Unless I’m the victim of a badly mistimed April Fool’s joke by Fleet Street Blues, this is the most depressing thing I’ve read all day.
Britain abolished slavery in 1833. Now, more than 170 years later, it is welcomed back by this gurning idiot (pictured right) as though it’s a great coup and the cause for much rejoicing.
It is probably totally irrelevant to mention that the person he is pictured with, Hillary Clinton-wannabe Arianna Huffington (née Stassinopoulos), was born in a country whose culture was steeped in, indeed built on, slavery. Well, old habits die hard, I suppose.
(It is probably even more irrelevant to point out that Arianna Stassinopoulos, as was, was previously best known in the UK for being the long-standing main squeeze of The Times’ prolix uber-pundit Bernard Levin after the two met as panelists on the BBC’s classical music quiz Face The Music. Irrelevant, but it makes me laugh, anyway.)
Apologies for the curtailment of activity on this blog: I’ve been sent on a 13-week course by JobCentre Minus which means my access to WordPress is severely limited at present.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have time to serve up your weekly dose of Friday-blues-busting trivia from the interwebs, such as:
10 interesting and unusual Wikipedia articles; A real-life Star Wars Imperial Walker – from 1969; 15 things you should know about sperm; Social media explained; Now why did these never catch on?; How to piss off your mates on Facebook; Deep sea aliens*; Now why can’t all flash mobs be as organised like this? Before and after photos with a difference; Kittens dressed as hot dogs eating, er, hot dogs. Um…why? Creating a football pitch on a floating village; So unlike the homelife of our own dear Daybreak; Incredible scaffolding; Eye-opening cave photos by Phil Wolstenholme; The periodic table of Typefaces; In TV news, reality imitates art and things are just like before, only louder and even more ludicrous (and no doubt with a follow-up DVD release soonest).
Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? There’s nothing like an increasingly, hysterically ramped-up nuclear Thermageddon to get the blood going and cut one’s coat to suit one’s cloth.
That’s until the bubble of hysteria bursts, and the so-called “facts” you have been ramping your story up with all week collapses under the weight of their unbelievability and your own lack of verification in that cold hard world which we call the Planet Earth. Whereof nuclear meltdown? Wherefore art thou The War Game? Thank God – or Allah, or Yahweh, or Squawking Dawkins, or whoever you believe in – that good ole Mad Dog’s arrived to deliver the goods! We meeja types can look the other way and tell everyone else: never mind that – LOOK AT THIS!
The attention of supposedly grown-up, adult media outlets has shifted from something which most desk-jockey journalists know nothing about (nuclear physics) to something which most desk-jockey journalists know less about (war), but which clearly provides more exciting footage they can ooh and aah over. And, in the way desk jockeys who today pass themselves off as journalists (and vice-versa) do, they will deliberate, cogitate and digest. Though there’s likely to be little of the former, less of the middle and even scarce of the latter.
So that’s all right, then. Except it isn’t. Because I suspect what we’ve seen over the last week with coverage in Japan, we’re going to see with Libya – in spades (and more probably in Spads).
There are certain types of people who see opportunity in a fog of uncertainty. But they do not see the chance to enlighten, inform, explain, to shine the cold, hard light on the fog and reveal the truth. Rather, they see the fog as a cover to disseminate rumour, unfounded “facts”, their own beliefs and suppositions and anything else which will grab popular opinion, to expand and confound the miasma and – let’s face it- achieve a hidden motive.
In wartime, we call such people “black propagandists”. Their job is to spread misinformation, purportedly from a reliable source, but which serves another hidden cause. The hidden motive is, of course, to disinform and demoralise the enemy so as to easier victory for the propagandists’ side.
In peacetime, we call such people “24-hour rolling-news journalists”. Their job is to spread anything which on the face of it may count as information, purportedly from reliable sources, but which always has a hidden cause. These causes are increased sales (for newspapers), increased viewers/listeners (for TV and radio) and increased website hits (for web-based newsites, which in most cases include both the former media). Unlike black propagandists, they do not seek to intentionally mislead. But nor do they have anything to do with the truth as an end in itself.
With the Japanese earthquake, the media rubbish started early. That’s OK: it was a massively disruptive natural event, most obviously to those who endured it, but also to those of us who have assumed the task of conveying that event to others. There is chaos, lack of normal communications, trying to co-ordinate pictures, words etc. Plus there’s always the very real possibility that your on-the-spot reporters not where they reckon they are.
