Cheer and Droning in Las Vegas


I guess that all that radio listening finally paid off David Crider, winner of the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) dissertation award.

It’s interesting how your pleasures and priorities change in life. When you’re young, and the world is like an unwrapped present, it’s all about getting in, getting on and hopefully finding a mate for life. Full adulthood sees consolidation and usually the peak of both work and family responsibilities, new pleasures discovered and older ones maturing (maybe). As you hit your 50s you start to reflect what you hope to do, what you did do, and how you could have done it differently – the latter a mostly pointless type of reflection, of, course but probably inevitable. Many studies into mental health have shown that taking in interest in others’ welfare and various forms of altruism produce the most satisfaction and pleasure, and even live longer.

In academic life this is one of the stupendous and underwritten bonuses. Being just a little bit responsible for helping young people gain the skills and confidence that they need and gain a foothold in (in my case) the journalism and/or broadcasting industries makes me almost giddy with happiness and I know I’m certainly not alone in this. It also extends beyond the professional environment, when you meet people who you know almost instinctively could do so much more that have lacked confidence and the social capital more generally to do it. That doesn’t mean, of course, you lose all ego, selfishness and self-absorption (well, I certainly haven’t!), and I suppose the ultimate ego boost in any case is to know that to some degree you become immortal through your actions, because their help and guidance spills onto somebody else’s lives and in turn to future generations.

Attending what was my 10th BEA convention in Las Vegas earlier this month – its 60th anniversary, and I was first there for its 50th, missing last year’s – amongst all the excitement, stimulation, inspiration (and exhaustion!), one of the greatest joys was seeing and hearing David, the young man quoted above, receive his award for his dissertation, and first prize in the radio and audio ‘blind peer-reviewed’ paper competition.

On the whole, American males tend to be a little bit more ‘heart on sleeve’ in their emotions than are their British counterparts, and there was barely a dry eye in the hall when David thanked his fiancée for making the process of researching and writing’s dissertation “a little less lonely”. I first met David I think (well, he thinks!) at the convention five years ago. He was then a young, eager student and obsessed with radio, so naturally I warmed to him! He sat bright eyed and attentive during one of the panels in which I was involved and we chatted quite a lot. I’m not saying that in his case I made any material difference to his work or research, excepting that when you’re starting out in anything I know from my own experience how extraordinarily important it is to have people who take you seriously and ‘get’ what you are doing. As a very late starter in the world in the academic world and particularly in research, it is been enormously important to me to have the encouragement and support from established scholars, as well as the interest of those of the start of their working lives. DSC00202 I was there this year partly to receive a prize for a paper I had submitted in the open competition in one of the divisions and take part in a panel on teaching broadcasting and use of social media in the UK and New Zealand. Receiving positive (although critical!) feedback both before and during the convention is a tremendous boost and an important motivation, of course, to push further on in what – as with most academic work – can feel like a lonely and isolating experience.

As always, the convention had an almost dizzying, rich mix of interest areas, ranging from broadcast history, to pedagogy, to the latest technologies, research, industry practice, and so much more. It was very full on, with one day in particular sticking in the mind, which began with an 0730 breakfast meeting for our international geographic division, followed by non-stop panels, presentations and guest speakers, with five or six sessions running in parallel in each slot, no lunch break and continuing through till 6 pm: at which point we were supposed to have a reception outside – which would be nice having been in the and naturally chilled indoors was a long period. But a desert dust storm prevented even this relief and this was also hastily rearranged for indoors by the astonishing and formidable Heather Birks and her small team.

There were many highlights, but one of the top ones for me was the two-part session by that force-of-nature Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute, BEA Al Tompkinswho is a true inspiration and also provided much material that I can re-version for my UK students (thanks, Al!), on how we can and must be sceptical about so many dubious claims in stories that are presented as fact.

