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Showing posts with label Sunday Herald. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sunday Herald. Show all posts

Sunday, 4 May 2014

JOURNALISTS, NEWSPAPERS AND MEDIA – and my expectations of them

I expect journalists to be objective, but not neutral. I expect news reporting to be factual, and not to spin the facts, but I do not expect balance, e.g. if there are ten facts that day for one side of an argument and five for another, I don’t expect the journalist to trawl for another five facts to achieve ‘balance’.

I expect a sharp distinction to be made between news reporting and commentary. I never expect neutrality, only objectivity. I expect individual journalists to have a viewpoint and an interpretation of events. I accept that entire newspapers and magazines have a viewpoint, a position, and editors that identify with that position, providing they observe good journalistic practice in relation to factual reporting and veracity.

I deeply distrust newspapers and periodicals where the viewpoint is that of the owners, rather than the journalist.

I am not, and never have been a journalist, and I have never worked for a newspaper or magazine in any capacity, nor in media. I believe strongly in a free press and media, especially in print journalism and public service broadcasting.

Sunday Herald 4th May 2014

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Scottish press – contrasts between Scotland on Sunday and Sunday Herald

THE MILITARY/INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

The MOD gravy train, a money-making machine for civil servants and career politicians that functions as a vehicle of death for inadequately equipped servicemen and women, an arm of government that is apparently incompetent and not fit for purpose, yet one that displays superb competence at enriching the politicians who have held senior posts in defence - notably senior Scottish Labour politicians - who wind up with directorships and lucrative consultancies in arms-related industries, and the senior civil servants who spin gleefully through the door to similar appointments.

(If you doubt this, examine the biographies of former defence secretaries, defence ministers, senior MOD civil servants, former NATO officials, etc.)

The Fox/Werrity affair briefly and embarrassingly lifted the veil, a veil that was rapidly dropped again as the Establishment closed ranks.

Today, the Telegraph - Ministry of Defence civil servant awarded £86,000 bonus with the sub-header Ministry of Defence civil servants have been awarded £40 million in bonuses despite fierce criticism of the department.

Search in vain for this Telegraph story in the Scottish Press today – if they didn’t know about it, they should have. But it doesn’t quite fit with David Cameron extolling the virtues of the UK and defence …

The Sunday Herald and Scotland on Sunday provide interesting contrasts today.Here are two Sunday Herald stories - 'Lives at risk' from poor nuclear safety regimes at Trident bases on Clyde and Anger at LibDems over Devo secrecy ruling

Search in vain for them in Scotland on Sunday – they don’t quite fit the narrative of that increasingly sad paper, although maybe they have or will appear, buried away somewhere.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Booze – and VOX POP, Sunday Herald version

Don’t forget my little credo on the referendum – read here Google Docs and download and send to whoever you think appropriate if you agree with it. The SNP defence policy statement, reproduced here in my blog late last night, contains a voting mechanism on nuclear issues – go to the site and cast your vote for Scotland’s future - SNP defence and nuclear policy

 

THE BOOZE –  and “a nice glass of rosé after work”

The Herald and The Scotsman are both panicking about the SNP Government’s measures to combat the twin – and related – Scottish curses of alcohol abuse and sectarianism. Show me a violent bigot and I’ll show you a drunk. They are caught between a rock and a hard place – they must pretend to condemn alcohol abuse and sectarianism, but are terrified that the SNP’s measures might actually succeed in addressing these these ancient evils, because both abuses operate against the Scottish people developing a real national consciousness and democratic will for freedom and independence.

The enthusiasm with which both papers last week seized upon a ‘spontaneous’ demonstration’ - complete with large and elaborately crafted anti-SNP banners - by a small group of old firm ‘fans’ who wanted to protect their right to bellow out sectarian chants - in the name of freedom of expression and sport, God help us – was contemptible.

