Archive

Author Archive

Jeremy Clarkson and the freedom of an unfair press

January 12, 2012 4 comments
Jeremy Clarkson

Lavatory humour: Jeremy Clarkson and the modified Jaguar XJS

So, Jeremy Clarkson and his merry pranksters from Top Gear are in the soup again, this time over the programme’s”India Special” broadcast twice over the Christmas break.

According to the Daily Telegraph, the Indian High Commission is demanding an apology from the BBC over the programme, claiming Top Gear’s producer Chris Hale misled it over the eventual nature of the programme when seeking help in its making.

“The programme was replete with cheap jibes, tasteless humour and lacked cultural sensitivity. This is not clearly what we expect of the BBC. I write this to convey our deep disappointment over the documentary for its content and the tone of the presentation,” the letter from some mysteriously unnamed (at least unnamed in the Telegraph’s report) “diplomat” rather pompously puts it.

On the one hand, this report can be seen as just another case of the on-going BBC-bashing by the press, of which Clarkson et al are currently the main whipping boys. Now I have nothing against BBC-bashing: it’s an entirely honourable profession. But I do think it odd that Clarkson seems to be the main target, since his programme, aimed at petrol-heads of both sexes who enjoy a dash of schoolboyish, lavatorial humour obviously strikes a chord which a large section of viewing public, both here and abroad (it’s one of the BBC’s biggest exports). I’d have thought there were other, more legitimate targets in the BBC’s often skewed output that were worthy of attention. Quite why the Telegraph, Mail, Independent, Express etc so relentlessly target an ultimately lightweight programme which tickles the funny bone of such a large proportion of their potential readership baffles me.

Perhaps the fact that he also writes for the Sunday Times and the Sun makes Clarkson such an irresistible target, combining as he does the chance of not only a spot of BBC-bashing but Murdoch-bashing as well.

The other point worth noting that if the Indian diplomats really thought that the resulting Top Gear programme would be a po-faced travelogue extolling the beauty of the Indian scenery, friendliness of its people and the stupendous fabulousness of its automative industry, they betray a naivety and an ignorance that makes you wonder how they ever managed to pass the Indian civil service exams to become diplomats in the first place. Surely they must have seen the programme before? And surely that would have given them some clue as to what the likely result would be?

That naivety and ignorance is betrayed by the comments of one – again, curiously unnamed – diplomat to the Telegraph:

“We understand the free press – they are welcome to explain and to challenge as long as it is fair and above the belt. Can this pass as acceptable journalism?”

No sir/madam: you obviously do not understand the free press if that is what you believe. In countries where there is freedom of the press, media outlets may posit themselves as being “fair and above the belt” for whatever reason: a sense of smug superiority and higher purpose, perhaps, or simply because they believe that such a position gives them a commercial advantage over more blatently biased competitors.

But there is nothing explicit or implicit in the concept of “a free press” that makes being “fair and above the belt” mandatory.

Bernard Levin

Thundering: Bernard Levin (Pic: BBC)

The Times’ columnist Bernard Levin put it best in 1980, responding to the Master of the Rolls Lord Denning’s comment that “a free press must be a responsible press”.

Summoning his most orotund, magisterial manner, the man who often put the thunder into “The Thunderer” proclaimed:

It cannot be emphasised too strongly nor indeed put too extravagantly, that the press has no duty to be responsible at all, and it will be an ill day for freedom if it should ever acquire one. The press is not the Fourth Estate; it is not part of the constitutional structure of the country; it is not, and must never be, governed by any externally imposed rules other than the law of the land.

Tim Worstall makes a similar point:

…freedom of the press does indeed allow you to use fairness and above the beltness as a positioning exercise, sure, but it doesn’t in fact require you to do so. Which is rather the point of that “free” bit in there, d’ye see?