The convention is also a festival of media arts and this is what brings in the students and their tutors to show off their best work and receive their prizes, often with parents and other family in attendance, so it also a kind of rolling graduation day type of atmosphere! Running alongside ‘our’ convention, and the reason for it being held in Las Vegas at that time, is the National Association of Broadcasters’ (NAB) annual convention. DSC00486A great deal of this was to do with promoting the latest kit, technologies and techniques in the broadcast world, demonstrated in three huge hangar like halls, and dominated this year by drones. There are clearly lots of ethical issues here, but the NAB is mostly about the hard sell of how the hardware can be used to get into places beyond the reach of mere mortals and beam back high-quality video. It seems to be the future, but then a few years ago all the rage was for 3-D television and we hear rather less about that now!

In terms of my favourite medium – radio – there seem to be good news on its survival in the rapidly changing media landscape, especially in local talk stations. These aren’t by any means solely the province of the infamous right-wing networked talk-show hosts. There is a great variety of services on radio, not least in the perhaps evermore vital National Public Radio (NPR) network. My visit always coincides with one of their ‘pledge drives’. This essentially involves browbeating their listeners into sending the money, ideally on a regular monthly or annual basis. The local ‘Vegas station, KNPR, is perhaps one of the best in the network and I’m not just saying this just because I visited there and been wined and dined by their excellent staff! But how important are such stations, when so much of the once mighty television news broadcasts are so poor and so limited in their agenda. Even the once hugely respected nightly CBS News is dominated by crime and human interest stories. The night I watched it, only one non-US story appeared in its 22 minutes of editorial: the safe-box heist in London. How galling it must be to anyone on that show who listens to public radio to hear these stations staking their claim to be the true inheritor and main outlet for impartial and comprehensive news and discussion. As one of the presenters on the KNPR pledge drive put it: “The CBS evening News is fine for entertainment, but if you want to know what really is going on, and for a service that is always there for you, that you can rely on, you need NPR.” Ouch! The local television news – which I so admired when I first visited the states in the late 70s, for its vigorous and fearless investigation of what the great and the good were up to – is even more dominated by dramatised crime stories, prurient coverage of various scandals and exploitative human interest pieces.

To this Brit, even after all the exposure had to US media, it also still jars when you have entertainment shows – I had Jeopardy burbling in the background as I was unpacking – juxtaposed with hard-hitting political commercials, lambasting in this case a US senator for his alleged lack of support of Israel. There is not even a cordon sanitaire of a caption or a couple of seconds silence before your straight back into the merriment of a mindless quiz show. And then of course to listen to talk show supremo Rush Limbaugh monstering Hillary Clinton – this was just after she denounced her campaign to be the Democrat Presidential nominee – without any countervailing opinions is still quite gobsmacking. There was a time – quite a long time – when US commercial radio, with its huge range of stations from rolling news, to high energy, personality-driven Top 40, laid-back minimalist presentation heavy rock, to classical and many variants in between, was the shining beacon that many of us in the UK spied to. No longer! UK radio is overall streets ahead of the US overall in its variety, its public service and creativity. What a treat for the ears and intellect (and possibly overall state of mind) it is here to have so many stations that are neither selling you stuff in interminably long commercial breaks, or having to beg for your money. And how good it is too that, whatever the flaws and shortcomings in the UK political system – and there are certainly many, about which more no doubt before long! – at least the success of candidates is not largely determined by who has the deepest pockets and can afford the most television time. It is quite hard to explain to most Americans that, in the UK, the political parties have their own time prime-time TV slots, in between and during election campaigns, which they do not have to pay for and indeed you cannot pay for such slots, and that all broadcast news is required to have due impartiality, whether it be BBC, commercial, under public service remit or not. So, yes, you can say that my love affair with the US in terms of its broadcasting is well and truly over. Maybe that is partly a condition of age.

Radio – or at least audio, very often now in the form of podcasting – retains though that unique ability to grip and hold the intellect, imagination and empathy, without visual distractions, as was amply demonstrated in a top session on radio documentaries. This included a presentation from Siobhan McHugh, whom I first met in a radio conference in New Zealand and is now part of a group that promotes and distributes documentary-making from her Australian base.

