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Showing posts with label expenses scandal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label expenses scandal. Show all posts

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Don’t get fooled again, Springburn – look at Labour’s record and weep…

I wrote this in 2009 after Michael Martin, Labour MP for Glasgow North East and the Speaker of the House of Commons had announced his decision on the 19th of May to resign, to forestall the imminent historic humiliation of being the first Speaker in history to be forced out by a vote of no confidence. I really believed that the electors of Springburn, a district I had known well all my life, would awaken from their fantasy that Labour was on their side.

Not only was I wrong in November 2009 at the by-election, but wrong again at the 2010 General election in May 2010.

Despite all that has since happened, including the ignominious defeat of the hapless Gordon Brown Government, leaving us with the nightmare of the Coalition, the Ashcroft poll shows that Springburn is still set to do it again, lemming-like.

Glasgow North East

But the SNP has a strong candidate in Anne McLaughlin this time, and perhaps the electors will finally learn the lesson that the rest  of Glasgow has – Labour is no longer the people’s party.

Don't get fooled again, Springburn!

 

The 2009  Moridura blog

FRIDAY, 22 MAY 2009 

I wondered just how long it would take for Alf Young of the Herald to decide that a general election would be a bad thing right now, and here he is on cue today saying just that.

For those of you unfamiliar with Alf's deeply coded messages, let me translate - if a general election was announced swiftly, Labour would be wiped out at the polls, the Tories would win  in England, and the rickety United Kingdom would have a Tory government, making it completely unrepresentative of the will of the Scottish people.

The new Westminster government could not then deny the Scottish people a referendum on independence, which would happen around the time of the Scottish Parliamentary election in 2011, with the SNP being returned with a decisive working majority. The likely outcome would be a decisive vote for the freedom of Scotland.

This must not be allowed to happen. In the fantasy world of the Herald, the Scotsman and the Scottish Unionist, the general election must be deferred as long as possible, giving Gordon Brown's corrupt, incompetent, indecisive and rotten administration time - time to recover credibility over the next few months, aided by the full weight of the Scottish unionist press, more defence jobs bribery, more judicious patronage, as many distorted scare stories as can be mustered, and ideally a nice popular, winnable war against some far off country - the Falklands Factor.

But there's a worm in Alf and Labour's apple - it's called Glasgow North East, better known as Springburn, and a by-election is imminent. How imminent?

Well, it could be July, but if Alf's logic is applied, it could be deferred till September or October, and this would sit well with Gordon Brown's electoral cowardice and reflex procrastination instincts.

A recent Channel Four News report covered Springburn and Labour, gained great moral force by being presented by Sarah Smith, the daughter of Labour's lost Leader, John Smith.

Here are a few facts.

Under Labour for generations, and in recent times while its Labour MP, Michael Martin was one of the most powerful politicians in the land, Springburn has

about two and a half times the national rate of unemployment.

life expectancy 12 years lower than more prosperous parts of Scotland.

almost 12% more smokers, and 5% more deaths from smoking than the Scottish average

widespread deprivation and urban decline

The Channel Four documentary quoted an old Springburn joke - "You can't join the Labour Party in Springburn - it's already full!"

But most of the Labour voters questioned said bluntly that that old reflex loyalty could no longer be relied upon.

What Sarah Smith devastatingly stated as "the breach of trust between the party that is supposed to fight for the underprivileged and the people who need it the most" will be in the forefront of Springburn voters minds when they go to the polling stations.

Professor John Curtice of Strathclyde University caught the echoes of the questions from last year's Glasgow East campaign - "What has the Labour Party ever done for this constituency? It's still as impoverished as it ever was ..." Glasgow North East is even more impoverished.

What was Michael Martin doing? He was living in a palatial palace as Speaker, and he was implicated in an expenses system where MPs were making claims related to luxury items of home furnishing when people in Glasgow North East were struggling to get basic, essential items, such as cookers and fridges.

Don't get fooled again, Springburn.

Don't be fooled by politicians who make snap appearances at old ladies's lunch clubs, smile and twinkle, then disappear in a chauffeur-driven hired limousine to grand civic functions and expensive dinners.

Don't be fooled by little successful interventions into small grievances when the main structural decline of your community and your life is accelerating unchecked.

This is not the Labour you knew for so many years, in opposition, fighting against the evil Tories, who could be blamed for everything - this is Labour who have been in government for 12 years, yet have frittered away the resources of the nation and the lives of Scottish servicemen and women in foreign wars, the party that is cutting the Scottish budget for essential services by £500 million pounds while spending fifty times that - £25 billion pounds - on outmoded. irrelevant weapons of mass destruction.

Don't get fooled again Springburn!

Vote for the party of your ain folk, the Scottish National Party.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Better Together in the rotten UK? Naw …

Is Scotland really Better Together in the UK?

In a country where the criminal powerful are rarely called to account? "Once you've broken through a certain membrane of power, whether in politics or in business, you are untouchable ..."

Where politicians condone and facilitate corporate irresponsibility?

Where 'double messages' are given out by senior politicians? "Every government, whichever colour the government is, tries to play a double game" by fund raising from rich bankers while giving out  critical moral messages?

Where there is a 'crisis of legitimacy' in institutions?

Where 'an extraordinarily rich class' avoids its responsibilities?

Where a million children don't have enough to eat, and are malnourished?

The UK is a state in 'a big malaise'. In fact it's rotten to the core of its failing institutions, a conspiracy of wealth and power moving ever further away from the people.

Better Together? With this? Scotland must say YES to its independence in 2014

Is Scotland really Better Together in the UK for defence?

The critical issue is defence - the nuclear 'deterrent', Trident, and the UK's outdated concept of itself as a world power.

Devomax, devoplus, devo-whatever - nothing short of full independence will deliver Scotland from the obscenity - and utter irrelevance - of nuclear weapons - of their fundamental immorality and inhumanity.