Indeed. We may humour ourselves that the best press is one that is fair, above the belt, temperate, reasonable, balanced, responsible etc – and of course, the media outlet we currently work for is all of these things, while its competitors are hopelessly skewed by hidden agenda and almost criminal bias – but they are not mandatory attributes of a free press.

Levin goes even further to question whether they are even desirable attributes:

…we [the press and media] are, and must remain, vagabonds and outlaws, for only by so remaining shall we be able to keep the faith by which we live, which is the pursuit of knowledge that others would like unpursued, and the making of comment that others would prefer unmade.

Stanley Baldwin’s famous dictum about the press barons – “power without responsibility, the prerogative of the harlot” – is a good soundbite on the desirable attributes of power, but has nothing to do with the desirable nature of  a free press.

Getting ready for the return of Hari

January 4, 2012 Leave a comment

Johann Hari: The Return

Well, 2012 is upon us for better or worse. Amidst the many pundit predictions of what will come upon us in this coming year, I noticed one curious omission: none dared foresee what should befall us with the imminent rearrival of Johann Hari in our midst.

After all, Independent editor Chris Blackhurst has publicly stated that Hari will make a return this year, after the secret “investigation’ by Andreas Whittam Smith (whom many serious commentators believe actually moonlights – with the aid of a silly beard , a joke-shop mitre and a crook he may well have nicked from a children’s nativity scene- as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Certainly, the way Her Majesty can scarcely control her giggles whenever that bearded loon opens his mouth suggests she is in on the joke. I rest my case).

Might I humbly suggest that Hari be given a gentle reintroduction into the rough and tumble of Fleet Street, by perhaps being given a mentor, as advocated in the Confederation of Business Industry handbook of Following EU Directives/slavishdevotion/edict01235.87-98/englischepigs-humbling-of.

And might I even more humbly suggest – this being totally against the whole Fleet Street ethos for 200 years or so – that this mentor come from a newspaper other than The Independent? It’s just that, surely, on his first awkward steps on the rocky rehabilitation road since his re-education stint in the Guantanamo  of the liberal US media, Hari might welcome the guiding hand of a fellow spirit, one who supported him through his bad times, who felt his pain, albeit at a distance, and knows his tactics better than he does.

Here, in my one and only prediction for 2012, is how I reckon that tricky first Hari interview with a Celebrity Interviewee might go:

Polly: Well, I’m awfully glad to meet you, Mr Celebrity Interviewee. I am Polly Dutt-Pauker (for it is she). Here, let me give you one of my cards…

Celeb Interviewee: Well, thank you Miss Dutt-Pauker…

Polly: Mssss! Have one of my cards…

Celebrity Interviewee: Sorry, Ms Dutt-Pauker, but you see I have an important interview with a chap by the the name of Hari and I don’t have time…

Polly: (Gaily, in a politically-pointed way) Oh, hah-hah-hah. I see, in your mean-spirited conservative-voting fashion you do not quite understand my educative progressivism. Allow me to introduce you to my good friend Hari… (indicates space to her left)

Celeb Interviewee: (goggles) Well, I’d be very pleased to meet Mr Hari…

Polly: And you know he’s very pleased to meet you. And more than pleased that you meet him.

Celeb Interviewee: Well, if I could see him…

Polly: See him? Well, Mr Celebrity Interviewee, if you had availed yourself  of the very fine spectacles available from our famed National Health Service, whose hospital-contracted infection rate is second to none in the western world, you could quite clearly see that my good friend Hari is right here beside me.

Celeb Interviewee: (goggles) But I can’t see him…

Polly: Hah-hah-hah. You right-wing, proletariat-crushing bankers are such a tease. Of course you can’t see him, he’s a future we must all bring about, not matter the cost. I know: I mentor him on economics, as I do on so many others. I hope you are are broad-minded enough to recognise and accept that Hari is a Pooka.

Celeb Interviewee: A…Pooka?

Polly: Yes. That’s Pooka with a P, not an F. Say hello, Hari.