And today, we have The New Sunday Herald, with an ambivalent front page – Canning the drinks ban – which develops into a thinly-disguised attack on the SNP’s legislative measures to combat cheap booze promotions by supermarkets. Jackie Baillie, Labour, that stout defender of the rights of of Scottish people to have WMDs on their doorsteps and to be protected from any measures that might really help them to stop destroying themselves with cheap hooch, appears rapidly on the scene, accompanied by her sister-in-arms in these matters, Mary Scanlon, Tory, both anxious to shift the attack on alcohol abuse from minimum pricingwhich will work - back to the booze barons preferred measures, empty exhortations to behave better (called ‘changing behaviour’) – which manifestly has never worked, and never will work.

Both these women are their party’s Spokeswoman for Health, rather as Tony Blair is Peace Envoy for the Middle East.

The Sunday Herald also wandered into the streets with a camera and picked entirely at random six young Scots who are against the legislation, who all ‘like a nice glass of rosé after work’, or its equivalent, and feel they are being unfairly penalised by the legislation. They even managed to find a nurse who seemed to be against the legislation, although her views are rather confusing – if reported accurately – since her opening remark calls for ‘an overall ban on low booze prices’, but she feels that ‘it’s ridiculous and might extenuate (sic) other problems in the NHS …” and concludes with The Scotsman’s, The Herald’s, the Tory and Labour spokeswomen for Health’s and the booze business and supermarkets’ favourite solution – ‘dealing with the root cause, by educating people from school level.’ The only thing missing from the nightmare scenario was crazed latte drinkers, driven mad by caffeine.

The Sunday Herald, with no sense of irony, called this ‘sample’ of public opinion VOX POP. Well, I suppose a ‘nice glass of rosé ‘ is as close to pop as you’ll get from a supermarket’s alcohol shelves.

This randomly selected group must be congratulated for standing alone against the consensus of the BMA, the nursing profession, the police, health workers, alcohol and harm reduction workers, etc. who supported minimum pricing and control of price as a desirable and significant move to combat alcohol abuse.

I will find it hard to sleep tonight, thinking of the sad plight of of those unable to afford a nice glass of rosé after work because of this legislation, not to mention those other oppressed Old Firm consumers of rosé at Ibrox or Celtic Park, no longer able to brandish a wee bottle of Mateus on the terracing or bellow out sectarian songs as they wave the flags of nations other than Scotland. And I will spare a tear for the directors and senior managers of Tesco, crouching round an oil lamp, down to their last few million pounds, as they weep inconsolably over the 0.3% impact on their profits, and desperately try to think up new ways to circumvent the law and democratic government.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Margaret Jaconelli and Glasgow City Council - last chance saloon

This is the text of a letter to the Herald, which they have not published. There may be many reasons, including legal ones for that editorial decision, and it is one they have a right to make.

UNPUBLISHED LETTER TO THE HERALD

Next week (20th January) Margaret Jaconelli's final appeal against Glasgow City Council's compulsory purchase of her home and eviction order to clear the way for the development of the Commonwealth Games site is scheduled to go to a Court hearing. It will be preceded by a meeting with Glasgow City Council on the 18th, presumably to attempt to reach a last minute settlement before the Court hearing

If this decision goes against Margaret, a Scottish grandmother simply trying to get an equitable price for her tenement home, she will be faced with crippling legal costs which will destroy her economically and emotionally.

Her basic position as I understand it is to get a price that will enable her to buy a roughly comparable property in an area of her choice, and to have all legal costs of that purchase met.

Meanwhile, developers have reaped rich rewards from land purchase and re-sale deals with Glasgow Corporation, by a process of negotiation - exactly what Margaret appears to be being denied .

A gross inequity and perhaps a tragedy for an ordinary Glaswegian is in the making here, and it will leave a sad legacy hanging over the Commonwealth Games.

Where are the rich Glasgow firms, the entrepreneurs and the sports personalities who will reap rich benefits from the Games while the interests of the little people are threatened in this way?

