Archive for the ‘The Times’ Category

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.

The fourth plinth: Surely the place for Rupert

July 8, 2011 Leave a comment
Rupert Murdoch

Still wrong-footing them, after all these years: Rupert Murdoch

For some years, I’ve argued that the vacant fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square should be occupied by a statue of a great man, Joseph Bazalgette, the Victorian civil engineer who single-mindedly cleared central London of its slums, created the embankments and Battersea (and other) parks and rid London of the great pestilence of cholera forever. The capital still relies on his sewers today. And they still work.

But increasingly, I’ve come to the conclusion – a difficult one for a New Zealander – that the honoured place should go to an Australian: Rupert Murdoch. For he is the only one who has carried the robust free speech traditions of Cobbett, Horne Tooke, Hazlett, Paine, Johnson and Coleridge into the 21st-century – and willingly paid for it, often to his cost – when the panty-waisted likes of  Rusbridger (minor), Toynbee, Thompson, Hari, Snow, Kelner et al stood around saying “oooh, let’s play nice!”, so politically correct they shit where they stand lest they befoul minority toilet bowls.

Don’t get me wrong: Murdoch has his faults. He really needs to see “man made” global warming for the expensive, anti-scientific scam it is, for instance. But on many matters – many of them important, such as freedom of speech – he is on the side of angels.

The Indy’s magical monarchist moment

May 18, 2011 1 comment

Her Maj’s historic (© all newspapers, airwaves, bandwidth) to Ireland dominates the front pages of the heavies today, but one particularly stood out from the newspaper rack I passed this morning.

Most went for the traditional “beautiful handbag and smiling hat” pictures. The Times:

Front page The Times

The Guardian:

Queen in Ireland The Guardian

The Torygruff takes another tack, going for a deep, tightly cropped headshot, but none too successfully:

Queen in Ireland The Telegraph

(Instead of looking out of the page, if she had been facing the other way, toward the lead story on les travails de Huhne, it might explain what she’s laughing at.)

But best of all for its unusual, striking treatment and its witty pairing one historic event with another is The Independent:

The Queen in Ireland The Independent
Excellent treatment, though maybe the headline should have read ‘One small step for a Ma’am’
I’m not sure how this will play with the Indy’s kneejerk anti-monarchist readers, but from a purely page design point of view, its the equivalent of the Crown Jewels.
The tabs mostly ignored the event, apart from the Mirror, which had this laboured and baffling sidebar pun:
The Queen in Ireland Daily Mirror

Yer wot?

What the AV vote says about the media

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment

OK, I know the AV referendum is soooo last week, but I beg indulgence, since it was the subject of a refreshingly honest comment by Robert Crampton in yesterday’s Times (behind ₱a¥wa₤₤).

He notes that his borough, Hackney, recorded the highest yes vote of any place in the UK. While throughout the country, about 70 per cent voted No, in Hackney more than 60 per cent voted Yes. Similarly, Islington (56.9 per cent), Haringey , Lambeth, Southwark and Camden all voted Yes.

As was noted by Professor Tony Travers, director of LSE London, in the Evening Standard, all these boroughs form the chaterati heartland of the capital. Indeed, if you wanted to draw a map of such a heartland, it would look pretty much like this (the green bits):

London borough AV referendum results

Just say Yes: Green indicates boroughs voting for AV, pink (50-65%) and red (above 65%) against

It would also stand as a map of London’s mediapolis, where dwell the vast majority of editorial staff encountered in the national media.

Crampton asks the thoughtful question: “What does this statistic [about the Yes vote in Hackney] tell me about my neighbours?” And he truthfully replies:

Quite simply, it tells me that politically, as well as socially, demographically, ethnically, economically, educationally and just about every word ending with -ally I can think of, where I (and an awful lot of other journalists, columnists and commentators) live is radically atypical of the rest of the country.

And the sucker punch:

What we write should be read with this in mind.

Indeed. The sort of thing you should keep in mind when on May 2, you read the BBC political editor Tim Donovan opine:

Clearly, in its size and influence, the London electorate could yet make all the difference.

Injunctions: The Good, The Bad & The Super

April 27, 2011 2 comments
Redacted Times page about super-injunctions

Yeah, we get the joke, Harding: But where's the Caitlin Moran commentary?

The traditional media silly season has kicked off a bit earlier this year. Rather than waiting for the traditional starting gunshot that is Parliament dissolving, packing its buckets and spades and heading off for the hols, the media is indulging itself in a frenzy of increasingly hyperactivity over Wills ‘n’ Kate, Cam ‘n’ Clegg (uncunningly disguised as the AV referendum) and the Greatest Threat to Western Civilisation As We Know It Since The Last One, the super-injunction.

Of course, after Kate has made an honest man of Wills this week, and the country decides on AV next week, that more or less leaves the latter to run and run. And, as they say in Hollywood, it sure got legs. The trouble is, one leg points one way, to which the other is directly opposed.

