The media crisis

Over the last couple of weeks I have been shocked and outraged by the mounting evidence of phone hacking, police mistakes and political cowardice. Each day I’ve thought it could get no worse, and then it has.

Obviously until people are convicted of crimes in a court of law they are to be considered innocent. However, I think it is fair to say the following. It is clear not just from the revelations of the last fortnight, but also from the Information Commissioner’s report of 2006, that illegal activities were going on at the late News of the World. Whilst I have sympathy for the employees of that paper for losing their jobs, in a cynical attempt by senior News International executives to dupe the British public into thinking that by closing it down we wouldn’t demand investigations into other News International and News Corporation titles, and the growing ground swell opinion against the complete take over of B Sky B by News Corporation, it is inconceivable to me that no one other than those convicted already of phone hacking knew anything about it. I won’t name any people but we’ve seen a number of them interviewed in recent days by MPs and we know another was forced to resign from his job at the News of the World. That Information Commissioner’s report also made it clear that illegal use of information was widespread. Why didn’t this report get more coverage in 2006?

We Saw Rupert and James Murdoch in-front of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee on Tuesday and their evidence can best be summarised as, I wasn’t there and don’t know in Mr Murdoch junior’s case and I saw nothing, heard nothing and knew nothing from Mr Murdoch senior. Given that we know how interested Rupert Murdoch was in the newspapers that he owned, calling editors to ask about stories and how they were gained, I simply don’t believe that he had no idea whatsoever. Then of course there’s the position of former editors on the board of News International and his friendship with some of those directly implicated. And if all that wasn’t enough the idea that the News of the World was a small part of his business and so beneath his notice, despite the fact that it was the most popular of his papers is unbelievable.

A short digression, I was surprised to see how frail and elderly Rupert Murdoch appeared during the grilling he received by MPs and particularly by Tom Watson. I had heard so much about the forceful personality, the aggressive emperor, that I was expecting something more like the hearing involving George Galloway and the US Congress. He, Rupert Murdoch sounded more like a doddary old fool than the head of a multimedia conglomerate. Oh, and by the way, was I the only one that was reminded of a child when Rupert Murdoch kept banging the desk?

Not enough has yet been said on other newspapers that may have been participating in similar tactics, EG phone hacking, blagging, etc. The 2006 report placed the Daily Mail at the top of list of illegal activities with the News of the World in fifth place.

Turning to the police, I cannot understand how anyone could possibly think that the close relationship between senior police officials and people in the media could possibly be legitimate. The Home Affairs Committee report on this makes that clear as well as questioning a number of issues around the review in 2009. It seems to me that there were eleven thousand reasons why that case should have been reopened at that time.

The Prime Minister’s inability to apologise for his lack of judgement in employing Andy Coulson has frankly left me speechless. His argument that he was giving him a second chance doesn’t hold water. He isn’t running an outpost of the Probation Service, or some charity supporting offenders. He was the leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, likely to become Prime Minister with responsibility for national security, making peace and war, determining economic policy in a time of deep economic crisis, reforming the welfare system and the Health Service, and that doesn’t even scratch the surface of the PM’s responsibilities. And he thought it was legitimate to offer a man who had been forced to resign over illegal activities at his newspaper to a position where he would be at the centre of power at number Ten Downing Street. It is clear that he was warned again and again by the Deputy Prime Minister, By Lord Ashdown and by the Guardian, but he took no notice. It doesn’t take hindsight to work out that Andy Coulson was an inappropriate person to employ, it should have been obvious at the time. To apologise for the furor was not acceptable, it was the decision itself that needed the apology. If the PM is forced to apologise because it becomes clear that Coulson told him lies, his, the PM’s position may well become untenable.

The PM is however correct to point out that the link between politicians, particularly at the top of the two major parties and senior media figures has become far too close. Sir John Major was the last Prime Minister to have a poor relationship with the Murdoch press and look what happened to his Premiership. If any other evidence were needed concerning the power of the Murdoch press in particular and the media in general, it’s the treatment given to the Liberal Democrats. They have been ignored, accept when they’ve been treated with contempt. It was the 3 party leader debates that meant the media and particularly the Murdoch media had to give them coverage.

