Posts Tagged ‘News’

Privacy still matters in open digital world

November 14th, 2011 No comments

THE woman was distraught, there was no doubt about it. Her voice was shaky, and never far from tears. ‘We just can’t understand why we are still alive and others aren’t,” she managed to say at one point, referring to her partner. They had been involved in the disastrous motorway pile-up on the M5 near Taunton in Somerset, England. Seven people were dead, and another 50 hurt, some of them with what one reporter referred to, chillingly, as ‘life-changing injuries’. This woman, speaking on Irish radio, was, if not in shock, obviously traumatised.

She and her husband had indeed been extraordinarily lucky to escape, apparently with no physical harm. But one of the mental issues that was torturing her now, she explained, was how quotes and photographs of the couple, who had escaped ‘miraculously’, were appearing in newspapers and websites, without their permission.

“We spoke to The Times of London,” she said, “but other newspapers have run stories about us, have stolen our pictures from Facebook….I will never believe what I read in the papers again.”

This was Ciara Neno’s verdict, after being interviewed on RTE radio. Her distress was evident, and deserves kindness and respect. But her alarm at photographs being ‘stolen’ from Facebook highlights, yet again, how privacy has become a thing of the past. And many people don’t seem to have noticed, nor to care. It is only in extreme situations such as this that people feel violated when their information, and images, is taken and used without their permission. Everywhere, the media is doing the equivalent of the old unethical reporter’s trick of climbing in the bathroom window to steal a photograph of someone involved in a tragic or dramatic story.

People are, in effect, putting their personal information and images up in a vast public square. The so-called privacy settings on Facebook, Google+, and others are often only a minor obstacle to mildly skilful computer-users.   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.


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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A history of ethics – or not

July 20th, 2011 Comments off

Angela Long used to see Rupert Murdoch shuffling around Wapping in his home-knitted jumpers. That was before ethics went to hell in his newspapers (and his latest wife smartened up his attire). But this is serious…it’s about society and democracy

Bliss was it to be alive in that ….afternoon in July, sitting in front of the telly, pot of tea, watching something I never, ever, thought we’d see: Rupert Murdoch in the dock.
That was really the biggest shock of the day, an afternoon of changeable weather in London, with one miniature storm in the Wilson Committee Room when a small-time blogger attempted to smear a fake cream-pie on the aged Murdoch’s face.
But that Murdoch, the anti-Christ, for so long, according to a sizeable constituency, the Dark Lord of media misbehaviour, was being held to account – it was amazing.
The reality of the proceedings themselves hardly lived up to that fundamental fact. Some members of the British parliament’s select committee on media, sports and culture distinguished themselves, notably Labour MP Tom Watson. Read more…

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Murdoch historic hearing marred by custard-pie stunt

July 19th, 2011 Comments off

July 19, 2011

Angela Long watched in amazement as Rupert Murdoch sat meekly at a table and let British MPs grill him about how he runs – or not – his media empire

‘Jonnie Marbles’, as he calls himself, hijacked the Murdoch hearings, towards their end, in the House of Commons. But it was only momentary, and one irony is that there is now no News of the World to buy his story.
The man in the checked shirt who tweets as Marbles waited till late in the three-hour session, then lunged at Rupert Murdoch with a ‘pie’ containing shaving cream. A number of people, notably Murdoch’s wife Wendi Deng, leapt immediately to restrain him.
People had queued for eight hours to see the only show in town. Thousands of people who have only vaguely heard of Commons Committees were on the spot in London or at the screen of their TV or laptop, watching a spectacle worthy of the Roman Colosseum: the most powerful media magnate in the world, with his son and heir, being grilled by a hostile group of politicians.
Rupert Murdoch and James Murdoch faced their accusers – and former captors, in their power to embarrass politicians – in the Wilson room at the House of Commons. Behind James sat a phalanx of lawyers, while Rupert had Wendi Deng, his third wife, inches away.
“This is the most humble day of my life,” Murdoch senior declared at the start of proceedings. And that’s why the crowds were there, some of them gathered still with placards reading ‘Smash Murdoch’s Evil Empire’ and ‘He’s Got to Go’.
The Twitter joke, and pic, was the resemblance to Mr Burns and Smithers of The Simpsons. And at first it did seem to have qualities of caricature, with Rupert Murdoch answering in monosyllables, unable to hear questions, or leaving long silences before he spoke. Was this a piece of theatre, with a befuddled elderly man-character set to fend questions in one way, while the youthful business-school graduate parroted “Sorry, that was before my time/I have no knowledge/I am not aware.” Read more…

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