The benefits of piracy

February 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Media, Music, Art, Etcetera | 2 Comments

(Click to enlarge)

It may be one of the more extreme examples, but this chart shows some of the frustrating disincentives against buying a film on DVD. Whatever the arguments about the morality or legality of consuming something you haven’t paid for, if piracy is not only cheaper but considerably more hassle-free than enduring a dozen unskippable anti-piracy adverts and movie trailers, it’s going to be a tempting option for a lot of people.

This isn’t to say that piracy isn’t risk-free; quite apart from the legal issues, the retail market remains the best choice if you want 100% certainty that the DVD, record or book you want to buy is of the quality you would expect. If you absolutely have to watch Avatar, you’re going to want to see it in the highest definition possible. Many music fans would wretch at the thought of listening to a Flaming Lips record at 128kb, or hearing Pet Sounds through tinny laptop speakers.

Despite this, the pirate market can still satisfy fans in ways that the retail market is incapable of doing. Let’s take the example of the prodigous & endearingly inconsistent songsmith Ryan Adams. In 10 years, Adams has released an impressive 11 full-length studio albums, but, as his fans will often remind you, it could’ve been many more. Adams’ label famously rejected a host of superb recordings – made during his songwriting peak – on the grounds that they weren’t commercial enough, thus depriving fans of the chance to hear a hours of great songs.

The great thing about the internet age is that music fans are no longer restricted to what some artistically deaf record company executive thinks you ought to hear. Recordings such as ‘Suicide Handbook’ were soon leaked and are now easily available on filesharing sites. And the label didn’t make a penny out of it. On top of that, his fans have access to loads of good quality live recordings, covers and out-of-print b-sides which otherwise wouldn’t have been easy to access.

But this extends beyond Ryan Adams and beyond music. The pirate market allows us to keep permanent copies of things the creative industries would rather we not have. You can keep an enjoyable episode of Eastenders for posterity, save an enthralling football match or share an interesting article that might otherwise be buried behind a paywall. To be a fan is to be an afficionado, and to be an afficionado means you’re always searching for that which you haven’t seen or read or heard. Thanks to piracy, our compulsion to consume new things is no longer restricted.

So it’s not just the appeal of a free record or film which sustains the piracy market, it’s the innate consumption compulsion of the fans. Unless the affected industries stop restricting what we can see and hear, and find a way of making some money out of it, piracy will retain its creative importance.

Update: From the comments, here’s xkcd:

The visible poor

April 26, 2009 at 8:06 pm | Posted in British Politics, Media, Working Class Britain | 11 Comments

It’s the first summer of a shiny new century and you’re stuck scrubbing floors. You work the graveyard shift in a town centre McDonalds and spend each slow-moving hour sweeping, wiping & rinsing. Alone among a swathe of swaggering drunks, you stop only to ask them to stub out their cigarettes; to take their feet off the formica furniture; to grovel apologies about being unable to offer refunds when they drop food on your freshly-mopped floor.

Towards the end of all this light entertainment, a disheveled-looking couple stagger through the door and head straight for the disabled toilet. Because you’ve abandoned all hope of stopping non-customers from using your loo, you leave them be and go to empty another bin. About 15 minutes later and it’s time for you to clean the toilets. Still engaged; you step back onto the restaurant floor and loiter by the door. Eventually there’s movement; the woman exits first – adjusting her denim skirt & straightening her hair – followed by her frowning companion. He peers down his jeans, zips up his flies and shouts across the crowded restaurant: “Fuckin’ hell bitch, you’ve given me herpes!” You go into the toilet and stick the used condom in the bin.

By sharing this story, I’ve just indulged in a stereotype which is as old as class itself. It’s a portrait of the working class as moral degenerates: crass, boorish, feckless and shorn of the same standards of morality which are shared by respectable England. They claim benefits as their birthright and spend what they do not earn; they fight and steal and drink; they create kids the rest of us have to feed and proceed to fuck them up just as badly as they were fucked up by their own parents. They are the underclass, the lumpenproletariat or, as Orwell Prize Winner Jack Night describes them, the ‘evil poor’.

In politics, the naming of things is always a sensitive topic and Laurie Penny took great offense when she saw such a grim adjective used to describe some of society’s most disenfranchised. A couple of brief – but important – points need to be made in the writer’s defense: in the offending post, he was referring only to a subset of the poor, and it’s important to recognise that the people he describes are real and their behaviour creates problems for the normal, law-abiding majority. But one thing which came to mind when reading Laurie’s piece was the unsettling suspicion that the people Jack writes about are more accurately described not as the ‘evil poor’, but as the ‘visible poor’.

