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    Friday, 29 June 2007

    The submerged part of the impartiality iceberg?

    There is an interesting debate on Adrian Monck's blog on the fact-opinion dichotomy / continuum. The unsurprising consensus is that editorial opinion, culture and professionalism do - of course - influence the selection of news items and the slants taken on them (albeit to differing degrees in different newsrooms), and that the key to avoiding bias is accountability. This need is the oft-unremarked, but always necessary counterpart to other, ex post checks on the objectivity (quality?) of media content, such as those requiring accuracy or impartiality (qualitative / quantitative, however measured).

    The real quandary here is just how to encourage or impose such accountability. One option mentioned in the debate is the reflective editors' blog, another is the responsive readers' editor. Ultimately, however, this oversight is difficult to effect because the influences that shape editorial decision-making are often sub-merged or even sub-conscious (this is, of course, the crux of the propaganda model critique - 1,2).

    It may be that the central regulatory mechanisms can only ever be socio-cultural: an openness to criticism (with the flip-side of watchfulness on the part of consumers of media, bloggers and others), or lines in the sand for journalistic staff (on which today's papers offer two most fantastic examples: the Wall Street Journal staff's stay-at-home protest, and Mika Brzezinski's moment - 1,2).

    Commentaire négatif - c'est interdit?: subtle forms of censorship in France

    Also in the Times this morning is an interesting comment by Charles Bremner on the arguably over-weened, but subtly achieved, power of M. Sarkozy over elements of the French media. The President is said to rely on friends in high places - such as the controllers of magazine Paris Match, TV network TF1, and the only national Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche - to purge unflattering or critical commentary. The article cites a number of instances of such interventions to date. Will this become a new cause celebre for European media watchers?

    Red is the new black...

    There's a funny, if sometimes disturbing, piece on gingerism by Ginny Dougary in the Times today. She's recently completed a choral piece entitled Ginger Chorale, the story of a bullied ginga (or gingette) who ends the song feeling triumphantly special, after hearing the rollcall of all the amazing redheads who have existed throughout history, and a paean to the wonders of diversity. I heard something similar on the radio recently: a boy who had just started wearing glasses was taunted by classmates on the novel - and inverted - basis that he didn't really need them and was just trying to be cool like Harry Potter...

    There's a media law angle here somewhere.

    Thursday, 28 June 2007

    Regulatory window-dressing?: PCC announces revision to Code

    The Press Complaints Commission has announced that there has been a series of revisions agreed to the Editor's Code of Practice against which it assesses the behaviours of much of the UK press (1,2,3). The move comes in the wake of the Clive Goodman royal phone-tapping scandal and concerns raised by the Information Commissioner, and follows on from the more specific guidance published by the PCC in May after its review of the case.

    In particular, the amendments involve the insertion of explicit reference to the prohibition of accessing digitally-held private information without consent (paralleling or perhaps extrapolating from the pre-existing references to the unauthorised removal of documents or photographs), or engaging in misrepresentation or subterfuge by agents or intermediaries. Further changes to the Preamble emphasis the centrality of the Preamble itself and the public interest exceptions to the proper interpretation of the Code, and reflect the exclusion of user-generated and non-edited online material from the regulator's purview.

    Strangely, these amendments were reported in MediaGuardian under the headline "PCC tightens code to ban phone hacking". The first paragraph continued, "the Press Complaints Commission has agreed to explicitly ban the use of phone hacking and intercepts in its code of practice in response to the Clive Goodman royal phone hacking scandal". This isn't what has happened. The ban on phone hacking, which was already covered, remains subject to the public interest override just as before. To my mind, it looks like the PCC (or rather, the editors' committee) has simply been engaged in a process of tinkering to make its pre-existing positions more evident, or in its words "for the avoidance of doubt". I wonder whether the PCC intends to correct the Guardian in order to avoid any suggestion of 'misrepresentation by agent'...

    Empires of the future?: Richards on tomorrow's regulation yesterday

    Ed Richards, the Chief Executive of Ofcom, delivered a speech at the IEA yesterday in which he had much to say on the future regulation of linear / on-demand delivery of audiovisual content, public service content provision, and public service broadcasting.

    On the first of these points he highlighted the fact that Big Brother can currently be received in four different ways: on Channel 4, E4 or E4+1 (embarassingly - although for whom I'm not sure - I had to have my mum and dad explain to me last weekend how the 'live' BB coverage on the latter two channels was able to show the same people doing different things at the same time. Before the enlightenment I'd just thought, "its a really weird place that House!"), live on the Ch4 website or Four on Demand, clips online off YouTube etc, or clips on mobile phones. His point was that while the middle two options were unregulated, the first was regulated by Ofcom, while the last was subject to self-regulation.

