paidContent:UK provides a useful round-up of their Digital Britain links so far. Publication of the final report is scheduled for this afternoon.
So who wants the films rights to MPs’ expenses? It’s on a far less grave subject, but maybe it will be like the 9/11 films; the aftermath still permeating society, when the scripts are sold and production started. The next general election may not even have happened. Gordon Brown could still be Prime Minister. Just.
Or perhaps (Sir? ‘Lord’ is less likely given the target) Will Lewis’ memoirs will have been on sale for a while first, before the 21st century’s equivalent of ‘All the President’s Men’ is released, to allow the dust to settle.
Whichever way, this archetypal British plot is the stuff of a (Working Title, maybe) director’s dream; even if the journalism itself is markedly not Watergate, as most hardened investigative hacks and other journalists at rival titles are quick to point out. The gate of significance in this story is the one at the end of the second home’s garden path. No Deep Throat, just Deep Pockets.
A small group of privileged Telegraph journalists has been embedded from early till late in what’s apparently known as ‘the bunker’ – a room separate from the main newsroom, away from the ‘hub and spokes’, away from the Twitterfall graphic projected on the wall – sifting through the details of thousands upon thousands of supermarket, DIY store and restaurant receipts and other documents.
It’s got all the ingredients for the heroic hack flick: the furtive deal with the middle man and the original whistleblower, for an undisclosed sum (no doubt to be revealed in Lewis’ or possibly Ben Brogan’s memoirs), at one point rumoured to be £300,000.
While this whole expose – the ‘Expenses Files’ as the Telegraph first called it – is most definitely built on a film-like fantasy, it is grounded in career-breaking political change, and last night’s audience at the Frontline Club for a debate on the paper’s handling of the stories, got a little insight into the process; a rare chance, as the paper has mainly been very quiet on just how it’s done it.
The ‘consequences were massively in the public interest,’ argued the Telegraph’s assistant editor, Andrew Pierce, who popped up on BBC Breakfast news this morning as well. “It was brilliant, brilliant old fashioned journalism (…) at its finest.
“It’s so exciting – you were aware you had stuff, it was going to change things, and boy it has…
“Of course it’s been terrific for the circulation – we’re a newspaper and we’re there to make sales.”
According to Pierce, 240 broadsheet pages covering the story have been published so far.
“So far we’ve published one correction: we got a house mixed up. I’d say in terms of journalism that ain’t a bad ratio.”
That was disputed by one member of last night’s panel, Stephen Tall, editor-at-large for the Liberal Democrat Voice website; he’s unlikely to get a cameo as it would rather spoil the plot.
Tall’s complaint was that three stories on Liberal Democrats have been misrepresented in separate stories and received insufficient apology; something Journalism.co.uk will follow up on elsewhere, once we’ve moved on from this romanticised big screen analogy.
Back to the glory: Pierce described how journalists from around the world had been to peek at the unfolding scene of action – they’ve had camera crews from Turkey, Thailand and China, in for visits, he said.
There’s a ‘sense of astonishment’, he added. ‘They thought quaint old Britain’, the mother of all democracies, ‘was squeaky clean.’
The story, Pierce claimed, ‘has reverberated all the way around the world’. “We actually are going to get this sorted out. Were MPs really able to set their own pay levels? Their own expenses levels? And it was all tax free.”
‘Old-fashioned journalism lives on’ has become the war cry of the Telegraph and its champions, in defence of the manner in which it acquired and dealt with the data.
For raw blogging it is not. Any CAR is kept secret in-house. Sharing the process? Pah! This is as far away from a Jarvian vision of journalism built-in-beta as you can imagine. While other news operations – the Telegraph’s own included – increasingly open up the inner workings (former Telegraph editor Martin Newland’s team at The National in Abu Dhabi tweeted live from a significant meeting yesterday morning) not a social media peep comes from the bunker till the paper arrives back from the printers.
There might be little teasers on the site with which to taunt their rivals, but for the full meaty, pictorial evidence it’s paper first, online second. Rivals, Pierce said, have to ‘wait for the second edition before they rip it off’.
Nobody has it confirmed how much they officially coughed up for the story – ‘we don’t use the words bought or paid,’ said Pierce. Though last night’s host, Guardian blogger and journalism professor Roy Greenslade, twice slipped in a speculative reference to £75,000, Pierce refused to be drawn.
“Fleet Street has existed for years on leaks,” said Pierce, as justification. “We will stick to our guns (…) and not discuss whether money changed hands.”
Enter the hard done by heroine of the piece: Heather Brooke. Much lauded and widely respected freedom of information campaigner, she and other journalists – one from the Sunday Telegraph (Ben Leapman); one from the Times (Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas) – did the mind-numbingly boring hours of Freedom of Information requests and tedious legal battles over several years, only to lose the scoop to a chequebook.