Yes the media, who participated and used illegally obtained information, the police, who didn’t investigate it properly and had too close a relationship with the media and the politicians who were so bound up with trying to carry favour that they also refused to challenge the media have a lot to answer for. But so do we, the Great British public. For too long too many people have thought it was perfectly ok for newspapers to publish salacious stories on the private lives of the rich and famous, on the grounds that those who were wealthy weren’t entitled to a private life. How many times have we heard people from the tabloid press argue that if you make your money publicly your fair game, or words to that effect. Well, I for one have always said that even footballers, politicians and other so called celebrities, are entitled to a private life, after all it is their life.

The difference between “public interest” and what the public finds interesting is fundamental to this, even if some of the public and newspaper employees still haven’t made the distinction.

I’m as guilty as the next man. When I heard about the recent footballer who had got a superinjunction I gave into my baser instincts and did a quick search on a popular search engine. Despite this, I don’t believe it was in the public interest to have this information. There is only one justification for such intrusion and that is public interest and the only way that this story could have been in the public interest is if the footballer concerned had publicly expressed opinions on the importance of monogamy. Always assuming that he was in-fact guilty of what he was alleged to have done.

A politician who announces that adulterers should be stoned and adulteresses should be hung, and then is found to have been an adulterer or adolteress, is fair game for public exposure. The same applies to the politician who makes critical moral judgements on homosexuality, and then is found to be a homosexual. The politician who makes no such statements should not have his private life dragged through the papers.

The fact that celebrities can afford civil cases, libel etc means that my sympathy is limited. Sympathy must be with the ordinary members of the public, the victims of crime, families of soldiers etc. But my point is that if its wrong for my private and personal information to end up in the paper, its also wrong for a celebrity.

Its perfectly legitimate for the public to know the tax status of a politician, after all he/she will be making decisions that will effect our lives and it is legitimate to ask if someone who doesn’t pay the same tax as an ordinary member of the public should be allowed to determine the law that applies to the rest of us.

The Telegraph that began the expenses scandal on the basis of information that was stolen was right to do use that information because it exposed gross misconduct by a number of elected politicians.

The default position must be that information that is private should remain so, that information obtained illegally should not be used, unless there is a public interest defence and that defence cannot be because the public finds it interesting.

I can only hope that the various inquiries that have been set up over the last week or so will do their jobs correctly so that those who participated in phone hacking and all the related illegal activities can be bought to trial and made to face up to their illegal activities. This should cover the people who did the illegal deeds themselves, those who knowingly used the information and the people who paid for it. My fear is that the evidence linking those at the top to those at the bottom no longer exists.

Beyond that, we must have a strengthened press watchdog which cannot be self regulating. After all we’ve seen what a great job the PCC has made of this whole subject. TV and Radio are monitored by a statutory body and no one talks about media control. No one should be allowed to own so large a steak in the British media. Murdoch’s holdings here must be broken up.

Finally, the close relationship between the police and the media and the political elite and the media must end. Increased plurality will certainly help with this.

Posted in politics | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Potter joy

Quite a lot of my blogs have been moans for one reason or another so its nice to write something positive.

One of my first blog entries was on the lack of audiodescription at the Cinema during the first week after Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part1 was released. Well as everyone is aware the second part of this movie was released last Friday and to my delight it was at my local cinema with audiodescription. My delight became joy unconfined when my mother paid for me to go and see it as a birthday present.

So, credit where it is due, the Vue Cinema in Croydon, Purley Way, made the right decision in putting audiodescription on this particular film.

And since we can’t have a hoely positive blog from me, I should say that all cinemas should have the capability to play all films with audiodescription, where the film has an audiodescribed track.

The film was great and I shall miss my semi annual visit to the cinema to get a Harry fix.

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Speaking in Tongues

Back by popular demand, well one demand counts as popular in my book. Ever feel like you must be speaking a foreign language because no one seems to be able to understand what your saying? Well, if so your in the same boat as me.

I’ve recently upgraded my broadband to my company’s latest gratest and fastest offering. Oh, this isn’t the BBC so I can name them. I’ve upgraded to BT Infinity. I had a inkling that things weren’t going to be simple when the sails assistant couldn’t tell me if I’d be able to carry on using my current ADSL modem and router, a Netgear. This was important to me because the software that runs it is accessible with my Screenreader Window Eyes. All the assistant wanted to talk about was the benefits of BT Infinity and the BT provided hardware and software.

