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BBC News: Smoking out the illegal tobacco trade

BBC investigative reporter Samantha Poling has spent several months secretly filming the UK’s counterfeit tobacco trade for a documentary due to be aired tonight.

A clip from the documentary shows Poling and her camera crew being threatened by tobacco dealers with a metal pole in Glasgow’s Barras Market.

Investigating criminal gangs like these ones always carry risks. And these are risks you have to add up.

Are they worth taking in order to get the footage, to get the story told?

After looking back at the hours of evidence I had recorded, and knowing the level of criminality we had discovered, which affects each and every one of us, I knew the answer.

Read Poling’s report here.

BBC Scotland Investigates: Smoking and the Bandits will be broadcast tonight at 7.30pm BBC One Scotland. It will be available on the BBC iPlayer for a week afterwards.

h/t: Jon Slattery

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Greg Dyke claims BBC is part of ‘Westminster conspiracy’ preventing democratic change

Oddly, it looks like the BBC and Politics.co.uk are the only two news organisations to report on Greg Dyke’s appearance at the Liberal Democrat party conference, where the former BBC director-general claimed that the BBC is part of a ‘conspiracy’ preventing the necessary ‘radical changes’ to UK democracy.

[Update: The Belfast Telegraph and The Herald in Glasgow also reported some of his comments - please do send over any other sightings]

Dyke – who was director-general from 2000-2004, before resigning after the verdict of the Hutton Report – made the comments on Sunday at a fringe meeting about MPs’ expenses at the Liberal Democrat party conference.

Dyke said a commission should examine the ‘whole political system,’ but added: “I fear it will never happen because I fear the political class will stop it.”

Major changes he had wanted to make to the BBC’s coverage of politics had been blocked, Dyke claimed. Some of his comments, as reported by the BBC:

“The evidence that our democracy is failing is overwhelming and yet those with the biggest interest in sustaining the current system – the Westminster village, the media and particularly the political parties, including this one – are the groups most in denial about what is really happening to our democracy.”

(…)

“I tried and failed to get the problem properly discussed when I was at the BBC and I was stopped, interestingly, by a combination of the politicos on the board of governors, one of whom was married to the man who claimed for cleaning his moat, the cabinet interestingly – the Labour cabinet – who decided to have a meeting, only about what we were trying to discuss, and the political journalists at the BBC.

“Why? Because, collectively, they are all part of the problem. They are part of one Westminster conspiracy. They don’t want anything to change. It’s not in their interests.”

Politics.co.uk reported a slightly different angle: Dyke also claimed that politicians damaged by the expenses scandal should not be allowed to conduct financial scrutiny of the BBC or other public bodies. Dyke said:

“When I was director-general of the BBC I regularly appeared before select committees and had often quite I thought quite dumb people coming and giving me tough questions.

“How can those people question you now? How can someone who’s flipped their mortgage possibly sit there and start asking me about expenditure at the BBC? Because you just come back to them. I think some people are completely undermined by this. They should go because they can’t do the job.”

A blog search picks up a little more mention of the comments and this video interview with Greg Dyke by Mark Thompson (Lib Dem ‘Mark Reckons’ blogger, not the current BBC D-G):

Hat-tip: MediaLens.

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paidContent:UK: Planned redundancies at Metro

August 27th, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Job losses, Jobs, Newspapers

More bad news for the freebie sector: paidContent:UK reports that up to 30 redundancies are planned for Metro’s regional arts and entertainment sections. Parent company DMGT declined to comment.

“Sources close to the paper say it is cutting back drastically on its Metro Life sections – the regionalised arts, entertainment and food pages produced by journalists at Metro’s offices in Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle, Birmingham and Bristol.”

Full story at this link…

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This is Georgetown but it could be Westminster: journalists hunt in packs wherever they are

July 8th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Events, Press freedom and ethics

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He was born in Guyana and regularly returns there to help build local media, print and TV. His last post looked at how summits bring out the lazy side of journalists.

The herd mentality is alive and well and living in the sun. I’ve just seen it at the Caricom (Caribbean Community) Summit (July 2-5) of 14 Presidents and Prime Ministers with the Caribbean media. A pack without teeth. The government of Guyana established a very slow accreditation system and a media centre in the conference venue. But the media centre was a broiler room. Up to 20 hacks, computers (usually working), tea, coffee and confusion.

The highlight of the day was often lunch, with the President’s press secretary presiding over just who got fish and who got meat. Big decisions. He and others in the communications team at the Summit did precious little briefing, precious little spinning in advance, or even ex post facto. That was left to the principals and usually in impromptu corridor press conferences where they were waylaid by journalists. The worst sort of herd mentality. One hooked the prey while the others piled in, often not knowing what questions to ask, but not wanting to miss out on the action. A journalism flash mob with plenty of heat and not much light. The leaders love this. They can bluff on a wide variety of subjects for several minutes to feed morsels to the hungry hacks.

Away from the pack, the masters of journalism. None bigger than Rickey Singh. Sitting typing in the corner of the media centre. Thousands of words over three days for his outlets in Jamaica, Trinidad, Barbados (where he lives) and his native Guyana. He is a one-man Caribbean press corps and the institutional memory for the travelling correspondents covering the Summit. Any historical or other questions they ask Rickey out loud. He knows all the answers. He has lived them.

Rickey has been to virtually all the Summits since the founding of Caricom. After 40+ plus years as a journalist, often against the odds and the subject of official displeasure, there are no new names and faces for Rickey in the Caribbean. Just watch him in action, prowling the corridors of power at a big event like this. No media scrums for him. As he walks around casually, his name is all. The powerful stop him and talk to him. Now, that’s contacts and working them. Rickey pumps out news, features, opinion, the works from his corner position in the Summit newsroom. The ultimate freelance, the ultimate journalistic craftsman.

