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Guardian: Biography claims David Cameron texted Rebekah Brooks before she quit NI

May 9th, 2012 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick

Copyright Lewis Whyld/PA

The Guardian has reported today that an updated biography of the prime minister claims David Cameron texted Rebekah Brooks before she quit as News International’s chief executive.

An article on the Guardian‘s website reports that Cameron allegedly texted Brooks “to tell her to keep her head up” days before she resigned from News International.

It has also emerged that he agreed to meet her at a point-to-point horse race so long as they were not seen together, and that he also pressed the Metropolitan police to review the Madeleine McCann case in May last year following pressure from Brooks.

The prime minister then sent an intermediary to Brooks to explain why contacts had to be brought to an abrupt halt after she resigned. The authors say the gist of that message was: “Sorry I couldn’t have been as loyal to you as you have been to me, but Ed Miliband had me on the run.”

The revelations were made in the updated version of Cameron: Practically a Conservative by Francis Elliot and James Hanning. Brooks is due to appear before the Leveson inquiry on Friday.

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The First Post: ‘The BBC is not impartial’

September 14th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Editors' pick

The First Post has published an article from ‘Newspeak in the 21st Century’ by David Edwards and David Cromwell (editors of the UK-based website Media Lens). The BBC is not impartial, independent, nor even particularly truthful, they argue. An extract from the extract:

“[B]y what right does the BBC airbrush from reality the swath of informed public opinion that sees the invasion as a crime, rather than as a mistake? By what right does it declare this framing of the topic ‘impartial’, ‘balanced’, ‘objective’ reporting?

“While working as the BBC’s political editor, Andrew Marr, declared: “When I joined the BBC, my Organs of Opinion were formally removed.”

“And yet, as Baghdad fell to American tanks, Marr, reporting on the News at Ten on April 9, 2003, said of Tony Blair: “He said that they would be able to take Baghdad without a bloodbath, and that in the end the Iraqis would be celebrating. And on both of those points he has been proved conclusively right. And it would be entirely ungracious, even for his critics, not to acknowledge that tonight he stands as a larger man and a stronger prime minister as a result.”"

Full article at this link…

Related: Journalism in Crisis 09: ‘Recognising one’s subjectivity allows one to be fair’ Ivor Gaber tells conference (19/05/09)

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Jon Bernstein: Sorry Guido, the BBC did for Duncan

Three high-profile political figures mired in controversy, two thrown out of their jobs, one suffering a humiliating demotion – all thanks to internet activists of differing political hues from green to darkest blue.

Hang your heads in shame video-sting victim Alan Duncan, and Smeargate’s Derek Draper and Damian McBride. Take a bow Tim Montgomerie, Guido Fawkes, and Heydon Prowse.

But was it really the web wot done it? I’m not so sure.

Or at least I don’t think the web could have done it without the traditional media, television news and newspapers in particular.

Clearly this is at odds with Guido’s reading of the situation.

Writing on his blog this morning yesterday Paul Staines (for it is he) asks who forced Alan Duncan from his role as shadow leader of the House of Commons.

Not Tory leader David Cameron, that’s for sure. Rather it was the unlikely pairing of Tim Montgomerie and Heydon Prowse, ‘the blogosphere’s shepherd of the Tory grassroots and the angry young man with a video-cam’.

Of Prowse, who filmed Duncan on the terrace talking of ‘rations’ in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal, Guido notes:

“Heydon Prowse, who is he? He just destroyed the career of a greasy pole climbing Westminster slitherer. No house-trained political nous, no insight, in fact a little naive. He still did it.”

And Guido is in no doubt what this means in the wider context:

“The news is now disintermediated.”

The same applies, apparently, to the sacking of Damian McBride and Derek Draper, both prime ministerial advisors in their time. McBride and Draper were outed for their parts in a plot to use a pseudo-activist blog to spread rumours about various high-profile Tories.

The emails incriminating the two men found their way to Guido/Staines, and were in turn picked up by the media.

(Ironically, the site was meant to be the left’s answer to right-wing blogosphere attack-dogs, Guido among them.)

This week saw the story take another twist. Would-be smear victim Nadine Dorries MP carried out a threat to sue Draper and McBride and enlisted the help of Guido and fellow blogger Tory Bear to be servers of writs.

No one is doubting the origin of both stories, nor the journalistic craft in exposing the men at the heart of them. But it took the mainstream media to push these events into the public consciousness, into the mainstream.

And it took the attentions of the mainstream media to effect the sackings and demotion.