    Richards' view was that "it is quite a challenge trying to explain this logic to an average member of the general public". Its a point well-made. His conclusion: the recent agreement on the A-VMS directive is "a sensible evolution of the current model" but one that is "likely to be only a stepping stone on a journey, because it’s far from clear that the current settlement represents a long term sustainable solution to the future of content regulation".

    So, following Tony Blair earlier this month (on this aspect of Blair's speech, see this), we have a second notable suggesting the need for further regulatory reform in the media sector (or rather a third, given that Viviane Reding has been mooting something akin to a European FCC). Very much a 'watch this space' scenario...

    Regarding the PSB and PSP elements of his speech, Richards announced that the second review of PSB was to be brought forward in order, first, that its analysis might inform the government's intended review of the case for distributing public funding beyond the BBC, and secondly that the uncertainty facing existing PSBs isn't prolonged. He saw this review as a 'once in a generation' opportunity to revisit and revise our system of broadcasting, and highlighted a number of key points that should inform the consideration.

    Beyond this, Richards threw a few crumbs of comfort to those involved in developing HD for Freeview, although he also reiterated the regulator's view that the existing spectrum should allow the development of multiple HD channels (not just the single one currently mooted). There was no promise, however, that the existing PSBs would get any fillip from the switchover dividend. Russ from OfcomWatch makes an important point on this: "it’s not exactly a great prize to think that in 2012 there will only be 4 HD channels on Freeview. In fact, that’s under-serving the public by a wide margin if you consider that by that time, nearly everyone will have an HD television and want to receive all their programming in HD... HD won’t be regarded as HD in the future — it will simply be the television quality everyone expects at all times... the real challenge for the regulator is what steps can it take now to ensure that in five years time the DTT platform is not considered some third-rate service".

    Wednesday, 27 June 2007

    Shooting the messenger?: more defamation suits against critics

    Eoin O'Dell has posted a couple of interesting notes on the veritable riot of defamation actions that have been brought by disgruntled subjects against critics of one sort or another across a number of jurisdictions in recent months. In the first, he explained that the action brought - in John Fairfax Publications Pty Ltd v Gacic [2007] HCA 28 - by an Australian restaurant (echoing that brought successfully against the Irish News by Goodfellas in Belfast earlier this year) is far from over, and that the stage reached to date certainly doesn't warrant the exclamatory headlines that it has generated.

    In the second, he comments on the decision of the UK Court of Appeal regarding the application of the fair comment defence to a review in the Evening Standard of the Burstein and Edwards opera Manifest Destiny (see Associated Newspapers Ltd v Keith Burstein [2007] EWCA Civ 600). He's also had a response from the composer himself, confirming the intention to take the case to the House of Lords.

    Lords Committee to investigate the impact of media ownership on news

    The House of Lords Communications Committee chaired by Lord Fowler has announced that it is to conduct an investigation into the impact of concentration in media ownership on news output (1,2). This chimes with concerns raised by Ofcom (but not the OFT) over the acquisition by BSkyB of shares in ITV. The Committee has called for evidence on the following questions:

    - How and why have the agendas of news providers changed? How has the content of news programmes and newspapers altered over the years?

    - How is the way that people access the news changing? The Committee is interested in national and regional trends and figures for television, radio, newspaper and on-line news consumption.

    - How has the process of news gathering changed? The Committee is interested in the process of news production, the prioritisation of budgets and the deployment of journalistic resources.

    - What is the impact of the concentration of media ownership on the balance and diversity of opinion seen in the news? Does ownership have an impact on editorial priorities and on news values such as fairness, accuracy and impartiality?

    - How should the public interest be protected and defined in terms of news provision? Are the public interest considerations set down for Ofcom in the Communications Act 2003 enough to ensure a plurality of debating voices in the UK news media?

    The Committee plans a second call, focusing on the concentration of media ownership, on cross-media ownership and on the regulation of media ownership, for later in the year.

