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Friday, 23 September 2016

Freedom of speech? Not for luvvies (part 2)

Update Saturday 24 September:

Rod Liddle's brief Twitter timeline

SubScribe is not the only commentator to have picked up on this column by Rod Liddle. And the response seems to have struck a chord with him. 
He appears to have set up a Twitter account specifically to apologise for this piece, which he says was "crass, crude and poorly judged".
With only a handful of followers and one retweet, this apology (assuming the account is genuine) does not seem to have reached as wide an audience as it should.
His piece was spectacularly ill-judged - for the reasons spelled out below - but SubScribe applauds him for holding up his hand.

Rod Liddle column

Have you got your notebooks out?
Yesterday, Christopher Hart of the Daily Mail produced a helpful list of "luvvies" who should not be allowed to express opinions.
SubScribe apologises for not noticing that Rod Liddle was simultaneously offering the same service in The Sun. So you may wish to add some names to your collection.
He, too, dismisses Amal Clooney (remember Hart called her a dubious poseuse celebrity lawyer), describing her as hugely irritating and smug.
Liddle's "posh luvvies and their tiresome wags" also include "moppety actress" Carey Mulligan, of whom he says "I'm ashamed you're British", but he saves the real bile for Emma Watson.
She gets a picture and section all to herself, which I reproduce in full:

Hermione Granger has been addressing the United Nations General Assembly. Nope, not kidding.
The actress Emma Watson, right, is a UN "Goodwill Ambassador". What's that, when it's at home? I haven't a clue.
Anyway, instead of telling them all the rules of quidditch or how to turn someone into a frog, she bored them all rigid with whining, leftie, PC crap.
Just like all actresses do if people are stupid enough to give them the chance.
Why do we indulge these luvvie slebs, most of whom know nowt? I don't object to them having views and expressing them. I just don't understand why we take them seriously.
I suppose they got Emma in because Angelina Jolie is a bit tied up with other stuff at the moment.

It may be old-fashioned, but it seems pretty basic journalism that if you don't know what you're writing about, you find out before you start typing.
SubScribe suspects that Mr Liddle knows exactly what a goodwill ambassador is - and that he is feigning ignorance for effect, rather as Donald Trump does when he says something preposterous, holds out his arms and adds: "I don't know."
But just in case, it may be worth explaining that goodwill ambassadors are appointed because they are famous. That's the point of them: to use their fame to get a message across that might otherwise be lost.
The first was Danny Kaye; perhaps the most famous (until Angelina Jolie) was Audrey Hepburn. She worked for years for UNICEF and oOthers who have followed in her footsteps include Tom Hiddleston, David Beckham, Lionel Messi, Simon Rattle and Queen Rania of Jordan. Pierre Cardin and Herbie Hancock spread the word for UNESCO; the singer Craig David flies the flag for the World Health Organisation in trying to  prevent the spread of TB.

As to "knowing nowt", Watson was talking about sexual assaults on campus and gender equality at university, subjects on which - as a fairly recent graduate - she is probably well-qualified to speak.

And "boring them all rigid"? Watson is regarded as one of the UN's most valuable goodwill ambassadors and other reports of the event described the audience as "rapt" as she described the HeForShe campaign that she leads on behalf of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women. (Was Liddle aware of the title - if so, how did he resist poking fun at it?) The aim is to persuade men to fight for equality and supporters include heads of state and the Secretary-General of Nato. More than a million men have made "practical commitments".

Leo McKinstrey column

Meanwhile, across at the Express, Leo McKinstrey was also having a go. He lifted the phrase "tasteless stunt" from Monday's Mail to describe the Parliament Square lifejacket demonstration, then added his own twist, calling the organisers "immigration fanatics". His "luvvie" list was shorter:   Juliet Stevenson,  "privileged left-wing actor" Carey Mulligan (squawking here, rather than whining), and "left-wing privately-educated" Benedict Cumberbatch.

These columnists are entitled to their view that a tougher approach to the boat people might dissuade others from risking their lives at the hands of unscrupulous traffickers. They may feel justified in taking Angela Merkel's words this week as an acknowledgement that her "open doors" approach to, migration was flawed.
They are further entitled to say what they think, to put their views to a wider public.
But why do they think they have the right to tell anyone else to shut up?

Freedom of speech anyone?

A reminder of the Sun's view on free speech - for itself and for "luvvies"

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Woman with brain speaks, Mail has apoplexy

Mail puff

If there's one thing the Daily Mail can't abide (ok, there are many), it's an intelligent woman who dares to speak out. Especially if she can be branded a "luvvie" - even if her only connection to the arts is by marriage.

Take Amal Clooney. A well-established human rights lawyer, Clooney addressed the UN about refugees on Friday and has this week announced that she intends to try to take legal action on behalf of a Yazidi woman used as a sex slave by ISIS jihadists.
She also suggested that the UK – and other countries - might do more to help refugees from warzones and pointed out that only one Yazidi family had been granted asylum here, against 70,000 in Germany.