So I can – almost – forgive the BBC for captioning this picture – included in an online photo-series called “Japan earthquake: A week in pictures “- as Sendai, the city “that was home to several million people”:
Almost, except it’s not. Sendai was home to about a million people and indeed still is, since apart from its coastal areas, it remained largely unscathed by the quake. Unlike our own dear small coast town of Minami Sanriku, pop. 19,170, 50 miles away, which this picture actually depicts and which, lying just 55 miles west of the quake’s epicentre, received the full force of the ensuing tsunami. The Telegraph got it right:
OK, so far so good. But this is Japan, right? Land of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and , er, things like the Emperor, the tea ceremony and Godzilla. They must know something about everything nuclear. And if they’re panicking, well – what are we waiting for?
Well, either this:
I do not know “British mum” Keeley Fujiyama, but I wonder if she is closely related to my old Sun mate “Del Keyboard”. (A keen mountaineering amateur photographer, he always reckoned there wasn’t a Fuji he couldn’t mount.) She said: “On Tuesday, the radiation levels in Tokyo were ten times above normal and people started to panic.”
Except they weren’t. On Tuesday,the radiation levels in Tokyo were less than were emanating from the bananas in the combined plastic bags on the editorial floor of Wapping Towers. Stay in Tokyo would be my advice, love.
But apparently if our doughty British mum “Keeley Fujiyama” had stayed in Tokyo, she would have been lonely.
The “Tokyo Ghost Town” then became the big story. With this: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1367309/Japan-earthquake-tsunami-Tokyo-ghost-town.html#comments
One doesn’t have to have much beyond third form science to read this stuff and think: “Hang on on, this doesn’t make sense, but I’m not sure why but I want to find out. It’s not like I’m Stephen Fry and have to suck up to that nice chap from D:Ream to get some sort of contract to make people think I know something, do I? Or do I?””
The Independent, meanwhile, leavened its boilerplate “Thousands flee Tokyo” story with an intriguing non-factoid:
Some have heard that the Emperor has abandoned the city for Kyoto, Japan’s ancient capital, though there is no evidence that it is true.
The Indy’s intrepid David McNeil, reporting from “the spooked metropolis”, endeavours to use all his journalistic wiles to get to the bottom of this:
“That’s not what concerns me,” said Yutaka Aoki, a taxi driver who works the area around Shibuya Station.
Well, maybe he was more worried about the perigee “super” full moon, as reported by the Sun:
Now look: it was possible to find real, grown-up, scientific news about Fukushima, though you had look hard to find it in the mainstream media (such as this article in the Guardian). Even on March 13 – two days after the initial disaster – The Australian Age was reporting this.
But mostly, if you wanted fact-based, non-sensational, balanced news about what was happening at Fukushima, you had to go outside the MSM, and on to websites such as The Register, World Nuclear News and ANS Nuclear Cafe, and bloggers who knew what they were talking about, such as The Captain’s Journal, with its excellent primer.
The point is, these alarmist MSM reports do have an effect, far beyond the temporary lift in sales or viewing figures. While wild talk of “meltdowns” – near or otherwise – and “radioactive plumes” may have little effect on the home populations in the UK and the US (other than scaring the bejaysus out of them), they do have a knock-on effect on those folks who really close to the heart of the action, ie, Japan.
It’s a little-considered consequence that was picked up by Mariko Sanchanta in this excellent article in WSJ:
Many Japanese are going about their daily lives and routines as normal. In sharp contrast, many foreigners have left after being deluged with phone calls from relatives pleading them to leave Japan after watching and reading media reports in their home country.
Sanchanta points out that part of the disparity between what was going on in the Japanese media and the rest of the world’s hyperventilation might be due to subtleties lost in translation:
Contributing to the perception gap is the difficulty translating certain nuclear terms that have different meanings in Japanese and English. Top Japanese government spokesman Yukio Edano kept using the Japanese word “yo-yu,” in reference to the fuel rods in nuclear reactors, which means the rods are melting. However, many journalists translated this term as “meltdown”, which has much different implications and stirs up strong emotions.
Typically, the Pythia of Journalism has cast his gimlet eye over both Japan and Libya and managed to get things completely wrong.
There are several things to say about the momentous coverage of two momentous stories this past week. That while ordinary people have fled Japan’s danger areas and Libya‘s battlezones, journalists – sometimes at real peril to themselves – have tried to go to the heart of the crises.
No, Mr Preston: “ordinary” people did not flee Japan’s “danger areas” unless they had to – in fact it seems most of them stayed put – and journalists transparently were not at the heart of Tokyo, nor in Fukushima, nor in Minami Sanriku, nor, I strongly suspect, will they be so much in Tripoli. I suspect “ordinary” people will be. “Ordinary” people are usually the ones caught up in these sorts of things, aren’t they, and they don’t have the bulwark of tax-evasive media company expenses to soften the blow or get them the hell out of there.
But isn’t that the tea-time bell, Mr Preston? After you’ve had a cup of tea and a nice slice of Battenberg, we’ll have a chat about this marvellous thing called the interwebs and cut’n’paste and quoting anyone no matter who they are, what they know or whom they represent and calling them an “expert” and vomiting them out into 24 hour rolling news reports. That’ll be nice, won’t it, Mr Preston? Best have a lie-down first, though. May I plump up that cushion for you?