In the BEA a itself and to some extent at the NAB and other roughly concurrent conferences, social media and versioning material for mobile devices seem to be the focus for much of the broadcast world, and therefore needing to be the focus for educators. Social media brings many perils as well as possibilities, not least because of the incident and often hostile responses to postings and output. I discussed some of this with leading educator and long-standing BEA person Mary Rogus in an interview which you can find on my new podcast page.

One of the key functions of radio is still as ‘medium of last resort’, in particular for times of disaster – man-made or natural. One of the unnatural methods was by the long period if terror of nuclear war. One of my few ‘off piste’ activities before the convention got underway was to visit the National Atomic Testing Museum in ‘Vegas. This is one of those great museums that combine serious, scholarly facilities – a reading-room and library with extensive archives, lots of top exhibits, including nuclear weaponry and all the associated kit and caboodle associated with the testing, which, amazingly, used to attract huge crowds of tourists to ‘Vegas in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Folks used to gather on hotel balconies to watch the explosions in the Nevada desert , and there was even a ‘Miss Atomic Test’ beauty pageant! (“This young lady’s vital statistics are 38-24-38…and Strontium 90”?).

Rather closer to the action was this guy I met there, Ernest, one of the museum’s trustees, who visits every week. Ernest atmic testHe experienced some 400 of the 800 underground and atmospheric tests and looks a remarkably well 85 year old on it! He talks you through a film show, where you (sort of) experience the flash of an atomic blast, followed by the noise. For fun, there is an ’Area 51’ section, complete with ET-type ‘alien’.

One of the new bits of kit demonstrated during the convention was a new app to fit in Smartphones, to receive emergency broadcasts. Although the Cold War may have been over for some 25 years, we still live with the threat of attack or accident by nuclear and other weapons, as well of course and including by/from terrorist groups. There is still no simpler, more easily accessible or more reliable method of reaching the population at the same time than radio, even if it’s not received on something called ‘a radio’.

Outside the convention halls and meeting rooms there is much more to try and squeeze in and socially it is a wonderful get-together of those well-known therefore for a number of years and always new faces, new interests and new inspiration. So, although I began this blog talking about the pleasures of helping in guiding young people, I have to say this still a lot of new tricks that this dog is very willing to learn and a huge amount of excitement about what could – if a few things, not least the economic environment can be got right – lead to a true new golden age in broadcasting.


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We’re in more of a fix(ed term) with this election than most realise

poll tax riots

(Scenes from the ‘Poll Tax Riots’ in London, 1990. Copyright BBC. What happens when the people don’t accept the legitimacy of government – especially when it’s imposing taxes).

If this General Election doesn’t produce a result that satisfies the majority, there is a danger that existing dissatisfaction might be compounded, developing into further anger and frustration – former Cabinet Secretary Gus O’Donnell, speaking on Sky News, 30 March 2015.

So, parliament has been dissolved (does anyone else, when they hear this, have a Python-esque mental image of the Palace of Westminster having a big tablet crumbled ever it and the buildings literally disappearing? No, OK, well moving on…!) and the clichéd ‘starting gun has been fired’ in what everyone agrees is the most unpredictable general election in living memory.  

We’ve had ‘too close to call’ and ‘knife-edge’ elections before, but never one that is likely to result in both a messy and possibly contrary result, in a parliamentary system that, since the 19th century and the development of party domination in the House of Commons, has been reliant on one clear winner (to form the government) and a second-placed (to form Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and be a government-in-waiting).

Nobody knows what the situation will be, say a week after the election. Trying to explain the British constitution is about as easy as describing an escalator without using your hands, but at least we used to kinda knew how it worked. Teaching it as best I can, I begin by telling my students that all power in the British state flows from the monarchy, to whom every holder of any office in public life – from judges, to MPs, and crucially, the police and the armed forces – swears personal allegiance

Most of that power has been passed down to ministers of the Crown, with the Prime Minister in reality making all appointments in government and making all the important decisions, even if ministers are formally appointed by, and resign to, the Monarch, with senior ministers having private audiences with The Queen and being appointed of the Privy Council – to whom they swear a lifetime oath of total secrecy.