On the day it broke, the Duncan story led the BBC 10 o’clock News and featured prominently on other channels. In the ensuing 48 hours it spawned dozens of national press stories – the Daily Star went for ‘Dumb and Duncan’, The Mirror for ‘Duncan Donut’, others were more po-faced – as well as leader comments, opinion pieces and letters.

The coverage continued into the weekend and despite Duncan’s very swift apology and Cameron’s initial willingness to draw a line under events (“Alan made a bad mistake. He has acknowledged that, he has apologised and withdrawn the remarks.”) the drip, drip of media focus eventually forced the Tory leader to act.

It was a similar pattern with Smeargate.

Would PM Gordon Brown and Cameron have acted if these had remained just web stories? Not in 2009.

Is the news disintermediated? Not yet. Instead we have a symbiotic – if dysfunctional – relationship between the blogosphere and the traditional media.

The latter fears and dismisses the former in equal measure, but increasingly relies on it to take the temperature of various constituent parts of society and, yes, to source stories. Guido is such a good conduit through which to leak precisely because the media reads him.

The former, meanwhile, is disparaging about the latter (sometimes for good reason) but nonetheless needs it to vindicate its journalistic endeavours.

A final twist to the Alan Duncan story. Heydon Prowse offered Guido first refusal on his secret video recording back in June. Guido turned it down. “D’oh!” he later wrote in a confessional blog post.

Guido always has the good grace to admit when he’s goofed, as he did earlier this year over James Purnell’s fictitious leadership bid.

Will he accept with equally good grace that the mainstream media were a vital ingredient in the sackings and demotion of McBride, Draper and Duncan?

Jon Bernstein is former multimedia editor of Channel 4 News. This is part of a series of regular columns for Journalism.co.uk. You can read his personal blog at jonbernstein.wordpress.com.

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European Federation of Journalists says Berlusconi ‘putting press freedom to the sword with legal vendetta against media’

September 1st, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Editors' pick, Legal, Media releases

Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi ‘has stepped over a line by trying to stifle embarrassing but legitimate journalism at both home and abroad,’ the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the regional group of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), has said in a statement:

“On 28 August, Mr. Berlusconi sued the daily La Repubblica simply for having publicly asked him ten questions. At the same time, the daily Il Giornale owned by the Berlusconi family is attacking the catholic paper Avvenire. Moreover, Mr. Berlusconi is suing French weekly Le Nouvel Observateur, and reports say his lawyers are looking into the possibility to sue British papers – including the ones owned by his former ‘friend’ Rupert Murdoch.”

Full release at this link…

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Trinidad’s tabloids scream loudly, but Barbados’ press could do with some balls

July 24th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Journalism, Newspapers

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. Previous posts looked at the Caricom Summit held July 2-5 in Georgetown. Trinidad and Barbados were the final stops.

After experiencing Guyanese ‘journalism’ during the Caricom summit, any order is better. In Trinidad, there is much economic prosperity due to oil and natural gas: ‘What recession?’ they ask here. The economy is healthy but the society has some of the fissures of Guyana.

Trinidad politics
Indians were brought here in thousands as indentured labourers to replace the freed black slaves one hundred and seventy years ago. They live in the south of the island, the African Trinidadians in the North. They have much of the wealth, the prime minister and his ruling PNM party are black and have the political power.

There is much violent crime – especially kidnappings and murders – and that is the staple fare of the super tabloids who make up the Trinidad & Tobago newspaper market. The Guardian, the Express and Newsday are much the same. Screaming headlines on the cover but much content inside. They are big in pagination and include lots of classified ads.

Politics gets a big shout and through that the racial dimension. The leader of the opposition (at the moment) Basdeo Panday is Indo-Trinidadian. He was prime minister until 2001 but was driven from office for alleged corruption. Today his UNC is breaking into bits.

His former attorney general Ramesh Marhaj is leading a ginger group/internal opposition within the party together with another MP – Jack Warner, who runs football in this part of the world, is vice-chair of FIFA and has been the subject of critical investigations on British TV about his dodgy behaviour in that job.

Warner’s son sold the travel packages and tickets for Trinidadians to the to the 2006 World Cup. Panday wants Warner to account for $30m (T&T) of election expenses. Warner says it was money he gave the party so no need to account. This makes the British MPs look tame.

Columnists abound on the pages of the T&T press. Different races. All have views. Many far too prolix for the page. Sub-editing is not a craft that seems to have been found in the Southern Caribbean. But the three dailies and the local TV news programmes – sadly also divided on racial lines – make for lively reading and listening. Crime sells. They certainly put the fear of God into the bank manager cousin with whom I was staying.