    Tuesday, 26 June 2007

    Notes on investigative reporting

    There have been a few interesting stories / comments that bear (some more loosely than others) on investigative reporting in the papers over the last few days that are worthy of note. First, the MediaGuardian had an interview with Carl Bernstein (he has just published an unauthorised biography of Hilary Clinton). Its an interesting read. With echoes of Tony Blair's recent complaint about the 'feral beast' that he supposed is (sometimes) today's media, Bernstein suggests that Hilary views the media as being "out of control, hell-bent on personal destruction and manufactured controversy - while ignoring serious issues". The current incumbents of the White House were derided as "contemptuous, arrogant and totally disinterested in the truth... they regard the press as an impediment"; "[they] have no interest in the truth. They believe that truthful information... is treasonous. These people have been mendacious and their dishonesty has been a central component of the most disastrous presidency... probably in our entire history". Does it need to be noted that Bernstein has been criticised for being too close to the Clintons?

    Bernstein also waxed on the Press: "reporters tend to be terrible listeners.... they have usually decided what the story is before they do the interview, and they will choose the one which will manufacture the most controversy. But manufactured controversy is not news". This is a salutary point.

    Entirely unrelated of course, and secondly, it was reported by Pandora in The Independent today that the 'fake sheikh' Mazher Mahmood may soon be be leaving the News of the World as part of the News Group cutbacks. Or is this a cunning Holmes-like ploy to reappear in unexpected guise? Pandora too is sceptical, advising criminals and philandering sportsmen to keep the fizz on ice for now.

    A third story, also in the MediaGuardian, comprised a review of the first six months of the relaunched Panorama programme. Its been nothing if not entertaining - but is that the point? Meantime, the programme has come under fire for its intended - but unauthorised - use of footage from the famous STV documentary on the Treasury from 1997 in last night's edition. The programme was aimed to demonstrate the earth-shattering fact that Brown is himself something of a spinmeister in the face of his recent promises to be straight with the public (Trust Me I'm Gordon... not Tony - which is NOT available here for a short while, due to copyright issues!). The BBC professed to be using the material under the fair dealing doctrine in copyright law.

    Finally, a surprising recent decision of the High Court (Penwell Publishing (UK) Ltd v Ornstien and others [2007] EWHC B5 (QB) (temporary reference)) has resulted in journalists being advised to separate their journalistic contacts from other working contacts in address books (both physical and electronic) and to keep the former in personally-owned listings for fear that their employers would otherwise be able to retain such catalogues should they move on (see here).

    'He who laughs last...': News Knight criticised for Manning joke

    Sir Trevor McDonald - the eponymous News Knight - has caused hundreds of complaints to be sent to ITV and Ofcom (1,2). In an item entitled 'This Week's Racist and Dead', he cracked: "this week it's fat, narrow-minded comic Bernard Manning. I never thought he was a racist. I just thought he was a fat white bastard". Manning's partner is said to have been "very shocked" while a friend considered the joke "appalling". Ofcom no doubt will try to keep a straight face when issuing its bulletin on the matter, but you have to laugh...

    Thursday, 21 June 2007

    A most signalled U-turn: family courts to remain press-free

    The Government announced this week that its plan to open the family courts to the media has been shelved following its consultation with children and children-representing organisations(1,2,3,4,5).

    Wednesday, 20 June 2007

    A 'when not if' debate?: the future of public service broadcasting

    Following the recent report on impartiality at the BBC, Simon Heffer - writing in the Daily Telegraph - argues strongly for the existence of an anti-Right bias in BBC coverage of national affairs. Perhaps strangely, he considers this complaint to have been summarily rejected in the Bridcut report, a stance that is “so self-deluding as to risk rendering [the report] worthless”.

    Of greater concern to Heffer, however, is the BBC’s “lack of ambition on behalf of its audience”; “the apparent assumption that its audience is bovine, almost devoid of curiosity and bereft of any general knowledge”. He complains that the BBC has allowed itself to be “hijacked by the agenda of the uneducated”, which is “as sad, as dangerous and as destructive as any form of political bias, of which it is the bastard child”. These comments come on the day that Mark Thompson (the BBC's DG) is due to outline a 'mission statement' for the future of the BBC, and that Channel 4 has announced its own 'remit review' (1,2) in light of Ofcom's recent statement on the channel's financial position and its stated intention to consider the channel's long-term prospects as part of its next review of PSB.

    There is an element here of harking back to an imagined Golden-age and lambast of the ‘dumbed-down’ modern offering, but quietly one has to admit that there is probably something in it. It is arguable that in adopting an emphasis on self-justification and the concomitant desire to meet the perceived wants of ALL licence payers the BBC has gone too far in seeking the ‘middle ground’ of the television viewing audience. For example, is ‘documentary’ / ‘docu-soap’ / ‘docu-gameshow’ programming really preferable to hard-edged current affairs?