Last year, I noted the Rowntree Foundation’s report that domestic poverty is a very low priority for the British media. Its news value is pitifully low, real life depictions/descriptions of poverty are practically non-existent and on those rare occasions when it is covered by the media, it’ll often be in connection with a story about crime. As a consequence, the poor are often represented by a motley crew of crooks and thugs standing trial for violence, drug dealing, theft, anti-social behaviour, or hiding a little girl under a divan bed. They are, of course, a minority, but their actions so dominate the reporting on deprived communities that the only time someone in the law-abiding majority will meet the press is to be asked about the people committing crimes. As we saw in the case of Shannon Matthews and the subsequent shaming of Dewsbury Moor, this practice can bring whole towns into disrepute and cast suspicion on those who live there.

The broader political consequence of this is that it leads the conversation in a frustratingly right-wing direction. Because the discourse around deprivation often obsesses on the behaviour of the poor rather than the structural explanations for poverty, this gives greater authority to those on the right who argue that a reliance on the welfare state is the cause of our social ills. And so solutions are put forward to cut benefits and make those kinds of reforms currently being proposed by this Labour government, because that will give them the ‘responsibility’ they’re so sadly lacking. In the end, it’s all a recipe for bad policy.

It wasn’t Jack Night’s intention to cast all poor people alongside the boorish, thuggish minority he described. But because of the way it reports on impoverished areas and the fact they’re so often represented by thugs and thieves, our media isn’t quite so guiltless.

“You killed your own fans”: The Sun and the misremembering of Hillsborough

April 19, 2009 at 9:07 pm | Posted in Media | 5 Comments

"The Truth"

It’s a story which has been retold many times in the past week. On 1st December 2006 Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of The Sun and author of the biggest lie in that newspaper’s history, spoke before a business lunch in Tyneside and revisited his reporting of the Hillsborough tragedy.”I was not sorry then and I’m not sorry now,” MacKenzie said. “All I did wrong was [to] tell the truth”. Contrary to those facts which were established by the Taylor Report, what happened, MacKenzie claimed, was that “there was a surge of Liverpool fans who had been drinking and that is what caused the disaster. The only thing different we did was put it under the headline ‘The Truth’. I went on World at One the next day and apologised. I only did that because Rupert Murdoch told me to.”

In the days and weeks which followed, MacKenzie’s contortion of history ripped the scabs off old wounds and caused an outpouring of anger and hurt among Liverpudlians, supporters of Liverpool Football Club and – most unforgivably – the families of the ninety-six victims. Phil Hammond, then chairman of the Hillsborough Family Support Group and a fan who lost his 14-year old son in the tragedy, spoke for many in the city when he said “It has been proven that the story was a pack of lies yet here is all these years later peddling his lies on the after-dinner speaking circuit. Why doesn’t he come and tell the families this to their faces?”

The controversy rumbled on for weeks; fans wanted to know why the BBC still used him (and continues to use him) as a serious pundit, internet message boards seethed with contempt, and he was even challenged on it during an edition of Question Time. But the disgust on Merseyside was given its fullest expression a month later, during an FA Cup match between Liverpool and Arsenal. At the start of the game, the Kop end held up a mosiac bearing the words “THE TRUTH” and for six minutes (the length of that ill-fated game in Sheffield) chanted in one voice “Justice for the 96”. As a show of solidarity and defiance, I’d never seen anything quite like it.

As The Guardian found out this week, over two years after MacKenzie retracted his apology and exactly 20 years since the disaster, Liverpool’s strength of feeling against The Sun remains strong, passionate and unyielding. Yellow ‘don’t buy The Sun’ stickers are a common sight on matchdays, newbie fans are remonstrated with if they’re found reading it and any advertising carrying the paper’s logo is swiftly defaced. The banishment of the newspaper from the lives of Liverpool supporters is sustained, systematic and taught to anyone who passes through the Shankly Gates.

Attempting to understand why their paper’s name remains mud, some at The Sun have developed the theory that the anger is, in part, due to the fans’ belief that justice has never been served. A few weeks ago, managing editor Graham Dudman wrote: “Despite some members of the Hillsborough Family Support Group publicly accepting our apology, it made little difference on Merseyside where the community has to live with the knowledge that no police officer or ground official was ever convicted for the mistakes that led to the tragedy.”

I won’t deny that there’s a small element of truth to this; in most tragedies you’ll often find blame ascribed to one person, even when responsibility should be shared between others – Bin Laden for 9/11, Bush for Katrina, Gordon Brown for this recession. Since there hasn’t been a prosecution for the fatal errors that were made, much of the blame has been funnelled towards The Sun and its brash, unapologetic former editor. That said, it’s still an epic stretch of the imagination for the paper’s leadership to feel they’ve been made a scapegoat.