The Daily Mail website likes Clooney: she is beautiful, glamorous and married to the biggest name in Hollywood. It loves to put her in the “sidebar of shame”.
The printed paper is less sure.
President Obama may think her views are worth listening to and be willing to share a platform with her, but the Mail has difficulty looking beyond her bunions, her thinness and her wedding ring.
There was also that little spot of bother with her husband when it claimed that there was a family rift over their marriage


So this is how the paper reported her contribution to last weekend's refugee summit: 

“Human rights lawyer Amal Clooney angered MPs last night by attacking Theresa May and Britain for not taking more refugees from Syria.
“The wife of George Clooney, who lives in a mansion near Mrs May’s home in Berkshire...”
Thus a rentaquote MP's response, her husband and her living arrangements are all given precedence over what she had to say. Under a snide headline that suggests that no one has heard of her and that her opinion is risible. She is, however, comely enough to warrant a full-length photograph.

Christopher Hart oped

If Clooney and her opinions are so insignificant, you'd imagine that the paper would leave it there. But no, Christopher Hart is on parade today to denounce the "dubious poseuse celebrity lawyer and wife of the famous George".

Actually there's nothing dubious about Mrs Clooney; Hart had only to read his own paper's cuttings to discover that she has credentials beyond being a wife. When the couple became engaged in April 2014, the Mail wrote:
"Her life could not be more removed from the celebrity world which Clooney inhibits.
"She comes from a prominent intellectual Lebanese family who fled war-torn Beirut when she was a child and settled in a large modern house in Buckinghamshire.
"Her father, Ramzi, is a retired professor of business studies at the American University of Beirut...
"After leaving Oxford, where she gained a 2:1 in law, Miss Alamuddin studied at the New York University School of Law.Now working out of London's Doughty Street Chambers, she specialises in international law, human rights, extradition and criminal law."
 When they were married that September, the paper described her as "Oxford-educated, with a high-profile client list":
"She has represented Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and is an adviser to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan"
Amal by Amanda Platell

Even when the critical scrutiny intensified with a spread on Clooney's "scary skinniness", Amanda Platell noted of this "clever, thoughtful woman":
"A year ago, no one outside illustrious legal circles knew the name Amal Alamuddin. Fewer still had an opinion about her clothes, figure, hair, handbag or shoes.
"An internationally renowned human rights lawyer at the top of her career, her performance in court and her fine brain were all she was judged on."

Clooney's client list goes beyond Assange and Annan. She also represented Mohamed Fahmy, a journalist jailed in Egypt for "distorting the news"  in a case that prompted an international campaign to protect that cause so dear to the Mail's heart - Press freedom.

But none of that gives her the right to speak on a subject that is her specialty. That was apparently relinquished when she married an actor.

Just in case you can't get hold of a copy of the Mail, here's a list of other "bleeding heart luvvies" whose opinions are, according to today's Oped, to be discounted:

Leonardo diCaprio
Benedict Cumberbatch
Helena Bonham Carter
Stephen Fry
Emma Thompson
J.K. Rowling
Bob Geldof
Emma Thompson
Vanessa Redgrave
Cate Blanchett
Keira Knightley

In fact, the list is so long that Hart admits:
"Actually, it's probably just easier to say 'all of them'. The whole ghastly, smug, cosseted, self-adoring crew."
 Hart also has a dig at Juliet Stevenson and David Miliband's International Rescue charity for "hijacking Parliament Square" for a display of 2,500 lifejackets worn by refugees who died trying to cross from Turkey to Greece.

Mail 20 September

That exhibition - sorry, stunt -  really annoyed the Mail.
Most papers used a photograph and a brief caption to say that the demonstration was linked to the migrant summit in New York.
The Mail used the lifejackets (with the statue of Churchill circled in red) plus an inset picture of Stevenson alongside a story focused on those who thought the “protest” should not have been allowed.

Mail 21-09

Such was the paper’s distress about the whole affair that it wheeled out Max Hastings yesterday on a spread combining the event and Angela Merkel’s woes.
Migration posed the gravest threat to Europe since 1945, the headline said. “We need answers – not stunts”. 

Fair point. 

sue reid spread

Now let's wind the clock back to last Saturday, when the Mail ran a spread by Sue Reid, who hired a rubber dinghy to show how easy it was to sail to France and back without being stopped by any authorities. 
A smiley woman in sunglasses and a couple of male companions are perhaps not quite as suspicious as a boatload of young men, but Reid appears dismayed by the lack of interest they attracted.
She spots a Royal Navy warship on the horizon, assumes that its radar must have seen her dinghy and notes “yet they did nothing to stop us” – before conceding: 
“although, it must be said, the warship's responsibilities do not include checking boats such as ours”.
The lifejackets were laid out in Parliament Square to draw attention to the plight of  refugees. People took notice. 
But to the Mail, the display constituted a stunt.

Sue Reid hired her little boat to draw attention to a lack of border controls. No one took any notice. 
That was, of course, serious journalism.
Don't anyone dare suggest that it might have been a stunt.