    Heffer argues that the increased accessibility to desired content in the age of digital broadcasting and the internet leaves the case for the BBC highly questionable. He concludes that “our public service broadcaster should be reduced to a news service on both wireless and television, and provide one or two other things that are a public good but that the market can only debase by providing”. The debate would then become one of deciding just how broad this ‘one or two things’ category need be (does the BBC’s current ‘entertainment’ output ‘artificially’ inflate the quality of rival channels’ output in the marketplace, and would loss thereof thus be more damaging than might initially be appreciated?), and whether a universal licence fee can be justified for such pared-down fayre. Is there more to this debate than the market failure argument, and further, how far does any perceived market failure run?

    Monday, 18 June 2007

    Shipwrecked escapes racism censure

    MediaGuardian is reporting Ofcom's announcement in the latest issue of its Broadcast Bulletin that Channel 4 did not breach the Broadcasting Code when airing episodes of Shipwrecked earlier this year (see here). The issue arose after one contestant offered an enlightened proclamation in her introductory interview: “I don’t really like fat people, I don’t really like really ugly people. I don’t like it when foreigners come into our country and they don’t take on the British culture and the British values. I’m quite for the British Empire and things. I’m for slavery but that’s never going to come back”.

    With echoes of the recent 'ginger-ist' debate on bbc.co.uk, Ofcom considered that while the 'fatist' and 'uglyist' comments may have been considered rude by many viewers, it was the remainder of the comments that were potentially offensive under the Code. On these points, Ofcom concluded that the context of the broadcast - the laudable responses of other contestants to her views, the broadcaster's reference to them as 'extreme', and viewer expectations of unscripted reality shows - justified the finding that rule 2 (on harm and offence) had not been breached. The contestant's behaviour and views were not encouraged or condoned by the broadcaster but were instead robustly challenged.

    First look at the report on BBC impartiality

    The following guest posting was submitted by Masters student Zack Simons. It focuses on the publication by the BBC Trust of its report From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel: safeguarding impartiality in the 21st Century. The report was written for a steering group by independent programme-maker John Bridcut. We'd like actively to encourage comment and counterpoint. There has already been much commentary - some considered some gleeful - in the newspapers (1,2,3,4) and elsewhere (1,2), and of course its not a new topic.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    2007 has not been a good year for BBC impartiality.

    The Alan Budd report into the impartiality of the BBC's business coverage was released in May, finding that although there was no 'systematic bias', impartiality standards were frequently breached. Presenters often expressed personal product preferences, for example, or showed sycophancy, tacit bias or even overt aggression toward business representatives. One Radio Five Live interview with the managing director of British Gas began: "You're taking the mickey...".

    Meanwhile, already this month the BBC has issued a public apology to the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond for the "rude and dismissive" tone of 'Newsnight' presenter Kirsty Wark during an interview after it received 120 formal complaints (see here and here for similar). In January, Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, raged against the BBC’s ‘cultural Marxism’, arguing that ‘under the figleaf of impartiality’ the BBC was ‘imposing its own world view’ (1,2,3); Robin Aitken and Richard North have already published books this year claiming systematic left-ward political skew (the latter titled, with appropriate subtlety, ‘Scrap the BBC!’). So the findings of today's report ('From Seesaw to Wagon Wheel'), that bias does indeed exist in the BBC but that ideals of impartiality remain important, may not seem a particularly exciting discovery.

    Whilst the report explicitly refrains from attempting a definition of impartiality (referring readers to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy - how thoughtful) it suggests that: "impartiality involves a mixture of accuracy, balance, context, distance, evenhandedness, fairness, objectivity, open-mindedness, rigour, self-awareness, transparency and truth". Impartiality is also, at various times, ‘coat of many colours’, ‘the BBC’s USP’, ‘not a state of grace, but a state of mind’ and ‘an ‘elusive, almost magical substance’.

    Against such an apparently tall order, the report is optimistic. It contends that an expanded model of impartiality still has a central role to play, that it is still valued and expected by the public, even though technological and cultural circumstances are changing so that: 'In today’s multi-polar Britain, with its range of cultures, beliefs and identities, impartiality involves many more than two sides to an argument'.

    The report’s '12 principles' variously cover the points that impartiality is not easy to apply, that there are many ways of applying it, that there are many stages to its application and that, most of all, we need to keep trying to apply it: "it is a legal requirement, but it should also be a source of pride".