Say YES to Scotland's independence, and let our defence forces be truly for defence, not for brutal aggression against other nations.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

TWITTER and politicians - Tweets, sambas,weddings …

There’s a wedding today. Somehow, I can’t raise the same animosity towards it that I felt for the last one. If the happy couple wanted to turn it into a truly popular event, they could exit Canongate Kirk and samba down to Holyrood Palace. Even a crusty old republican like me would turn out for that. But I'll come back to Edmundo in a different context later ...



TWITTER AND MSPs

Alternative media and social media have transformed politics and power structures. We’ve had the Obama campaign and subsequent election, Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and most recently, the Chinese Government being forced into an apology over the rail crash they tried to bury.

Twitter, of course, was initially a rather trivial medium, and in some respects still is - the vacuous celebrity tweeting continues unabated - but there is another side to it, one that was revealed to me by the eye-opening, mind-expanding PiCamp event in Edinburgh last year, for which I am eternally indebted to Mick Fealty of the influential Irish blog Slugger O'Toole.

Politicians and political parties were at first slow to realise Twitter’s potential, but then leapt on the bandwagon, often with risible results. We expected - and got - banality from most celebrities, but when the poverty of the minds of some of our politicians and media commentators was revealed in all its comical inadequacy, some were shocked, including me.

The Scottish political parties (a misnomer, since there is really only one, the SNP) were slower than most, but they got their act together after a fashion, even though for a time they seemed not to have grasped the essence of this new medium of communication. Some still haven’t got a handle on it, and the failure ranges from trivialising the medium to not recognising its manifest dangers.

TWEET TYPES

I have looked at some of the tweets of MSPs and they fall into various types. Here are some examples, taken as typical in their format, but not specific to any particular MSP -

The Political Reporting Tweet:

“Spent the day visiting my constituents in Aberbaldy.”

“Scheduled for evening session on local amenities with residents in Aberbaldy Community Centre.”

The Political Link Tweet:

“You really must read/view Alex McCrumpshy’s piece on independence - see link $%678XZW”

(This type includes retweets of politically relevant material.)

The Political Opinion or viewpoint Tweet:

“I think the Party should redefine its policy on xxxxxxxx.”

“I tend towards the view that we (the Party) should change course on xxxxxxx.”

“I agree with Alex McCrumpshy’s stance on xxxxxxx.”

The Call for Support Tweet:

“Please try to show up for the march against the cuts/in favour of the cuts in George Square on Monday.”

“Make sure you vote YES to the question of xxxxxx.”

“Vote for me!”

The Campaign for an obscure cause safely outside of Scotland Tweet:

“The international artist Arundel Magundel has been imprisoned unjustly in Outer Mongolia because of his opposition to levitation. Please show your support by throwing a cocktail party, and inviting as many middle-class professionals as you can find among your network.”

The Insider Conversation Tweet:

“Had a wonderful time after today’s street campaign in Aberbaldy - thanks for the tea/beer/wine or other unmentionable substance. Big Willie was on top form …”

The Personal Tweet:

“I love cookery programmes on TV”

“Went to see my niece today. My, hasn’t she grown up …”

“Relaxing with a glass of wine after a long hard day.”

“Don’t you just love the Wild Protruding Bagpipers - I think their music should have wider exposure.”

“Had a wonderful meal at Jakie’s themed Meth and CherryBlossom bar/restaurant last night - can’t recommend it enough.”

(This type includes retweets of items with no political relevance whatsoever.)

TWITTER IDENTITIES

There is no problem in having more than one Twitter identity. The choices are more or less infinite, from presenting yourself by real name, by pseudonym, by pseudonym and real name, by organisation, and so on. The political parties are upfront with party identity and sub-categories of that identity, news commentators present themselves either personally under their own name or with news organisation appended, e.g. jonsnowC4 Jon Snow, afneil Andrew Neil.

(I use the dual formulation, moridura Peter Curran and, for example, Peat Worrier LallandsPeatWorrier uses a dual format but preserves anonymity.)

So the choice is how to present yourself, and this choice is an important one - or ought to be - for politicians. Let me focus on Scottish MPs and MSPs.

If you place MP or MSP after your name in a public communication (and tweeting on Twitter is just that) you are calling attention to your role as a public servant.

MP/MSP is not a title, like Dr. before a name, or a qualification after it, e.g. MD, MA, WS, nor is it a title that is part of your name like OBE, MBE, etc. It is a job title, nor more, no less, for an elected office, and if you communicate under that advertised identity, the communication should be directly relevant to it.

An MP or MSP should not behave like a minor celebrity on Twitter, touting music preferences, favourite restaurants, or detailing the minutiae and often trivia of their personal lives.

This, when not done out of misplaced vanity, appears to be an attempt to somehow humanise the politician, to give evidence that they are just ordinary folk. But they are not. When a politician is elected, he or she accepts the onerous responsibility of representing the people effectively. Humanity and compassion is best demonstrated by political action, not by trivial toadying to popular trends and fashions.

The political reporting tweet, the political link tweet, the call for support tweet are all legitimate. The political opinion tweet is regrettably as rare as hen’s teeth from MSPs, who seem to wish to demonstrate as much bland conformity as Blair’s Babes (male or female).

But I could do with a lot less of the Campaign for an obscure cause safely outside of Scotland Tweet: there are more than enough urgent and demanding causes close to home, with vulnerable constituents desperately in need of their MP or MSP’s voice, support and action. Of course such issues, involving as they do real people on your doorstep, such as the abandoned families and businesses of Dalmarnock being destroyed by the Games Juggernaut, involve uncomfortable levels of commitment and some risk to political advancement and preferment, and they won’t be solved by cosy insider cocktail parties - they involve taking a stand, adopting a position.

As for the The Insider Conversation Tweet and the Personal Tweet, well, if you need this kind of thing, do it under a personal identity, not as an MP or MSP, please.