Do the Scottish Government and the Labour Party want to enter their Holyrood election campaigns with this injustice hanging over them?

What are the elected representatives of Margaret Jaconelli and the others four claimants doing while this juggernaut of big business and celebrity sport rolls over ordinary, vulnerable people?

Make no mistake, this will be some politician's Crichel Down, indeed the Crichel Down scandal brought down a government minister and almost a government, leading to the Crichel Down rules, now probably outdated half a century on, in this brutal, uncaring, greedy society.

This case should be the subject of mediation, not cold, unfeeling legalistic procedures, with all the aces in the hands of Glasgow City Council and the developers. The amount of money required to settle is minuscule in relation to the huge budgets and profits of the Games.

For God's sake, Glasgow - doing the right thing is the right thing to do!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sunday, Sunday and the gentlemen of the Scottish press

Let’s start with a couple of laughs, because there’s not many to come …

The long-running lethal farce called ‘The Coalition’s War against Terror in Afghanistan’ descends even further into the absurd as a top Taliban honcho, Akhtar Mohammed Mansour meets President Karzai and top Nato commanders. This is it, the tipping point, when the tide will turn, the West will be vindicated, the light at the end of the long dark tunnel of death and futility shines brightly, and Western values and culture will at last prevail in this benighted land.

The secret negotiations take place, the Mullah is feted, and leaves carrying oodles of goodwill cash. The world will soon be safe for democracy, Nato/US style.

But there’s bad news for Barack Obama and David Cameron. The Mullah wasn’t the Mullah after all, but The Conman from Quetta (in Pakistan) – a grocer - and he has simply vanished with the cash. The real Taliban fall about laughing in their hideouts in the mountains, Karzai, safe amidst his own mountains of coalition cash, shrugs philosophically, and the American military commanders utter unprintable - and most unchristian - oaths as they reflect on their future career prospects.

The Sunday Herald’s Tom Gordon, scratching around for anti-SNP stories to fill the gaps left by the dearth of real journalism at the Herald and the Sunday Herald - twin house organs of the Labour Party in Scotland - lights on the Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill and a ‘story’ about the sybaritic highlife enjoyed by Scotland’s prisoners, already lying on beds of down, attended by maidens bearing grapes, soothed by soft music as they revel in the luxuries of incarceration in Scotland’s jails.

They are going to get flat screen TVs with built-in DVD players. This is bad enough, but – shock, horror – the Freeview tuners will be able to access the many porn channels now available. Why does this matter? Why will it be a gift to Richard Baker, Labour’s justice spokesperson, starved of raw meat since the Megrahi release?

Delicacy inhibits me from being too explicit, especially on a Sunday morning – let me just say that, for those with a long memory, it has something to do with rhyming slang and a film maker from the heyday of British filmmaking – J. Arthur Rank. I look forward with keen anticipation to Richard Baker putting his little mouth in gear at precisely the same moment that he puts his brain in neutral on this most sensitive of subjects. Perhaps he will link his indignant assault with the dangers of prisoners going blind. I think we should be told …

Bill Aitken, MSP has predictably already sounded off on this weighty matter – there is never a shortage of Tory rent-a-mouths to comment on justice matters.

Of course, the cold facts of the matter are safely tucked away at the end of the article, remote from the rabble-rousing and misleading headline and opening nonsense, something that has now become the Herald’s signature style, seamlessly replacing the objective investigative political journalism that used to characterise one of the world’s oldest English language newspapers. When Labour and the Union are threatened, anything is admissible.

TVs have been the norm in Scottish prison cells since 1999: this is simply an upgrade from CRT sets to the new, cheap flat screens with built-in DVDs as a routine inclusion. But with that money, Labour and the Tories could have bought whips, birches, thumbscrews, pincers, tongs, perhaps even budget-priced racks! It’s an outrage!

FISCAL MATTERS

The strange ways of the Sunday Herald with hard news is demonstrated clearly today over fiscal matters – the tartan tax row and the Calman proposals – or what’s left of them.