Feelings of hurt and betrayal can be sourced back to many different causes, but in my own opinion, the anger directed at that newspaper is rooted in something very different than simply misdirected rage. In the 80’s and 90’s, Liverpool fans became more dispersed than at any time in the club’s history. As the most successful club in England, they’d attracted millions of supporters outside of Merseyside, and because of the economic hardships the city endured during this time, a lot of Liverpudlians had to leave to find work elsewhere.

As a result, you had fans transplanted into areas where they’d encounter people without their specialist knowledge of the club’s history, and who’d bought into the stereotype of scousers as thuggish car thieves who would only get up in the morning to collect their giro. Outside of Merseyside, myths about Hillsborough are still commonplace and there are still those whose memory of that day is unerringly similar to the depiction in The Sun.

Of course, it’s easy enough to inform & correct some idiot in your workplace or pub or on an internet forum; it’s impossible when it’s a crowd of thousands. When you go to an away game and hear a loud minority of opposition fans singing “you killed your own fans, you killed your own fans”, it really hits you in the gut.

For those who were fortunate enough not to have lost friends or loved ones among the ninety-six, what hurts almost as much as the deaths themselves, almost as much as the lack of justice for the dead, is the misremembering of that tragedy; a misremembering which paints the victims as the aggressors and casts a callous question mark over the epitaph of “innocent casualty”.

As the biggest newspaper in the country, in an industry where fidelity to the truth is the only standard which matters, and in an age where smears were not easily debunked, Liverpool fans hold The Sun responsible for this mangling of history, and that will remain for as long as lies are told. If that sounds like a harsh verdict, if your reply to this explanation is simply “it’s time to move on”, just remember this: this whole mess could’ve been avoided. All they needed to do was tell The Truth.

Even the Americans hate British newspapers

March 31, 2009 at 9:23 pm | Posted in Media, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

Quite an achievement:

“All British reporters bring to their reporting an impish desire to entertain as well as inform,” said Shipman, a graduate of Cambridge University who’s leaving Washington to cover Westminster politics for the Daily Mail. “Britain is very intensive newspaper market and you don’t get anywhere unless you tell your readers something extra. We take the view that politics ought to be fun.”

That isn’t the view of Democrats who have been burned by the Telegraph’s stories. “They use anonymous sources to a degree that makes you wonder if they actually have them,” said Bob Shrum, the retired political consultant who managed the presidential campaigns of former Vice President Al Gore and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). “I would have murdered someone from the Kerry campaign if they talked to the Daily Telegraph.”

Democrats have a long list of grievances with the Telegraph, the most recent examples all traceable to Shipman. In the past year he reported that close allies of Gore were pushing him into the Democratic race to end the Clinton-Obama standoff, that former President Bill Clinton warned that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama would have to “kiss his ass” to get an endorsement and that a source close to the new president worried that the insultingly cheap gift of DVDs he gave to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown meant that Obama was “overwhelmed” by his job. Democrats who worked with those campaigns told TWI that these stories were, respectively, “a total lie,” “just not true,” and “something nobody thinks is true.”

Dave Wiegel has more here.

Nick Cohen on ‘Liberal Fascism’

February 8, 2009 at 11:12 pm | Posted in Media | 1 Comment

Depending on what sort of mood you’re in, Nick Cohen’s rather obsequious endorsement of Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism will either inspire outrage, derision or mere pity. As it’s a Sunday night, and his review isn’t really worth more than a warm bucket of spit, I’ll limit my comments and link to this excellent demolition of Goldberg’s hatchet job book by David Neiwert – a journalist who’s spent decades investigating fascist, neo-Nazi and far-right groups in American politics. Both Goldberg and Cohen could learn a thing or two from his forensic approach. (Also here and here)

More accents, please

January 25, 2009 at 8:23 pm | Posted in Media | 1 Comment

When I was a bairn, my mother worried that I sounded a bit ‘common’. Granted, worrying is mum’s default function, but it’s probably true that my accent & dialect was stronger than either of my parents. I pronounced ‘water’ so that it rhymed with ‘batter’, said ‘reight’ instead of ‘right’ and ‘thery’ instead of ‘very’. I’d say ‘ey up’, ‘gi oer’ and (occasionally) ‘blummin’ ummer’. Because she wanted her son to have the best start in life, and didn’t see how that could be achieved by having an accent like the Arctic Monkeys (if only she’d known), she bundled me off to elocution lessons until I learned how to speak properly.

