May 23, 2008

There must be a better way

Filed under: Media, Politics/News — Tags: , , , — 4fooey @ 1:41 pm

It seems that with the Crewe & Nantwich by-election people are seriously considering the Tories as a potential government – that prospect I find more than a little depressing. Not because I especially dislike the tories (although I prefer them the least of the 3 main parties) just that the great mass of people were once on the side of New Labour and now, for various reasons, they are prepared to swing across to the Tories. And so this merry-go-round, of switching back and forth from one party to the other, goes on — since I can remember this has been the case in UK politics. People must have short memories. Can they remember the eighties and nineties, when the tories were last in charge? I’m afraid the Crewe by-election does appear to signal the end of the Labour government, which is a shame.

In my opinion, David Cameron has had very little to offer in terms of policy. Since the 2005 election, the tories have been trying to distance themselves from previous tory governments — in marketing speak, they have been ‘decontaminating the brand’. Somehow they have been virtually unchallenged by the media, who obviously have switched, or are in the process of switching to the tories. For months now, the media has taken issue after issue to give the government, and specifically Gordon Brown, a good kicking, and have largely ignored any issues that do not fit their agenda. The government is accused of spinning, but the tories are just as adept at trying to use the media — the success of this strategy depends largely on whether or not the media is ‘on your side’. Clearly they are not on Labour’s side anymore. Overall though the media are a very destructive influence to the government and the morale of the country.

What worries me is that, although they have a nice new leader who plays well in the media, the Conservative party are really the same old party. Basically, tory governments cut taxes (often benefitting richer people), cut public services, and they tend to appeal to the most basic instincts in people, including selfishness and xenophobia. The really big issue that we’ve heard little about for months is Europe – apart from the recent EU Reform Treaty the tories have kept very quiet about Europe. As a party they are deeply Euro-sceptic. I would like to see much more openness about Europe, but in general we should embrace the European concept, rather than shying away from it. I feel there are many in the tory party who would want us to come out of the EU, which would be a backward step.

There are powerful forces at work in the world. The rise of the Asian countries. The price of oil/energy and food. The problem of international terrorism, and religious fundamentalism. The problem of climate change. We need to work together (in Europe, the UN) and with other countries (the USA) to solve these problems, and to do this we need a strong government, which can make the right long-term decisions. To achieve this we need to trust and support the government, and have an objective and positive media, that is supportive of the institutions of our country. At the moment the whole political environment is tainted by media cynicism. We need to get away from the tit-for-tat politics, boom-and-bust economics, and the traditional merry-go-round of the two main parties falling in and out of favour. Younger generations are not so interested in political allegiances — sure they want stuff to be done, and problems to be solved, but they’re not interested in the old political games – I believe most people are really tired of our political system. Today I can’t help feeling ‘Here we go again…’ with this seemingly fruitless to-ing and fro-ing between Tory and Labour. There must be a better way to manage things…


April 23, 2008

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t

Filed under: Media, Politics/News — Tags: , , — 4fooey @ 8:34 pm

The whole “10p tax” issue has been whipped up into a storm, designed to hurt PM Gordon Brown, and there are several Labour backbenchers who are doing their best to completely undermine him – why are they trying to punish their own leader? Let’s analyse the issue: in the March 2007 budget Gordon Brown said he would take away the 10p tax band and lower the 22% rate to 20% – this is a good idea – to make the bands easier to understand and fairer right across the majority of tax payers. This change was voted on and was passed through parliament – apparently the tories were in favour of getting rid of the 10p tax band two years ago, they abstained on the vote on last year’s budget, now they act as though they are in favour of keeping the band – their policy on this, like many other things is inconsistent. Hearing Mr Cameron in today’s PMQs talking about “the poor” sounds very hollow and he’s just using the 10p tax issue to bash the PM. 

These tax changes came into effect this April 2008. Since then several Labour MPs have realised that some people may lose out – this often happens with tax changes. It’s estimated that 5 million people are effected. But of course those people who need most help, that is working, families will be better off – the estimate is around 11 million. OK this is pretty uncomfortable for some people.

Gordon Brown said he would not re-introduce the 10p tax band – he can’t. But having listened to his party he is introducing some measures to compensate some/most of those effected by the tax changes. Now of course this is being depicted in the media as weakness and being described as a U-turn. People and in particular the media cannot have it both ways. Earlier this week they have voiced their concerns about the policy, the goverment has responded, but still they complain. As Mr Brown states, changing the tax system was the right decision – he can appreciate the difficulties this may cause, and has acted. Isn’t this exactly what people (& the media) wanted? And isn’t this exactly what you would expect any sensible person or leader to do?

