Archive for July, 2007

Menwith Hill – thank goodness someone noticed

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Burying bad news works. That’s why the government does it. It doesn’t do democracy much good, and it doesn’t say much for the democratic credentials of this administration (or its courage) but it often succeeds.

So it has – almost – with Des Browne’s announcement last week that the UK would allow the US to install its early warning missile defense system at Menwith Hill.

The announcement was pushed out so hurriedly, in amongst so many other policies (46 in two days) before Parliament rose for the summer, that virtually no-one took any notice. It merited 54 words in The Times, a round up in the Guardian, a short piece in the Independent, and was ignored entirely by the Telegraph.

The only quotes used in the pieces written were from Des Browne himself and Kate Hudson, chair of CND. This is despite the fact that other, less extreme people have raised questions about the value of letting the US use Britain as its early warning system, not least MPs who have not even been given the opportunity of discussing the policy.

So thank goodness George Monbiot highlighted the issue in the Guardian today. How, as Monbiot says, can this be in Britain’s self-interest? You don’t have to be left or right wing to be sceptical about how Britain gains from this deal. Browne himself was even straining to find positives:

This will guarantee the UK’s continued access to essential missile attack warning data,” Browne told Parliament, “as well as enhancing the US’s ability to deal with any attack aimed at their country“.

In other words, even if the system works, the UK will not be defended but we’ll know we’re being attacked. As Monbiot notes, Menwith has already become a missile target.

Still, it’s the silly season and the media are more interested in the threat of Great White sharks off Cornwall than they are geopolitics and Russian missiles.

Written by Martin Moore

July 31st, 2007 at 4:46 pm

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YouTube debates – where questions matter more than answers

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What should we take from the YouTube / CNN presidential debate?

Rather than accepting the over-hyped rhetoric of the debate’s organisers (‘revolutionary’ etc.) or listening to the dismissals by new media gurus (e.g. Jeff Jarvis) it’s worth considering what we can learn about new methods of political engagement from the ‘people’s presidential debate’ hosted on Monday evening.

Its format was similar to the BBC’s Question Time, except that rather than questions being posed by a studio audience they were asked by people who’d uploaded video questions to YouTube. CNN & YouTube picked 39 questions from almost 3,000. These were supposed to represent a diverse spread of political concerns, personal issues, and the distinctly bizarre (e.g. Jered Thompson on gun control).

But focusing purely on the subject matter or the way the questions were phrased slightly misses the point. The key difference was the context. Being able to see people – up close and personal – gave the questions an authenticity and an immediacy you don’t get from normal debates.

Three people (aid workers?) stood behind Sudanese children asking what the candidates intended to do about Darfur refugees. Asked in a studio the question would have seemed worthy, distant, even cliched. On screen on the ground it felt genuine and pressing. Or Kim, 36 years old, who pulled off her wig and explained how she hopes ‘to be a future breast cancer survivor’ but reckons her chances are pretty slim since she has no health insurance.

As Alessandra Stanley wrote in the New York Times, ‘It was not the phrasing of the questions that made a difference, it was the visual impact of the people asking them’.

And though this visual impact did not particularly affect the politicians’ answers – much of them standard pre-rehearsed statements – it almost certainly did, I’d argue, influence the reaction of the audience.

There were alot of shortcomings to this debate – some of which are described by Kevin Marsh on the BBC Editors’ Blog and others by Jeff Jarvis (to be published in Monday’s Guardian) – but if we accept that we’re still just beginners when it comes to working out how new media fuses with old, then there’s alot we could learn from experiments like this.

Written by Martin Moore

July 25th, 2007 at 4:34 pm

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Does the UK do 'tough media criticism'?

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Amazing what a skewed impression you can get of the UK news media if you’re only exposed to it briefly.

Dan Gillmor (of citizen journalism fame) was here from the US last week and concluded – based on the newspapers’ attacks on the BBC and Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science column in The Guardian that, unlike the US, the UK media do ‘tough media criticism’.

Little does he know that much of the UK press will take any opportunity to lay savagely into the BBC and vent their anger and jealousy at its guaranteed income and enormously high reputation. Nor is he perhaps conscious of the press’ code of silence about one another – avoiding self-criticism at all costs. Indeed Ben Goldacre’s criticism of The Observer in The Guardian was so unusual it earned a mention by Stephen Glover in yesterday’s Independent (Glover bizarrely – and wrongly – concluded that Goldacre’s column was commissioned because the Guardian’s editor was cross at the Observer’s ‘distinct populist identity’. Rather than the article being written because the original article was grossly misleading and irresponsible – which it was… see previous post).

When was the last time you saw the Daily Mail castigate the Express? Or The Sun attack the News of the World? Or even The Times to attack the News of the World? No, didn’t think so.

Unfortunately, self-criticism is not one of the UK media’s strongest suits.

Written by Martin Moore

July 24th, 2007 at 3:34 pm

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Connemara calls

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I’m not about for a few days but will be back online Tuesday

Written by Martin Moore

July 18th, 2007 at 10:57 pm

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