Keeping awake in Barbados
Not so Barbados. The problem here for a journalist is keeping awake. The best description for the Barbados Nation and Advocate? Stodgy, boring, dull. They make the Bedworth Advertiser look interesting. Boring headlines and even duller stories. It is like reading a parish newsletter for a nation.

The ‘news’ is based on government news conferences and other press conferences by NGOs and the like. On such sexy subjects like polyclinics, insurance and diabetes. Again, writing is prolix and not of great quality.

Barbados is a very polite and ordered society (the murder rate is a fraction of Trinidad’s) and that shows in its press. The hacks need to get themselves some more balls. The TV news is not much better.

There we have it. Prosperity, tabloid culture, Little England and the news values of British suburbia. Funny how they all travel. But Blighty calls.

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BBC News: Italian media group suing Berlusconi for defamation

July 23rd, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Editors' pick, Journalism, Legal

L’Espresso, the publisher of La Repubblica, Italy’s second largest newspaper, is suing the Italian prime minister and media owner, Silvio Berlusconi, the BBC reports. It said that Berlusconi had not yet responded to allegations.

“Mr Berlusconi described La Repubblica as ‘subversive’, prompting L’Espresso media group to sue for defamation.

“L’Espresso also publishes a magazine of the same name, and both publications have led recent investigations into Mr Berlusconi’s personal life.

“The group also said the PM had discouraged businesses from buying advertising space in its publications.

“According to a complaint lodged with a Milan court, the group’s lawyers have also accused Mr Berlusconi of abuse of office and of flouting market rules.”

Full story at this link…

(Via EJC)

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Walter Cronkite: death of America’s ‘most trusted’ news voice

July 21st, 2009 | 1 Comment | Posted by in Broadcasting, Journalism

WalterCronkite1-799355America has lost a top celebrity anchorman, whose news delivery was so influential, he came to be called ‘the most trusted man in America’.

He died peacefully at his home, on Friday July 17, at the age of 92.

Walter Cronkite was an anchorman for CBS Evening News from 1962 to 1981, reading news including a wide range of historical events: the moon landings, Watergate, John F. Kennedy’s assassination and the Vietnam war.

He had a reassuring manner of delivering the news that inspired confidence and trust in the audience. Every evening 70 million Americans heard him deliver his broadcast, which invariably concluded with the parting words “And that’s the way it is.”

He was born Walter Leland Cronkite Jr on November 4th, 1916 in St. Joseph, Missouri, the son of a dentist. As a teenager, his family moved to Houston, where he had his first junior reporter job at The Houston Post – and at the same time delivering the very paper for which he worked.

Known for his trademark clipped moustache and grave voice, he was affectionately known as Uncle Walt, owing to a resemblance to Walt Disney. Despite his popularity, Cronkite was uncomfortable with his celebrity status and declined a proposal for a Walter Cronkite fan club saying: “I don’t think news people ought to have fan clubs.” He also brushed aside suggestions for him to stand for vice-president, even president. The only job he had ever wanted was that of reporter.

No amount of friendship or adulation could compromise Cronkite’s journalistic integrity. Former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said, “When I wanted to make a point Cronkite was the first person I would call. I was sure I was getting a fair interview – tough but fair.”

Some of Cronkite’s finest moments:

  • 1963: Assassination of President John F . Kennedy: Walter Cronkite famously displays a rare show of emotion, taking off his glasses to fight back tears as he announces the death of President Kennedy. Video below:

  • 1968: Vietnam War: After visiting Vietnam in 1968, he called the war ‘a stalemate’ and made his pro-peace stance clear. His views were so influential that, having watched the broadcast, the then US President Lyndon Johnson reportedly said, “I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” Two weeks later  Johnson resigned and announced he would not stand for re-election. Walter Cronkite on the Vietnam War.
  • 1977: Cronkite’s interview with Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin led to Sadat visiting Jerusalem and signing the peace accords the following year at Camp David.

Cronkite retired from from the CBS evening news programme in 1981, handing it over to Dan Rather, but continued producing special reports for the CBS network and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honour. In 1983 he covered the general elections in the UK for ITV and interviewed Margaret Thatcher.

He is survived by a son, two daughters and four grandsons.

Useful related links:

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Was Sarah Brown a Fabulous guest editor?

July 20th, 2009 | No Comments | Posted by in Magazines, Newspapers

After weeks of waiting with baited breath, the special edition of the News of the World Sunday, magazine guest-edited by First Lady Sarah Brown, offered plenty of real-life stories about baby-making but no stolen glimpses of Mrs Brown’s home life with the Prime Minister.

Yesterday’s edition of Fabulous magazine promoted the work of Wellbeing of Women (WoW), a charity aimed at raising awareness of women’s health, of which Brown is a patron.