Contrast the approach taken by Scotland on Sunday with the Sunday Herald -

SoS lead article today -

‘Retreat’ on new Scots tax powerstwo levies not included in next Scotland Bill

Eddie Barnes’ opening paragraph encapsulates what has happened -

Two tax powers that were destined to be handed to MSPs will not now appear in ground-breaking new laws designed to create a stronger Scottish Parliament.”

On page two, Barnes develops the theme under the sub-header Scotland Bill to leave out key Tax powers. The tax powers are “less ambitious than first proposed”. The SNP position and comments is fairly and objectively reported, with the Party claiming that the proposals fall far short of what is needed, that they are half-baked and damaging to the Scottish economy.

In other words, this  is Calman minus – a hollow and ominous echo of Tavish Scott’s vainglorious posturing about Calman Plus.

But in the Sunday Herald? Buried away at the bottom of page four, we have a small headline Bill to give Holyrood new income tax powers, and a couple of hundred words which grudgingly include the following, by Tom Gordon Scottish political editor.

The Scotland Bill will omit several Calman ideas. including devolving the aggregates levy, which could raise £50 million a year, and air passenger duty, which could raise £100m.”

Well, not a lot on this fundamental issue for Scotland, Tom, but then you had to save your energies for a full-blown attack on the SNP and John Swinney (backed up by a Leader article) – The Week it all went wrong on page 20. Here, our heroically objective political editor, in what is an opinion article in the guise of political analysis, devotes an entire page to a non-issue – the tartan tax – and the attempt at the political lynching of a decent man of high integrity that disgraced our Parliament last week.

Here are a few choice examples of Tom Gordon’s objective journalism and political analysis -

After what I can only describe as a faintly contemptible lead-in referring the John Swinney’s three-week old son, Gordon opens with -

Within 48 hours, he would be denounced and vilified, and within a week he would be forced into a grovelling apology at  Holyrood.”

You got it right about the denunciation and vilification, Tom – a sad hysteria that Patrick Harvie had the good grace to try to offset by  his genuine tribute to the Finance Minister, as he belatedly realised that he had become part of a political lynch mob. Describing John Swinney’s dignified and clear apology as ‘grovelling’ is a patent distortion of the facts, as anyone who watched and heard it knows. (I have the clip and I will post it on YouTube).

First Iain Gray, in probably his finest turn as Labour Leader, accused Swinney …”

If that was his finest turn, God preserve us from his worst performance.

In the last column, there is a long list of what the Sunday Herald sees as the sins of the SNP government, then this, from Tom Gordon -

Suddenly the gilt is peeling off the administration, and the opposition sees it.

‘This raise the whole issue of competence,’ sighed one senior SNP source. ‘It all came across as shabby. We’re supposed to have a team you can trust, but they were keeping people in the dark’ “

Ah, the ubiquitous ‘unnamed source’, Tom. What would your brand of political reporting be without it.

Well, two can play that game, Tom …

My unnamed source Holyrood Unionist opposition politician says “Even by our standards of desperately trying to marginalise the government elected by the Scottish people, regardless of their real needs, this was a new low in gutter politics – an attempt at the political assassination of a good man with the interests of Scotland and the Scottish people at his heart.



CALMAN

Let’s look back in time for a moment and remind ourselves just what the Calman Commission was. Here’s what I said way back in the summer of 2009 -

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Playing Unionist politics with Calman

The Calman Commission, an invention of the Unionist Opposition Parties in Holyrood, specifically set up to strengthen the Union and frustrate the progress of the Scottish People towards full independence, has made its report.

Anyone who doubted the thrust of the Calman Report only had to look at who commissioned it (the Unionist Opposition Parties) and the composition of the Commission itself.