Celeb Interviewee: Well, I can’t hear him, either…

Polly: Have no fear! I assure you that not only is Hari a dear friend, but he knows everything you’re about to say, even before you say it! It’s amazing how he can divine your thoughts even before you’ve thought them. Well, goodbye – I must leave you in Hari’s capable hands! I’m off to Tuscany, where I hear the au pairs are blooming lovelier – and cheaper – this time of year! Did I give you one of my cards?

So happy together

Stop this cruel display of elderly mental break down!

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Many of us know from first-hand the gradual physical and mental break down that occurs with the advancement of years.

It has probably occurred among your own loved ones – the grandmother who remembers clearly what happened thirty years ago, but can’t recall the cup of tea you just made for her five minutes ago; the affable, twinkly-eyed , grey-haired former local Labour MP uncle who still maintains Socialism is the only way forward, as though 1989 never happened; the slightly dotty auntie who had a neighbour’s spaniel put down twenty years ago because of its barking, and can still regale you with every detail of what a struggle that was. Every family has them.

Still, that is a family matter. Such matters are tragi-comic. With the outward manifestations you would often be unhuman not to laugh at, in the same way you couldn’t help laughing at a man slipping on a banana skin (which I have actually seen, and laughed at).

But natural sympathy makes it equally inhuman not to feel sad that someone we had known as a full, well-rounded human had somehow been diminished, the wisdom of their experience slowly and cruelly being chipped away by the decrepitude of advancing age.

Well, it’s one thing to experience this within the personal sphere of a family. It is quite another to have it broadcast for all to see. Which is what we are now seeing.

Think: a beloved grandparent who taught the value of thrift, value for money and living within your means is publicly shown running off to a supermarket where they spend up large on over-priced goods whose benefits are purely in the minds, and – ultimately – pockets, of a taxpayer-subsidised company.

Think: a beloved grandparent who you thought was an intelligent, thinking and believing member of one of the recognised forms of belief – Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Atheisim etc – is shown to be really none of these, but a member of a weird cult of Scientism, who worship forms of computer models, believing these replace the human experiences of seeing, hearing, smelling and feeling.

Think: a grandparent who once dandled you on his knee now broadcasts throughout the world that, really, you should not exist. Neither, really, should any of your siblings, mates or really any one else other than those whom your grandparent and like-minded friends decree. Oh, and you should not have any off-spring either.

Old-age decrepitude is, as I say, both a sad and funny thing. But it is a family one. Which is why I make the following point:

BBC: Please stop making such cruel fun of David Attenborough by putting him on TV so much. It’s a family matter.

Categories: BBC Tags:

Book of the Year 2011: The Invention of Murder

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Keen-eyed readers will have noticed I’ve given the blog a make-over and have added a new section of book reviews, called Scribble, scribble, scribble, which can be accessed here or from the link at the top of this page.

The first entry is my book of the year, Judith Flander’s excellent The Invention of Murder. Published at the beginning of the year, it was thus forgotten by the time most  “literary critics” –  whose memory spans would flatter a goldfish – came to write their interminable “Books of the Year” column which add much misery to the nation at this time of the year.

If you have been given a book token, or have a spare tenner or so to spare, I highly recommend this book. I’ve read it three time this year. I shall read it again.

I sincerely hope Judith Flanders writes a follow-up, covering murders in the 20th century.

Keep Calm and Womble On

December 15, 2011 Leave a comment

The Leveson hearing continues to Bore On for Britain, with live coverage on both BBC News 24 and Sky News, for heaven’s sake. As if anyone apart from Guido Fawkes and the usual politico-journo junkie suspects are really interested in watching minute-by-minute coverage from that sweaty oak-panelled room in the Royal Courts of Justice, where the testimony can hardly be heard above the ticking of the lawyers’ taximeters.

I’ve taken up watching Russia Today and Al-Jazeera to get my afternoon’s news fix. At least you get an idea that something important is happening outside in the real world.