So far, so much smoke and mirrors! But something very significant happened four years ago – the ramifications of which could be profound.

The Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011 – which received remarkably little public comment at the time of its passing – has fundamentally altered the balance of power in our system AND is likely to have to have a major impact on what happens AFTER the election.

On the face of it, it’s good news for those who think the power of parliament over the executive should be strengthened. In theory, before this Act was passed, the Monarch could dissolve parliament and call a new one at his or her whim, but clearly this has, for several centuries, merely been a formal power; so far as we know, the Monarch has never demanded a dissolution, and a Prime Minister has never been refused such a request, certainly since universal suffrage in 1918. In the same way that the Monarch could refuse to sign an Act of Parliament, but hasn’t done so for over 300 years. But for around 200 years, unless parliament went right to its full term, or the government lost a vote of confidence, the leader of the government has been able to set the date of the general election. No longer! The Fixed Term Parliaments Act set the date (then some four years away) for the next one in 2015 and for that of every subsequent general election, unless the Act is repealed, subject to a review before 2020. There are many consequences of this: some involving niceties and protocol; some that could radically affect the political future of the country.

As I’m writing this I am observing, via rolling news’ channels, the niceties, which even I – as a political anorak – hadn’t quite appreciated until today: for the first time since England was, briefly, a republic in the 17th century, parliament was dissolved without a Royal proclamation (I had thought there still would be one, even though the parliamentary term was fixed, as supposed to there being a maximum term). But no! Cameron’s trip to Buckingham Palace today wasn’t even a formality; it was a courtesy.  No proclamation! Strangely though, there is still a Royal Proclamation needed for prorogation  and the Privy Council did have to meet today to issue a proclamation of the date of the formation of the NEXT Parliament (May 18th). The Crown is also still expected to have “a role” in the issuing of the individual writs for elections in each constituency – as before. Sort of. Work THAT lot out!

But this is SO much NOT the most important aspect of the Act. That lies in the clauses relating to the ousting of a government once formed. Now, pretty well everyone who has crunched the numbers, looked at the trends and viewed the marginal seats (and taken into account the extraordinary rise of the SNP since last September  – talk about dragging victory from the jaws of defeat!) reckons that neither Labour nor Conservatives will (or even can) win an overall majority. More than that, it’s likely they may not be able to form a majority even with the support (tacit or formal) of just one other party – or if they can, that party is likely to be the SNP: dedicated to the breaking up of the United Kingdom. Now, the SNP leaders have said they will never form a pact with the Conservatives, so it’s quite possible that the Conservatives could end up being the largest party (with or without the largest share of the vote; under our electoral system the relationship between national share of the vote and share of seats is another conundrum altogether!) but be out-gunned in the race to form a government by a Labour party that can count on (sort of) the support of the SNP.

But it gets better! Once appointed, a government cannot now be removed by a simple majority in a vote of confidence and be forced to seek a new mandate, as the Callaghan government was by a single vote in 1979. Now, following such a lost vote, the other parties have TWO WEEKS to try to form a new government, and, if successful, a new Prime Minister and executive can be formed without reference to the electorate.

So a very plausible scenario is that Cameron gets to form a government, with the surviving Lib Dems and N Ireland Unionists giving him what’s called a ‘supply (finance) and (Queen’s) speech’ majority – but then quite quickly, say over new welfare cuts, loses a vote of confidence. The SNP then agrees to support Labour if they won’t go for those cuts (and goodness knows what other demands), which gives Miliband enough votes to form a new government. (The only way to force a new election other than failing to form a new government in this time is for TWO-THIRDS of the MPs to vote for such a thing – hardly likely in almost any circumstances).