At a time when Scotland is facing desperately challenging and threatening economic challenges, the world’s economy may collapse next Tuesday if the US defaults on its debt repayments, the UK is engage in lunatic foreign adventures that are killing young Scots among many others, and when the question of independence is central to the political debate, I don’t want to hear about your favourite TV programme, or your glass of wine after dinner, nor do I want to follow your cosy insider conversations - I want to know what you are doing and how you are contributing to political solutions.

And to return, as promised, to Edmundo Ros … In the 1950s, the BBC was rather more innocent than it is today. After all, the significance of the news reporter character’s name on The Goon Show - Hugh Jampton - escaped them completely (connoisseurs of Cockney rhyming slang and residents of Hampton Wick understood), so when Edmundo Ros engaged in shameless advertising plugs with rendition of the song Torremolinos, they were blissfully unconcerned. The holiday resort of Torremolinos was discreetly and suitably grateful to Edmundo.

So, with the MPs’ expenses scandal fresh in all our minds, could I ask MPs and MSPs to stop tweeting on the favourite restaurants, watering holes, pop groups etc. under their appellation of MP or MSP. Remain above suspicion - as I am sure you are - by using a purely personal Twitter identity for this stuff. I can then ‘follow’ you in your political identity on Twitter for the real stuff, and ignore your irrelevant chaff.

I, of course, am completely free to do these things, because I am not a public servant on salary and expenses, but just an individual voter, with a viewpoint - and maybe a bit of an attitude …

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Scottish journalism and press standards

PREAMBLE

I’ve been here before, but it seems I must say it all over again …  If you’re not in for a long haul dissertation, leave now! There’s almost 6,000 words ahead of you …

For the record - I am a blogger, not a journalist. And I am partisan - I have a position, and I have no duty to maintain a balance between competing viewpoints. My blog is opinion, not news reporting - it is my highly personal perspective on the news, from the baseline of being anti-nuclear weaponry and nuclear power, and committed to full Scottish independence of the United Kingdom, with no half-arsing over devolution max.

BLOGS AND BLOGGERS

The terms blog and blogger have long ceased to be limited to their original meaning of weblog and weblogger - a chronicler of personal day-to-day events, and kind of online diary. Blogs now range from that original concept through considered opinion pieces, political platforms for politicians and parties, alternative outlets for journalists to extremist rants. I exclude from the term blog those sites that are essentially online newspapers, alternative to the printed media, although some of the more notable ones seem to be in a state of confusion about exactly what they are trying to do. (I am far from immune to that confusion.)

Some, I think, entertain the dream of becoming the Scottish Huffington Post - an admirable target, providing it is not driven by the less admirable objective of being bought out and muzzled for a vast sum by one of the media groups to which they originally offered an alternative, and truer voice.

As I observed in a tweet last night, part of the problem is that some bloggers think they are journalists, and some journalists behave as if they are bloggers. The gulf between a professional journalist and a blogger is very wide indeed, roughly the difference between an enthusiastic and modestly-talented amateur musician and a professional musician - a gap of technique, interpretation and artistic sensibility. Additionally, few bloggers generate material from original sources - they venture opinion pieces on material that has been hard won and expertly produced by the professionals. The few that break this pattern are really journalists who simply use a blog as their own medium for publication, and actually break real stories, meticulously fact-checked and verified.

I am not among that elite group, although I would hope that I am comparable to at least some journalists who offer only opinion pieces, and bluntly, I feel superior to many of them - in research, supporting arguments, literacy and style. But readers of my blog have the final verdict if that judgement is deluded vanity or an accurate self assessment.

JOURNALISTIC STANDARDS, PRACTICES AND THE PRESS AND MEDIA

A look back …

We know who spoke the following words -

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask rather what you can do for your country.”

The man who famously uttered them was John F. Kennedy, the charismatic 35th President of the United Stares of America, in his inaugural speech. But who wrote these words?

The same man who wrote these words -

Kennedy was the first great fraud of the post-modern era. He was the surprised, and grateful object of a mass delusion - he came from a state where electing Irish politicians by fraud was an art form.  His father was a bandit and a profiteer. JFK never won a majority in a national election; it seems likely that the election of 1960 was stolen for him by the Daley machine in Chicago.”

The author of both pieces was Ted Sorenson - speechwriter to Kennedy. The second quote, written many years later, was not the result of the discovery of Kennedy’s feet of clay - Sorenson knew all that when he wrote the immortal first words for Kennedy. He wrote them because that was his job.

Sorenson was not a journalist, he was a lawyer. But many journalists have occupied roles as speechwriters for politicians, and when they accepted that role, they ceased to become journalists, and were freed from the ethical and professional constraints that this vital and noble profession is supposed to abide by. They became ghost writers.

It might be supposed that there would be internationally accepted rules or principles under which journalists operate, but no universal rules or principles exist - opinions, theories and practices vary widely. One would expect governments to have very different views from practising journalists and media proprietors, and especially from public service broadcasters, e.g. the BBC, about what constitutes responsible reporting and comment. But even among those who are completely committed to a free press and media, there are fundamental differences.

The debate is as old as the spoken word, never mind the printed word and modern visual and electronic media, but we may trace the main divide back to America in the 1920s when modern journalism as we know it was born. and some of the conflicting ideas of that hectic decade still resonate today.

The cinema, especially from the advent of sound, was fascinated by the press and the profession of journalism. The adaptation of Ben Hecht’s The Front Page into a movie created a masterpiece of cinema, His Girl Friday(1940).



(There was an earlier verson in 1931 called The Front Page . The remake with Jack Lemmon was also closer to the original story, and was a fine film, because of the superb Lemmon in the Hildy Johnson role, but it never approached the status of the 1940 film.)

Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop in 1938, two years earlier, said just about everything there is to say to this day about being a foreign correspondent and the demands of newspapers on their journalists.

There have been many books and films since, but I would call attention to only one - All the President’s Men (1976) about the breaking of the Watergate story.



