Search topics on this blog

Google+ Badge

Showing posts with label Rupert Murdoch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rupert Murdoch. Show all posts

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Press, the FM and Murdoch

A few weeks ago I thought I detected a new dawn of balanced comment and objectivity in the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. I dismissed the sceptics on the nationalist side who questioned the durability of such a shift as ungenerous. If there are words to be eaten, I’m eating them over the last week in the press.

The panting eagerness with which the Scottish unionist print media – that is to say, all of them - seized upon what they saw as an opportunity to attack the man they fear will deliver Scotland’s independence was something to behold. A crumb of information from the Leveson Enquiry table was enough to set them scrabbling on the floor, ignoring the feast above them being consumed by the UK press and media – a scandal that struck at the very heart of the Cameron Coalition.

Kate Higgins has made trenchant comments on this, and her blog says it all -

Burdzeyeview - Scottish Labour grubbing ...

I expected the unionist press pack and Johann Lamont to seize on this. What I did not expect was that respected, normally objective and in some cases independence-supporting commentators would also join the pack, in an attempt to take a  high moral tone over the devil incarnate, Murdoch, while ignoring completely the realities of the present economic situation, the Scottish unemployment rate, the despair of the young unemployed, and the pragmatism required of senior politicians when faced with this most fundamental of problems.

Civic Scotland has gone to sleep

Salmond, Murdoch and crony capitalism

Iain Macwhirter loses cool on BBC

In fairness, Gerry Hassan did address big economic questions the following day Beginnings of an alternative Scotland and Gerry is a big thinker and paints on a broad canvas.

But to make the big changes tomorrow, a country has to survive today, and Scotland is fortunate in having a First Minister who combines pragmatism on the demands of quotidian survival with a big vision for Scotland.

A look across the Atlantic shows that an intellectual like Obama, with the first real vision for America in a long time, had to come to terms with the realities of power, influence and the survival of the US economy.

POSTSCRIPT

I had planned a larger blog on ‘Scotland Rebuilt’, but it will have to wait till tomorrow – or later.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Hackergate - Delegation and abdication

Yesterday’s select committee enquiries revealed rather more than most media commentators seemed to think, and that perhaps says a lot about the nature of press and media comment in the UK today.

There were many fulsome tributes paid to the reputation and integrity of those on the receiving end of the interrogation, especially the senior police officers, tributes that came mainly from themselves. I use the word fulsome in its correct meaning as excessive, cloying or insincere, not in the sense used by our semi-literate journalists and media pundits. I must invoke Shakespeare yet again: Hamlet asks his mother the Queen how she likes the play, to which Gertrude replies “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”, using protest in the contemporary sense of affirm or profess.

My experience of true integrity in my life is that no man or woman of integrity ever asserts their own integrity - they demonstrate it by their actions and leave it to others to judge it.

The other fascinating aspect of the two enquiries was the way in which those being interrogated chose to interpret their managerial roles, especially in relation to decision-making, delegation and the acceptance of assurances. Without exception, they appeared to adopt instinctively -and perhaps unwittingly - what I call analogously, and with no suggestion whatsoever of criminality, some of the Mafia Godfather principles of management.

The Seven Godfather Principles of management are designed as a firewall against accountability or responsibility for personal actions to an external authority. They are not, of course, the actual operating practices or principles of Mafia Dons and capi de regime - they are designed for external perception and consumption only. They are -

THE 7 PRINCIPLES

1. I believe implicitly everything I am told by my subordinates and professional advisers, and never feel any requirement to check, cross check or verify the veracity of what I am told.

2. I delegate responsibility absolutely and completely, and any failure by the person to whom I delegate is entirely down to them, not to me.

3. I never monitor employee performance or compliance with policy or procedural directives, but I punish failure instantly when it is pointed out to me by third parties, or events leave me no choice but to recognise it. I am never, ever reluctant to blame others for failure.

4. I ensure, by whatever means possible, that I am never told anything that in any way could call my decision-making into question at a later date, or make me accountable or responsible for the actions of a subordinate.

5. When receiving advice to aid my decision-making, I require a single recommended course of action for me to take, even if the adviser has identified a range of options. I dislike intensely having to choose between a range of options, because such a choice would make me responsible, instead of the adviser.

6. I always recognise as mine decisions that produce successful outcomes. I never recognise as mine decisions that produce unsuccessful outcomes - they were, effectively, the decisions of my advisers, which I accepted because I had no choice but to do so, because I trusted the adviser absolutely and uncritically.

