Archive for April, 2007
I can’t help but get the impression that the Press Complaints Commission is feeling a little under pressure. Its 2006 annual report, released this week, is a weighty 28 pages, 50% bigger than last years. The PCC uses the extra girth to defend its actions to protect people’s privacy, to make newspapers give prominence to corrections, to influence the behaviour of the press in Suffolk (behind the scenes), to clear up the aftermath of the Clive Goodman phone tapping affair, and to prevent media scrums and harassment.
An aggrieved tone saturates the report. Phrases like ‘something that is often overlooked’, ‘leads some people erroneously to think’, and ‘some people suggest that…’ suggest the body is determined to dispell the idea it is ineffective.
There are, however, a few things the report does not mention:
- That less than 1% of cases are adjudicated (*stats based on year Oct ’05 – Oct ’06 because, bizarrely, full stats for ’06 not included in report)
- That 84.3% of complaints are thrown out before they even reach the resolution or adjudication stage
- That the PCC has not, following the Clive Goodman case, interviewed Goodman’s editor, but chose instead to interview his successor who – coming from America – had no knowledge either of Goodman’s actions nor how widespread Goodman’s behaviour was within News of the World.
This is not to mention the way the press acted when the sailors returned from Iran, or towards Kate Middleton, or towards the family of Sally Clark (saved for 2007 report?).
At least the PCC recognises it has alot of defending to do – and it has been making noises that it is intending to become more proactive. But let’s hope it realises it still has a long way to go before it is seen to be an effective self-regulatory body.
‘£1m for 1,000 journalists’ is the attention grabbing if slightly gruesome headline for the campaign INSI launched in the Commons yesterday. Austin Mitchell, Richard Sambrook and Rodney Pinder told a packed Committee Room 11 how they hoped both to stop governments granting impunity to people who kill journalists and to convince news organisations worldwide that it’s in their interest to give their employees safety training (one wouldn’t have thought they needed convincing but clearly they do – even in the UK there are only two newspapers signed up to INSI).
There are three ways in which INSI can make a significant difference:
- Through its pragmatic, on-the-ground training, which Pinder says has already saved lives
- By recording each death so we have a verifiable record that can be used to put pressure on governments, the UN etc. – INSI now has a database going back 10 years and plans to publish a sort of ‘Killings Index’ (Mitchell’s phrase) or equivalent annually (INSI figures are calculated slightly differently from those of the Committee to Protect Journalists – to take account of support workers)
- By publicising the deaths of journalists and, almost as important, what happens next (which is normally nothing – according to INSI’s report, of 657 deliberate killings of journalists since 1996, only 27 have resulted in the identification and conviction of the killers)
All of which INSI is now trying to do, but can’t if it doesn’t have funding.
With Alan Johnston still in captivity, and with the recent murders of high profile figures like Hrant Dink and Anna Politkovskaya, now is surely the moment when governments and news outlets should get behind an organisation like INSI.
At the Orwell awards last night to see two Peters, Beaumont and Hennessy, win for their journalism and literature respectively, and to see Newsnight win a freshly minted prize for brave, on-the-ground reporting. Beaumont, foreign affairs editor at the Observer, won for a series of remarkable reports from Iraq, in which he has managed to convey the growing brutality of the conflict from both the Iraqi and the American perspectives. Read, for example, this gripping dispatch from Burhiz, in which Beaumont explains how General Petraeus’ ‘clear, hold and build’ strategy is turning into a ‘deadly game of snakes and ladders’. Or his horrifying piece about the ‘Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq’s women‘. And last month he summed up his time in Iraq on the fourth anniversary of the war with ‘How the good turned bad’ (Part 1 & Part 2).
Beaumont was a worthy winner amongst a shortlist that included Jonathan Freedland, Martin Bright, John Rentoul, Steve Richards and Peter Hitchens. I confess I hadn’t read Hitchens’ foreign dispatches for the Mail on Sunday – for which he was nominated rather than for his ‘fire and brimstone’ columns (see for example ‘Iran – a nation of nose jobs, not nuclear war‘ or ‘The Nashis – intimidating and harassing‘).
Hennessy’s book, Having It So Good, Britain in the Fifties, was a more surprising choice – not because it’s not a good book – but just because it seems less in keeping with the spirit of Orwell than Rory Stewart’s Occupational Hazards or Lewis Page’s Lions, Donkeys and Dinosaurs.
The stature of the Orwell Prize could be seen by how many distinguished journalists and authors packed into the Frontline Club. Which makes it odd that it receives virtually no media coverage (the Frontline Club does not yet mention it on its website since it was a private function… but will be soon – see comment).
It was also very good to see the Orwell expanding to encompass broadcasting footage – particularly since the judges picked out specific dispatches – notably David Loyn’s astonishing report from Afghanistan. All signs suggest the award will go from strength to strength.
Addendum 4pm: Ben Dowell from the Guardian has now published an article on the prize (with Hennessy’s name spelt wrong)
As television reels from the blows of the Great TV Phone Scandal along comes Dr Aric Sigman to land another uppercut. The Guardian, the Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Mirror all cover Sigman’s speech to the MediaWatch-UK event in which he railed against the effects of TV on children and called for a ban on all TV viewing for the under-3s (The Times covered the article on which the speech was based back in February).
Protecting children from the harmful effects of TV is clearly in fashion. OFCOM have banned junk food ads during children’s programmes, Compass has written a scary report on the Commercialisation of Childhood in which TV plays a lead role, and the Telegraph is running a Hold On To Childhood campaign.
But it’s odd that so many newspapers should pick up on this story – and report it so uncritically. Only two mention that the speech was at an event organised by the campaigning organisation MediaWatch-UK, and only one refers to Sigman’s previous publication ‘Remotely Controlled: How Television is Damaging Our Lives’. The reports refer to other studies which confirm Sigman’s findings, but none which contradict them, or even those which illustrate the complexity of this issue. The Guardian refers to ‘a growing body of research’ and mentions a 2004 study by Cornell University about TV and autism (but doesn’t link to it). The Telegraph doesn’t refer to any other studies, pro or anti, and the Mail helpfully tells us that Sigman originally made his argument ‘In a report in a science journal’ (it’s in The Biologist and available online). The only report to find someone with an alternative perspective is the BBC’s (not bylined).
Even if you have sympathy for Sigman’s criticisms (which I do) they are less credible if not questioned or put in proper context. Why is it that news organisations so often seem to accept what scientists say so uncritically?