Now, how do you think this will go down, especially as probably two-thirds of those who voted didn’t vote Labour! IMAGINE THE TORY PRESS IN FULL THROAT! It would be portrayed –  not entirely unfairly – as a coup against the people. The party that lost the election is in power, supported by one that wants to break up the state – and without any kind of approval by the people! So much for democracy! If the new government then introduces new taxes, or raises existing ones (very likely), then the howls of outrage may turn into something far nastier and more dangerous. Many revolutions and civil wars in the world (including in England) have been triggered by a perceived unfairness of taxation and the illegitimacy of the imposers of the tax. Some of the most violent post-war civil disturbances on the British mainland were over the so-called ‘Poll Tax’ in 1990 (see pic above). And how will all this play around the world and in the international money markets (let alone internal investment by nervous companies)?

The former Cabinet Secretary, Gus O’Donnell (known, for good reason, by his initials – GOD) who drew up the ‘rules of engagement’ for the negotiations between the parties last time round – and not someone prone to hyperbole and hysteria – opined on TV this morning that this situation could lead to real trouble. He talks to the (aforementioned in this Blog!) Peter Hennessy about the steps after an indecisive election. But 2015 is likely make the situation after the 2010 general election – entertainingly and authoritatively portrayed in a Channel 4 drama-doc on Saturday – seem very straightforward. O’Donnell sounded a lot more sanguine in that radio programme, broadcast only a couple of weeks ago,  than he did today. The difference in those few week is ‘the SNP factor’ and the open demands and conditions stated by its leaders (current and immediate past).

Last December I went on a rare trip to London’s Theatreland to see the play King Charles III – which is about (plot-spoiler warning!) a constitutional crisis triggered when the new King objects to a proposed law about state regulation of the press (yes, the sorts of topics that float my boat!).

The fictional disturbances triggered by this work of the imagination do make you think about the fragility of our system. One of the strengths of the British constitution is that something that isn’t written down cannot be torn up. It makes a coup or revolution far more difficult, because you not only have to overturn the government, you have to completely finish off the monarchy (and the succession list is a LONG one!). Once you DO write it down it makes all sorts of undesirable and, for many, unpalatable (to put it mildly) consequences possible.

An Act that was passed primarily to stop the senior party in the coalition formed after the last general election from ‘cutting and running’ could lead to a collapse in the authority and legitimacy of government, and even – with that personal, sworn loyalty of the police and armed forces – drag The Queen into a constitutional crisis. Oh, the irony!   An Act which purposefully excluded the monarchy from any discretionary role could end up doing the one thing that all those involved have strived to avoid.

My prediction, by the way, for what it’s worth, is that Labour will be comfortably the largest party, but short of an overall majority by 10-20 seats, and will form a minority government. Even with this relatively benign result in terms of the constitution and stability I still think it would be outrageous for Miliband to go for a full five years, quite possibly even after the Labour party loses a string of by-elections and is hit by defections and resignations.

One of the first things the new parliament should do is to repeal the Fixed Term Parliaments Act. In a democracy – as a former Prime Minister said – one vote is enough. She meant that one vote in excess over all the others was enough to win. But equally, one vote in parliament should be enough to lose – to bring a parliament to an end and force a new election.

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Enough is enough! The deafening silence on journalists’ trials from our supposed liberal press

Last Friday, at around 9.30 AM, an eerie silence descended on most of the UK. in this first solar eclipse of the social media age, all the main sites were bombarded with images of the not-quite-full eclipse, accompanied by excited messages containing most of the usual superlatives.

To be sure, witnessing such a natural phenomenon does produce feelings of awe, wonderment and the sheer excitement of novelty of the source of all our power suddenly disappearing in the middle of the morning. But few commented on the accompanying audio dysfunction – the sudden and almost complete lack of birdsong. A ‘silent spring’ for two minutes.

