Archive for December, 2007
Having just hauled myself out of bed after a couple of horrid days of flu I think it’s time to take a Christmas break. I’ll be back blogging in 2008. In the meantime have a merry Christmas and all that stuff.
It took the Mail over a week, but yesterday it responded more fully to Sir David King’s attacks on its coverage of MMR and GM crops (‘I got it wrong on GM crop, admits science chief’).
For something that took such a long time to put together it seems rather a poor (though characteristically bitter) comeback.
The GM crop heading refers to comments King made about a crop trial in Africa which he failed to describe accurately. The Mail appears to have picked this story up from the Independent on Sunday, whose environment editor wrote about the ‘War of the Boffins’ last Sunday.
But the science of the story is just a peg on which to hang a personal assault on King himself. The paper quotes ‘critics of Sir David’ saying he has become ‘demob happy’, writes that his ‘credibility has been shaken by the error’ and that, in the words of Richard Horton it is ‘a sorrowful end to a not undistinguished term of office’.
Yet most of the material for this assault is taken either from the IoS, or from a blog written by Dr Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet, on the Guardian’s website last Tuesday (Horton who is himself inextricably tied up in the MMR story since he was responsible for publishing the original Andrew Wakefield article that kicked off the debacle).
So the Mail appears to have cobbled together bits from the blog and from the IoS – some over a week old – and tried to turn it into a substantive assault on King’s credibility. It even gets lost when trying to describe the nature of the scientific error.
Of course unlike the newspaper, King was willing to admit he made a mistake. Imagine if the Mail admitted it got it wrong on MMR…
Did anyone else see the slightly remarkable apology to Patricia Fisk in the Sunday Times? You’d be forgiven for missing it since it was only 125 words and tucked away on page 2 of the News Review. It’s worth quoting in full:
‘Our report “Now wash your hands (and bedpans, and floors…)” (Focus, October 14), concerning the health problems at Maidstone hospital was illustrated by an agency photograph of Mrs Patricia Fisk wearing an unhygienic nurse’s uniform. We had wrongly understood that Mrs Fisk was a model who had signed a model release form to allow unlimited use and adaptation of the picture. In fact Mrs Fisk is a senior nurse employed by another NHS trust who has never worked for Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust. When photographed she was wearing a clean uniform, but to illustrate the article the photograph was modified to make it look unhygienic. We unreservedly apologise to Mrs Fisk for any distress and embarrassment caused by the photograph.’ [My bold].
Unfortunately the online version of the article doesn’t have the photograph so we can’t see what the Sunday Times did to it, but given the nature of the apology one has to assume that nowhere was it made clear the newspaper had doctored the picture.
Even if the paper argues that the photograph was simply illustrating evidence presented in the article (about the spread of C Diff in Maidstone hospitals), it still does not justify changing it so substantially – even if it was a ‘model who had signed a release form’. That it was happy to make a clean uniform dirty undermines the credibility of the whole piece. If the paper was willing to change the photo to make the story more convincing, how can you be sure it didn’t fiddle some of the figures as well?
Or, an even bigger question, how often does the Sunday Times alter photographs (when altering them significantly alters their meaning)?
Why now? Why have many countries decided that the best way to get themselves heard internationally is through 24 hour news channels?
Russia Today celebrates its second anniversary this week. To mark it the channel has taken out full page ads in lots of national newspapers – with the bizarre tag line of ‘Information only. No labels attached’. I’m presuming this is meant to mean independent news about Russia. Yet Russia Today’s website states that the channel presents ‘the Russian point of view’ (though it also says that it has a ‘commitment to independent journalism’). And I was speaking to a World Service journalist yesterday who helped launch the channel who told me it has strayed a long way away from its original aspiration to independence.
And France 24 is about to celebrate a year on air – by all accounts feeling rather pleased with itself. Al Jazeera (representing a region/perspective rather than a country) has been around a few years now and its English language arm was only launched a year ago – and now reaches about 100 million households worldwide (from David Crow, The Business, 1-12-07).
So why now, and what does it mean? If you were being pessimistic you could see it as the Balkanisation of international media. A nationalistic reaction to the internationalising force of the internet. As such there is a danger it could lead to less understanding and greater tension between nationalities.
Yet you could also argue it is a positive response to the democratization of access to news and information, and gives people the opportunity to view the world from lots of different perpectives, be they Russian, French, American…
Unfortunately, what many of these channels lack is genuine independence. The French and Russian services are heavily subsidised – as is Al Jazeera (by the Emir of Qatar). Though the channels claim these subsidies do not influence their output, it is hard to imagine that they don’t feel constrained from doing difficult investigations into government as a result.
Indeed some of the articles on Russia today are astonishing light on substance. Take ‘Finance Minister visits deputy in jail’ today. It tells you that Sergey Storchak, the deputy, ‘is accused of attempting to embezzle more than $US 40 million from the state’, but that the Finance Minister will ‘vouch personally for Storchak’s proper conduct if released’. A few weeks ago, when his deputy was first arrested, the Minister said ‘he struggled to understand the accusations’.
But there the story ends. There is no examination of the charges, the motivation behind them, what repercussions they might have.
The BBC’s World Service had to prove its independence through the crucible of the Second World War. Despite funding from government it insisted on maintaining editorial autonomy and has built up a reputation for that autonomy over the past 75 years.
The newer channels have yet to prove their credentials and, by current reckoning, have no intention of launching difficult investigations into their funders any time soon.