shutting down these stations, or, at least, not renewing their terrestrial broadcasting licences — I don’t know; Venezuela’s recently had an attempted coup, so maybe we shouldn’t expect things to work the way we’d like them to — but I do know that ‘Chavez is getting up George Bush’s nose something dreadful, so pretty much anything he does must be OK’, which is just abot the level of most of the CiF comments, isn’t a particularly convincing one.

May 14, 2007

Getting cross about nothing

Filed under: press, Religion — notsaussure @ 11:08 pm

People may have seen various stories in The Telegraph, The Express and so forth about how children are, apparently, to be forbidden by schools from wearing crosses while symbols of other faiths are to be permitted.

I was going to write something about this, but I thought something didn’t quite ring true, and I wanted to check before I made a complete fool of myself (I do try to check things now and again, not that it always stops me making a fool of myself, of course). In this case, I’m glad I did, because an excellent piece by Five Chinese Crackers confirmed my suspicions. Essentially, according to 5CC, someone’s got hold of a draft version of guidance (not instructions, but guidance) for schools on what to do about requiring pupils to remove items of jewellery and the like for things like PE lessons.

The overall line, as far as I can see, is that there are some items that are, for members of some faiths, that it’s compulsory to wear at all times, so obviously you don’t tell the children to remove those. There are some other items, like crucifixes, that you’re not required to wear but which you obviously wouldn’t want to ask someone to remove without good reason — small gold crucifixes are not infrequently presented by a relative to young teenage girls on the occasion of their First Communion or Confirmation, which is an important rite of passage if you believe in such things, or left to them as a keepsake by a grandmother in her will. Obviously you don’t have to wear one, any more than a woman has to wear her wedding ring at all times, but it’s the sort of thing that she’ll probably want to wear unless there’s a good reason why she shouldn’t. I understand that perfectly well about crucifixes — it’s what my late wife felt about the crucifix she was given when she made her First Communion; she didn’t think God was particularly bothered about whether she wore it or not, but wasn’t just an ordinary item of jewellery like one of her other necklaces that she’d wear or not as she felt like it — as I think will most people.

Well, what seems to have happened is that whoever wrote this draft paper understood it equally well, and made the mistake of thinking his or her readers would understand it, too. So the author made the mistake, in trying to explain that there are equivalent items in non-Christian religions about which people feel the same way, of taking it for granted that he or she wouldn’t have to explain all this about crosses.

Result: someone from the Express gets hold of the draft paper — which is now being rewritten, it seems, just to spell it out for the hard of thinking that, of course, this applies to Christian symbols, too — and deliberately gets it back to front.

Well worth reading, 5CCs article.

April 23, 2007

if the world were organised according to my political views, this tragedy would never have happened.

Filed under: Politics, press — notsaussure @ 5:10 pm

I missed this when Boing Boing reproduced an extract from an article originally written about 9/11, in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech last week:

Many people will use this terrible tragedy as an excuse to put through a political agenda other than my own. This tawdry abuse of human suffering for political gain sickens me to the core of my being. Those people who have different political views from me ought to be ashamed of themselves for thinking of cheap partisan point-scoring at a time like this. In any case, what this tragedy really shows us is that, so far from putting into practice political views other than my own, it is precisely my political agenda which ought to be advanced.Not only are my political views vindicated by this terrible tragedy, but also the status of my profession. Furthermore, it is only in the context of a national and international tragedy like this that we are reminded of the very special status of my hobby, and its particular claim to legislative protection. My religious and spiritual views also have much to teach us about the appropriate reaction to these truly terrible events.

Countries which I like seem to never suffer such tragedies, while countries which, for one reason or another, I dislike, suffer them all the time. The one common factor which seems to explain this has to do with my political views, and it suggests that my political views should be implemented as a matter of urgency, even though they are, as a matter of fact, not implemented in the countries which I like.

I wonder if the author has thought of licensing it to Talk is Cheap Comment is Free, who could probably find a use for it most weeks.

April 17, 2007

Enter rumour, painted full of tongues

Filed under: press — notsaussure @ 2:36 pm

Oh, dear. Maybe the immediacy of the new news media comes at a price:

He is an Asian-American student at Virginia Tech University, whose personal blogs reveal a recently wounded heart and an eye-opening gun fetish.But Wayne Chiang – the subject of fevered speculation on the internet – is not the man responsible for this morning’s massacre at the southern US university.

Rumours that Chiang, 23, was the mass murderer spread across the world after links to his various blogs were posted on social networking website Facebook and similar sites. Many noted the similarities between Chiang and the person described in accounts of the Virginia Tech tragedy as the shooter.