The edition featured an ‘exclusive interview‘, conducted by Brown, with the wife of celebrity chef Jamie Oliver on her battle with infertility to produce three daughters. Jools Oliver gave birth to the star chef’s third child, Petal, last April, only two days after her husband cooked for the G20 world leaders at Downing Street.

In the Q&A-format interview, Oliver, 34, talked candidly to Brown about the physical and emotional challenges of undergoing fertility treatment. A three-spread feature portrayed other women, who conceived with the help of WoW.

The charity wants to raise £500,000 for a special research programme to help improve women’s reproductive and gynaecological health – £10,000 has already been donated by Fabulous.

Brown is said to have personally chosen the topics which would inspire readers to become involved with WoW. The special edition homed in on the message by featuring fashion and accessory items themed round the colour purple, WoW’s trademark colour, and going as far as including a travel feature on ‘The best baby-making breaks’. TV doctor Hilary Jones covered women’s health issues often considered ‘taboo’.

MediaGuardian deputy editor Vicky Frost, commented through her blog today that there was too much of WoW and too little of Brown’s life:

“I’m not saying she needed to star in the fashion shoot – although that really would have been fabulous – but what about a one-pager about life with her own kids, or healthy dinners she cooks,” Frost said.

The only information the PM’s life gave away in her guest-edited edition was that when it comes to their children’s education, Gordon who plays good cop.

Despite being described as the most accessible No 10 wife and a natural networker, Sarah Brown was a PR supremo before she married Gordon.

On Twitter, under username @SarahBrown10, the First Lady is known to mainly tweet supporting messages for her charities and talk excitedly about her home-grown strawberries – but not a single snippet of information about politics or her family life will slip out.

The News of the World had been tantalising its readers with banners showing Mrs Brown’s photo with the strapline ‘I will wow readers‘ leading up to the guest-edited magazine’s publication. If readers were led into thinking Mrs Brown would make exclusive revelations about her personal life, they were in for a disappointment. As her tweets testify, she prefers to portray her day-to-day as being fairly homely and mundane: “Have emerged from a weekend of gardening, baking cakes and cookies.”

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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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Reporting from ‘the EU in the sunshine’ where hacks are hunting in packs

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.

Summits bring out the worst in hacks. Lazy journalism by design. You arrive, get spoon-fed information, report it and then leave. You get fed and watered too. No need for digging, no need for investigation.

The Caricom (Caribbean Community – think EU in the sunshine) Summit, which opened last week here in Georgetown, Guyana, is no exception. Fifteen regional leaders and distinguished others from all round the world propelled at speed by police outriders all over the Capital City to a brand new Conference Centre. They ‘meet’ for three days to discuss the pressing issues of crime, security, economy and more in the region. But, like all summits it is a sham. The team have long been at work preparing the final communiqué. One person told me minutes after the end of the Opening Ceremony last night that the final communiqué was done and dusted – just crossing the ‘T’s’ and dotting the ‘I’s’ left to do. Where is the journalism in reporting that charade?

But the 60 or so journos from all over the Caribbean who are here go through the motions. The Guyana Government has set up a press centre in an anteroom of the summit to feed regular morsels to the hungry hacks. They run on the spot, faithfully file and come back for more. The herd instinct in action.

There is one real story at this talkfest. The Prime Minister of Barbados, David Thompson, is it. He is a pariah in the Community as it heads towards integration. He wants to clear his Little England island of illegal Guyanese immigrants. His police round them up early morning, interrogate then and so far 53 have been dispatched South in two months. Caricom is supposed to be about the free movement of labour. Thompson held a bizarre press conference on arrival in Georgetown. Local journos failed to ask the right questions. But the ‘Bajan bans Guyanese’ story will run and run.

The local media hunt firmly in packs – whatever their race or the politics of their paper/TV station. At the ceremonial opening last night, the usual suspects were present. All corralled in the lobby or in one small room. All using the feed from the State broadcaster as their only source. Some of them will not file for a day or so. ‘Soon come’ journalism is common here. But how many of the Guyana Press Corps will have the courage to announce the opening as a non-story? Nothing really happened. Fifteen men in suits sat on a stage and listened to six of their number drone on for two hours. Sound bites aplenty there were not.

More to follow on the conference, which ran July 2-5. Over the weekend, the Premiers and the Pack headed off to the Chinese built Conference Centre to go through the elegant quadrille that’s called ‘reporting’ major summits. Me – I got hold of a copy of the final communiqué and sat beside a hotel pool reading it and reporting it. If you are going to be lazy, do it right.

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