We cannot know, of course, what goes on in the feathered brains of these amazing creatures when faced with such a dramatic and unexpected change in their environment. While most of us were Tweeting, their only response was to suddenly stop their twittering so they could try to concentrate and work out what was going on. The eclipse was at its peak for only a couple of minutes, and soon the country was returned to a normal spring day. It’s doubtful if the birds reflected or pondered further on what had happened – they were probably content that nothing dreadful seemed to have occurred, and got on with their food foraging, mating and nest-building.

About 200 miles south from where I was standing in my rooftop position to witness the eclipse, and a couple of hours later, the Central Criminal Court cleared four senior journalists at The Sun of various payment-for-information charges. The four had been suspended from their jobs for some three years and had lived with the uncertainty and anxiety of the looming case and the fact that, if found guilty, they could be imprisoned, losing their employment completely and quite likely their family homes.

In several cases, they had been arrested following dawn raids at their homes, with burly police officers barging through the bedrooms of their terrified children, seizing computers, documents, etc, as if it was thought they were likely to commit a terrorist act, rather than possibly have broken the law in offering payment to various officials to obtain information with regard to legitimate journalistic enquiries of incompetence, injustice and cover-ups by the state.

And it is not just the national press and the more robust, populist end. In the same week, a former journalist on local titles in the north of England told LBC’s Nick Ferrari about the Gestapo-style tactics used by the police and politicians, including threats of the use of the Official Secrets Act, to stop him investigating claims, from a former Labour Cabinet minister, of a paedophile ring involving a number of MPs and others in the political establishment, allegedly even involving the murder of several children. You can hear the interview (from March 17th) here, copyright LBC.

The prosecutions of The Sun journos were part of the most costly criminal investigation in the history of London’s Metropolitan Police and at a time when this force, along with others in the UK, have faced very significant cuts (we’re apparently now going to have to rely on i-Plod to patrol our streets) and whose leaders have complained that they lack the financial or manpower resources to tackle and prevent numerous acts of terrorism and paedophilia.

Post-Leveson enquiry and public disgust over the activities of a small number of journalists, mostly working on the ‘red top’ tabloids, and the police smarting under public opprobrium for their utter failure to stop the grotesque paedophile Jimmy Savile, and the incompetence, corruption and cowardice of the police, prosecutors, local councils and other public bodies over Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford, and Mid-Staffs NHS, there is apparently no limit to the resources poured in to these investigations and prosecutions against journalists.

Let’s not forget that these latter show trials have been about the practice of journalists paying some public officials for information. Not for stories that are likely to breach national security, endanger the lives of intelligence agents, and tell our enemies ( who would kill everything and everyone we hold dear and dance on our graves) the modus operandi and limitations of their surveillance – that sort of thing is left to the fearless liberal-left press, who receive international awards and bask in the lavish approval of their peers. No, these included – true – some tittle-tattle about the Royals, but also about suicides at a military barracks and the lack of proper equipment for our armed forces. It’s a shame that some people ask for money for this information, but it’s a wicked world, and their informants face a big risk if identified of being prosecuted themselves, and certainly of dismissal from their jobs.

The result of all this time, money and personal and incalculable personal cost has been the conviction of a total of three journalists, two of which are currently out on appeal. But Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, is unrepentant and stated that investigations and prosecutions will continue. Despite criticism from many who know about such legal matters that the evidence against many of the journalists was of the flimsiest most unreliable kind, which, in any other circumstance, would not have led prosecutors to bring a case against them, there is not a shred of regret or apology. I once called Ms Saunder’s immediate predecessor Keir Starmer  – now a Labour party candidate at the general election – ‘the most dangerous man in Britain’ and I had hoped that his successor would be of a different hue; but, if anything she is far worse.