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April 3, 2007

They’re all turning on Gordon Brown…

Filed under: Politics, press, UK — notsaussure @ 5:07 pm

Polly Toynbee is becoming aerated in The Guardian on behalf of Gordon Brown, complaining about the way

Brown begins to feel the bite as the media barons let all their attack dogs off the leash. Cameron is many points ahead, Tory victory is not impossible – and Brown is their only obstacle. From now until general election day, this is war.

To this end, the Tory media conspiracy is creating a fuss about non-issues:

Note how almost the entire press is on song for the “£5bn pensions raid” story, with a single-minded, out-to-kill consistency across every Tory paper. This “stealth raid” happened 10 years ago in public at the dispatch box, and has been industry’s excuse for the retreat from company pensions ever since.

Tim Worstall points out that it’s not a one-off £5 billion ‘stealth raid’ that people are complaining about, and have been ever since, but an annual ‘stealth raid’ of £5 billion a year which, over 10 years…. He also notes that

it’s worse than that. The present value of a share is the discounted value of the future revenue stream (ie, the dividends from it). Assuming a 5% yield (not too far away from the truth) then (and I’m sure that people who actually understand how to discount such income streams properly can do better than my back of the envelope number) whacking £5 billion a year off means a fall in capital value of some £100 billion.

But things are even worse for Brown than Polly suspects; though she writes that

The Tories aim to create such an anti-Brown fever and anti-Brown polling that Labour panics and splits, getting the party to do much of the character assassination for itself.

As Tiberius Gracchus notes at Westminster Wisdom,

Polly doesn’t mention one leading candidate for such a role, a piece in a popular daily newspaper, by a leading leftwing commentator, which lambasted Brown as giving a budget which allows Cameron to attack him easily, a budget which removed his room for movement and made him a sitting target for the Conservative party- a budget which has disappointed his friends and cheered his enemies- a budget which confirms the impression that Brown is a cautious Scot stuck in a ‘twilight zone of uncertainty’. And who wrote this piece, it must have been upon the orders of George Osborne in this new Bush-lite campaign to attack the Labour leader presumptive- who wrote it, who has joined the conspiracy.

(One might quibble with the description ‘popular’ there, I suppose).

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March 23, 2007

So that’s all right, then.

Filed under: BBC, press — notsaussure @ 8:18 pm

Jerry Timmins, head of Africa and Middle East, World Service, BBC Editors blog:

Professor Frank Stewart attacked BBC Arabic in the New York Times on 15 March (“British Biased Corporation”). He says BBC Arabic is “as anti-western as anything that comes out of the Gulf if not more so.”I wonder in which direction Mr Stewart’s receiver is pointing. Possibly his agenda interferes with reception. Professor Stewart has written to the BBC at great length about his views. Recently he wrote a nine page critique of the BBC Arabic Service’s coverage of the conflict in Lebanon, claiming among other things that we were anti-Israeli. We were able to respond in great detail showing that his highly selective and misleading account of our coverage was unfair and showed no knowledge of the brave and comprehensive coverage that had in fact been broadcast and which included clear and impartial accounts of Israeli views and experiences during the war. Having failed to substantiate his detailed criticism he now resorts to a generalised attack in the New York Times.

To be fair, Mr Timmins then goes on to address specific criticisms that the New York Times article made of specific programmes and to mount a general defence of the World Service’s Arabic coverage, again with examples (and since, not understanding Arabic, I’ve never listened to the station, so I can’t comment) but it struck me as a bit rum to say, ‘He sent us a detailed critique but it was all unjustified’ and leave it at that.

Don’t we get to find out what the criticisms were and how they were rebutted? I’m fully prepared to believe that Professor Stewart’s criticisms were unjustified, but I rather hope that the Africa and Middle East Service’s standards of journalism are a bit more critical than ‘However, the criticisms can safely be dismissed because an official spokesman told us there was no substance to them’.

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Telegraph watch

Filed under: press — notsaussure @ 8:02 pm

Dunno what’s going on here.     

Joshua Rozenberg has written a jokey report in The Telegraph about a High Court ruling as to whether establishments like Spearmint Rhino are required to pay VAT on the fees punters pay for “private dances”  (no, the court decided the club isn’t required to pay VAT since “private dances” and “sit downs” are services provided by the dancer, who is operating her own business; the club ‘does not make a supply of services for VAT purposes’).

Much chuckling by the bench during the course of the judgement as they take the opportunity to display judicial ignorance about exactly what the dancer’s job involved and make some bad puns in the process.

But the Telegraph’s sub-editors, possibly so overcome by the thought of lap dancers that their glasses have steamed up to the extent they couldn’t read the article, have headlined a story about HM Revenue and Customs losing the case (since the dancers don’t have to pay VAT unless they’re earning more than £64,000 a year, which most of them apparently aren’t) as ‘ Strippers are exposed to the taxman’ and captioned a photo ‘Exotic dancers must share their gains with the taxman’, which they must of course, in the form of income tax, but that’ not what the story was about.