About a decade later and I’m traipsing around Cambridge, discovering that whilst those lessons had satisfied mum that I wasn’t ‘too northern’, the southerners I met confirmed that there was still no mistaking my accent. “Shouldn’t you be studying at the University of Bradford?” I was once asked by some dismissive, drunken cretin. But what he and others like him heard when I spoke was vastly different to what other people heard; when I came home during the holidays, the people I worked with and customers I served all thought I was ‘dead posh’.

Now that English is such a global language that there are infinite ways of speaking or using it, you’d think people wouldn’t be quite so hung up on the peculiarities of regional dialects. I mean, you wouldn’t mock a Chinese, Spanish or Polish person for the way they speak our language, so why are Geordies, Brummies and Scousers all considered fair game? Aren’t they all equaly valid and diverse interpretations of the same basic values? Don’t they all reveal a rich tradition and culture?

Certainly not, according to Beryl Bainbridge, whose fabulous belch of snobbery centers around the claim that the English spoken in her native Liverpool is ‘the most hideous accent of all’. Beryl insists that Scousers sounded better in the old days, despairs at their ‘whingeing tones & dreadful vowels’ and ventures that it makes them sound ‘uneducated’. She concludes that we need to return to the golden age of TV when old white men with dulcet tones spoke ‘proper’ English.

Personally, I can’t think of anything more dull. For a start, I’d bet good money that the people who presented programming in the so-called ‘golden age’ of television spoke nothing like the rest of the population, but had the privilege of speaking to the nation because their accents mirrored those of the ruling class, and therefore seemed authoritative. I think it’s also true that by having one homogenous accent on TV, you risk rendering anything which doesn’t conform to that as strange, alien and inferior. If Received Pronounciation is glorified as connoting wisdom, class and intelligence, then any other accent or dialect is going to be seen as inferior. So all Bainbridge is actually proposing is a way of perpetuating the regional snobbery she practices herself.

No, what we really need are more regional voices, more dialects, more accents. Our news programming in particular needs opening up to reflect the nation’s diversity, and put an end to the unintended impression that only by speaking in a certain way are you intelligent, authoritative or trustworthy. That, as a scouser might say, would be sound as a pound…

The Catholic Orangemen of Togo

January 12, 2009 at 9:35 pm | Posted in British Politics, International, Media, New Labour | Leave a comment


Not long ago, Craig Murray had a publishing deal. The former ambassador to Uzbekistan, whose first book described the ambivalence and complicity of our own government in some pretty grave human rights abuses, was due to publish a prequel about his (and his country’s) involvement in Africa.

But whilst delays, threats and legal obfuscations weren’t enough to keep Murder in Samarkand from eventually being published, the forces of censorship have finally scored a small victory. Due to the threat of legal action from lawyers representing one of the book’s main antagonists, Murray’s publishers pulled the plug, leaving The Catholic Orangemen of Togo without a home or a means of widespread circulation.

Which is where the internet comes in. Determined that his legal problems shouldn’t bar people from accessing a first-hand account of this important chapter in British foreign policy, Murray has made the whole book freely available in PDF format so that people can make up their own minds.

Whilst I should probably leave the book reviews to the better-qualified, I can tell you that it’s a riveting, insightful and (when you look beyond the author’s professed faults) deeply moral piece of work. Murray certainly makes a compelling and persuasive narrator: his style is easy to digest, his chapters are filled with insights and sharp observations about his working life, and the book is rooted firmly in the context of broader trends in British and international politics.

Whilst it’s pretty well researched and referenced, Murray doesn’t have any pretensions of producing a dispassionate, scholarly foreign policy tome. No, this is strictly a memoir, but beyond the anecdotes and personal reflections, there are still very serious issues raised about arms trafficking, the role of mercenaries and the future of democracy and international development. All in all, it’s a valuable contribution for those of us who dream of achieving that elusive goal of an ‘ethical foreign policy’, and a real indictment of the current state of free speech that it lacks a mainstream publisher.

You can find more information about the book at Craig Murray’s own blog, download the full version (in two parts) here & here, and if you feel impressed enough to order a self-published hard copy, you can do so here.

The religious (probably) have nothing to worry about

January 7, 2009 at 9:22 pm | Posted in British Politics, Media, Religion | Leave a comment


What fascinates me most about the whole ‘atheist bus campaign’ is watching religious people trying to critique it. Just a few years back, when the godless discourse was dominated by Messrs Dawkins and Hitchens talking about ‘celestial dictators’, Flying Spaghetti Monsters and the ‘indoctrination’ in Sunday Schools, it was easy enough for your average theist to condemn non-believers as ‘militiant’, belligerent and just as bent on denying freedom as the religious fanatics they despise. They were wrong, I think, but it was still a popular, effective attack.