Will she get a part in the government-destroyed-by-dodgy-expenses film? If Independent editor, Roger Alton, was casting she certainly would. In fact, she deserves a damehood, he declared last night.
A member of the audience asked whether Alton would have paid for the information himself if he had had the chance. Unlike his last foray to the Frontline, the Independent editor knew he was being filmed this time. A pause for ethical reflection before he answered, then:
“We’ve barely got enough money to cover a football match for Queens Park Rangers. Take a wild guess! Any journalist would cut off their left arm and pickle it in balsamic vinegar!”
That’s a yes then, we presume.
Apparently, Sun editor Rebekah Wade turned it down after being told there wasn’t much chance of a Jacqui Smith style porn revelation or a cabinet resignation. “She asked ‘would this bring down a cabinet minster?’ And she was told it wouldn’t,” claimed Pierce. How wrong the data tout(s) were about their own stuff.
More embarrassing for the Telegraph, though Pierce said he knew nothing of it, was Brooke’s revelation that the Sunday Telegraph had refused to back their man financially, a case which Brooke, Leapman and Ungoed-Thomas finally won in the High Court – the judge ordered disclosure of all receipts and claims of the 14 MPs in original requests, along with the addresses of their second homes.
Update: Ben Leapman responds on Jon Slattery’s blog here: “I never asked my employer to pay for a lawyer because I took the view that journalists ought, in principle, be able to go to FoI tribunals themselves without the barrier of having to pay. I also took the view, probably rather arrogantly, that in this emerging field of law I was perfectly capable of putting the arguments directly without a lawyer.” Leapman was represented by solicitor advocate Simon McKay ‘very ably for no fee’ in the High Court, he writes.
Publication of all MPs’ expense claims are now forthcoming, after redaction (‘a posh word for tippexing out,’ said Pierce.) In July 2008, ‘parliament went against the court by exempting some information – MPs’ addresses – from disclosure,’ the Guardian reported.
Now, for a name for our blockbuster. ‘The Month Before Redaction‘? ‘Bunker on Buckingham Palace Road‘? ‘646 Expense Forms and a Re-shuffle‘? I can predict a more likely tag line at least, the now all too familiar: ‘They said they acted within the rules’.
The ending to this expenses epic is not yet known, but there won’t be many happy endings in Parliament. Pierce promises more stories, with no firm end date, but unsurprisingly, didn’t give any hint of what lies ahead. Could an even bigger scoop be on its way? Who’s left?
According to this report on MediaGuardian, industry regulator Ofcom will not investigate ITV, despite receiving a ‘large number of complaints’ about Britain’s Got Talent – in particular the appearance of runner-up, Susan Boyle, in the final.
Speaking to a House of Commons select committee on press standards earlier today, culture minister Barbara Follett argued that Ofcom should hold informal talks with ITV over the incident.
This is a very difficult judgment, said Follett, exacerbated by the new media landscape.
“I first heard of Susan Boyle in the US, through YouTube. YouTube had brought her to the attention of the television networks,” said Follett.
With the advent of the internet, what you do in this room can be around the world in ’24 minutes’, argued Follett.
“Your [the broadcaster’s] duty of care is greater (…) She [Boyle] didn’t choose the effects, she wasn’t aware of the effects. She has been a victim of the changes that this committee has discussed,” she said.
“The beast that is the 24-hour news cycle has got much bigger in the last 20 years. The appetite of the beast is insatiable yet (…) they’re [media organisations] having to possibly chase after that food in a slightly more proactive way than they would have had to before.”
Hard (online) evidence that Roy Greenslade has now put his hyperlocal money where his hyperlocal mouth is, with his first Kemp Town piece for the Brighton Argus website. He even has a photograph to prove it too (see below)…
Greenslade, journalism professor and blogger at MediaGuardian, does his bit for local newsagents, with his report ‘that one Kemp Town retailer [The Kiosk] has just expanded his operations by opening a second outlet [News Buoy]’. Owner Guy Wright’s 22-year-old daughter, Danielle, ‘has forsaken her cabin crew job with Easyjet to become what I believe to be Britain’s youngest newsagent,’ Greenslade continues.
Another dose of Fry this morning, in an earlier post we reproduced yesterday’s comments to the BBC about journalists and expenses.
Courtesy of Malcolm Coles, here is the full transcript [below video] of Stephen Fry’s presentation at Digital Britain on April 17. Fry’s appearance caused a little stir that day, not least for the way he was introduced onto the stage by the BBC’s Nick Higham:
“Stephen is, one of the organisers told me beforehand, the representative at this conference of the ordinary person, frankly: if that’s what someone thinks the ordinary person is like, then someone needs to take them aside and fill them in…”
Some of Fry’s comments relate to technology more broadly, but some interesting points on media, and keeping the web ‘organic’:
“You talk about the BBC doing a digital switchover, as if that’s the same thing as the world-wide web.”