But while I’m doing that, maybe you might like to ruminate on these words from Lewis Page at The Register, who strikes a welcome note of Hominem te memento in his reflection on exactly how your battlezone journalists covered the Japanese nuke story:
As one who earns his living in the media these days, I can only apologise on behalf of my profession for the unbelievable levels of fear and misinformation purveyed this week. I have never been so ashamed to call myself a journalist.
After the last week, I know just how he feels. That’s been the real meltdown.
Weirdness and wonders from the web to get you ready for the final countdown:
What would the Daily Mail say? There’s squatting, then there’s SQUATTING; 11 cars that will make you cool; Wait until your kids see these; Half-chicken, half-turkey – meet the “churkey“; 15 incredible historical photos (and 10 more); The secret behind the “singing sand dunes“; The chemistry of beer (and here’s the periodic table of beer); How to drive away from a tsunami (and what you’re trying to get away from); Death scenes from 36 Hitchcock movies – synchronised to climax in unison (extra points if you can name all the movies); The lengths sharks go to in order to eat you; The least known Tube stop in London – on the third floor of an office block; Werewolf alert: get ready for a super full moon tomorrow; Strange agricultural landscapes seen from space; How to make a living earning Actors’ Equity rates for a non-speaking role – the world’s greatest extra? Tubular Bells by the Brooklyn Organ Synth Orchestra; Extreme silliness from Spike.
…and the MPs are not far behind.
I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that journalists have been scoring a lot of own goals recently.
First there was the Carl Jefferies coverage, as textbook a case of contempt of court as ever flipped Leonard Cyril James McNae’s horsehair wig. The phone hacking “scandal” rumbles on. Little noticed but surely ominous was the rare instance of an appeal court judge, Lord Justice Sedley, successfully suing the Daily Telegraph for libel. A Daily Star journalist resigns in a very public huff, revealing in his wake that he made up stories about slebs (hardly news, I know, but the public fallout has yet to be felt).
Meanwhile the government’s draft libel law is published today. While on the face of it, the law is good for journalists and journalism – cracking down on the iniquitous trade in “libel tourism”, incorporating Reynolds Defence as part of a defence of “honest opinion” (replacing “fair comment”) and attempting to clear a path through the legalistic fug of internet libel.
But this is only a draft bill. What will happen when the MPs and the Lords come to debate it is another matter. It should surprise no-one if the above matters were not raised and some attempt is made to deal with some, if not all, of them.
For an interesting insight into what is going through lawyerly minds regarding the media at the moment, I recommend this podcast discussion from the Head of Legal blog. It’s rather lengthy, so you might want to leave aside half-an-hour to listen to it. The media stuff starts at about 24:20. (The “world’s worst tennis player” they mention is this bloke.)
An intriguing new survey by an American university purports to show that neutral, “passive” reporting about hot political issues can leave readers bewildered about where the truth lies and more likely to doubt their own ability to ever determine it.
The study, by Ohio University communications assistant professor Raymond Pingree and published in the uni’s latest Journal of Communication, says newsroom cost-cutting, faster news cycles, and fear of ‘‘going out on a limb,’’ has led mainstream American journalism to become drastically more “passive” over the past few decades.
However, people are more likely to doubt their own ability to determine the truth in politics after reading an article that simply lists competing claims without offering any idea of which side is right, Pingree says.
“There are consequences to journalism that just reports what each side says with no fact checking.
“It makes readers feel like they can’t figure out what the truth is. And I would speculate that this attitude may lead people to tune out politics entirely, or to be more accepting of dishonesty by politicians.”
While some disputes in politics involve subjective issues where there is no right or wrong answers, some involve factual issues that could be checked by reporters if they had the time and the desire, he says.
“Choosing among government policies is simply not like choosing among flavours of ice cream. Policy questions quite frequently centre on facts, and political disputes can and often do hinge on these facts, not only on subjective matters.”
The Guardian, as is its wont, wishes us to get aerated about Gwyneth Paltrow singing an old Gary Glitter song, Do You Wanna Touch Me, in a forthcoming episode of the 25 fps saccharine that is Glee.
“So should the crimes or misdemeanours of a performer or artist change how we consume their work?” it worries. “Where do we draw the line on whose art it is still acceptable to consume?”
In the middle of the usual ban-this, nationalise-that statism which passes for debate in the Comment is Free columns, there is this gem:
NBLondon11 March 2011 2:55PMI am typing this in Gill Sans.Does that answer your question?
“Eh?” you may be thinking. “What’s a famous and much-despised kiddy-fiddler got to do with a well-known and oft-used typeface?”
Well, this, since you ask.
(H/T Tim Worstall)