If we watch these films, and read the seminal 1920s debates between John Dewey and Walter Lippman, the main issues are all there, and their relevance remains even in the digital age.

On reflection, I will add one almost forgotten film, the 1951 film Ace in the Hole, with Kirk Douglas, as an horrific example of what a cynical journalist  can do with a human interest story involving an underground rescue.



For a modern take on the ethical basis of journalism, try The Elements of Journalism: What Newspeople Should Know and the Public Should Expect by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel. I recommend the book to anyone interested in expanding their understanding of this vital topic.

They initially formulated nine principles for journalism, and later added a tenth; here they are -

1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth.

2. Its first loyalty is to the citizens.

3. Its essence is discipline of verification.

4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover.

5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power.  

6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise.

7. It must strive to make the news significant, interesting, and relevant.

8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional.

9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience.

10. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizens.

Now I can imagine some of the formidable editors of Fleet Street, who were often foul-mouthed, and legendary Scots, often Glaswegians, saying 

Fuck all that crap! The only question is - will the story sell newspapers?”

Lest you be tempted to sympathise with the sentiment, if not the mode of its expression, let me remind you that over the last couple of years we have seen a major story break - except in the newspapers owned by the main proprietors in the scandal, News International - that involved the Royal Family, the Metropolitan Police, the spin doctor and close friend of the Prime Minister, and a legion of celebrities, sportsmen and women, politicians and sundry gandy dancers and railroad men, a still -unfolding tale that threatens the very foundations of a free press, our democracy and law and order - The News of the World/Andy Coulson phone hacking story.

We have seen a widely-respected politician, Vince Cable, become the victim of entrapment by journalists posing as constituents at his constituency surgery, leading him into unguarded remarks, resulting in his being removed from the decision process over whether or not to approve a takeover that would result in an even greater extension of the reach of News International, the very press empire under criminal investigation over phone hacking.

And we must also consider the complex ethical and moral questions over journalism, in its widest sense, that yielded great benefits to UK democracy - the expenses scandal exposure by The Telegraph - and the global benefits, disputed by many, of Wikileaks, which may have been seen to pull the veil away from the cynical foreign policies and realpolitik of the US and UK governments. Some- including me - argue that Wikileaks was a key catalyst for the great freedom movements now convulsing the Middle East dictatorships, although where they will lead is an open question.

WHAT ARE THE CORE QUESTIONS FOR ME ?

I do not pretend that what I have to say here is a comprehensive analysis of every aspect of journalistic practices and ethics - it represents the things that seem important and relevant to me in the context of recent events and Scottish political journalism in particular.

Journalists are not saints - they have never claimed to be saints, they are rarely presented as being the most ethical of beings, and yet their place in our society and our democracy is a fundamental one. We must expect and demand a lot from them, but in return, we must understand the pressures they are under, in a beleagured profession that is undergoing revolutionary and often unpredictable change, and we must support them in whatever way we can to live up to the highest ideals of their profession.

I should also make it clear that I include, under the description journalist, the editors, who, if they are not journalists, have no right to exercise authority over those who actually gather the news, write the reports and venture the opinions. The managerial, legal and financial persons in the media must confine themselves to their areas of special responsibility, but if they are allowed to determine news content then journalism goes out of the window.

The best proprietors have always understood and supported this separation of powers - the worst, from the Hearst Organisation through to the Murdoch Empire have either ignored or distorted and perverted it.

This bears on journalists in two ways -

The salaried staff journalist in a contract of employment (if there are any left!) has little choice but to accept the editorial decision. It might be hoped that where editorial judgements fundamentally and repeatedly breach the principles of journalism that the principled professional would either appeal or offer his or her resignation, or perhaps more likely, quietly prepare an exit path to pastures new, but such decisions, especially for someone with a family, are very difficult to make.

The freelance can either refuse to amend the copy or accept the modification and re-submit. If they refuse to make the changes, they can try to sell their work elsewhere. Nonetheless, since many freelance have extended relationships with the media outlet, even this can be difficult.

The nature of the change required will also determine the response. Professionals generally accept that they do not have a monopoly of wisdom, or a God-given right to have all their work accepted unexpurgated. They may well accept the exclusion of a passage or topic, provided what remains has integrity. One would hope that they would never agree to an inclusion of an element, under their by-line, that they fundamentally disagree with - the “You will write this …” approach.

Let’s start with what a journalist decides - or is instructed - to write about. A freelance may have the relative luxury of deciding what to write about, but within a frame of reference, e.g. politics, Scottish politics, arts, etc. that may be determined by the journalist’s expertise and to some degree by the publication he aims at. Once a freelance might simply have made cold submissions to a various publications, operating as a totally free agent: these days, the freelance might well have a continuous relationship with one publication, and be significantly constrained by the terms of that relationship without actually being in a contract of employment. The control exerted by the publication is a commercial one rather than a contractual one. As a freelance management consultant and trainer, I had such relationship with a number of major clients.

(Since I am not part of the industry, I can only speculate about the nature of such arrangements, and I do not know the exact nature of them for any journalist I refer to in this piece.)

The salaried journalist, on the other hand must be subject to significant direction and constraints on the subject matter chosen, and  the way in which the story is treated, and by definition will have less freedom of choice, being left, as observed above, with only the resignation option on a real crisis of journalistic standards.

SOME OF THE PLAYERS IN THE GAME

Iain Macwhirter, a Scottish journalist for whom I have unqualified admiration, believing him to be one of the very few totally objective voices in the Scottish - and UK - press and media, must have a considerable degree of freedom in what he writes about, otherwise he would never be allowed to say what he does in the unionist-dominated, highly-biased media that forms the bulk of his market. (I have never met Iain Macwhirter, and have no personal connection with him of any kind.)

My belief is that he has that freedom because of the integrity of his journalism, his highly-honed professional skills, the absolute clarity of his style, and because of the access - born out of respect for his objectivity - that he has in political circles. I firmly believe that Iain Macwhirter would never allow anything to appear in print under his name that he did not firmly subscribe to, and that he would reject any attempt to shape or distort his copy.