But that attack just doesn’t work with this campaign. Its message is emblazoned in bright, colourful lettering, its words carry a reassuring, inoffensive message, and the breeziness of its approach has meant that critics still haven’t managed to land a punch, as this failed attempt by Nick Spencer demonstrates:

Let’s leave aside the adverts’ basic proposition, “There’s probably no God”. Where did that “probably” come from? It doesn’t suggest the sales staff is overly confident about its product. If my pilot told me “This flight to Paris probably won’t crash,” I’d think about taking the train.

And let’s leave aside the advice, “Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. You would have to go a long way to find a slogan less suited to our New Year, recession-looming, mass-unemployment gloom.

No, let’s not leave that aside, because if we do then we have to accept that Spencer’s interpretation is correct. It isn’t.

“Where did the ‘probably’ come from?” Well, from theists, actually. The common response from believers to the statement that ‘there is no God!’ is ‘but how do you know that?’ The simple answer is: we don’t. But our society has only developed this far by placing a high premium on evidence and rationality, so it’s not unfair to deduce from the scant evidence of a Higher Being that one (probably) doesn’t exist. Atheists can hardly be blamed for adding a caveat that was demanded by believers in the first place.

Next, Spencer seems to interpret the “Now stop worrying and enjoy life” line as meaning “the truth shall set you free and all your woes banished!” It doesn’t. What it does say is that we have enough to worry about with the recession, the job losses, the massacres in far-off lands and the climate change without being warned that we’re all set for an eternity in a lake of fire if we don’t attend an Alpha Course . It’s not claiming that atheism will make you happier, give you clearer skin or a toned stomach; merely that this is (probably) our only shot at life, and we should try to make the best of it whilst we’re here.

Next, Spencer appeals to the God of capitalism and asks us to imagine Atheism© and Religion® as if they’re competing brands in the marketplace of ideas:

Of course, merely coming up in conversation is no guarantee that God will win the argument. New competition does not guarantee the market leader’s reinvigoration. If new products are evidently superior, old ones can simply die. When did you buy your last VHS player?

If belief in God is indeed as transparently nonsensical as (some) atheists make out, if the faithful are such idiots, their churches and synagogues so dehumanising, and religion such a grotesque and malign virus, that is precisely what will happen.

The obvious flaw here is that he isn’t comparing like with like; the difference between religion and atheism is as vast as that between alcoholism and teetotalism, or between sex and abstinence. But beyond that, Spencer seems to misunderstand how the campaign developed and what it’s meant to achieve. The motivation here was never to proselytise for atheism or steal people away from the church; instead, it was a reaction against excessive proselytising in our public sphere, whether it be an Archbishop’s batty, ill-informed views of economics, free speach-squelching protests against art or the ‘Save Yourself!’ bus advertisements for the Alpha Course. All it was ever intended to be was a small dissent from the hymns to religious observance that we hear every day.

That modesty is part of what gives the atheist bus campaign its growing appeal, but it’s also why its religious critics (probably) have nothing to worry about.

Spinal Tap meets Jihad

January 6, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Posted in Media, Terrorism | Leave a comment

If the new Chris Morris satire catches just a glimpse of the farce and amateurish absurdity of wannabe terrorists, it’ll be well worth watching:

Deirdre Steed, who worked with Morris to secure funding for the film, said the satirist, who fronted The Day Today and Brass Eye, has spoken to terrorism experts, imams, police, secret services and hundreds of Muslims to research the film.

“Even those who have trained and fought jihad report the frequency of farce,” she said. “At training camps, young jihadis argue about honey, cry for their mums, shoot each other’s feet off, chase snakes and get thrown out for smoking. A minute into his martyrdom video, a would-be bomber looks puzzled and says ‘what was the question again?’ On Millennium eve, five jihadis set out to ram a US warship. They slipped their boat into the water and carefully stacked it with explosives. It sank.”

If it comes anywhere close to Brass Eye, it could be hilariously brutal…


December 29, 2008 at 6:45 pm | Posted in International, Media | Leave a comment

I know I’m still meant to be doing the ‘festive cheer’ thing, but reporting like this never fails to annoy:

Obama has given no hint so far on his policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though he has said finding a peace plan will be an early priority of his administration.

Before running for president, he aired opinions in his home town, Chicago, strongly sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, incurring suspicion among Israelis and some US Jewish groups.