For many Guyanese journalists, a little knowledge is enough. The big issues they leave to politicians and their prolix communiqués. The hacks take what they are offered, too often with little or no deep questioning. Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson was given a very easy ride in a press conference he called after facing criticism for an exercise in ‘ethnic cleansing’. It’s not a pretty sight to see how easily young journalists can be kept happy.

There we have it; experience against naivety, age against youth, solo against the pack. This is Georgetown but it could be Glasgow or the Westminster lobby. Herds don’t need cold weather to exist.

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Channel 4 (part 1): Station plans to focus more on regional content

January 22nd, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Journalism

Following up on yesterday’s Ofcom round-up, here are further reports from the House of Lords, where Channel 4 chief executive, Andy Duncan spoke at a Communications Committee hearing.

  • Channel 4 is unlikely to move away from London in a bid to save money, although it is keen to expand its influence around the UK. London was the centre of the UK media industry, Andy Duncan explained to the committee. Savings made from any move were likely to be ‘negligible’ at best.
  • Although Channel 4 is already active in places such as Glasgow, Duncan admitted the station had relatively little presence in Scotland and other parts of the UK, outside England.
  • The station’s CEO said that they were adept at creating good quality ‘one-off’ shows. The challenge was to create more opportunities for ‘returning’ series based in the region.
  • Certain Channel 4 IP, such as ‘Dispatches’ and ‘Cutting Edge’ already allow for the allocation of programming and resources focused in and around the country.
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‘A sad day for Scottish Journalism': job cuts at Herald&Times and BBC Scotland

December 3rd, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Jobs, Newspapers

All staff at Newsquest’s three Glasgow titles, the Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times – bar a handful of senior management roles – have been made redundant and told to reapply for their jobs in a move to cut 30-40 posts.

The announcement follows the appointment yesterday of Donald Martin as editor-in-chief across all three titles.

According to a blog post by Shaun Milne, staff have been put on 90-day notice, as part of plans to integrate the three titles. “[T]he titles will adopt a 24/7 approach from a single operation taking in the web, evening, daily and Sunday titles,” writes Milne (in reference to one of the industry’s worst kept secrets this year…)

The announcement comes as BBC Scotland said it would axe 70 jobs, including an expected 20 from news and current affairs – this figure is on top of the 96 redundancies implemented in September, a release from the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) said.

The NUJ chapel at BBC Scotland has sent a letter to controller Ken MacQuarrie protesting against the proposed job losses.

In a release, Pete Wishart MP, SNP Westminster Culture spokesperson, said the cuts marked ‘a sad day for Scottish journalism’.

Commenting on the Herald&Times cuts, Wishart said:

“Any decision that threatens news coverage and quality is clearly troubling and these cut backs are a backward step by the group’s owners.

“When Newsquest acquired these newspapers they made a commitment to develop and invest in them, regrettably those words do not seem to have been backed up by investment.”

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Big outcry over the Welsh Big Issue’s move to … Scotland

October 3rd, 2008 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Magazines

The NUJ have got some celebrity backing to help the protest against the Big Issue Cymru’s move up north.

The opera singer Katherine Jenkins, Radio One DJ Bethan Elfyn and award winning author Rachel Trezise have all voiced their support for an NUJ campaign to keep the The Big Issue Cymru in Wales, after it was recently announced that production would move to Glasgow and leave just one member of staff in Wales. The editor and designer are both facing redundancy.

Jenkins sung said in a release issued today: “I don’t understand how this could continue to work being edited from Scotland? My fingers are crossed, as it would be a very sad day for Wales to see the editorial being written in Glasgow, hundreds of miles away from where it’s all happening.”

And Bethan Elfyn is concerned that only one member of staff only representing Wales will be a ‘token gesture’.

“[It] will not be a good reflection of the world, the people and the activities here in Wales. I hope the sales and the good works that BI does for the homeless won’t suffer as a by-product of these cuts and changes,” Elfyn said in the release. “The staff in Cardiff worked damn hard and will be sorely missed.”

Meanwhile Trezise, author of ‘Fresh Apples’ (which was derived from an entry for the Big Issue Cymru’s short story competition) said that the magazine is “a vital source of income for the homeless in Wales”.

“It is also a very culturally significant publication; one of few independent Welsh media voices that supports native arts,” Trezise said.

The NUJ is also concerned that the move and cutbacks could mean an end to the Welsh speaking content in the magazine.

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EPUK: Herald&Times industrial action possible after introduction of new ‘group multimedia desk’

September 1st, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Newspapers, Photography

Glasgow-based Herald&Times newspaper group could see more industrial action after changes affecting the working conditions of both staff and freelance photographers across its titles.

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HTFP: Herald editor Charles McGhee resigns

July 18th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

McGhee steps down after two years in the role, which he took up in January 2006.

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Newsquest attracts 4.8m unique users in 2007

February 4th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Newspapers, Online Journalism, Traffic

According to results release by its parent company Gannett, Newsquest’s network of newspaper websites in the UK recorded 4.8 million unique users last year.

While this is a rise from last May’s ABCe figures – which showed a figure of around 4.5 million unique users to the sites – the numbers seem low, given the portfolio includes over 180 websites, boasting such titles as The Herald in Glasgow, The Press in York and Bradford’s Telegraph & Argus.

Are the numbers smaller than expected? – I’m trying to get hold of someone at Newsquest and I’ll let you know the response.

Update – No one at Newsquest could give me an official comment, as the figures were released by Gannett and not them. One contact, however, did point out to me that whatever the level of traffic announced the fact that Newsquest participates in the ABCe audit gives a reliable point of reference.

Newsquest, Northcliffe, Kent Online and the Midlands News Association are the only regional news publishers to have their sites audited – where are the other players?

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