    It accompanies these assertions with an Ipsos-mori poll, which shows that 84% of the sample agreed (half of them ‘strongly’) with the proposition that impartiality is difficult to achieve, but broadcasters must try very hard to do so. Only 3% disagreed. Victory for impartiality.

    Yet, at the level of application, the report finds systematic flaws at the BBC, finding a "Roneo mentality", or group-think, that perpetuates 'liberal' values among BBC staff. The report also criticizes the BBC's deference to single-issue, celebrity-driven campaigns like Live 8 and Make Poverty History. It gives examples of anti-Americanism, anti-countryside bias, and some dubious observances of multi-culturalism. For example, BBC executives at an impartiality seminar admitted that they would broadcast images of a Bible being thrown away, but not the Koran for fear of offending Muslims.

    The consensus reaction to the report from the UK press has so far been 'tell us something we didn't know'. We have heard these multi-faceted, dynamic models of impartiality before. Peter Horrocks, the head of BBC TV news, gave a much-discussed speech in Oxford last year that prescribed 'radical impartiality' as the way forward: "the need to hear the widest range of views – all sides of the story. So we need more Taleban interviews, more BNP interviews - of course put on air with due consideration – and the full range of moderate opinions".

    Despite this kind of rhetoric, the new report finds that 57% of survey respondents felt ‘that broadcasters often fail to reflect the views of people like me’. Indeed, the demographic that feels best represented by broadcasters is ‘middle-aged ABC1s, readers of ‘quality’ newspapers, and supporters of the Liberal Democrats.’ Not so radical after all.

    Against such mounting empirical and theoretical evidence against ‘impartiality’ as an effective ideal, on first glance the BBC’s new report is an underwhelming document. It operates on the assumption that impartiality must be maintained, notwithstanding the fact that after almost a century of broadcasting, it has no adequate definition and seems nigh on impossible to sufficiently monitor or enforce.

    One wonders whether the issue here is less one of the relevance and practicability of ‘impartiality’ standards, than the BBC’s inability to let them go. With ‘impartiality’ comes justifications for universal service, for licence fees, for public-service broadcasting itself. And, beyond this, impartiality is a key, and very economically valuable, distinction for the BBC’s brand around the world. As Ian Hargreaves put it, the BBC ‘needs impartiality to survive’. Is it surprising, then, that today’s report so cheerfully recommends that these standards are worth keeping?

    Zack Simons.

    Saturday, 16 June 2007

    To whom the spoils? the dividend from digital switchover

    Earlier this week the Guardian had a helpful overview by Owen Gibson and Richard Wray of the debate regarding the decision to be made by Ofcom regarding the allocation of spectrum released through the digital switchover process. The public service broadcasters are seeking the opportunity to launch a number of HD channels over the Freeview platform, Ofcom isn't convinced that they need released spectrum in order to do this, and the Government has stressed the need to see through lobbyists' partisan claims. Ultimately, the resolution reached may shape the broadcasting sector for a generation (or maybe unforeseen technological developments will intervene?), and it will be fascinating to watch the escalationof the debate as the decision point nears.

    Saturday, 9 June 2007

    The first draft of history?

    Mark Lawson had an interesting piece in yesterday's Guardian focused on the dangerous permanence of transient comment. Picking up on the reporting of recent events such as the 'murder' of Bob Woolmer and the arrest of the first suspect in the Suffolk murders, he noted how the pressures of 24 hr competitive journalism sometimes push today's writers into errors of fact and opinion that might formerly have been avoided by more conscientious sub-editing. The result is that "for all of us, journalism's use as a historical record is being ruined by a growing impatience with fact... problems have occurred because of significant changes in both the speed and the durability of journalism. Pace is the greatest danger".

    Has there really been a notable shift? Well, reading the piece, I was reminded of the quite startling note offered by Jon Snow of how his first real scoop - sent in days ahead of the competition - was knocked on the head by his news desk due to the absence of any corroborating account.

    I also had three follow-up thoughts. First, if the nature or 'quality' of journalistic output has changed, this should condition the ways in which academics (historians and others) use such sources; the readiness with which insights are adopted or challenged. The real risk to the historical account is that these secondary regurgitators of the record will be similarly lax.

    Secondly, there's the issue of whether media law is doing anything to corral journalists into producing more sustainable (read accurate) accounts and comment. Perhaps in the defamation field, the Reynolds defence is pushing in the right direction, while in other areas - contempt for example as discussed here and elsewhere in recent weeks - more might be done.