It’s at this point one wants to cry ‘Don’t these people have editors?’ but they are the editors.

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February 26, 2007

EU plans for low-energy light-bulbs

Filed under: environment, EU, Law, press — notsaussure @ 5:35 pm

I see from Ellee Seymour that

Germany’s environment minister Sigmar Gabriel wants normal light bulbs to be banned in the EU and energy saving lights used instead. Studies show that carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 25 million tonnes a year if both households and the services sector exchanged traditional light bulbs for energy saving lights.

I’ve never used the things myself since I’m under the impression they’re very expensive — at least in terms of the initial outlay, though I accept they may well save you money over their lifetime — and don’t actually do a particularly good job of providing illumination (cue joke about why they’d appeal to the EU). My impression of these things seems to be confirmed by the comments to Ellee’s article, which probably explains why various governments want to force us to buy something we’re all clearly too foolish to realise is a superior product.

My initial reaction is that I’d give more sympathetic consideration to any environmental proposals coming from the EU if they were to calculate, and justify, the carbon footprint caused by shifting the European Parliament from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month because the French insist on it. It certainly costs a good deal in other respects; according to Wikipedia,

Moving various files and equipment between the two cities takes 10 large trucks and the costs for two locations are estimated at €200 million a year. A force of 30 people load the trucks for the 400 km journey between the two locations. Around 5,000 people attached to the Parliament, such as parliamentarians, advisors, clerks and journalists, also move between Brussels and Strasbourg. Most of the parliamentarians are against using Strasbourg and various initiatives have been taken over the years to have Brussels as the sole location. The latest of these initiatives was a EU-wide online petition, The petition was not accepted.

I mean, if they expect me to inconvenience myself for the sake of the planet, they might show willing by doing something seems eminently sensible and that most EU parliamentarians want, though the French — particularly the Strasbourg restaurateurs, bar-owners and prostitutes, one imagines — are, for obvious reasons, opposed.

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Naming and shaming juveniles?

Filed under: Law, press — notsaussure @ 4:26 pm

Puzzled about this. It’s generally illegal to publicise the details of young people appearing in court as witnesses, and certainly, if they’re under 18, as defendants, without the Court’s permission. It’s also illegal to provide sufficient information to identify them even though you don’t actually print their name — so called ‘jigsaw identification.’

Consequently, I’m rather puzzled by the case of the 17-year-old who was widely reported last week as having made rude gestures at David Cameron and who was equally widely reported over the weekend and this morning as having been arrested for possession of a small amount of cannabis, being identified in the reports as the lad who’d achieved notoriety earlier in the week through his gesticulations.

To my mind, all that could legally be reported, unless and until a court said otherwise, was that a 17-year-old had been arrested in Manchester for this offence, which might not, in itself, have been particularly newsworthy. The Court may have given permission for him to be named, though I rather doubt it since the BBC account of his conviction and fine still says he can’t be named for legal reasons. The Sun, I see, ignored such legal niceties altogether and went ahead and published his name in their report of his arrest.

I think this is contempt of court, certainly in The Sun’s case and probably in the case of all the other newspapers and broadcasters, too.

One might well argue that enforcing the rules in this case is a bit pointless, but to my mind that’s beside the point. Many people think the prohibition on cannabis is a bit pointless, too, but that’s no defence if you find yourself arrested for possessing it. I see the BBC reports that

The teenager had been held in custody since he was arrested on Saturday.District Judge Wendy Lloyd told the youngster she had been “concerned” that he had been kept in custody for possession of such a small quantity of cannabis.

She said: “That you have been dealt with differently causes me great concern.”

Seems to me this applies equally, or should apply, to publicising his identity. I wonder if we can get the editors of all the national newspapers, and various BBC news editors, arrested for contempt of court (I realise that I’m probably at risk, too, based on what I’ve said in this article, but it would probably be worth it). Certainly, at least prima facie, Rebekah Wade should get her collar felt again.

On a somewhat related topic, I share the disquiet expressed by Bystander JP in The Magistrate’s Blog about the press reports concerning the boy who has become seriously overweight. The Times, for example, sensitively headlines their story, ‘Fat boy may be put in care,’ along with a photograph of the poor child. As Bystander says,

If he appeared in court as a defendant he could not be named. If he were a witness or a victim the court would make an order forbidding the publication of anything that might serve to identify him. For the crime of being fat, he is being publicly humiliated.

The fact his mother, who’s clearly got problems herself, has put his identity into the public domain by agreeing to have a TV programme made about him is hardly any excuse, to my mind.

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