Archive for April, 2008

Breath of fresh air

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I’m heading off, far from any access to a computer (well, darkest Devon actually) for a week, so won’t be blogging again till 6th May

Written by Martin Moore

April 26th, 2008 at 5:47 am

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The Orwell Prize: From Ramallah on Foot

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How do you explain presence? It’s not something you can really rationalise. Suggest a scientific explanation and you find yourself muttering about the release of pheromones or the ‘smell’ of confidence.

Whatever it is, you know it when someone has it. And Raja Shehadeh has it. This is despite being a slight man – he can’t be more than 5’4 and he hasn’t an ounce of spare flesh on him. Nor does he have a powerful voice, quite the opposite. He speaks sparely, calmly, without inflammatory verbs or adjectives – much like his writing. Indeed this is how he tells the story of his 6 walks around the West Bank. 6 walks made over three decades that chart how the place where he lives has been concreted over, literally and metaphorically. Yet though he is small and understated, you can’t help but be aware when he’s in the room.

Shehadeh last night won the Orwell Prize for political writing for his book ‘Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape’ (the Media Standards Trust runs the Prize in partnership with the Orwell Trust and Political Quarterly). A book that received astonishingly little attention when it was published last autumn, despite (or because of) being one of the few attempts to discuss the politics of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank without resorting to wild exaggeration or screaming (Shehadeh and his wife Penny flew over from Ramallah specially to accept the award).

The prize for journalism went to the Independent’s Johann Hari. A “young whippersnapper” journalist (in Clive James’ words) who, Hari told us, still gets asked for I.D. at the off license. Hari won for five articles he wrote last year including one about a cruise he took with American neo-cons and another about France’s secret war in the Central African Republic.

If you haven’t read these then do. ‘Ship of Fools’ is funny and scary in equal measure. ‘France’s Secret War’ is just scary. Hari goes to the middle of Africa, to a brutal, blood soaked country where the French still pursue a far from ethical foreign policy:

‘This is a forgotten corner of a forgotten country. Birao lies and dies in the far north-east of the Central African Republic (CAR). CAR itself has a population of just 3.8 million, spread across a territory bigger than Britain’s, landlocked at the exact geographical heart of Africa. It is the least-reported country on earth. Even the fact that 212,000 people have been driven out of their homes in this war doesn’t register on the global radar. In Birao, I realise I am too close to the immediate horror to find the deeper explanations for this war. I only begin to uncover the origins of this story when I stumble across a very rare find in the CAR – an old man.’

Clive James, given a lifetime achievement award for writing and broadcasting, spoke so easily and fluently you could’ve sworn you’d just tuned into Radio 4. He has such a beguiling wit and humour that he can prod life into even the most humdrum political issues. Oh, and he knows a surprising amount about George Orwell too (which you can see from this interview he did with us before the prize).

You can hear Clive James’ Point of View programmes (or read the scripts) at the Orwell Prize website, where you can also find quite a fun Orwell essay about how to make a cup of tea.

Written by Martin Moore

April 25th, 2008 at 7:35 am

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TV News & Current Affairs – the future's looking rosey… apparently

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Agree with what Peter Bazalgette says or disagree (and much of it I wholeheartedly disagree with), but he has the knack of capturing a contemporary truth with a telling analogy.

Attacking the complacency of the big broadcasters at the Royal Television Society, Bazalgette said the current debate about topslicing the BBC’s income “resembles the first class passengers in the bar of the Titanic arguing furiously over who should pay the bill” (from Owen Gibson).

That’s what it felt like this morning as a series of senior people from TV news and current affairs lined up to say things are looking rosey, that they were very optimistic about the future of news and current affairs on TV, and that the Daily Express was a fine and upstanding newspaper (I made this last one up) – at the Voice of the Listener and Viewer’s annual spring conference.

Huh? Wasn’t it less than two weeks ago that the broadcasting regulator, OFCOM (an organisation not known for acting quickly) announced it was bringing its public service broadcasting review forward by two years because the current situation is not sustainable? At the same time didn’t it say that by 2011, less than three years away, ‘the costs of their public service broadcasting commitments may outweigh the benefits’ for commercially funded public service broadcasters? And aren’t the economic pressures on broadcast news already affecting local newsgathering and the editorial resources of ITN? (Hence Michael Grade’s proposals to reduce ITV’s local broadcasting commitments significantly).

Yet here were heads and editors from the channels themselves, including Simon Bucks (Associate Editor, Sky News), Robin Elias (Managing Editor, ITN News), Helen Boaden (Director of BBC News), Dorothy Byrne (Head of C4 News and Current Affairs), Clive Edwards (Executive Editor & Commissioning Editor, BBC), Mike Lewis (Editor, ITV Tonight), and Kevin Sutcliffe (Editor of C4′s Dispatches), saying they were happy with the status quo and sanguine about the future.

We should applaud their bulldog spirit. And optimism is, of course, more comforting than prophecies of doom. But, as the editors congratulated themselves on the quality of their output and on how well they were serving their audiences, one couldn’t help but hear the clinking of glasses as the iceberg hoves into view.

Written by Martin Moore

April 23rd, 2008 at 1:55 pm

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Spinning against spinning

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Spin is a central part of every election. But mayoral contests are especially conducive to the machinations of political PRs. They are based – necessarily – around limited policy agendas. They are targeted at a highly concentrated geographical area. And they focus enormously on the personalities of the contestants.

That’s is why it’s so fascinating to watch Boris’ progress.

Boris Johnson hired the infamous Lynton Crosby to run his campaign. He then supplemented Crosby’s advice with the help of Inhouse PR. Their advice seems to have been – don’t engage with the opposition, woo the media.

So we see Boris’ face popping up in weekend magazine Q&As, in personal interviews in the FT, dropping in to have a chat with The Sun, and studiously avoiding face to face debates.

But, even more galling, Boris’ PRs seem intent on convincing people that Ken Livingstone is the one doing the spinning. Inhouse PR last week fed a story to the Daily Mail that Ken Livingstone had a PR team that was ‘three times the size of the PM’s’. The Mail couldn’t resist it and, though sourcing the story to the Tories, seems to have published the details almost verbatim (down to describing the additional ’105 media staff to promote his transport and economic policies’) – see Michael Lea’s article here. Livingstone vehemently denies this figures but his protestations don’t make the headlines (source – PR Week).

And the spin appears to be working. Indeed you always know when a spin operation is successful when things happen and you can’t tell if they’ve been orchestrated or not. Did Harriet Harman issue an order that Labour politicians should not refer to Boris Johnson as Boris? She could have done but then again, sounds like good PR…

Written by Martin Moore

April 21st, 2008 at 3:56 pm

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