Unfortunately the media will punish Mr Brown hard on this issue and many people will go along with this – The media builds people up, they knock them down. They takes sides, rather than analysing issues objectively. They exaggerate, are deeply cynical and hypocritical. I believe this issues, like many others, shows how corrosive an influence the media is on our national life and politics.

March 19, 2008

Gutter crap

Filed under: Media, Politics/News — Tags: , , — 4fooey @ 10:18 pm

The so-called “tabloids” (a term no longer apt since most newspapers are tabloid in size) or “gutter press” have taken a beating today, and rightly so. Today in the UK two newspapers, the Daily Express and the Daily Star had to print grovelling apologies to Kate and Gerry McCann for the utter nonsense they have been writing about them and the entire Madeleine case since she went missing last May, 2007. Every day they print complete rubbish and twist the truth, but with the Madeleine case they have stepped well over the mark – every day the tabloids print gossip, untruths, twisted viewpoints, and other meaningless twaddle, and every day hundreds of millions of people buy and read this nonsense.

I buy these papers now and again, just to assure myself that they are total crap. And it makes me very angry. To think we spend billions trying to educate people and yet millions read this rubbish and have their opinons shaped by it – why do newspaper editors (whom one assumes are reasonably intelligent or literate people) allow such nonsense to be written and published in their papers. Every day of the week they print defamatory, slanderous, and libellous comments about anybody they wish to pick on – the McCann’s are just the latest victims, Heather Mills (McCartney) is probably another whom they depict as mad and grasping (whereas they depict Paul McCartney as a near saint, which is equally probably not the truth).

The apologies printed on the covers of the Daily Express and the Daily Star (both owned Express newspapers, btw) are reproduced on the internet; here’s the one in the Express: KATE AND GERRY MCCANN: SORRY. Just as damaging for the Express were the comments they had to read out in court: “Express Newspapers regrets publishing these extremely serious, yet baseless, allegations concerning Mr and Mrs McCann over a sustained period of what will already have been an enormously distressing time for them.” Imagine how the McCann’s have felt.

The papers were forced to pay over £500,000 to the Find Madeleine fund – seems like they got off very lightly. If I were the McCann’s I would now sue the papers for libel  – the papers have more-or-less admitted their guilt – they would get millions.

I haven’t got much real sympathy for the McCann’s, since they have always sought the limelight and have become ‘media stars’ in their own right, but they do not deserve what they have been accused of. It’s great that the tabloids have been taught a lesson today, but I doubt they’ll mend their truly evil ways.

June 12, 2007

And here is (not) the news

Filed under: Media — 4fooey @ 10:50 pm

Tony Blair today gave a critique of the state of the media and in particular news coverage – no doubt some will say it’s a bit rich coming from him, since he is regarded as someone who has managed the press more than most. If you analyse what he said, much of it is true:-
1. “scandal or controversy beats ordinary reporting.”
2. “attacking motive is more potent than attacking judgement.”
3. “the fear of missing out means today’s media … hunts in a pack” – meaning that they largely all report the same stories.
4. “rather than just report news, … the new technique is commentary on the news being as, if not more important than the news itself. So – for example – there will often be as much interpretation of what a politician is saying as there is coverage of them actually saying it. In the interpretation, what matters is not what they mean; but what they could be taken to mean” – this is most clearly seen, for example, on the main BBC 10 o’clock News where they will show a person speaking somewhere and the reporter will add their voice over giving their summary or interpretation of what was said – such a report may last 2-3 minutes, so in this case, why not replay several clips of the person actually speaking and then the viewer can make up their own mind.
5. “the confusion of news and commentary.”
Here is the full text of Blair’s speech: Blair on the media.

In the media’s constant search for sensation, and to get one over their competitors, they tend to polarise everything. Blair says “Things, people, issues, stories, are all [made] black and white [by the media]. Life’s usual grey is almost entirely absent. “Some good, some bad”; “some things going right, some going wrong”: these are concepts alien to today’s reporting. It’s a triumph or a disaster. A problem is “a crisis”. A setback is a policy “in tatters”. A criticism, “a savage attack”.” And he’s right. As he points out in the speech, he’s not trying to blame anyone, he’s pointing out the trend of the media and news reporting in particular straying further from the truth. The only newspaper I think that appears to be the nearest to simply reporting facts, is the Financial Times – as well as all the business related information, their news coverage seems fairly neutral.