That does not mean however that he is always able to
say all that he might want to say.
He has to make a living, and, short of retreating into the blogosphere and shouting indignantly from such a marginal position as some have done, he must accept the editorial constraints of his market.

Another example is Ian Bell, also a Herald columnist, for whom I have a slightly qualified admiration. I believe that he speaks the truth, and always the truth as he sees it, and would reject constraints on his capacity to do that. But his core philosophy could be describe as socialist/internationalist - although he may well indignantly reject such a label - and as such, fits reasonably well with the Herald’s support for the Labour Party and the Union.

Ian Bell’s style is always vigorous, with opinions strongly expressed, albeit at times slightly chaotic and not too accessible. My perception is that the Herald nevertheless manages to keep him within their frame of reference by presenting his pieces as opinion pieces in juxtaposition with the highly slanted ‘news’ pieces that increasingly comprise a depressingly large part of their reporting, thus blunting the impact of his always trenchant views and comments.

But he is undoubtedly a significant Scottish voice, and one that I would miss if it were absent. I hope it never is.

Many of the other notable Scottish journalists are firmly, to my eye, within the category of completely committed to a highly specific and usually unionist viewpoint, which happily - for them - coincides with the overt political agenda of the newspapers that give them their living. They are often described as Scottish editors, or Scottish correspondents when they work for newspapers that have a UK reach with a Scottish edition. A more accurate description would be Scottish Unionist editors or correspondents, since their reporting on Scottish political affairs is almost totally slanted to a unionist viewpoint. Much of their output is either a veiled or direct attack on the Nationalist Government, on the SNP and on nationalist aspirations and values.

Perhaps I can illustrate their approach by saying that if there existed a Scottish national newspaper (print medium) wholly committed to the nationalist cause, and I became their Scottish editor or correspondent, with my present blog output, style and agenda unchanged, I would be their equivalent. What I would not be is a journalist, in any true sense of the word, and neither are they.

Put bluntly, they have taken the shilling, and their journalistic values have flown out of the window. They are the equivalent of political spin doctors.

But there are exceptions to this - more than one - but I will name only one, Angus Macleod of The Times. In spite of being a part of News International and the Murdoch empire, I have always found him to conform to the highest standards of objective, professional journalism. Exactly how he is able to achieve this objectivity within the clammy grasp of News International I am at a loss to explain.

Which brings me to another towering media figure, also a Scot, Andrew Ferguson Neil, currently a hugely influential political commentator, host and presenter on the BBC, formerly a high-powered newspaper editor within the Murdoch Organisation (The Sunday Times, Sky, etc.) and a noted Thatcherite. He left News International after an acrimonious fall out with Murdoch, then jumping into the fire from the frying pan, with the Barclay Brothers.

Andrew Neil arouses strong opinions. I cordially detested him during the Thatcher/Sunday Times years, and many still do, as my postbag and email testify. But I have now come to a grudging respect for him in his new BBC roles, because I believe his values as a journalist now come first, whatever his personal politics views may be. He occupies a unique position in BBC and national journalism, standing head and shoulders above the likes of Paxman and Andrew Marr, with a reputation and personality that puts him on more than equal terms with Government ministers, Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition.

His critics - and they are legion - react furiously to his assertive and forensic questioning of their favoured party personalities, ignoring the fact that he is equally ferocious with all the others. And although he is inextricably a part of the incestuous London/Westminster media village, he occasionally remembers that he is a Scot, and when he chooses to do so, displays an understanding of Scottish politics that is almost totally absent in other metropolitan BBC pundits. In spite of myself, I like and respect him, and believe that he makes a vital contribution to our democracy.

JOURNALISTIC VALUES AND PRACTICES

Let me start with the principle of confidentiality of sources and the off-the-record practice in interviewing and reporting.

A journalist must get the story - get the facts. This is done against the reality that those who have the facts often have a vested interest in not releasing them, whether they are politicians, celebrities, civil servants, doctors criminals or private individuals. The British legal system is geared up to protect the powerful, not the weak. Our libel laws, and the cost of litigation and defence in relation to libel actions, are a standing disgrace, allowing the rich and powerful to intimidate, silence and financially destroy those who presume to question their actions. Even worse, this is not confined to British citizens and residents - the libel laws can be used by any criminal, despot, fraudster or powerful individual anywhere in the world against a British citizen.

But private individuals without substantial financial resources have little defence available to them. This presents the journalist in pursuit of a story with two  ethical and professional standards dilemmas, assuming they have any, or are allowed to have them by their employer, the media outlet. The same problems are faced by the editor - also a journalist - who briefs and controls the person in the field.

The main dilemma is how - without breaking the law or breaching ethical standards - to get the truth from some one who knows it, might wish to give it, but may be inhibited from giving it by professional, party, policy or contractual constraints - for example a politician, a public servant or a manager in private industry - or even by fear of the personal consequences of speaking out.  This inhibition manifests itself in a number of ways.

(The second dilemma is whether they go after easy prey - those whom they believe can’t defend themselves, for example, a Glasgow grandmother trying desperately get a fair price for her home, and the stress and upheaval caused by a compulsory purchase order. It doesn’t seem to have been a real dilemma for the Glasgow Press, however.)

Back to the prime dilemma -

Public servants - and increasingly employees of private organisations - are normally bound by some sort of embargo on making statement contrary to organisational policy, and by a requirement to protect confidential information. The constraints on doing this may range from a code of conduct, through contractual requirements, to signing the official secrets act, with criminal penalties for breaching the constraint. The ethical constraints placed on professionals such as lawyers and doctors are, of course, an important category here.

(Whether the law should always observe religious constraints in this context is highly debatable, for example the confidentiality of the confessional exercised by Roman Catholic priests when criminal behaviour is concerned.)