7. My memory is strangely and bafflingly selective - I have total recall, usually backed up by detailed documentation and contemporaneous notes, of anything that supports my decisions and my integrity, but I am frequently unable to recall matters that could call my decisions or integrity into question, I never take contemporaneous notes on such matters, and documents relating to them unaccountably disappear.

-------

Since none of those appearing before the committee were criminals, and indeed, were people of the highest probity, reputation and integrity - we have their unequivocal word for it - we must accept that the apparent adoption of some of the above principles - inferred from their answers to questions - actually  did reflect their true management behaviour and operating principles, or at least that of some of them.

But this leads me, at least, to the inevitable conclusion that, if they actually did operate in this way, they would have be grossly incompetent and unfit for the high offices they occupy, since the Godfather Principles set out above are a denial of all modern management standards of competence and accountability.

I am therefore faced with the paradox that, if I am to retain faith on the police and in the Press, neither explanation satisfies me.

Even more worrying is that David Cameron and his government appears to either want us to believe that they are operating under such principles, or worse still, actually are …

Since most journalists and media commentators are direct professional contributors, and with few exceptions, have never managed large-scale operations, we can expect little insight from them on such arcane matters - as they used to say in the auld Glesca, “they couldnae run a menage …”

I await today’s Parliamentary debate with a mixture of anticipation and trepidation.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Sheridan: Yesterday the verdict – today the inquest

I would categorise the polarities of the reactions – media and individual - to the verdict in the Tommy Sheridan perjury trial as follows -

1. Justice has been served – he brought it upon himself.  Sheridan was undoubtedly guilty. Perjury is a serious offence, and has the capacity to seriously damage the criminal justice system – it must be feel the full force of the law and be punished severely. It was not a political trial – it was public money well spent.

2. It was a political trial – a show trial – designed to satisfy News International, Rupert Murdoch, those who detest socialists of whatever ilk, and it was also a valuable smokescreen to cover the much more serious questions hanging over Andy Coulson, former editor of the NotW, now a senior advisor in the ConLib Government, over the phone tapping scandal by the News of the World. Tommy Sheridan is innocent of all the charges brought against him. There was a wide-ranging conspiracy to bring him down, one that included most of his former Scottish Socialist Party colleagues, News International, the Scottish Police and the Scottish justice system.

The truth, as always, probably lies somewhere in between, and that is the area I find myself in, much as I would like to be absolutely clear-cut in my view.

Let’s try to nail a few things down …

Did Tommy Sheridan bring it upon himself?

Leaving aside for the moment the question of his guilt or innocence (the Law has spoken but in a free country we may express our doubts over its verdict), Tommy Sheridan faced two crucial decision points – one when the News of the World’s made allegations about his private life, and the second when the Crown Office launched a prosecution for perjury against him and his wife, Gail Sheridan.

The original choice was to either ignore or contest the NotW allegations. To ignore them would undoubtedly have cost him his leadership of the SSP, and perhaps ultimately his parliamentary seat, but he could have survived that, diminished but not destroyed. His enemies would have claimed that his failure to contest the allegations was tantamount to an admission of guilt. His wife, the staunchly loyal - and in my book, wholly admirable - Gail Sheridan, would have stood by her husband. He could have rebuilt his career, perhaps with a new, Jack-the-Lad dimension to it, and could even have enhanced a media profile.

THE ORIGINAL CHOICE

If Tommy knew the allegations were true, he was extremely unwise to pit himself against the Murdoch empire, and in choosing to do so, he was following the paths of Aitken and Archer, both of whom destroyed their political careers and were imprisoned as a result of their choice. Only cynical self-interest, the instincts of a gambler and vanity could have led him to contest allegations that he knew were true.

If Tommy was innocent of the charges, then given his personality and the core of his political convictions, he was inevitable going to engage in the fight, even though the risks were appalling.

My advice to him, regardless of his guilt or innocence of the charges would have been – don’t do it, Tommy.

Nobody expected him to win, and there is some evidence that he did not expect to win against such a powerful adversary. Although he trumpeted his win in typical barnstorming, populist style, he must have known the inevitability of what would follow. The die had been cast, and a 21st century tragedy was about to unfold.

THE SECOND CHOICE

The second choice was whether or not to defend himself against the perjury charges laid by the Crown. Here, in my view, he had no real choice, whatever his private knowledge of guilt or innocence – he had to defend himself. To suggest as some have done, that he should not have defended himself to save the public purse the expense of a trial is utter nonsense. It is the legal system and the nature of the police investigations that create these enormous costs, estimated at £1m for the police investigation and £4m for the trial.