Its fifteen members included -

Two Knights

Five Lords

One MBE

Three CBEs

One OBE

The three non-ennobled, knighted or gonged members included -

A youth activist and former member of the Scottish Youth Parliament

A professor of Islamic studies from Glasgow University

The Chief Executive of the Telegraph Media Group

 

CONSULANTS

I do go on a bit about the monumental waste of scarce taxpayers’ money by government on consultants. Well, I made my living for about twelve years as a freelance management consultant and trainer, and before that, as a senior manager and director, negotiated with consultants, so I’ve seen the game from both sides of the table.

But nobody in government seems to want to listen. I wonder why …

Today, the trams project is in trouble over consultants, and TIE says that they underestimated their consulting budget spending by a factor of 25 times. Yes, well …

Here’s a little fact to chew over -

The average industrial wage is somewhere around £21k, and that is also the watershed at which the pay freeze for public sector workers commences. Let’s allow a little licence and call it about £400 a week.

About the lowest day rate a consultant will charge these days is £500 a dayyes, a day … This would be the low end of individual freelance consulting rates, with £750 probably being more typical, and £1200/1500 quite common. But charge-out rates for the large consulting firms can easily be double these figures or even more, with £1000 a day being very much the low end.

Reflect on this. The bottom end trainers and consultants earn in a day one and a quarter times the average industrial wage. So their weekly earnings are six and a quarter times those public service workers who by current wage restraint figure highly enough paid to have their earning frozen, with no increases – in the national interest. And that’s the bottom end of consulting rates.

But the big consulting firms charge from twice to four or five times that as day rates, giving a multiplier on the £21k public service worker of twelve and a half to twenty five times their earnings.

Consultants and consulting firms can – and will – legitimately argue that they have overheads – office, pensions, holiday, other costs and benefits – and that not every day is a fee earning day. This is true, but it is grossly overstated. A generous allowance to cover all employee benefits would be 20/25% for an individual freelance consultant.  There is cold calling and marketing when no fee is being earned, and this does bear on the freelance. But they do very nicely, thank you, in spite of it all …

A net working, fee earning year of about 150 delivery days (as against say, a working year of  about 230 days for an employed person) would deliver £75,000 gross. Not bad for many of those at that end of the market, given their experience, qualifications and skills base. Most freelances would gross from £100k to £150k per annum , some much more, especially if they can get long periods of continuous fee-earning days from large public service organisations.

As for the big boys – well, the holy grail for them is to bill more fee days per consultant than there actually are in the working year – a holy grail that is regularly found, but rarely acknowledged. And many of them do not in fact maintain large numbers of salaried consultants on the payroll – they sub-contract out to freelances, but charge the client often as much as three times the day rate being paid to the freelance. (I myself have worked for many large organisations on exactly this basis.)

It’s called the fee law of thirds – the day rate paid by the client represents something like three times the rate they would have to pay to hire someone with equivalent qualifications and skills to do the job in-house, including all overheads.

What am I arguing for? Not for stopping the use of consultants – there are many ethical, competent and capable consultants and consulting firms, delivering value and charging reasonable fees. But there is also gross incompetence in resourcing consultants, in the failure to use competitive tendering, in the negotiation of fee and in the management of consulting contracts and delivery. If private industry is guilty of this, hell mend them – they should know better. But when government does it, it’s our money – our taxes – and it has to stop.

There are other malpractices in the use of consultants, some of them bordering on corruption – the use of consulting contracts as political patronage, of cronyism, of revolving doors, of jobs for the favoured boys – and girls.

But they are a matter for the National Audit Office and where appropriate for the polis!

Friday, 5 February 2010

The Herald vacancy ad for an Editor in Chief

The Herald is still at it today over the Holyrood lunches thing, but has been forced by journalistic realities to cover the massive Westminster expenses scandal.

On the Appointments page, the Herald and Times Group are advertising for an editor in chief. This is a typical example of HR (Human Resources) jargon, a series of boiler plate banalities that could have been applied to any senior job, anywhere, anytime, and which say little if anything about what the Herald really needs at this critical point in its long history - a proud history up until the time it surrendered itself to the dubious attentions of New Labour and Gordon Brown.

