When regulatory bodies fail, ordinary people must do the job

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The stated remit of the independent regulator for the newspaper industry is to “hold newspapers to account for their actions” and “uphold high standards of journalism”.  In common with many other people I am often concerned by the behaviour of the UK media.  It seems there are some very questionable decisions being made by the editors and journalists who control what millions of people read, watch and hear every day and none of the regulatory bodies who are responsible seem to be holding them to account or setting high standards.

With the creation of the internet, the proliferation of radio and television channels and the popularity of social media we seem to be in an age of information overload.  The problem is that not all of this ‘news’ is editorially relevant, factually correct, comes from reliable sources or is presented in an appropriate context.  This is why standards in journalism are more important than ever and why lapses in editorial judgement and behaviour are so concerning.  There has never been a greater need for reliable media brands, accurate and trustworthy journalists and editors with good judgement and morals.

Over the last two weeks there have been two specific examples of questionable journalism and poor editorial judgement.

The first was the decision by The Sun, The Daily Mirror and Mail Online to publish video of the appalling terrorist attacks on mosques in New Zealand.  The footage, filmed by the alleged perpetrator of the crimes, was also published by social media content distributors YouTube and Facebook – although who made this decision is difficult to confirm.  There can be no justification which carries intellectual validity for publication by any of these media outlets.  The editors and journalists who decided to publish made the wrong decision and revealed a lack of good editorial judgement.

The second was a decision by The Guardian, the i newspaper and the Metro to publish a front page picture of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his 11-year-old son on the way to a meeting with the Prime Minister at Chequers.  The inclusion of Mr Rees-Mogg’s son in the photograph adds nothing to the story and is editorially irrelevant.  Despite the fact his father is a public figure, surely this young man has a right to privacy?

It needs to be remembered that these editorial decisions are made by individual journalists and editors who can and must be held to account.  Sadly, the relevant regulatory institutions are failing to do so.  IPSO in particular does not fulfil its mission nor adhere to its values.  This failure cannot be allowed to continue.  When regulatory bodies are no longer functioning as they should, it is time for ordinary people to step forward and voice their concerns.

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Academic critiques The Vietnam War

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Michael Stewart Foley has published a critique of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary about the Vietnam War.

The essay appears in The Sixties, a journal of history, politics and culture from Taylor & Francis.

Foley is a professor at the Université Grenoble Alpes in France and has previously worked at universities in Groningen and Sheffield.

His deliberately provocative essay accuses the documentary of not telling the full truth of the war and failing to deal with many of the ongoing controversies.

His thesis, however, is somewhat spoilt by sentences such as this:

“We need a film history that does not tell us to “let it be”, but that brings us to the point where we are, as a nation, prepared ourselves to “let it be” only after integrating a deep understanding of the war into a sense of who we are as a nation.”

The Vietnam War was, is and always will be a controversial subject. We must never “let it be” because monstrous catastrophic mistakes, misunderstandings and errors of judgement on all sides caused unimaginable suffering for so many people. The Burns and Novick documentary is an intelligent and insightful contribution to what must be a never-ending debate. Americans, Vietnamese and all humanity need to be regularly reminded of what happened to ensure such terrible events never happen again.

You can read Foley’s essay here.

The media need to go back to basics

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I have written before on this blog about the urgent need for media organisations to raise standards.

Having seen the front pages today and read some of the tweets from professional journalists I am compelled to write again.

Much of the coverage of Theresa May’s speech to the Conservative Party Conference focuses on the antics of a self-aggrandising ‘comedian’, problems with the set and poor Theresa’s cough. There is almost no mention of the themes she outlined or the policies she announced. Rather than focusing on news, the media has once again spewed opinion.

And I’m afraid to say that much of the opinion is drivel, clouded by partisan affiliations, woolly thinking and a lack of intelligent analysis. It reflects the appalling standard of journalism on offer from many news organisations and the poor level of political debate in our country.

Editors and journalists really need to do better. They need to stop rushing to broadcast and publish opinionated analysis in a sad attempt to beat their rivals and find an audience. They need to consider issues such as truth, accuracy, fairness and balance and stop whipping themselves into a frenzy of hysteria over trivialities.

The main problem is that many editors and journalists are so arrogant they won’t accept constructive criticism. It is hardly surprising that audiences are seeking information from other sources and the spread of completely false news is so rampant.

So once again I am calling on editors and journalists to take a moment and return to the fundamentals of journalism. Stop spouting the casual cruelty so often found in the opinionated twaddle you are churning out and start reporting real news. Your audience will respect you for it.

Come on Google, don’t just make money!

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The latest story about the behaviour of Google is very important and it is worth thinking about in more detail.

