Archive for June, 2007
The Fourth Estate appear to have been remarkably complacent about scrutinizing Tony Blair’s new post as Middle East special envoy for the ‘Quartet’.
‘Quartet ready to name Blair Middle East envoy‘. ‘Blair to become Middle East envoy‘. ‘Middle East Quartet discuss Blair as envoy‘.
What exactly is the ‘Middle East Quartet’? According to that source of all wisdom Wikipedia it was ‘established in 2002 as a result of the escalating situation in the Middle East’. Really? So to whom is the Quartet accountable, when does it meet, does it have a budget?
Here things get alot more fuzzy. Its statements appear to be issued by the US Department of State (Condoleeza Rice welcomed Blair’s appointment). Its members are, I think, the foreign ministers / representatives of the US, Russia, EU and UN (i.e. Rice, Sergei Lavrov, Javier Solana and Ban Ki-Moon), although when they speak to one another and how they reach agreement is entirely unclear.
The Guardian’s report suggested the appointment followed a Blair-Bush conversation and that Washington ‘mounted “an enormous push” to ensure Mr Blair got the post’. It came as a surprise, apparently, to the Foreign Office, and Gordon Brown ‘is said to be deeply unhappy with the appointment’ (James Blitz, FT).
And what about Blair’s role? Presumably he’s not doing this for free. What’s he getting paid? What’s his team getting paid? (does he have a team?) Who’s paying it? To whom is he accountable? Will he be reporting to Rice, Ban Ki- Moon, Lavrov, Solana, all four? The bland Quartet statement doesn’t answer these questions.
At first I thought I was just being dumb. Surely I’d missed something. The press must have reported on this.
But no, as far as I can tell (and please disabuse me of this if I’m wrong), we know very little about this de facto group of powers which has no specific remit, no governance structure, and no budget. We know even less about the details of Blair’s appointment.
Is there any chance that Tony Blair is taking his style of sofa government to the world stage?
Please could someone do a little digging?
Isn’t it ironic that as we Britons become the most watched people in the world, fewer and fewer people are watching the watchers?
4.2 million CCTV cameras in Britain and rising. One for every 14 people (Surveillance Society report, p.23)
But what about the sources of power? Who is watching the executive, the legislature and the judiciary? By all accounts less and less of us – at least for our day job.
Press Gazette reports this week on research it’s conducted – backed up by similar work by the NUJ – showing a steep decline in reporting of local government. ‘Most local newspapers now do not have a regular local government correspondent’. For political scoops local papers rely on leaks from ‘disgruntled politicians’ or ‘residents with an axe to grind’. In the same issue Adrian Monck describes the disappearance of detailed court reporting. Parliamentary reports, as we know, were dropped from all the nationals over a decade ago.
Why does it matter? It matters not just because we’re losing a base layer of knowledge and understanding about the use and abuse of power; nor just because there won’t be people ready and able to expose corruption or miscarriages of justice, but because those in power will know they’re not being watched.
If you’re being watched you behave differently. You know if you don’t participate you’ll be embarrassed (ask the guys at www.theyworkforyou.com -MPs have been attending votes and making speeches to make sure their stats don’t look bad), you’ll probably do more preparation if you know you’ll be asked difficult questions, and you’ll think twice before you decide to ignore something or cover something up.
There’s no question that the foundations of the Fourth Estate are being eroded. Sadly, we don’t yet know what, if anything, is going to replace them.
Watching the TV, reading the reports in the papers and online, I’m still at a loss to know what really happened at last week’s EU summit and what the Treaty actually means.
Is this the media’s fault? Or is it the fault of the EU and the government’s themselves – who held discussions behind closed doors in smoke filled rooms, and who all told suspiciously similar stories when they came out.
Can the media hold the EU to account? – is the subject of this week’s discussion at the Media Standards Trust.
Does politics sell? Few editors or politicians are confident it does. This is perfectly illustrated by today’s Times, whose front page typifies the insecurity both share about the public’s interest in politics.
Headlined ‘A Hollywood ending‘ the page is dominated by a picture of Arnold Schwarzennegger talking to Tony Blair outside Number 10. Beneath the picture the paper promotes ‘Ben Schott’s Prime Minister’s miscellany’. The lead story itself then focuses on the defection of a little known Tory MP. Blair’s departure and Brown’s arrival sold by celebrity and trivia.
But the editors’ insecurity is matched by that of the politicians. Blair knew the photo-op with Arnie would earn him a few front pages. Equally, did Brown need to pump up his arrival with news of a Tory defection? Is this a ‘huge coup for Brown’ as Philip Webster writes? Or, as Alice Miles describes it a few pages on; ‘A decision of no consequence to the country whatsoever, based probably on some fit of pique and personal vanity’, that simply re-emphasises the idea that politics is a big game?
I was talking yesterday to an all party parliamentary media group. A number of the politicians were despairing about their inability to communicate serious issues to the broader public (sound familiar?). But is it any wonder that much of the public is turned off when media and senior politicians collude in selling politics this way?
And is it any surprise that The Times feels insecure when its News Corp colleague, The Sun, takes time out from reporting on Big Brother and Paris Hilton to headline with a ‘world exclusive interview‘ with George Bush? This is accompanied by a 16 page Sun pull-out of ‘The Tony Blair I Know’, peppered with quotes from Bill Clinton, Anthony Giddens and Bill Gates. This is Hello! meets Newsweek. Personality driven, populist, and devoid of political substance, it makes a curious, if fitting, end to the Blair era.