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Archive for October, 2011

The little guy is your only man

October 25th, 2011 Comments off

Angela is a Labour Party supporter – but it’s not that which makes Michael D. the best choice for the next Irish president

Sean Gallagher seems a nice bloke, but surely Michael D. Higgins, after a life as a public representative, activist, artist and social justice campaigner, deserves to be president of Ireland more than a mere businessman?

Last night (October 24) the seven candidates in Ireland’s presidential election fronted up for the final all-in debate of the campaign. Screened by national broadcaster RTE, the encounter was adjudicated by Pat Kenny, RTE’s highly-polished senior man. It was an entertaining affair on several levels, at once more light-hearted and yet more intense than the meetings earlier in the campaign, when most of the candidates had a hope of success (the two women, Dana and Mary Davis, became also-rans fairly early on).

Gallagher, way ahead in three polls of voting intentions taken at the weekend, got a rough ride. He was skewered on two issues: an amount of €89,000 which was paid into a personal rather than business account some years ago; and, probably worse from an electoral point of view, his role as a money-collector for Fianna Fail during the dying days of the Celtic Tiger.

Martin McGuinness (who has faced a relentless tide of questions over his role in the IRA) dared to suggest that Gallagher’s past as a bagman for the former party of God was ‘murky’. Murkier than murder? But Gallagher, normally straightforward and unruffled, was obviously fazed by the questions, and dithered between ‘not remembering’ whether he had collected a €5,000 cheque and claiming that the person who said he had given the cheque was an unreliable witness with a chequered past.

The question was whether all this will damage Gallagher sufficiently to snatch victory away from him this Thursday [October 27] when voting takes place.

He’s an affable, straight-talking guy, and has garnered a lot of approval from young people and closet Fianna Failers, as well as some of the more overt kind. The Fianna Fail candidate who dare not speak its name.

My question is whether a man, pleasant as he may be, who has a background almost entirely as a businessman, with no political representation or across-the-board engagement, is what Ireland needs or should have as a president at this stage. Read more…

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Newspapers also victim of capitalism

October 17th, 2011 Comments off

Perhaps it was inevitable – but the triumph of capitalism which has led to poverty, joblessness and the anger of the people around the world also hammered a large nail in the newspaper industry, Angela believes

On Australian radio today a commentator asked, what do they want? She was referring to the thousands, millions, of people who have been protesting in cities around the world this past weekend. Inspired by the OccupyWallSt movement, and more fundamentally ‘los indignados’ of Spain and other European countries, the demonstrations were a cry of rage and pain at the destruction of the economic boom by its supposed guardians, the bankers and financial traders.

A wider view is that these people are angry at the resilience of the triumph of capitalism: even after the disaster which started with the collapse of Lehman Brothers three years ago, and the tide of Euro debt which could drown the EU, the masters of the universe are largely still in place.  As in the 1920s song, the rich get richer and the poor get laid off.

Michael Lewis noted in The Big Short that, when Hank Paulsen championed the $700 billion rescue of US financial institutions three years ago, there was never a whisper of such generous support for the ultimate victims of the sub-prime fiasco, poor people who had lost their homes and were the stooges of a capitalist system that was not just illogical but wicked.

The people ‘Occupying’ around the world are protesting to let off the steam of powerlessness, which has been reinforced by the chain reaction of austerity measures around the world.

And newspapers are picking their way among the ruins of their own industry, and the market ethic which corrupted them and their place in society.

The industry, my core industry, could even be seen as a motif for the triumph of capitalism. A newspaper, a social artefact, was never like a widget, subject to simple profit-and-loss equations, and measures of ‘shareholder value’. Back in the 1970s, a larrikin columnist on my newspaper used to boast that he and his mates would ‘win this place back from the accountants’. A newspaper was a social tool, not just a product to make profit. Granted, the financial viability of a print or broadcast news entity was essential: but making enough money to operate and hire staff got subsumed in the global lust for pforits, multiples, money money money. Good newspaper editors around the world stood up for investment in resources, in reporters and what they needed to expose scams, injustice, hypocrisy.

No, the bean-counters said, all that mattered was the profit profile. Give away CDs or feed readers lots of dross about untalented egomaniacal celebrities. And if you were at News Ltd, or one of its London competitors, get the dirt, get the personal anguish no matter what the morality or even legality of your manoeuvres.

Much has been said about the failure and demise of the ‘business model’ on which newspapers were based – briefly, most income from ads, a token amount from cover price. As circulations plummeted in the 1995-2010 period, the inability to deliver the same number of heads on a plate meant that cash-strapped advertisers fled.

Simply, a newspaper was never just a commercial product; but it was the demands of the proprietors of newspaper companies, buoyed on the tide of unquestioned ruthless capitalism, that ignored this reality and treated the daily accounts of human life in all phases as a pile of widgets.

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PS When rambling around the web for similar arguments about media and capitalism, I came across this video of Michael Moore spouting something along these lines – so for all the Moore-heads (haters and lovers), here’s the link… Moore at Toronto Film Festival

And putting both side of the story (although aiming to diss the dismissively-titled ‘grad student’ who crunched the numbers) is this columnist on Gawker, who says surprise, surprise, newspapers were businesses…

Gawker view

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Should journalists be licensed?

October 3rd, 2011 Comments off

Angela Long begins to ponder the licensing issue

SHOULD journalists have to hold a licence? Say in the same way as a gas boiler service man. The question was raised at the Labour Party conference in Britain last week. It set off the inevitable mini-tornado of shock and horror on Twitter and instant-opinion forums. What, crush the liberty of the valiant upholders of decency, those who shine light into the dark dusty corners of public life? What an appalling vista of state repression and censorship!

And yet….and yet…

As an old hack myself, I was trained and lived in the tradition of journalistic freedom and integrity. We, as news journalists, were there to make sure that the powerful, whether through a vote, a seizure of power or wealth, did not abuse their position. Freedom and justice for all. And nobody should look to vet our copy before it was published or broadcast.

The function of a good newspaper was to “exist in tension with the government of the day”, according to a classic formulation. All that is noble indeed, and desirable to the point of being essential.  Serious journalism still aspires to this ideal, whether it is in the pages of a broadsheet newspaper, or on the blog of an able and thorough independent journalist, such as the US blogger Josh Wolf.

When Ivan Lewis made his suggestion to the Labour Party conference, there was weeping and wailing and cries of “that’s what Mussolini did!” Certainly it’s a grim spectre, of a government doling out licences to report only to those who promise to be poodles and cheerleaders. Read more…

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