But after winning the Democratic nomination earlier this year he veered in the other direction, voicing strong support for Israel in a speech in Washington to the Israeli lobby group AIPAC.

Look, I’ll accept that there are many ‘known unknowns’ over how an Obama administration will react to the conflict – that’s one of the unfortunate consequences of not being President yet. However, voicing sympathy for the plight of Palestinians and also claiming to be a strong supporter of Israel is not in any way contradictory, as this piece implies. You could, in fact, argue that Israel’s ‘strongest’ supporters are those who realise that these military actions might be effective in achieving some short-term security objectives, but contribute nothing towards its long-term peace and stability.

Having some measure of empathy for an impoverished and desperate Palestinian people does not mean fawning over Hamas, nor does it signal a belief that Israel should start coddling those who want only to kill. Equally, believing Israel has a right to exist and to defend itself against external threats does not mean endorsing or acquiescing to its self-destructive, militaristic excesses.

What that part of the world needs more than anything is someone capable of viewing foreign policy challenges with a little more nuance than simply reducing everything into a pair of binary oppositions. I think all sides had better hope that an Obama administration has that ability.

Christmas with Ahmadinejad

December 26, 2008 at 12:15 am | Posted in International, Media | Leave a comment

We hide it well with all the carols, fairy lights and attempts at bonhomie, but Christmas isn’t really more or less sincere than any other time of the year. We still send Christmas cards to people we barely know, still make merry with co-workers we can’t stand, and still wince in the presence of relatives we usualy make no effort to see.

Even so, none of our humdrum hypocrisies or staged acts of sincerity are anywhere near the dappy doublespeak that Iran’s smirking propagandist has ‘treated‘ us to. Offering warm congratulations to ‘followers of Abrahamic faiths’ and ‘the people of Britain’, Ahmadinejad reminds us that Jesus is “the standard-bearer of justice, of love for our fellow human beings, of the fight against tyranny, discrimination and injustice.”

All this coming from the President of a country which has stoned women, hung children, executed gays and arrested women’s rights activists. To paraphrase the late, great Adrian Mitchell, from his mouth the words sounded like a fart.

On the question of whether or not his message should’ve been shown, I think it’s possible for good people to disagree. Peter Tatchell has always been a laudably consistent ‘No Platform’ campaigner, whilst Channel 4 are right to point out that their network has done more than any other to increase our country’s understanding of the Middle East’s most recent bête noire.

The response of our elected officials, on the other hand, has been less than impressive. Conservative MP Mark Pritchard couldn’t stop himself from using it as an opportunity to tout the Tories’ longstanding desire to privatise C4, and as for the Foreign Office’s port-fuelled fuming, well, I’d feel a lot more sympathetic to their human rights stance if we weren’t about to deport a Zimbabwean refugee who was raped and tortured at the hands of Mugabe’s henchmen.

I lean towards the position that it shouldn’t have been shown, but we should at least remember that his message was hardly given a prominent or prestigious slot. His predecessors are so illustrious as to include Ali G, Marge Simpson, Jamie Oliver and Sharon Osbourne. I mean, it’s hardly the Dimbleby Lecture, is it? Frankly, it’s hard to see Ahmadinejad’s 15 minutes of pompous pieties as anything more than some cheaply-made, space-filling ephemera from the premier purveyors of car crash TV, and which puts the President of Iran in the same company as a few nondescript, C-list celebrities. That’s still far more than he deserves, of course, but is also far less of a propaganda coup than this obsessive self-publicist thinks he’s won.

Is the media ignoring poverty?

September 16, 2008 at 7:51 am | Posted in British Politics, Media, Working Class Britain | 1 Comment
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We might not be having much success in making poverty history, but we can, at least, make sure no one has to read about it. That’s the conclusion of this Rowntree Foundation report that’s been generating a fair amount of chatter in recent days. To cut a long story short, the report finds that the media’s coverage of poverty in Britain leaves a lot to be desired, both in the amount of coverage it’s given and in the form this coverage takes. The report argues that if it’s even mentioned at all, the issue is covered casually, often as a way of talking about broader issues like crime, the economy and politics. ‘Real life’ depictions of poverty are almost always absent, and the poor are often represented in an unsympathetic light.

The report concludes that the media can and must do more to give poverty the high profile it deserves, and they’ve even produced a ‘practical guide’ of advice for journalists who end up being forced to write about it. It’s all very noble, well-intentioned & agreeable, of course, but I really don’t see how it’s going to make a blind bit of difference. As Peter Wilby notes, the unfortunate bottom line is that poverty isn’t going to sell newspapers and it’s not going to make great TV. Every editorial decision is also a business decision and it doesn’t make too much sense in the current climate to produce portrayals of deprivation at a time when most of the country is also suffering from hardship. Editors are beholden to their readers & their owners, not reports from well-meaning pressure groups.