As an old HR professional, I regret to say that I have produced stuff like this early in my career, and the gruesome style is all too familiar to me. A few examples ...

Para One is fine - straightforward and factual, a simple description of the role.

Para Two starts well enough, albeit with a statement of the blindingly obvious - they are looking for an experienced editor and manager with a sound knowledge of all aspects of a modern newspaper. Well, we guessed that from the job title, but I suppose it had to be said.

From there on in, it is pure HR-speak - meaningless guff

I won't quote - if you have the stomach for it, read it yourself. Applications to Tim Blott, MD. Presumably he hasn't read the ad, and is unaware that an opportunity has been missed to actually say what the Herald needs from the successful candidate.

I want to help the Herald - it is, with all its failings, my newspaper, and has many qualities, reminders of what once made it a great newspaper. It has a wonderful, vibrant letters column, throbbing with the true spirit of Scotland, where highly articulate contributors debate vigorously the real issues facing Scotland today, contributors who in the main are better informed than the journalists, have a sound grasp of the English language and who know how to present a cogent argument.

So let me offer the Herald and Tim Blott -completely free of charge - an alternative specification for their recruitment ad.

EDITOR - THE HERALD EDITOR IN CHIEF
Applications are invited for the position of Editor of The Herald/Editor in Chief of the Herald and Times Group.

The Herald is the oldest English language newspaper in the world and once ranked with the Guardian as a regional newspaper with a reputation that extended far beyond its nominal geographical boundaries. Just as the Guardian's voice resonated far beyond Manchester and the north of England, the Herald spoke authoritatively to a far wider audience than Glasgow and the West of Scotland. It spoke for the nation of Scotland, and to the huge diaspora of Scots worldwide.

Its journalistic standards were second to none, and it exemplified the rigorous objectivity and freedom of expression that constitute the heart of a great newspaper. Regrettably these standards have slipped badly in the last twenty years or so, and the Herald has succumbed to the insidious political pressures exerted by a complacent and corrupt Labour Party, pressures that intensified as Scottish Labour became the core driving force in the United Kingdom Government in the Blair/Brown axis of expediency. Put simply, the Herald was sucked into the moral vacuum created by this terrifying, values-free political machine.

The new editor must be capable of coming to grips with this inexorable decline, a decline that has seen the line between comment and factual news blurred to the point of invisibility. He or she must have the fortitude to force open the deadly grip of a Scottish establishment that will resort to any measures to secure their own dominance, wealth and power at the expense of the Scottish people, and the journalistic integrity to fearlessly investigate and report on the real issues that face the Scottish nation at this pivotal point in its history. In particular, the new editor must not become the creature of the Scottish Office and the career politicians who hold the discredited post of Scottish Secretary, a role that for generations has spearheaded the conspiracy to keep Scotland, its people, its language and its culture in a subordinated, devalued relationship to the failing rump of a dying empire.

In cleansing the stables, the new editor must recognise and reflect the complex interests and forces within Scottish society, and must beware of falling into the embrace of another hegemony, whether nationalist or unionist, religious or secular.

But if he or she holds fast to the model developed across the globe by truly great newspapermen and women, that of a burning desire to report the world as it is, rather than as powerful interest groups would like it to be presented, and an iron resolve to resist the seductive or intimidatory pressure of these group, the Herald can root out injustice in Scotland, show the people the truth about their world and empower them with the information to offer their verdict at the ballot box on how they want to be governed.

The Herald, the Sunday Herald and the Evening Times want to halt the slide towards the values of the Hearst empire of old and the Murdoch empire of the present day. If you share our values set out above and believe you can inspire more than 200 journalists and editorial staff to share them and reflect them, we want to hear from you.

Otherwise get lost - head for the simpler, less challenging but ultimately debasing fields of endeavour that may well be more profitable, but which will cost you your journalistic soul.