But back to the silence. The most ominous and despicable silence and far more disturbing than that witnessed from our feathered friends was the complete absence of any criticism of these trials from  supposedly liberal, serious broadsheet newspapers, particularly The Guardian and The Independent and their Sunday offerings. These are  ‘papers with the most astonishing self-regard and who never fail to take the moral high ground and flaunt a protest letter posted superiority from the grubbier ends of the press. In their printed editions, so far as I can see (I’ll happily correct this if anyone can find something) there was complete silence. There was one blog post in the online edition of The Guardian; a comment by former tabloid editor Roy Greenslade, who has appeared as a witness for defence of Sun journalists. Respec for Roy! Otherwise, it seems these papers, who are self-proclaimed defenders of free speech, of liberty and against the abuse of power in every other respect, except when it comes to defending journalists working on tabloid newspapers – particularly the contemptible (Boo! Hiss!) Murdoch Tabloid press.

True, both The Guardian and The Independent  reported the case and some of the criticisms, but I have searched in vain in both yesterday’s and today’s (Sunday) ‘papers for any editorial, leader, comment piece or even letter published criticising these prosecutions and supporting journalists who have faced the fullest extent of the powers and intimidation of the state and in the end been found not guilty by a jury of their peers.

To read more pungent criticism you have to go to the (Boo! Hiss!) right-wing Daily Telegraph. Better still was the top Leader article in another part of the Murdoch (Boo! Hiss!) press, the loss-making, cross-subsidised The Times the day after the trial, titled simply enough, erm, ‘Enough’. (Copyright News UK):

Journalists are citizens. When they break the law they should be prosecuted. But when successive juries in long, complex and colossally expensive cases refuse to convict them, those pressing charges should pay attention.

Yesterday four journalists from The Sun were cleared at the Old Bailey of paying public officials for stories. John Kay, Duncan Larcombe, Geoff Webster and Fergus Shanahan had been under suspicion for more than three years. Their acquittals leave the Crown Prosecution Service with just three convictions from 24 journalists brought to trial as a result of Operation Elveden.

CPS guidelines require a “reasonable prospect of conviction” before bringing a case to trial. The record in these cases does not suggest a reasonable prospect of conviction in future ones, and especially in retrials. Yet Alison Saunders, the director of public prosecutions, insists that they will go on.

The impact of public anger over phone hacking and alleged corruption in newspapers has been profound. The News of the World, owned by The Times’s former parent company, has been closed. The Leveson inquiry has prompted newspapers to establish the Independent Press Standards Organisation, a new self-regulatory body with more power and accountability than any of its predecessors — and more independence than the alternative proposed by those who would muzzle a free press.

Public servants have been muzzled, too. This week they were banned en masse from talking to the media without authorisation. Relations between press and police had already soured. Now journalists whose job it is to hold government to account may talk only to those employed to talk to them. This is another assault on free speech. Jurors know it when they see it, and Mrs Saunders should heed their verdict.

The final points relate to the new guidance given to civil servants, which , with one of those exquisite ironies of timing, was being close to being ‘signed off’ on Friday. From now on, it seems, ANY contact with the media has to be cleared by the ‘appropriate’ level of officer. So, ,just at the time when we know that if only Whistleblowers had come forward, had their stories investigated and been published without fear of criminal sanctions, literally hundreds of people may have been saved from the most grotesque sexual assaults, bullying, malpractice and even death. Just when the Defamation law has been made slightly less draconian, there is now a new ‘chilling effect’ on the press.

It is time for journalists – tabloid, broadsheet, right-wing/populist, liberal-left, national, local – to join forces and to relentlessly and ferociously attack every attempt to muzzle, harass, intimidate or obstruct them in their activities, subject only to the general law of the land. Even then, as I’ve argued at length before (sorry about second self-referential link!) journalists should have a solid and transparent public interest defence for breaking certain laws, when it can be shown there was a legitimate public interest in pursuing the story and where there was a clear ‘case to answer’ from those being investigated; i.e.. it would not be a defence for ‘fishing trips.’