It is hard to see how public and commercial life could function normally without some such constraints, although the nature of them and the subject matter to which they are applied may reasonably be open to question and debate.

Freedom of information legislation has gone someway to redress the imbalance (see below on the expenses scandal) created by the powerful protecting themselves against revelation of their mistakes, hypocrisy and in some cases, negligent or criminal behaviour: the limited protection afforded to ‘whistle blowers’ is also in this category.

The accepted convention, elevated to an ethical principle by some editors and journalists, is the on or off-the- record assurance offered by the journalist to the person being interviewed or questioned. In broadcasting, this is often given practical application by the on or off- microphone action.

THE RATIONALE FOR ON AND OFF THE RECORD

In dealing with law-abiding citizens, the justification for on and off-the-record promises is that someone constrained by contract or professional standards may be willing to give information for the greater good, providing that it is not attributable. There is a public position and a private one.

The purists demand complete openness in everything, an ideal that I believe is unachievable in practice. It is not reasonable, for example, to expect an employee to risk losing their job and maybe career because they know that their employer is not operating to the highest standards. And realistically, even though there are a few highly principled individuals who are prepared to do just that, the majority are more pragmatic. To get at the truth, we must protect the open, brave whistle-blower, but we must also utilise the concerned, but cautious individual as well.

The negative aspects of the off-the-record briefing or information release are many, however. An off-the-record, unattributable comment is weaker and less convincing than an on-the-record statement, and an unscrupulous - or lazy - reporter can simply invent them to give spurious currency to gossip, or worse, to a lie.

If Iain Macwhirter or Angus Macleod report an off-the-record, anonymous quote, I believe them implicitly. Coming from some others I won’t name, I take it with a pinch of salt or dismiss it.

Off-the-record comments can also be used by spin doctors to present a completely misleading version of events to, say, parliamentary lobby correspondents, who are in fact being expertly manipulated. It would be an interesting experiment if lobby correspondents got together and refused to accept unattributable quotes for an extended period from the government. I suspect that No. 10 would be thrown into a state of utter panic.

There is also the practical problem that if there is only one spokesperson on an issue, then an off-the-record quote will instantly be attributed, and might as well be on the record.

Some politicians - sans policies, sans principles, sans values, sans cojones, sans everything - are more or less permanently off the record. Consequentially, no one gives a **** what they say …

But the off-the-record principle is nonetheless a vital tool in the reporter’s repertoire, and used judiciously and ethically, vital to good journalism and to public information.

How can the off-the-record principle be abused by journalists?

Any journalist who abuses the off-the-record or unattributable staement principle risks his or her professional credibility, and their own effectiveness. For an unscrupulous editor or proprietor, this matters little if the journalist in question is junior and expendable, and there is a constant supply of fodder for this in the shape of those desperate to gain entry to, and cut their teeth in a cut-throat industry.

In this approach, the person being interviewed is not a citizen or professional with rights and human   dignity, but the mark - a gullible target in a con game.

In a face-to-face or telephone interview, the journalist uses the equivalent of the open mike scam. In broadcast interviews from a studio or public venue - and in one notable instance in a Prime Minister’s car speeding away from a pensioner -  inadvertently leaving the microphone on can lead to the capture of unguarded remarks. Of course, the mike can also be left on deliberately.

No one, however exalted, is immune from this risk, not even US Presidents, but as someone recently observed, any grown-up politician who is not aware of the open mike danger should really find another line of work. Such people are regularly surprised when Christmas comes on December 25th …

In the face-to-face or telephone interview, this is almost always deliberate and planned, and rarely results from a misunderstanding, although that is the defence used by the unscrupulous journalist when found out. The normal strategy is to indicate that the interview will be conducted both on and off the record, then deliberately blur the line between the two, confusing the mark. Alternatively, the tacit assumption - never signalled in advance - is made that the subject is on the the record. If the interviewee queries the status at any point, the line is again blurred, or in extreme cases, the journalist simply lies.

Now it must be said, in fairness, that some interviews start out with a straightforward agenda and no Machiavellian intent, but then develop in unexpected ways. In such case, the journalist may give silent thanks to whatever God they worship for having delivered a potentially big story into their lap.

But it is exactly at this point that the ethical journalist takes rapid stock of what is, and what is not admissible.

(Again, I recommend careful viewing of key scenes in the 1976 film All the President’s Men to understand this process in the best American newspapers.)

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE FACES OF PUBLIC FIGURES

There is a view that public figures, especially those who have been democratically elected, must display an absolute consistency between their private and public positions on any issues of substance. Some also argue that they must also exemplify a private integrity and morality, both sexual and ethical, consistent with their public face.

At the extremes. I agree with this. I don’t want a magistrate who sits in judgement on criminals, but in private is a professional burglar, a modern day Deacon Brodie: I don’t want a Minister of Health who believes in the efficacy of homeopathy and that blood transfusions are sinful: I don’t want a Chancellor of the Exchequer who runs a Ponzi scheme in his spare time: I don’t want a religious leader who secretly covers up the abuse of children and protects the abusers. I would welcome any journalist who, suspecting these things, used all reasonable measures to tempt the offenders into admitting as much. I might even condone some measures that run close to, but not over the ethical edge.

(A prime requirement is that a journalist doesn’t break the law - but if the law is being used the protect the powerful against the interests of the people, and there is a strong, very strong public interest requirement, then very, very reluctantly I would concede that it might be necessary.)

The investigation into the abuse of MPs’ expenses seems to me a model of a major service being rendered to our democracy by the journalist who deserves really the credit for the story, Heather Brooke. An American journalist based in the UK, Heather Brooke used the Freedom of Information Act to painstakingly, over five long, painful years, get to the truth. But if it hadn’t been for the BBC documentary On Expenses, the credit would have been given exclusively the The Telegraph newspaper and its journalists. Indeed, right at this minute, if you search for the originator of the story - and it was her story, by any standards of attribution and equity - you will find it hard to get past The Telegraph’s journalists’ roles, which although undoubtedly making a significant contribution in carrying it, and keeping it running, were essentially Johnnies-come-lately riding on the back of the real, brave and principled journalism of Heather Brooke.