Sheridan was facing the inevitability of prison and crippling costs that would lead to bankruptcy. In my view, he had to fight, guilty or innocent. Most importantly, it would have been a betrayal of his wife’s unflinching loyalty and commitment to give up. There was no way back.

 

SHOULD THE PROSECUTION HAVE BEEN INITIATED AND HAS JUSTICE BEEN SERVED?

I say no to both questions. It should have been left to News International to decide what their remedies were after losing the initial civil action for damages.

Perjury, an offence that is committed countless times in every court daily throughout the land, is almost never prosecuted, and the egregious exceptions to this have been political – notably the Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer (Baron Archer of Weston-super-Mare) perjury prosecutions.

In both these case, the prosecutions were justified by the rationale that these were powerful politicians and public figures – both Tories – who could not be seen to flout the law. Jonathan Aitken was seen as a future Prime Minister: Archer was a life peer and had been Chairman of the Conservative Party.

The same arguments and justification have been applied to the Sheridan prosecution. Why therefore was it wrong to prosecute him?

My answer is that in the Aitken and Archer cases, only they had been accused of perjury – in the first Sheridan trial, the Crown believed that many witnesses must have perjured themselves, but they only chose to prosecute Tommy and Gail Sheridan? Why not the others? Why not the ones who had testified against Sheridan? Why was a police investigation launched that appeared to focus solely on the Sheridans?

Secondly, the context in which a prosecution would have to be launched implied a political witch hunt, and some would say, a political smokescreen for the much more serious allegations against Andy Coulson, the former editor of the NotW, and now an influential man in Government, right-hand man to the Prime Minister.

All of this was taking place against a background where the very foundations of British democracy had been shaken by the expenses scandal, and were arguably being undermined by the concentration of power and influence in one media empire, News International, one that was seeking to extend its grip over news media by the BSkyB taekover.

And who would be the central players in a perjury prosecution against Tommy Sheridan?

News International’s flagship paper, the News of the World, and its former editor, now ConLib Government spinner-in-chief, Andy Coulson.

Where did the public interest lie under these circumstances, and where did the other, shadowy interests lie? In a time of economic stringency, was it wise or prudent to divert substantial police resource to investigating allegations of three-in-a-bed sex? To incur a cost of millions to the public purse for a long-drawn out show trial?

I close with a clip from last night’s BBC documentary on the case – a police interrogation of Gail Sheridan. These interrogation tapes appear to have been freely released to the BBC by the police, with what motive I cannot fathom.

But this excerpt is both damning and shaming in my view. It shows Gail Sheridan, a young mother, devoutly religious, deprived of her rosary beads, trying to act on the advice of her lawyers to exercise her absolute right not to answer questions.

Faced with her quiet determination to remain silent in the intimidating circumstances, after years of intolerable pressure on her and her family, in a bare room, the police interrogator virtually accuses her of having been trained in terror suspect techniques to avoid looking at the interrogator.

He refers to people “just like yourself” who have been held under the Terrorism Act for a period of seven days, “and that is the kind of activity I would expect from them. It is a recognised PIRA, IRA whatever – form of terrorism technique.” He waits, then asks “Who has trained you in the technique?”

And they say this was not a political trial …


Friday, 8 October 2010

Coulson, Murdoch, News of the World – a threat to our democracy?

I plan to say something more substantial on this worrying topic, based on the terrifying revelations in Channel Four’s recent Dispatches programme, but meanwhile, Question Time had some highly relevant exchanges on the matter.

I noted the irony that Max Mosley – whose political opinions I respect – took on the News of the World and won over his private life, in marked contrast to poor Tommy and Gail Sheridan, who took them on and won what looks like being a Pyrrhic victory, and a very short-lived one at that. Whatever the truth of the Sheridan affair, he appears not to have helped himself or his loyal wife by the way he handled it.

Whatever he did or didn’t do, my sympathies lie with him and Gail, not with the News of the World.

His political career is in ruins, and that small, but sometimes worthy and idealistic segment of the voice of working people is wrecked along with him. With friends like Tommy had, who needs enemies?

But there always appears to be that Achilles Heel in extreme left politics. It’s sad …

Apropos Mosley and Sheridan, I am reminded of the remark of an American boss of mine once when someone commented on the sexual pecadilloes of a colleague - "Well, Pete, the best guys always have trouble keeping their pecker in their pants ...". He probably reprised that opinion when President Bill Clinton was having some little local difficulties.