With the childish hyperbole that is increasingly the norm among today’s kidult university-educated journalists (even on the increasingly lightweight “heavies”), all injunctions are “super”, even when they’re not, some are even “hyper”, even though there has only ever been one hyper-injunction (a word made up by Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming) and that had nothing to do with privacy or the media per se, and the media has closed ranks to fulminate against, in words of Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail, “Amoral judges, shameless celebrities and a Britain that’s coming close to a police state”, with that ever-favourite judicial bugbear, Eady J, coming in for special attention (such as here in the Telegraph and here  in the Indy). In short, Their Honours are accused of making up privacy law as they go along, without recourse to any legislation enacted by Parliament. Those bewigged bench-entrenched bastards.

Whew. There are several aspects of media law swirling around here, some relating to privacy law and others to defamation law and a few relating to both which, either through ignorance or intent, the national media are conflating into one.

It’s a worthwhile exercise to at least pick apart some of these threads and make an attempt to sort them all out.

And while doing so, it’s also worthwhile to adopt the adage of that wise old bird Confucius: “Above all, call each thing by its correct name.”

Read more…

There’s a good reason paragraph breaks were invented…

April 7, 2011 5 comments

…because otherwise you end up with unreadable rubbish like this, spewed up on unsuspecting readers by The Times’ achingly bleeding, cutting, pulsating-edge science supplement Eureka today:









Note to smart-arse “art” department page designers:

Taking out proper paragraph breaks and substituting them with cherry-coloured pilcrows is a bit like ending your sentences not with a full-stop but a fart.

Yes, you make your point, but you quickly empty the room.

Pity the poor sub who had to copy edit this article. No wonder if you struggled through it, you found it didn’t make  much sense.

And he wants the Koh-i-Noor back

February 15, 2011 Leave a comment

According to The Times, Mark Zuckerman is “the social networking moghul“.

Maybe this is the preferred spelling of “mogul” for a business or entertainment tycoon in the Times style guide. I dunno, because it’s now lurking behind the Murdoch ₱a¥wa££.

Neither the Guardian nor the Telegraph style guides mention any difference between “mogul” and “Moghul”, but the OED does.

Update: Just found out how to access The Times Style Guide. Confusingly, it says:

Mogul (not Mughal) for the empire and art

Makes no reference to “Moghul”, or what to use for a business or entertainment tycoon. Or a bumpy bit on a piste. Or indeed how you would describe bumping into, say, Shah Jahan and Samuel Goldwyn on a bumpy bit of a piste.

Categories: The Times, Uncategorized

First chink in Times paywall

July 17, 2010 1 comment
The Times behind the paywall

The Times: Knock-down admission price

Of course it’s early days in the new paywall encompassing the Times and Sunday Times, but indications are that what’s happening behind the Murdoch motte and bailey is exactly what everyone thought would happen: online viewers have left in TNT lorryloads. Everyone knew they would, that is, except perhaps for the benighted folk at Wapping.

In a bid to lure them back, Murdoch’s belatedly launched Plan B: knock-down admission prices.

Read more…

This way be dragons

July 1, 2010 1 comment
The Times behind the paywall

The Times: None shall pass...unless you've got a quid

Tomorrow the portcullis is slammed down on the Times and Sunday Times websites as they hunker down behind the Murdoch paywall. Watching from the sidelines will be the usual collection of Madame Defarges, aka “media commentators”, clucking away about whether this is the smartest move Rupe’s made since buying the Sun and hiring Larry Lamb, or whether the Dirty Digger’s finally lost it.

Personally, I don’t think it’s going to make much difference.

Read more…

Horses for courses at the Times

June 4, 2010 Leave a comment

From the Times:

Jamie Baulch, the Olympic silver medal-winning relay sprinter, is to race against a horse for charity. The man v horse event over 100 metres, which takes place on June 30 at Kempton Park racecourse, Surrey, is believed to be the first of its kind.

What, the first one ever? I think not. I came across the Man Versus Horse Marathon some years ago – it’s an annual event that’s been held in Wales for nearly 30 years.

Instead of just relying on the press release, why didn’t the Times churnalist (cunningly going under the nom de folie of “Home Staff”) just do a Google – who knows, he or she might have picked up on this fairly lengthy Wikipedia entry.

I thought that these days they taught nothing but Googling in journalism colleges. If they’re not even teaching that, gawd help us.

♣ UPDATE: The ever-alert Tim Worstall has picked up on this story, and notes that Jesse Owens took up racing horses to earn money after the Berlin Olympics.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Llinos Mair Jones on Sly Dai (that’s the rider and horse) beat Haggai Chepkwony (human) by 10 minutes at the 2010 race in Llanwrtyd Wells. The Sun had it that Chepkwony was “pipped” by Sly Dai, which is a fairly loose use of “pipped”, even for the boys at Wapping.

Categories: churnalism, The Times