To summarise, Google have been placing advertising by some of the most well-known brands and Government agencies alongside extremist content on the video sharing site YouTube.

In my view Google have been too busy making money to accept or appreciate any ethical responsibility for the content published on their networks.

Before the rapid development of the internet the media was staffed by journalists, photographers, editors and lawyers who debated, filtered and – sometimes literally – fought over what was published.

Since the internet became ubiquitous anything goes. Anyone can publish anything about anyone with no intelligent editorial debate or standards to maintain. The profession of journalism has been made redundant and our media has been flooded with so much gossip, rumour, opinion, scandal and outright lying that no one knows what to believe. If this continues the professional media – from local newspapers reporting issues important to local communities to national newspapers exposing the bigger picture – will be made extinct.

I think Google now need to start accepting some ethical responsibility for the content published across their networks. According to recent figures, the parent company of Google is worth $498 billion. I feel sure they might have some spare cash to employ professionals to start tackling the tidal wave of editorially and morally dubious content which is flooding the internet and which undoubtedly has led to the rise of fake news.

So, come on Google. Show us you have some ethical and moral fibre and it is not all about making money.

Higher standards will combat fake news

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There has been much fuss recently about the concept of fake news.  The professional media have expressed outrage, alarm and astonishment at the phenomena which spreads quickly via social media and threatens the existence of the established mass media outlets.  But I’m afraid the professional media are partly to blame.

Following the development of the internet much of the established mass media decided to give away their content for free online.  In the process journalism became devalued.  Facts, accuracy, honesty and good quality writing became worthless.

This was accompanied by a hysterical desire to reach the consumer first.  In the desperate rush to attract an audience the quality of what was published became less important than reaching as many eyeballs as possible.

This deterioration started some time ago.  The phone hacking scandal revealed the utter desperation amongst some sections of the media for salacious gossip which they believed people wanted to read.  Some journalists started writing and some editors started publishing stories which they knew not to be true because they were desperate to reach an audience.  Unsubstantiated allegations, stories lacking evidence and downright lies became acceptable material to be published and broadcast by mass media outlets.  Truth, accuracy, honesty and integrity no longer seemed to matter.

And so we have arrived at a situation where fake news and alternative facts are acceptable and the norm.

Media organisations need to raise standards.  They need to stop giving away good quality journalism – truth, facts, accuracy – for free online.  They need to employ and in some cases re-employ journalists with integrity and determination to uncover the truth, keep the public informed and hold those in power to account.  Readers and viewers will respond to better quality, respect such a bold decision and decide once again that good trustworthy journalism is something for which they are willing to pay.

 

BBC Four should screen When We Rise

I have been reading about the new television drama created and produced by Dustin Lance Black.

When We Rise follows the stories of four activists fighting for LGBT rights and spans five decades of struggle.

The series sounds fascinating and seems likely to inform, educate and entertain.

In America, When We Rise is being broadcast by ABC, which is owned by Disney.  It has yet to find a home on a British television network.

This intriguing drama sounds like it needs to be commissioned by BBC Four.  The channel features an eclectic mix of programmes covering documentaries, history, science, drama, arts and music.  It claims it has “built an unrivalled reputation as the home [of television] of intelligence, wit and verve”.  The quality can be variable ranging from truly outstanding to merely acceptable.  But it is the thinking person’s channel.

Dustin Lance Black has stated that one of his aims in creating the new series was to stir the emotions of a younger generation by telling the stories of LGBT heroes of the past.

How brave and daring would it be of BBC Four to screen this drama!  Not only would it celebrate the anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality in this country, but it would invite and inspire young thinking people to explore BBC Four as well as the other riches to be found across the output of our national broadcaster.

So, I plead with the channel editors at BBC Four.  Please don’t commission another programme about James May tinkering with food mixers in his garden shed.  Please broadcast When We Rise instead.

George Michael, rest in peace

When someone in the public eye dies I always find it interesting how sections of the media explode into a paroxysm of praise.

Yet while these people have been alive these same sections of the media have published lewd, prurient and unjustifiable stories about their private lives.

George Michael was a musical great.  But while he was alive some journalists focused on his private struggles and wrote stories they knew to be untrue.

Instead of offering understanding, support and appreciation the media exploited and castigated his behaviour.

I can think of at least two other hugely talented musical megastars who receive similar treatment – Boy George and Elton John.  Both of whom, alongside George Michael, have coped with private issues while being musically exceptional and trailblazing for some of the rights and freedoms we have today.

Instead of waiting until these people and others like them have gone, perhaps some sections of the media  can show better understanding, compassion and appreciation for these supreme talents while they are alive?

George Michael, your life and music touched many people.  Thank you.  Rest in peace.