“We’re moving from a world, in which no-one knew or saw the point of, online world, into something [where] everybody has reserved to themselves some special insight into how it’s to affect us.”
This week the Defence Advisory’s (DA) notice secretary, Andrew Vallance, delivered the final lecture of Coventry University’s Coventry Conversations series on how the controversial subject of secrecy is handled to maintain our country’s national security.
The DA is an institution set up to advise media figures on whether new and sensitive information is suitable for publication or whether this would have an adverse impact on national security.
Vallance was keen to highlight that the organisation tries to create a compromise between allowing and pushing for intriguing information to be published and urging the media not to be too specific about subjects that could make British associates easier to target.
The DA ‘provides advice to avoid the inadvertent publication or broadcasting of information that would damage UK national security’, but also ‘facilitates maximum freedom of the media to report in public interest’, he said.
The DA Notice System has five standing notices advising the media against publishing information on Britain’s military operations, weapons, communications, addresses and services.
But in the UK, where secrecy is taken very seriously and is a ‘birth right’ to every Briton, according to Vallance, the effectiveness of the DA is limited by the rapid spread of information on the internet and because its services are only for domestic-based media.
The internet and a fiercely competitive media industry are the Advisory’s main challenges, Vallance said. These two factors combined create a platform for instant communication from media organisations who want the most popular story or angle, which could leave inside information susceptible to dangerous and unexpected predators; to mass audiences who create pressure by craving daily news and revealing details.
The only alternatives to the current system would be to create government legislation preventing media institutions from printing certain types of information, which could effectively transfer the DA’s five standing notices to parliament, posited Vallance.
The other and more damning alternative, according to Vallance, would be to have a ‘media free for all without a security safety net’.
If all currently secret information was released, which would undoubtedly cut costs for data storage and legal proceedings, would anybody actually take any significance from comparing how many weapons country a, b or c has?
In the modern climate, the likelihood is that vulnerable countries would be targeted from figures released in the press, and so although the DA’s system has no authoritative enforcement, it is a hindrance to any media moguls who may contemplate prioritising the financial lure of popularity over national security.
The debate features:
- Roger Alton, editor of The Independent
- Steven Barnett, professor of communications at the University of Westminster who researched the Media Standards Trust report ‘A More Accountable Press’
- Albert Scardino, an independent journalist and commentator
- Steve Hewlett, a writer and broadcast consultant who currently presents The Media Show on Radio 4.
“According to a report published by the Media Standards Trust, the current system of press self-regulation is not successfully protecting either the press or the public. The current system is not, the report claims, effective enough, accountable enough, or transparent enough, and does not reflect the transformed media environment. So should Britain’s system of press self-regulation be over-hauled and if it is, will it do anything to restore public faith in the press?”
Online companies in Britain are being called upon to sign a new code for behavioural targeting in advertising, led by the UK’s Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB).
As Tony Burman predicted, the ‘news channel of the year’ award at last night’s Royal Television Society awards didn’t go to Al Jazeera. Instead, it went to the BBC – who did rather well on the night in several categories. Here’s the full list, with the judges’ comments:
Young Journalist of the year: Hannah Thomas-Peter – Sky News
“A combination of fantastic access and great insight has enabled our winner to help transform health coverage on Sky News.”
Nominees: Joe Crowley – Inside Out BBC South / Kate Taunton – Channel 4 News ITN for Channel 4 News
Nations and Regions Current Affairs: The Story of Michael Barnett – Inside Out BBC Yorkshire
“A powerful programme with a sure touch…with the confidence to let the story tell itself.”
Nominees: A Friend in Need – Focus ITV Meridian / Meat Hygiene – Week In Week Out Special BBC Wales
Nations and Regions News Coverage: Weston Pier Fire – The West Tonight ITV West for ITV1
“… comprehensive, engaging and professionally presented. It had outstanding pictures and a real sense of an event which affected the whole community.”
Nominees: Boris’s Deputy – Ray Lewis Investigation BBC London News / The Darwin Trial North East Tonight for ITV1
Scoop of the Year: HBOS/Lloyds TSB Merger BBC News Channel
“… indeed ‘an extraordinary exclusive’ which heralded the extraordinary changes in the British banking system.”
Nominees: China – The Moment the Earth Shook ITV News / Canoe Man – Gerard Tubb Sky News
Presenter of the Year: Jon Snow – Channel 4 News ITN for Channel 4 News
“…yet another superb year, whether it was in the studio – interrogating politicians and bankers – or out in the field – from the Middle East to the United States. One jury member said ‘he’s just brilliant. There’s nothing more to say.'”
