Archive for October, 2007

The contradictions of impartiality

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I’m finding it more and more tricky to work out what people mean by ‘impartiality’ in news.

In the responses to OFCOM’s consultation document, ‘New News, Future News – Responses’ - released yesterday – almost all the respondents argued strongly that impartiality rules should remain in place for all broadcasters (i.e. not just for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and S4C).

ITV even said that:

“[regarding] loosening impartiality rules on some more niche or specialist news providers, ITV believes this would undermine the tradition of impartial broadcast news and act against the public interest. This could have a knock-on effect to the overall perception and confidence in broadcast news across the board”

Yet at the same time, both ITV and Five are pushing hard on integrating ‘citizen media’ to news – the first through its Uploaded service and ITV local, and the second both on its website, in partnership with Friction TV, and on its TV news.

Neither Uploaded nor Friction are ‘impartial’ – you’re encouraged to be as partial as you like, that’s the point. Friction TV’s tag is ‘spark the debate’ and ITV asks people to ‘send us your views’. And it’s not restricted to the web; ‘The very best clips’ ITV says, ‘will be broadcast on our ITV News bulletins’.

Equally, it’s pretty difficult to know if a report sent in by a member of the public (text, audio, video or still pictures) would conform to ‘impartiality guidelines’ – especially since at no point are these mentioned – yet the public are invited to send in whatever they can (for the princely sum of at least £100 at Five).

In his thoughtful piece for Prospect, ‘Impartiality Imperilled’, David Cox wrote that ‘Impartiality involves no more than the attempt to regard different ideas, opinions, interests or individuals with detachment’. But isn’t what ITV and Five (and others) are doing the opposite? Aren’t they asking their audience not to be detached but to be involved, to be quite literally partial? And if so, isn’t the end point a news which encourages partiality?

Written by Martin Moore

October 23rd, 2007 at 4:17 pm

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The 4 'h's of our apocalyptic media

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Our news agenda seems increasingly defined by four ‘h’s; hysteria, herding, health and Hobbes.

Armando Ianucci wrote an unusually serious piece in yesterday’s Observer suggesting that when historians look back on this period the adjective they’ll use to describe it is ‘hysterical’. An age in which we veer from panic about everything from global warming to H5N1 to superbugs. And when there isn’t something immediate to get hysterical about, things are described in hysterical language (Ianucci’s apt example being the ‘obesity time-bomb’ – huh?).

And our news media gallops after each latest hysteria like some frenzied herd. As OFCOM reported (in slightly drier language) in its recent analysis, ‘New News Future News’; ‘Content analysis reveals there are far more similarities than differences in agendas on mainstream television news’. The same could be said about the national press.

Health, as The Times has realised, is a banker for a modern news organisation because its relevant to us all – we all get ill, and we probably all know someone who is ill, or has been recently. So we get treated to endless stories about health miracles (‘The pill of life’) and health nightmares (‘Alcohol deaths double in women‘). Today The Times took this to another level by leading with a story about obesity despite the fact it had secured an exclusive interview with the Turkish PM at just the moment he was deciding whether or not to send Turkish forces into northern Iraq (hat tip Nigel Barlow).

And so finally to Hobbes, who famously described life as ‘nasty, brutish and short’ and whose fantastic pessimism appears to have spread to much of our national press. As I write the Telegraph’s website leads with the news that ‘People living in north of country are likely to be unhealthier, poorer and live shorter lives’. Or take Saturday’s Guardian headline ‘Riven by class and no social mobility – Britain in 2007′ (which, when one read the article, could have as easily read, ‘not much has changed since 1997′). Or last week’s (highly misleading) story in the FT about the lower life expectancy of workers in Tesco and in tobacco and alcohol businesses.

Thank goodness we have national sporting triumphs to keep our spirits up.

Written by Martin Moore

October 22nd, 2007 at 2:39 pm

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Ming's media age

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Media myths, once they’re set, are notoriously difficult to shake.

But the media’s conviction that Sir Menzies Campbell was too old to lead the Lib Dems was astonishing in the speed with which it took hold, in the doggedness with which it was pursued, and in its consistent cruelty.

It was virtually impossible to read an article about him without his age being mentioned, and jokes being made about it (he was variously described as a ‘tortoise’, ‘skeletor’, and a ‘fossil fuel’). And the barbed jibes and sarcastic asides came from almost all papers.

Just at the beginning of this week Bruce Anderson wrote in the Independent that, ‘A lot of Liberals want Ming Campbell to act his age. They would like to see “pensioner crisis” headlines which do not refer to their party’s leadership’.

A few months back Tim Hames wrote in The Times that ‘Poor old Ming Campbell smells as if he is two poor by-election results short of earlier retirement than he expected’.

Simon Heffer talked about how Sir Ming Campbell ‘clambered out of his tomb’.

Even David Blunkett, himself a sprightly 60 year old, could not resist poking fun at Campbell’s age commenting, when the pensioners’ band the Zimmers was doing well in the charts that ‘It may even be the new beginning Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell has been looking for!’

The obsession with his age seems all the more bizarre if you look across the Atlantic at the Republican candidates for President. Where Campbell became leader of the Lib Dems at 64, Rudy Giuliani – if chosen by the Republicans – would become the party leader at 63, Mitt Romney at 60, Fred Thompson at 65 and John McCain aged 71.

Written by Martin Moore

October 18th, 2007 at 2:53 pm

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An Inconvenient Truth – a few things the reports missed

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More on the coverage of Mr Justice Burton’s judgment on An Inconvenient Truth.

If you want a savaging of the reporting try Tim Lambert’s science blog (hat tip Jim Giles):

“Unfortunately a gaggle of useless journalists have misreported this decision as one that AIT [An Inconvenient Truth] contained nine scientific errors. Let me name some of the journalists who got it wrong: Sally Peck in the Daily Telegraph, Nico Hines in the Times, Mike Nizza in the New York Times, James McIntyre in the Independent, PA in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, David Adam in the Guardian, Daniel Cressey in Nature, the BBC, Mary Jordan in the Washington Post, Marcus Baram for ABC News, and (of course) Matthew Warren in the Australian”

Media Matters – a US center for media analysis and criticism – expands Lambert’s list to include:

“The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, the Boston Globe, CNN, and Fox News”

Seems like an awful lot of people in the media found the idea of a judge’s verdict on Gore’s film too hard to resist – especially when that verdict appeared to undermine its scientific validity.

Only trouble is, most reports lacked some pretty important information, such as:

a. The judge ruled that the film was “substantially founded upon scientific research and fact.”
b. In his judgment Mr Justice Burton also said: “the hearing before me did not relate to an analysis of the scientific questions”
c. The judge is not a scientist, nor does he have the scientific credentials to rule on the science of climate change (hence his disclaimer in point b.). He was ruling on whether the film was too partisan to be shown in classrooms
d. Some of the judge’s points regarding the science used in the film have themselves been found to be incorrect (see Tim Lambert, Mark Lynas and Johann Hari)
e. The motivation of the plaintiff (who was subsequently found to be funded by a far right party that lobbies against environment groups)

It was a good story, but one that deserved accurate and forensic reporting, which mostly it didn’t get.

Written by Martin Moore

October 17th, 2007 at 1:15 pm

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