It’s not as though we haven’t been here before. Whatever Leveson decides, we know what’s going to happen. Indeed, I’ve tried to interest Laurence Rees in a blockbuster TV series, tentatively titled The Calcutt Committee: A Lesson From History, but so far he’s not answered a single one of my emails. Maybe it’s because I couldn’t bring Nazis into it in a meaningful way.

Still, it’s good to see Fleet Street’s Finest have got their heads down and are still digging up the Stories That Really Matter:

W T Stead, eat yer heart out. Now this is a scoop!

Full story here.

Christopher Booker’s J’accuse de nos jours

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

The BBC and Climate Change: A Triple BetrayalAs the BBC positively, almost childishly, revels in the washing of the tabloids’ dirty linen at the Leveson inquiry, its own dirty deeds have come under the spotlight.

And this time it’s about something more important than sleb’ lives being made uncomfortable and/or having their peccadilloes highlighted by phone hacking and the paps.

It’s about the Beeb’s wilful connivance with what may well prove the biggest, most costly, scam of this or any past century.

From the dogged Christopher Booker comes this report from Nigel Lawson’s/Benny Peiser’s Global Warming Policy Foundation. It is -in the finest and most honourable tradition of polemical journalism – a j’accuse, and it is aimed firmly at the heart of the BBC.

It is, I think, important: it’s about how the BBC – second perhaps only to the NHS as the country’s most beloved taxpayer-funded institution – lied, dissembled and distorted to push a political line contrary to explicit instructions in its much-trumpeted Royal Charter.

It deserves wide distribution. You can download it from here:

http://www.thegwpf.org/press-releases/4520-new-report-the-bbc-and-climate-change-a-triple-betrayal.html

Read it and weep. And then go and pay your inflated winter energy bills – inflated partly because the BBC relentlessly pushed this line.

And then ponder deeply about the licence fee you stump up for annually.

When good subbing is essential, Part 96…

December 8, 2011 Leave a comment

When you’re writing a scoop about educational standards…

telegraph.co.uk, 08/12/11

Nonsense, nonsense and thrice nonsense

December 7, 2011 Leave a comment

I quite like Fleet Street Blues: it’s published some of my stuff in the past and it’s generally on top of what’s going on in the print press world. But I can’t forgive its churnalistic response to the latest Harmanesque Guardian nonsense about sex bias in the national press:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/dec/04/why-british-public-life-dominated-men?CMP=twt_gu

BOO!

Forgive me if I’ve rudely awoken you by returning here after reading all that turgid, statistical onania. Here is how Fleet Street Blues interprets it, with a lovely chart brought to you in full Adobe Illustrator technicolor:

Guardian's male-female national media chart

Oooh-er, missus! Seems you're dropping behind!

I’ve noticed that FSB, bless him, is a sucker for graphics – the shinier the better (we all know what to get him for Christmas), and he writes:

Overall though, if the methodology is right – and we have no reason to think it isn’t – then the chart above seems pretty conclusive. Fleet Street is still very much a man’s world.

If the methodology is right...If the methodology is right…?

Well, no, the methodology is plainly not right. You only need to take a second or two to see that it isn’t.

1) Whyfore the critereon of a byline – generally given only to the lead story of a national newspaper page and rarely to downpage stories – be an indication of anything other than that was the person who wrote the strongest story for that particular place at that particular time? The news editor (more of which later) plainly decided was the strongest story and should be the lead. I would defy Kira Cochrane or FSB to argue against that decision, on a basis of sex discrimination, at that place and at that time it was made. Within deadline, please.