I mentioned the main BBC 10 o’clock – the trend Blair was talking about can be seen on this program. The main newsreader no longer reads the news, as it happened, they introduce the story and hand over to someone else who usually provides a short summary of the main points of the story, or they will provide their view of the story – Hugh Edwards or Fiona Bruce (it’s usually one of them) will ask the reporter a number of ‘dumb’ questions in a quasi-interview and the reporter will answer, all scripted or heavily rehearsed. I think the BBC reporters are reasonably unbiased but the whole program is more subjective, and the news program itself is crafted more like any other program.

And why does it matter – I think a lot of this is just how it is today, nothing or no-one can change it, but as Blair suggested, the whole way news & issues are reported tends to blur fact and interpretation, into a kind of fiction, a narrative, a parallel to what actually happens. Even the story of Blair giving this speech about the media was reported as though he was criticising the media – but if you read the full text, it is more of a summary of the current state of things in the media.

June 2, 2007

(Un)reality TV

Filed under: Media — 4fooey @ 12:30 am

You couldn’t make this up… the last couple or 3 weeks in the media, aka on UK TV and on the web, has been weird, even weirder than normal. The real, the unreal, the bizarre, and the disturbing are all being played out on our TV or internet screens – reality and unreality are blurred.

unreality TV - note the Play button is just for effect...

At last there has been news of Alan Johnston – at least he is alive – with today the release of a video by an islamic-jihadist group apparently based in Palestine. While it’s good to see him alive, it is truly a strange and disturbing spectacle to see someone being forced to speak on camera, delivering a message from his captors. This could only be happening now, in 2007 with internet and instant news media – the captors release a video and the world’s media obligingly show it – what great (but ugly) publicity for them. The absolute irony here is that Johnston reported the plight of the Palestinians, showing the injustice of their situation, and now he has become the victim of the chaos in that region.

Then we have the continuing saga and spectacle of the McCann’s campaign to find Madeleine. I really feel for them – I can’t imagine how they feel, losing their child, not knowing where she is and whether or not she is alive. But I do feel really uneasy how they are using the media, and how the media are treating this story – I really feel this whole thing has been blown out of all proportion. It’s interesting to compare the McCann’s use of the media and that of Alan Johnston’s parents – they have sensibly kept out of the limelight and allowed the authorities get on with trying to get Alan released. A possible problem for the McCanns is that such a media glare has been created around their daughter, that if she is being held by someone, that someone will now find it impossible to give themselves up or hand back Madeleine – it may have put her life in danger. I also feel if she has been killed, then the publicity will make it harder for the McCanns to come to terms with it. This whole media circus was capped this week with the McCanns meeting the pope (what a strange mix of media, celebrity, and mystery), and now I see that on the ‘findmadeleine’ site, the fund has reached over £500,000.

Then we have the spectacle of Damien Hirst announcing his latest artwork, a platinum skull encrusted with over 8000 diamonds – the piece is reported to have cost £14million to make and will sell for $100million – as a piece of art, or media theatre, it has certainly captured the world’s attention. But why….? Obviously it is the cost, and it is quite a striking image, the sparkling skull. And of course it’s great publicity for Hirst who has a show opening at the White Cube gallery. This guy is a kind of cross between artist, rock star, and media celebrity – the latter is the key here, and his use of the media is very clever. Like the jihadist video makers, like the McCanns, he uses the media to maximum effect to get across his message – I’m not sure what his message is (he waffles something about death) but I know he’ll be making pots of money.

Then comes the ultimate media spectacle – Big Brother, which has just started its eighth series in the UK. This ‘program’ makes me sick, sick in the stomach – it is so useless, so pointless, soo…. – it is the absolute pits. Yet it’s really popular, but to me it appears to be about nothing – a triumph of the medium over the message – there is no message (no meaning), just its own useless existence; in this sense it is the definition and very essence of media celebrity itself. And on the day it started on Channel 4, rumour had it that the production company who makes it (Endemol, who else) is producing the ‘Big Donor Show’ – a show in which a terminally ill person gets to choose a recipient of their organs – yeah totally bizarre and tasteless. But tonight we learn that this is a hoax – funny that the rumour was put about on the day the BB was launched – funny that – what great publicity.

What do these all have in common – the media, and how the protagonists use the media, and how the media uses them. And how we are all bound up in this bizarre and wonderful soap opera that is the modern media. Can it get any stranger…?

P.S. the play button above does nothing – the pic is just to show that all these things are now being mixed up and played out on our TV or internet screens, like some weird unreality TV show.

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