In May 1968, the proprietor of the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror penned a front-page editorial in his paper, ‘Enough Is Enough‘,  calling for the expulsion of the democratically elected Labour government of Harold Wilson and its replacement by a pseudo-military team – including, it must be presumed, a certain Cecil King. This was more than enough an excuse for the board of the ‘paper’s parent body to dismiss King – who was, of course, nuts. But at least ‘papers then didn’t always slavishly follow a set ideological path and political allegiance, and had bosses who could see where their long-term interests lay (the electorate was to reject the Labour Party at every opportunity from that point, up to and including the next general election).

Newspapers need to combine now to form a common response and oppose everyone who supports further restrictions, intimidations and freedoms, even if they are the leaders of their preferred party.

‘Divide and rule’ is the oldest and most exploited technique of those in power. At the moment, the press are busily constructing their own gallows and paying the hangman. I don’t know whether Cecil King’s notorious piece was in the minds of The Times‘ Leader-writer on Friday. But, whatever: Enough is enough.

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A year in one week – Liverpool, classical music and rugby league

First, welcome to my new blog! In this new site, using WordPress, I am hoping to post more often, but at MUCH less length. Comments, brickbats and bouquets as ever welcome (probably). My previous Blog – to be accurate, my most RECENT previous Blog – is still available here. ThereIMG_1789‘s a saying that sometimes you experience a year’s worth of experiences in a week, and sometimes a week’s worth seems to drag out for a whole year. The last week – well, nearer ten days – has definitely been the former. It began in Liverpool with a talk in the Roscoe series of lectures – named after the anti-slave campaigner William Roscoe and organised through my university, by Lord Peter Hennessy – on ‘watching Prime Ministers’. You can read an article on his lecture and download the audio of it here.  I’ve long been a ‘fan’ of Peter Hennessy (if I may be so informal) and, so I was very excited at the thought of being able to meet him. The opportunity to do this was because we were offered the chance of one of our students to interview him beforehand. This was duly arranged and, I must say, I was very proud of Luke’s interviewing technique: without notes and very fluent. Essentially, I just sat and watched like a proud parent (I am not his, by the way!). You can listen to the interview here:

Although expected, but still very welcome, was Lord Hennessy’s utter chIMG_1734arm: he could not have been more welcoming, more pleasant, and more interested in the magnificent St.George’s Hall where he was to do the talk, about Liverpool generally, and, indeed, my work/life, and that of ‘my’ student. Trying hard not to gush, I asked him to sign a copy of one of his books, which he duly did. I was, as they say round these parts, ‘made up’! Then, on Saturday (March 7th) saw the arrival of Anthony Moretti, all the way from Pittsburgh, USA, for a week or so with us at the university. I met Anthony at the annual convention of the Broadcast Education Association in Las Vegas. We immediately hit it off, due to our mutual love of sport – or sports, plural, as Americans insist on saying. Lol, indeed. As anyone who knows me will confirm, professional sport – as opposed to playing impromptu ball and other kinds of games with family and friends for fun and relaxation – does not feature high in my interests. But we do have a lot of other interests in common and, well, we thought, why not try and arrange to go to each others’ institutions. He certainly had a diverse week with us – not only in terms of the lectures and other sessions, but in the out-of-university, but often linked activities. These varied from the 175th anniversary concert of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (you can read a review by my colleague Glyn Mon Hughes of that here); linked to this was Classic FM broadcasting for the whole day from the ‘big’ radio studio at our place; a ‘masterclass’ from John Suchet (pictured left; there’s a write-up of the event here), and a rugby league matchIMG_1762: the first for both of me and Anthony ‘in the flesh’.

We were guests of Sky Sport, and they were welcoming and absolutely brilliant – both the crew and the commentators and presenters (all ex pro players themselves). You can read Anthony’s last blog post written on UK soil here. I could write thousands of words on the visit and all we got up to, but I’ll spare your patience and, I hope, you’ll find the podcast interview I did with Anthony just before kick-off on the Warrington Wolves v. Leeds Rhinos match a more palatable and interesting way of ‘accessing’ this. This is also a new podcast site – well, spring is time for renewal and change, isn’t it?

Thanks for reading – and, maybe, for listening.

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