2) I can’t help but get the feeling that the original survey concentrates on the news, news comment and sports pages of national papers. Ms Cochrane and FSB do not seem to stray into the arts pages. This surprises me as far as Ms Cochrane is concerned, though not FSB , since he always struck me as a supporter of one of the more struggling football clubs, and in which the papers’ inside-page mires his interest more probably lies. But if Ms Cochrane is going to claim that the national papers’ Arts pages are regularly given over to a male hegemony, then I say  it is a sylvan pond into which she, and her intern researchers, have yet to dip their painted toes. They will find many other females doing likewise – though not all to their political liking, of course. There’s no accounting for taste when it comes to painted toenails, as the bishop said to Marilyn Monroe. There’s a lesson there, if only we knew what it was.

3) Nothing appears in a newspaper – or a newspaper blog – without going through about three or four people. You know that FSB. How many of those people are female? The news editors, the sub-editors, the deputy editors, proofreaders – need I go on? None of them are accounted for in Cochrane’s analysis.

The worst thing about these Harmanesque “equality” analyses is that they ignore women doing essential things that are below whatever line the surveyors claim is the one that matters, as though they don’t matter. They also ignore men, those who also are doing essential things, who are also below that line. They apparently don’t count either. We – who occasionally do get the bylines – know they do, FSB.

Categories: Uncategorized

St Paul’s: Another “inconsiderable clergyman” resigns

October 31, 2011 1 comment
Dean of St Paul's resigns

"Furthermore, we suggest that buffoon in the silly facepaint behind me takes over..."

By now you will have read the latest instalment in the rollicking pre-Christmas pantomime, Snow Beardies and the 40 Pampered Middle-class Shitheads, which has been playing to sell-out crowds at that traditional Home of High-Priced Farce, St Paul’s Cathedral, and which has been adding so much to the gaiety of the nation over the last week or so: the Dean of St Paul’s, the Rt Rev Graeme Knowles, has resigned.

By chance, I happen to be re-reading The Diaries of Evelyn Waugh (fantastic value at £2.50 with free p&p from Amazon).

The entry for 1 April – 11 April 1942 reads:

… Next day I was due to speak at the BBC as guest of the Brains Trust… The other guests were Sir William Beveridge, don-civl servant, and an inconsiderable clergyman, the Dean of St Paul’s [the Very Revd W R Matthews].

Being inconsiderable* has remained an essential “skill” needed on the CV for anyone applying for a job in the higher echelons of Wren’s masterpiece, it seems.

* OED: inconsiderable: Not to be considered; unworthy of consideration; beneath notice; of no consequence, unimportant; insignificant, trifling. The opposite of considerable (1712 Steele Spectator. No. 302 A trifling inconsiderable Circumstance.)

Ode to Roy Greenslade

October 26, 2011 Leave a comment
Roy Greenslade

Roy Greenslade: Trust me, I'm a professor

Hypocrisy flows as freely through Fleet Street as the river Fleet that give it its name once flowed (before it got clogged with human and animal effluent, bodies, shopping trolleys and the 18th-century equivalent of copies of Heat and the Evening Standard).

But there is cheerful Fleet Street hypocrisy and there’s cynical hypocrisy which reveals a nastier side of the writer’s soul: the latter being the sort that makes you want to physically deposit human effluent and shopping trolleys over what you have just read.

Tonight’s Evening Standard provides just such an example of the latter, with the Pythia of Journalism, Roy Greenslade, pontificating thusly under the headline “Why I believe it’s all over for James Murdoch”:

Rupert Murdoch’s son James is a busted flush…[bore, fart etc…much stuff about the House of Commons media select committee. Finally…] At every turn, the name of James Murdoch will continue to feature in headlines. He cannot run and he cannot hide. His game is well and truly up.”

Well, OK. If you say so Roy. Those of us with a longer memory of yesterday’s chip wrapper (and indeed can remember when newspapers were allowed to be yesterday’s chip wrapper) recall times when your antagonism toward Murdoch had a slightly more, er, financial angle.

So here, with apologies to Lewis Carroll, is a little poem:

“You are old, Father Greenslade,” the young man said,

“And with Robert Maxwell you once were so tight;

Yet you stand on your head to attack Murdoch J. —

Do you think, at your age, it is right?”