An example of the worst in British journalism is the News International/News of the World scandal over phone hacking, a clear breach of the law, with no public interest involved, other than the wish to sell the Murdoch newspapers. This still-unfolding affair threatened - and still threatens - the very fabric of our democracy, reaching into the Law, the Police, the monarchy, and the government, and the shameful silence of the News International newspapers, and others with something to hide is deeply worrying for the integrity of our society.

The acknowledgement by Rebekah Brookes, one of the most senior executives of the Murdoch organisation in 2003 that the News of the World had paid members of the Metropolitan Police for information, the retirement of the Police Commissioner in charge of the initial investigation to take up a well-paid post as a columnist of News International, the resignation of the man closest to David Cameron, the Prime Minister, a former NotW editor, Andy Coulson, from his post as spin doctor to the Prime Minister (his second resignation - the first was as editor of the NotW after members of the Royal Family had had their phones hacked), his evidence under oath on the phone hacking scandal, the manifest nonsense that it had been “only one rogue reporter” - all of these things should have the British public rising up in rage and horror.

But unless they read the Guardian or the Independent, or watch certain current affairs, programmes, they will know nothing of it. The readers of the Murdoch tabloids have continued in blissful ignorance - either that or they don’t care…

SCOTTISH POLITICAL JOURNALISM

I don’t want to re-hash again all that I have already said in blogs passim, e.g. Herald and Scotsman  about the blatantly biased Scottish Press, with a recent surprising lurch towards objectivity in one of them, The Scotsman.

I have also blogged and tweeted extensively on the appalling treatment meted out to Margaret Jaconelli, a Glasgow grandmother trying to get a fair price for her home from Glasgow City Council before she is evicted. The matter is in its final stages in the legal system, and Margaret has a last found a champion in the formidable and caring person of Mike Dailly of the Govan Law Centre.

The consistently distorted, slanted  and factually inaccurate version of the Megrahi Affair, and the casual reproduction of the UK government’s desperate attempts to smear the Scottish Government with blatant lies to cover their own shameful hypocrisy and that of the UK Labour Party and their deeply confused Holyrood puppets have been repeatedly - and very recently - covered by me in this blog.

As for the Bill Aitken Affair, well, I have so far confined myself to Twitter on this. I don’t like Bill Aitken, I don’t like his views about rape, I think he was right to resign, and and have a distaste for knee-jerk politics on law and order. But I think the way in which the Herald got this story, the way they leaked the taped transcript to the New Statesman, and the fact that they apparently taped the telephone call without Aitken’s knowledge, the way in which they appeared to have blurred the line between on and off the record comment - all of these aspects give me cause for concern.

 Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

#BillAitken I don't like Tories or Bill Aitken and his views on law and order. But I dislike biased and unprofessional journalism even more.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@bellacaledonia This is the 'journalism' of the gutter, not real investigative journalism. And they will come for anyone who opposes Labour.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@bellacaledonia The problem is the set-up, the taping without permission, the leaking to the New Statesman, and the missing 'clarification'.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@bellacaledonia The media smear is Labour's stock-in-trade, through their compliant media supporters. It's bad for Scottish democracy.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@bellacaledonia Before May 5th, this will be done again to another opponent of Labour by the Labour media, probably to the SNP. What then?

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@bellacaledonia I don't let my distaste for the man, his politics and his views get in the way of condemning the journalism practices.

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@bellacaledonia No one has suggested that he was misrepresented - you misrepresent me by suggesting it. The question is over how it was done

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@JonnyJobson @CalMerc There is every sign that it was a setup, with a Labour agenda, & that he thought he was on the record for part of it >

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@JonnyJobson He was taped without his knowledge. The tape was 'leaked' to the New Statesman - THE Labour mouthpiece, and published >

Peter Curran

moridura Peter Curran

@JonnyJobson @CalMerc There is no doubt of what he said, or that is was wrong. What is in question is the journalistic practices used

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Margaret Jaconelli Case – an injustice in the making

Recent information received on Margaret Jaconelli’s attempts to get a fair price and compensation for her home, a Glasgow granny facing compulsory purchase to acquire land for the Commonwealth Games development, leads me to believe that there is a major injustice in the making here, and that a relentless, pitiless legal juggernaut is in the process of rolling over this Glasgow grandmother and her husband.

Her case has, in the main, been presented in unsympathetic and in some cases inaccurate terms by a Scottish press too lazy to find the real story underlying the superficial, Daily Mail-type headlines that have unfairly portrayed her as greedy and unreasonable. There is greed and unreasonableness at work here, but it is not coming from Margaret Jaconelli but from those seeking to force her into accepting major disruption to her life on manifestly inequitable terms.

I intend to find out more, and so should any journalist worth their salt - and any local politician. It will be sad indeed if the justifiable pride of Glasgow and Scottish politicians in hosting the games is marred by an injustice.

Remember this, when you consider the facts as previously presented, some of which are appear to have been inaccurate - Margaret Jaconelli is not refusing to move, not trying to halt the progress of the work; she is trying to get a fair, negotiated price for her home of many years and for the stress and disruption she and her family have been put through by this relentless and implacable legal and commercial juggernaut.

Some individuals and some firms will make very big money indeed from this work, but even at her most ambitious price, which was simply an opening bid, Margaret Jaconelli will not.

Given the record of British politicians – with the honourable exception of the SNP – in exploiting property, property loopholes and expenses, and with some Scottish Labour politicians facing criminal prosecution for their activities, it behoves the honest politicians of Glasgow and Scotland to at least investigate this woman’s case more closely, and ideally champion it.