Nominees: Kay Burley – Sky News Sky News / Andrew Neil – BBC News
News Coverage – Home: The British Banking Crisis BBC News
“The winning entry started with a scoop of the first order and followed it with reportage and explanation of the highest quality. It was without doubt the story of the year and showed BBC News at its very best.”
Nominees: Ipswich – Guilty ITV News / Heathrow Crash BBC News
News Coverage – International: Congo Crisis ITN for Channel 4 News
“Top class coverage of a consistently high standard… It was totally comprehensive, enterprising and managed brilliantly to use small individual stories to explain the bigger picture.”
Nominees: China – The Earthquake ITV News / Conflict in the Caucasus – Newsnight BBC Newsnight for BBC Two
News Channel of the Year: BBC News Channel
“The winning news channeldelivered a fantastic series of scoops on the story of the year. It was a channel you had to watch to keep abreast of the breaking economic news.”
Nominees: Al Jazeera English News Al Jazeera English News / Sky News Sky News
Current Affairs – Home: Primark: On the Rack – Panorama BBC for BBC One
“… not only an engaging watch but… thorough and also went the extra mile to lay bare the whole chain from refugee camp to the High Street rail.”
Nominees: Omagh: What The Police Were Never Told – Panorama BBC for BBC One / The Secret Peacemaker BBC for BBC Two
Current Affairs – International: Undercover in Tibet – Dispatches True Vision for Channel 4 Television
“…a truly great current affairs film that sheds light on the future. Filmed just months before Tibet erupted into rioting, this extraordinarily brave programme, made at great personal risk and with much hardship, illuminated the tensions and troubles of the country, with powerful testimony and pictures.”
Nominees: Britain’s Most Wanted – This World Mentorn Media for BBC for BBC Two / Iraq’s Lost Generation – Dispatches Hardcash for Channel 4 Television
Innovative News: 10 Days to War – Newsnight BBC Newsnight for BBC Two
“The winning series harnessed everything from drama documentary to a special website to re-examine events leading to the Iraq war in 2003. The jury saw this as a brave and successful venture to capture a new and younger audience.”
Nominees: Unplugged Sky News / On The Frontline – Afghan Headcams ITV News
Specialist Journalist of the Year: Robert Peston – BBC News
“One journalist dominated this year’s specialist category. [He] owned the story of the Credit Crunch and its impact on the whole economy.”
Nominees: Faisal Islam – Channel 4 News/ Channel 4 News at Noon ITN for Channel 4 News / Jason Farrell – Five News Sky News for Five News
News Programme of the Year: BBC News at Ten BBC News for BBC One
“In a vintage year for news output, this programme shone through. The jury felt it had led the way on a wide range of major stories and the experience and quality of its leading correspondents had simply been unmatched anywhere else. It had triumphed on the big story of the year but had supported that with first-class reporting throughout.”
Nominees: Five News with Natasha Kaplinsky Sky News for Five News / News at Ten ITV News
Camera Operator of the Year: Garwen McLuckie – Sky News Sky News
“The winner’s work in Africa was fearless and showed a remarkable empathy for the problems faced by people across the continent. His story-telling was impressive and his work demonstrated immense personal bravery and the highest technical skills.”
Nominees: Raul Gallego Abellan – Associated Press Television News Associated Press Television News / Stuart Webb – Channel 4 News ITN for Channel 4 News
Television Journalist of the Year: Robert Peston – BBC News
“The winning correspondent produced probably the most sustained run of scoops and exclusives in the history of broadcast news in the UK… It would not be an exaggeration to say that a large part of the nation hung on the winner’s words every night – he personally revived appointment-to-view.”
Nominees: Martin Geissler – Africa Correspondent ITV News / Emma Hurd – Sky News Sky News
Lifetime Achievement Award: Peter Wilkinson
“This year’s winner is, for the first time, a cameraman. He is not a household name – but you will all recognise his work. Many of the defining moments of our era have been captured through his lens, and he is one of the true pioneers of his trade.”
Judges Awards: Zimbabwe News Teams
“[This year’s Judges’ Award] recognises and salutes the work of a disparate collection of journalists, cameramen, producers and others who work under the radar, who have helped the outside world to report and understand a major international story that would otherwise have remained largely hidden from view.”
Gold Medal: Stewart Purvis
“[The Gold Medal goes] to someone whose name may not be widely known by the public but who has influenced, directly or indirectly, virtually everything we’ve seen on screen tonight. He is, without doubt, one of the makers of modern television news.
Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report last month was debated, discussed and pondered far and wide in media land. Now (HT @tom_watson) there’s an open version of the document with a commenting feature built in.
Writetoreply.org has the report in sections and any comments left are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales Licence.
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