So the engineer arrived and removed my existing telephone boxes and replaced them with the new ones. He then told me that I would need to use both the BT modem and router and I let him get on and plug everything in. Then we hit our next snag. I didn’t want to install the BT’s own software as my previous experience, all be it, some years ago, was that it didn’t work with Screenreader software. I therefore asked the engineer if he could help me set up the service manually. I was absolutely amazed to hear him say no, as he didn’t know any of the settings. I then told him that I would ring BT technical support people because I knew they would be able to talk me through the manual set up. He left and that was that.

I then rang BT only to be told that as my installation was still open their technical support people couldn’t help me. I was now stunned. All BT could suggest was to wait until the afternoon when hopefully my installation would be complete and the techies could then help.

Well, I decided that I couldn’t be without my internet for even a few hours and bit the bullet and installed BT’s software. In all fairness it was quite accessible and easy. Within a few minutes my new fibre Optic broadband was up and running.

Over the next couple of days I was confirmed in my view that I didn’t want to keep the BT software on my system. Firstly, there seemed to be less security features EG no ability to limit access by a device’s MAK Address (each wireless ready device has a little number which identifies it to the router). Another problem I was experiencing was with web pages not loading properly.

Now we get into the not being understood. I spent a lot of time doing research on the internet, trying to find out what kind of Modem/Router I would need to replace the BT provided one. I eventually rang Netgear who told me that none of their modems would work with BTs Infinity service. I was told to buy a Netgear router and plug it in to my BT modem. Incidentally the suggested router’s RRP was over £300.

I then rang BT, who I assumed would know what modems/routers I could use. No such luck. I was first told that I couldn’t use any other modem/router. When I pointed out that I knew for a fact that this was not true, the person I was talking to went away, and on returning confirmed that this was true but that BT couldn’t support or recommend any other type of modem.

I’d already explained to the technical support person that I found the router software difficult to use with my Screenreader and him and his manager both told me that they would escalate this matter and I should give BT a couple of weeks and they would sort this out.

As good as that was it didn’t really deal with my problems. At this point I’d just about had enough, when a friend came back to me with a Netgear modem/router that he thought might work with my new broadband.

When I visited the shop’s site, one of the reviewers said they had set it up with BT Infinity. Hurray, the end of the road. I bought it, and when my mum next visited we spent a couple of hours installing it. As with my previous Netgear product the installation was a doddle.

Now, you may well be thinking what has any of this to do with not being understood? Well, each time I spoke to someone whether it was from BT or Netgear I wanted some very basic information that no one seemed to be able to provide.

I wanted to know whether my previous modem and router would work and if not could I purchase another Netgear that would do the job. I also wanted to know how BT Infinity actually worked, was it ADSL, DSL, or Cable and incidentally what do those acronyms stand for? It seemed virtually impossible to get answers to those questions.

As it goes I now know that BT Infinity is cable until it reaches the BT box outside my home, from which point it uses the pre-existing cabling.
Putting aside the difficulties in accessing BT’s software, both BT and Netgear should be able to answer these sorts of questions, after all they are both in the business of telecommunications.

At the end of the day my new broadband is working very well, I’m pretty happy with the speeds and the fact that its not gone down. This is of course why I stay with BT. They may not be the cheapest, but over several years of broadband use I can probably count the number of times I had to call them with faults on 2 fingers.

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Short

Its been a long time since I last wrote an entry here. What with Christmas, New Year, am I the only one that dislikes it and then a bad bout of flu, I’ve not really had time.

So, this is just a short entry to point you to this:

This is the result of a two and a half day documentary film making course that I attended at University. I really enjoyed doing it, it was something completely different to anything I’d ever done before.

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The kindness of a man and his car

Well here goes with another travel related moan. Although its not holey a moan.

I had to go out this morning. Mondays are my days for bereavement counselling at Mind in Croydon. So, I walked out the front door and bravely crossed the ice covered arctic waste that my front drive has become. Once I had reached the relative safety of the road and crossed to the other side, I started again to walk through the compacted ice, slipping and sliding as I went. My next door neighbour who was coming from the opposite direction, helpfully suggested that I might consider walking in the road as it was completely clear. Now, normally I wouldn’t do this, but given that my road is a one way street and usually completely empty I decided to break the rules and look after number one for a change. For once the cars could keep out of my way.