EXTRACT FROM 5th October 2010 BLOG

TRUMP and the GLESCA GRANNY

Let me nail my colours to the mast – I believe that if a development – international golf and hotel complex or Commonwealth games facilities are manifestly in the wider public interest, some people may have to lose their homes, property and land if they stand in the way of that, providing there has been full consultation and all relevant environmental, social, economic and personal arguments have been properly heard and adjudicated on.

If it happened to me, I would be sad, but I would recognise its inevitability and focus on getting the best price.

The objectors in Aberdeen on environmental grounds have been heard, and they have lost the argument. If such arguments had been accepted throughout the centuries, we would have no cities, no roads, no industry and no modern infrastructure in Scotland.

God knows, we are not short of wild unspoiled places, vibrant with animals, fish game and species in abundance, much of it regrettably in the grip of private landowners. I have no wish to turn Scotland into a concreted-over theme park, but neither do I want to see thousands of families condemned to unemployment and penury because of lack of work.

Those who are refusing to sell their homes are in another category entirely. I sympathise with them and I want them to get a price that reflects the hardship and emotional upheaval that the loss of their homes will visit on them, but I do not support their right to veto a major project by refusing outright to sell. So I have little sympathy for the Aberdeen protesters.

But I do stand up for Margaret Jaconelli, the Glasgow grandmother who has fought to get her idea of a fair price for over a decade for her two-bedroom flat in Dalmarnock. Unlike the Aberdeen protesters, who appear to have elicited public sympathy by virtue of the Scope-Severity Paradox (see above), she is well on her way to being demonised, together with her lawyer, for asking £300,000 for the land the Games authority wants to acquire and £60,000 for the inconvenience of being evicted.

Glasgow City Council plans to evict her for refusing to accept the £30,000 figure assessed by the District Valuer, a UK government agency under the compulsory purchase order.

When I was teaching negotiating skills in the early 1990s to managers and businesses of all kinds, I was introduced by Professor Gavin Kennedy, an international expert and best-selling author on negotiation, to the concept of ransom strips in property dealing, i.e. often small piece of land, privately owned, that stood in the way of a large, multi-million development. I used one of Gavin’s cases when I worked for him as director of Negotiate Ltd. to show how both ends of such a negotiation worked, the clear objective of the seller being to maximise the sale price and the buyer to minimise it.

No one, then or now, ever suggested that there was something immoral in recognising that the value of the land was determined, not by comparison with similar plots that were not the object of development, but by the particular circumstances of them being positional goods in the development context.

Governments don’t like such negotiating clout and good fortune to be in the hands of small property and landowners, however, hence the compulsory purchase legislation. While the UK government is totally reconciled to paying enormously inflated prices for armaments, defence contract, consultancy and IT projects based on market circumstances and leverage, they don’t like the idea of a Glesca granny trying to exploit her once in a lifetime opportunity.

Well, I do – go for it, Granny Margaret (she’s 23 years younger than me!) – get the best deal you can.

Do I think £300,000 for the land and £60,000 for the inconvenience excessive? Well, it’s an opening bid, and Margaret and her lawyer would, I’m sure, settle for a smaller amount in negotiation if she and her lawyer are permitted to bargain. But of course, they won’t be – the steamroller of local government and UK law will roll over them, in a city where municipal corruption has been endemic for generations, where dirty land and property deals have been the order of the day and where corrupt council officials who would have been sacked in any just society have been quietly retired with massive settlements and pensions over the decades.

But you’ve lost nothing by trying, Granny Margaret, and if there is any justice, you’ll still get the price offered, a new home, and with luck, tell your story to the tabloids and media and make a few bob.

Meanwhile, if there is a petition to protect you, I’ll sign it most willingly. But I won’t support your Aberdeen counterparts in their efforts to stay put.

Monday, 1 March 2010

The State of the Union – UK, that is …

How any rational Scottish voter can contemplate voting for the Tories, Labour or the LibDems in the imminent general election baffles me.

THE CHARGES AGAINST THE UNION

We have a Union engaged in pointless, unwinnable wars, killing the flower of our young people.

We have a Union committed blindly to outdated, and strategically irrelevant nuclear weapons of mass destruction, at enormous cost, at a time when the Union is close to bankruptcy and deep cuts in essential services are about to be made.

We have an almost wholly corrupt Westminster structure, as the expenses scandal and the political donations to the three major parties have so devastatingly exposed.

Among the minor parties, we have one fascist party and one neo-fascist party.

We have corruption in the House of Lords, with criminal prosecutions of peers of the realm already underway, and with perhaps more to come.

We have parties being funded by mega-rich donors – all three major parties - who are avoiding UK tax, and using the money saved – the taxpayers’ money – our money - to bankroll the political party that they believe will grant favours and preferment that will make them even richer, and more able to subvert our democracy.

We have one of these parties (the LibDems) accepting money from a convicted fraudster and refusing to give it back.

We have a governing party (for the moment) committed to covering up complicity in torture by our security forces.

We have a governing party that has been systematically trying to dismantle the ancient legal freedoms of the peoples of these islands.

We have two dominant parties that have no real, fundamental differences between them on war, nuclear weapons, the economy, privilege and patronage, a fact being belatedly recognised by the electorate, as witnessed by the narrowing of the opinion poll gap between them.

We have a third party, the LibDems, with vestiges of principle and sanity, but effectively lost and powerless in the corrupt system of which they are a part.

We have three parties with delusions of an international role for Britain as a great power, based on brandishing its WMDs, when the reality is that all they have is the rump of a wholly discredited Empire, built on ruthless exploitation of subject peoples, and reluctantly dismantled only when those subject peoples threw off its yoke.

We have three parties whose Scottish minions oppose attempts to free Scotland from the twin curses of drink and violence, because of their political expediency, subservience to vested interests and commitment to insane, simplistic sound bite solutions.

We have three parties in Holyrood hell-bent on denying the Scottish people a voice in their own constitutional future.

************************

Scotland, waken up, or shrink into poverty and irrelevance in the next decade. You have a real choice – England doesn’t. Saor Alba!