However, it’s also true that the media is dependent on events, and uses them as a means of discussing broader social issues. The riots in Brixton & Toxteth provided the opportunity to highlight the deprivation in those communities, and the murder of Stephen Lawrence became a chance to discuss the problem of racism. So when Shannon Matthews was assumed to have been kidnapped and the nation’s media arrived, en masse, to the economically unhappy community of Dewsbury Moor, why wasn’t there more serious focus on the poverty kids like Shannon were growing up in, rather than the snobbish seething over her mother’s personal life?

There’s isn’t one sole, simple answer, but I think there might be some truth in Tom Clarke’s suggestion that social class, and the economic & cultural disparity between those who produce the media and those who receive it, may well be a contributing factor. If this is true, then we might assume that the media is unconsciously (and therefore uncritically) reflecting the increasing economic inequalities in Britain. If so, then perhaps it might be time to redirect a few foreign correspondents to report from our council estates.

Eliminationism in Britain

April 17, 2008 at 6:50 pm | Posted in British Politics, Immigration, Media | 1 Comment
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Photo by Flickr user The Sizemore McCabe Project (Creative Commons)

To say the Daily Express and its embittered older brothers lie frequently, compulsively and without any care for the spite they spill over the nation’s newstands is regarded as such a worn-out cliche that it’s hardly worth giving voice to, let alone toiling over another outraged blog post. When confronted with their crimes against truth, it’s easy to affect a resigned sigh or revel in mockery of their mudslinging and doomsaying. It’s a defence mechanism, I guess. It allows us go about our lives without constantly rubbing our worried temples at how pervasive their divisive rhetoric is within society.

But when the lie is so blatant, so contrived and only achievable through contorting the facts to suit your fears, the only option is to fling the mud straight back at them.

On April 16th The Guardian reported that for all the Express’ fear-mongering about immigrants ramping-up the country’s crime rate, the Association of Chief Police Officers (who know a thing or two about crime) found that an immigrant was no more likely to commit crime than the tawdry little Englanders Great Britons who read the ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’.

Feeling shocked, hurt and probably a little betrayed by this invasion of inconvenient truths, the next day the Express decided to report that ACPO’s conclusions were the exact opposite and that, yes, the Polish mafia is still raping grannies, stealing from children and setting up drug dens in every suburban street.

On first glance, it seems baffling that the Express would stoop to such desparation, particularly when ACPO’s report contained enough conclusions for them to claim an ill-won victory. Take this for example:

“The influx of eastern Europeans has created pressures on forces in some areas, including local rumour and misunderstandings fuelling tensions which police have had to be proactive in resolving, and leading to significant increases in spending on interpreters, which can also make investigations more complex.”

There’s enough meat in that paragraph alone to make a juicy front-page headline: See, we were right all along! They come over here, steal our jobs and use our public services. Victory is mine!

But instead of exaggerating and exploiting one easily-available truth, they sought to lead with a lie. Why do this? For me, this blatant deception proves that the Daily Express, and to a lesser extent The Sun and Daily Mail, are actively espousing the politics of eliminationism.

In the words of David Neiwert, whose own blog heroically chronicles the violence and exclusionary rhetoric of the American far-right, eliminationism:

Describes a kind of politics and culture that shuns dialogue and the democratic exchange of ideas for the pursuit of outright elimination of the opposing side, either through complete suppression, exile and ejection, or extermination.

It comes in many different guises – from McCarthyism and the recent witch-hunt against liberals to internment and racial segregation – but at its core is the stubborn rejection of coexistence with The Other. For the British far-right, immigrants sit alongside ‘gypsies’ and Muslims as a trinity of Others that cannot, must not be allowed to coexist with the middle class monoculture of their dreams. But because the British people are actually fairer and more tolerant than you’d know from reading the papers or prowling message boards, the only way they can achieve this goal is by practicing the politics of division, by forging the facts, by misinterpreting ministers’ statements, by wailing about ‘preferential treatment’, by turning anecdotal evidence into universal truth and by stubbornly rejecting any fact or argument that doesn’t conform.

Think I’m overreacting? Then answer me this: if the Daily Express and its associated slime-merchants were merely concerned that immigration was no longer socially sustainable and there should be greater restrictions in place, why attack those that are already here? Why insist they’re committing massive levels of crime when no evidence for that exists or maintain that these overwhelmingly hard-working people are ‘sponging’ off the state? If they’re so concerned with reducing the number of immigrants in the future, why attack those that are here now?