    Finally, the quite remarkably self-referential nature of our modern media which sees mistakes challenged, elaborations offered and corrections sifted and highlighted by bloggers, commentators, other journalists and readers' editors gives reason to be sanguine over the longer horizon about the identified failings.

    Can the 'n-word' ever be innocuous?

    Big Brother contestant Emily has been withdrawn from the show after being heard to ask a black fellow-detainee, 'are you pushing it out, you nigger?'. Channel 4 aired the event in a round-up show (ie not live), with the predictable result that Ofcom will receive hundreds of complaints. The broadcaster explained that it thought it would be inappropriate not to air the clip, as to do otherwise would be to hang Emily out to dry.

    A transcript of the 'offending' interchange is available on the MediaGuardian website. The video excerpt is available to view on YouTube, and is worth watching because it makes clear that the context was one of jocular interplay between friends - Charly was miming being pregnant. This footage also juxtaposes nicely real vindicative sniping between Chanelle and Charly ('I've never met such a two-faced bitch' / 'what time is it, you haven't looked in the mirror for two minutes') with the relatively innocuous comments between friends that have caused the furore. Indeed, Emily went on to say that she and her friends - blacks and whites - regularly refer to each other in such manner.

    The episode reminds me of one response to Reginald D Hunter's Pride, Prejudice and Niggas which ran in the West End and at Edinburgh last year (and was lauded by the critics as 'excitingly intelligent', 'sharp, ambitious and truly powerful'). The Metro effused that Hunter 'holds no truck with sheep-like adherence to established views, whether religious, political or sexual'. The Tube banned his advert from its property.

    Hunter is no Bernard Manning. As a black-man he is deemed free to adopt whatever language he wishes when referring to his own race. Similarly, however, Emily - from what we know of her - is no racist. It seemed that both were using language in a subversive way and by doing so demonstrated that they have no sympathy with sectarianism. See also the adoption of 'queer' or 'fenian' by similarly marginalised groups (of course, this subversion can be taken too far). There was no problem in Charly refering to herself in such fashion. Somehow, it is supposed to make a difference that that Emily is white.

    Make no mistake, discrimination / persecution based on race / gender / sexual orientation, religious-affiliation and the like is anathaema to the desirable society. We possess a terrible history in which people were persecuted, humiliated and murdered on account of their skin tone, and there remains a continuing legacy of discrimination and abuse based on race.

    All this notwithstanding, the point is that as far as the use of language is concerned, context is everything. To consider only bare words as stated is to deny that we are intelligent beings capable of nuance and sophistication in communication. Channel 4 should have done no more than take the opportunity to issue a statement condemning racism, and to distance itself from any inference to this effect that any (egg-shell skull) viewer would wish to draw in the instant case. [To be fair to London Underground the relationship of the banned poster to the subversive, (received) norm-challenging comedy show wasn't necessarily self-evident in the advertisement itself].

    To my mind the various responses to this episode - from that of Emily's friends, to Channel 4, to representatives of the Commission for Racial Equality - are evocative of nothing so much as the response of kids in the (middle-class) playground to an exclamation: 's**t'! So much was implicit in Channel 4's recognition that Emily should not suffer over-strong criticism. It is an infantile society that looks for affront where none is intended. Did I say 'infantile', oh, well I meant INFANTILE.

    Thursday, 7 June 2007

    Cover broken: Blair voices sympathy for MPs drive to evade FoI

    The Times noted today that Tony Blair has at last explicitly - however tentatively - confirmed (in Wednesday's PMQs) a long-suspected degree of sympathy for the move by MPs to exempt themselves from the operation of the FoI Act. This can be news only to those who believe that trees falling in lonely forests make no noise...

    Monday, 4 June 2007

    Contempt of court?: the growth and growth of trial by media

    The Guardian has a very interesting piece (originally published in the British Journalism Review) by Bob Woffinden on the abuse - or rather the disregard - of at least the spirit of contempt laws by news managers working for politicians, the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and others. It outlines a number of recent examples, which when collected together in this way make the point forcefully.

    He also notes the recent announcement by the Attorney General of the intent to conduct research into the premises of the existing contempt laws (1,2), that is the presumption that media comment will influence how jurors are disposed towards defendants. An alternative, perhaps more pragmatic approach - more familiar in North American jurisdictions - is to respond to actual rather than hypothetical cases of influence; to focus on cure and not prevention.

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