So, I successfully got to the end of my road, without breaking anything and proceeded down the hill, still remaining in the safety of the road. Once I got to the busy road, it was back on to the pavement and the skating rink, minus the skates.

I arrived at the bus stop at 9.35. I know this because I checked the time on my Trekker. My hands were already frozen as I can’t ware gloves, hold a cane and manipulate anything with fingers encased. So, I’m standing at the bus stop feeling cold and sorry for myself. Didn’t sleep very well last night either. I’m waiting and I’m waiting. 9.45 comes, then 9.55 and finally 10.00. A number of buses have come along in the meantime, but of course none of them are the one I want. Some stop directly in-front of me, meaning I only have to step forward to ask the driver which number he is. Others stop to my left and still others to my right, meaning I have to move a distance to find the door. Hardly helpful to someone who is blind. Oh yes, then there’s the occasion when I think I’m yelling through the open door, only to find I’ve been yelling through the side of the bus.

So, its now just after 10 and another bus comes along. We go through the usual performance, he tells me his number, I step away trying not to swear, he then asks me which bus I want and I tell him the 455. So, what does he then say? You’ve just missed it. I was on the verge of yelling, how the hell can I have missed it, I’ve been standing here at the bus stop. Luckily I controlled myself.

The point is the driver of the 455 which arrived at my stop just before 10.00 simply drove past without stopping. Now how the hell could he have managed that. I’m standing right beside the stop sign, I’m holding my cane in both hands vertically and I’m also holding my Freedom Pass in my hand. Loads of buses stopped for me, so why not this one.

I then rang Transport for London to find out when the next bus was due. Of course this particular bus isn’t tracked so they could only tell me when the next time tabled bus was due. And of course as I’m sure you will have worked out, time tabled and actual arrival are not the same thing at all. So, the next 455 was due at 10.20. It didn’t actually arrive until 10.26. The journey to Pampisford road takes around 22 minutes. That should have got me to Pampisford road for around 10.48, I’ve now lost 18 minutes of my 50 minute counselling cession. That’s not including the time it would take me to walk from the bus stop to Mind’s HQ.

I of course then go and make my day worse still by getting off the bus far too early and having to walk nearly half a mile on the most treacherous pavements I’ve ever tried to walk on.

I eventually reached a section of the pavement where some workmen were cutting trees and some fella stopped and offered me a lift. My immediate reaction was to say no, that long ago learned lesson about climbing in the back of a strangers car was well learned in my case. But, I squashed my reaction and accepted the lovely warm car that was on offer.

Well, he wasn’t an axe murderer as this entry testifies and I reached Mind at 11.05, just in time to have 15 minutes of counselling.

I gave up independence and came home in a taxi. That bus driver should feel thoroughly ashamed of himself. As soon as I got home I immediately rang TFL to complain and was given an apology. That’s nice of course, but I know that this is an all too frequent occurrence.

To that man who stopped and offered me his car, I don’t know your name, where you were from or anything else, but thanks for your kindness, it was really appreciated.

Posted in Accessibility, equality | 2 Comments

Have finally seen it!

My cinema did show Harry Potter this week with audiodescription. I went with my mum and sister and enjoyed the film despite the lack of heating in the cinema and the fact I needed to go to the loo for the last half an hour or so.

I’m still disappointed with the current situation with audiodescription at the cinemas but I’ve done everything I can, including emailing both in-touch and the RNIB. It appears that all anyone can do is wait for digital to come along and make all screens audiodescription ready. So, I’d best prepare myself for the same performance next July, when the final instalment of the Potter films is released.

Posted in Accessibility, audiodescription, cinema, equality, Harry Potter | Leave a comment

What a surprise

Well there you go. Russia! We had a top bid and the final presentation was excellent. That’s not to say what I wrote earlier was any less true. But 2018 goes to Russia.

So what happened? An untransparent ballot and deals done in the background. Is that really what Word Cup bids have come to? What’s the point in a technical bid and final presentations since they make no difference. How are the fans going to manage in Russia? And I’m not even going to comment on the heat in Qatar.

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