The answer is that ‘no immigrant is a good immigrant’, and they’ll stoop to any low seeking to prove it.

Related reading:

  • Admittedly, this is more of a pursuit for those who are slightly more time-rich, by Dave Neiwert’s epic series on US immigration is more than worth your time. You’ll find the intro here, followed by 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 parts of brilliant, if slightly chilling reportage.
  • Anton Vowl and Septicisle were disecting these bastards long before I came along. Show some love.

Photo by Flickr user The Sizemore McCabe Project (Creative Commons)

‘World’s Greatest Newspaper’: Yes, we printed lies about the McCanns

March 19, 2008 at 11:29 am | Posted in Idiot Hall of Fame, Media | 2 Comments
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2008-03-191.jpgWhen it comes to our newspapers, speech isn’t free; it’s dirt cheap. It’s cheap when you blame Fiona MacKeown for her daughter’s murder or Karen Matthews for her daughter’s abduction. It’s cheap when you blame the country’s problems on immigrants or benefit claimants, when they blamed Liverpool fans for the Hillsborough tragedy and the miners for the miners’ strike. Every day and on every page you will find exaggerations and fabrications, fearmongering and hate.

But every once in a while, someone comes along who has enough money and enough resolve to make them defend their despicable smears in court. When that day comes, chances are they won’t be able to do it. From the Guardian:

The Daily Express and Daily Star carried unprecedented front page apologies to Gerry and Kate McCann today for publishing more than 100 articles on the disappearance of their daughter, Madeleine, some of which suggested the couple were involved in her death .

After being threatened with legal action over the articles dating back almost 11 months to when their daughter first went missing, the newspapers, owned by Richard Desmond, also agreed to pay out what it called “a very substantial sum”.

Someone remind me – is this what makes the Express the ‘World’s Greatest Newspaper?’ From the devil’s own lips:

The Daily Express today takes the unprecedented step of making a front-page apology to Kate and Gerry McCann. We do so because we accept that a number of articles in the newspaper have suggested that the couple caused the death of their missing daughter Madeleine and then covered it up.

So why this unprecedented show of contrition? Roy Greenslade explains:

The deal was worked out without any court hearing having taken place, and the fact that the papers capitulated without a fight suggests that their legal advisers told them they had no chance of winning if the case went to trial.


This was no journalistic accident, but a sustained campaign of vitriol against a grief-stricken family. The stories were not merely speculative, but laced with innuendo which continually made accusations against the McCanns on the basis of anonymous sources and without any hard evidence.

Wild claims, often made by unattributed sources to Portuguese newspapers, were then spun even more negatively by the Express and Star titles. Of course, they were not the only papers to carry prejudicial material, but they were by far the worst. (emphasis mine)

So not only are their words cheap and their morals cheap, but their methods – the kind of thing that’s meant to distinguish a journalist from some know-nothing down the pub – essentially amount to that of a third-rate blogger, culling made-up quotes from foreign newspapers and accompanying them with callous ‘analysis’. Why did they do this? Because the McCann story sold lots of newspapers. But because they didn’t want to pay for proper journalism, they simply string together some unscrupulous, anonymous sources and tart them up as ‘exclusives’.

Greenslade concludes that the Express and Star‘s apologies to McCanns bring all of journalism into disrepute. No, Roy, it brings tabloid journalism into disrepute, and the only way they’re going to stop their malicious, disproportionate and unethical reporting is if they’re forced to pay large out-of-court settlements each and every time they stoop to it. Speech should be free, but lies should be expensive

Todays top story: why does Hillary wear such bad clothes?

March 18, 2008 at 12:52 pm | Posted in Media | Leave a comment
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Once it materialised that there were no weapons of mass destruction to be found in Iraq, that there was no substantial link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda and that the intelligence presented to the American people to prove those things had been cherry-picked and massaged to offer only the most damning conclusions, there were understandably some questions about whether the press had performed its role as a ‘watchdog’ of the government effectively enough.

Were they too willing to accept the White House’s ominous warnings of the ‘smoking gun’ that could turn into a ‘mushroom cloud’? Are they too willing to pander to sensationalism instead of allowing major issues to be addressed with nuance and reason? Are they obsessed with frivilous issues that mean precisely zero when set against the myriad challenges humanity faces?

You could probably answer ‘yes’ to each of these questions, particularly the last. But, in the words of Fox News, they just report; we decide. So here’s what The Guardian’s readership decided was yesterday’s most important story:

At a time when banks are crashing, ice caps are melting and things keep blowing up everywhere, there’s nothing quite like having your priorities in order….

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