These are the sorts of serious issues that Ms Clooney should be concentrating on

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Remembering Aberfan

aberfan disaster

Were journalists covering Aberfan intruding into a village's grief or important allies in holding the culpable to account?
And what can we hope or expect of today's generation who make their way to Wales to mark the 50th anniversary of the disaster?

Guest blog: John Jewell

October 21 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster. At 9.15 am on that day in 1966, just as Pantglas junior school was beginning its first lesson, a coal tip situated above this small village near the South Wales industrial town of Merthyr Tydfil slid down the mountain enveloping first a farm and then Pantglas school itself.  
Though some did manage to escape, it was a catastrophe that claimed the lives of a 144 people, 116 of whom were children.
While Wales is no stranger to mining disasters – between 1853 and 1974 24,470 colliery workers were killed at work in South Wales - the loss of so many young lives and the impact of the disaster on the community since, make Aberfan the single most shocking event in modern Welsh history.
This week Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies held a one-day conference  focusing on the themes of remembering, forgetting and moving on in the media and in the community. It brought together not only survivors of the tragedy, but also media practitioners and academics. They included photojournalist I. C. Rapoport , whose presentation was of a breathtaking poignancy that moved all to tears,  and the elder statesman of the Welsh media Vincent Kane, who reported from Aberfan in 1966.
Kane’s closing keynote speech was passionate, poetic, angry and robust. He was devastating in his condemnation of both the National Coal Board and the miners’ union, which both knew that the tip was built on a sloping hillside upon two underground springs that were clearly shown on ordinance survey maps. They were guilty of moral cowardice – failing to act on the knowledge that the tip could slide at any moment. But those who knew of the potential for tragedy failed to act to remove the tip because they knew that attempting to do so would put the existence of mining in Merthyr in peril. 
 With 50 years’ hindsight, how can we fail to conclude that the underlying cause was the intense pressure brought to bear on a frightened coal mining community by the policy of widespread and rapid pit closures implemented by the National Coal Board, supported by the National Union of Mineworkers and two governments, Conservative followed by Labour
Kane was critical of journalism, too. In the years that followed the tragedy the media had not been as forceful as it could have been in exposing the truth and defending the surviving community. In an atmosphere in which the residents of Aberfan were labelled greedy troublemakers,  the media had reneged on its responsibility to hold power to account. Kane said.
 The press, the media, the fourth estate, has an abiding responsibility to probe and to penetrate.  In the Aberfan period, perhaps Wales’s darkest hour in the 20th century, we should have been passionate in pursuit of the truth. Instead we were pedestrian.

Journalists who covered the original events have in the recent past spoken candidly about how they were affected. John Humphrys, then a young reporter at Television Wales and West and a man very familiar with the area, drove up to Aberfan on the morning of the disaster and witnessed first-hand the “great mass of muck and filth and utter chaos” as rescue attempts got underway. Unsurprisingly, Humphrys says the impact upon him has been profound. He said in 2006:
I have been a journalist for getting on for half a century now. I have reported wars and disasters all over the world, many of them involving many, many, many more deaths…. I have always said and I will always say that nothing – nothing – I will ever see will compare to the horrors of that day. 
Also in 2006, Malcolm Rees, who was the first reporter from the South Wales Evening Post on the scene, spoke about the worst event he had to cover coping by “just getting on with his job” amidst the eeriness of it all. Rees’s colleague, chief photographer Alan Trethewy, was more open about his distress. He said:
The camera acts like a barrier between yourself and the reality of what is going on around you. The tragedy is something I will never forget — I remember it like it was yesterday…..It is just burned into my memory. It was the most horrific thing I covered throughout my whole career.
At the time, though, the presence of the national and international media in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe concerned some local people and politicians. In the course of researching her novel, Black River, Louise Walsh,  who also appeared at the conference, accessed the National Archives and found that in 1967 Selwyn Jones, the town clerk of Merthyr Tydfil, wrote to Cledwyn Hughes, the Secretary of State for Wales requesting that he take action to ensure that the “glare of publicity” be taken away from the residents of Aberfan.
Walsh also records a letter from S O Davies, MP for Merthyr , to the editor of the Sunday Express expressing his disgust over an article in June 1967 which described the people of Aberfan as the “most tragically divided in the world”. The article was rhetorical filth, wrote Davies:
In all the cruel travesties of fact that have appeared in some organisations of the press, from the day of this terrible disaster the Sunday Express has…. exceeded all of them in fabrication, distortion and irresponsible journalese.
But this is not the whole picture. As Pantti and Wahl – Jorgensen  have pointed out,  in many instances the national Press sided with the mining village and gave its people opportunities to express their feelings of rage and resentment toward the (still) unbelievably mendacious National Coal Board and government. They state that the early media narrative of the disaster was “around a working-class community energised with the passion of anger against the National Coal Board, which was reported as having ignored warnings of danger for many years”. 
In this sense, with the tragedy still bitingly raw, the national Press was demonstrating its ability to act on behalf of the disenfranchised and to hold power to account by mobilising a “community of moral outrage”.
One day after the tragedy a Guardian editorial stated:
“The Welsh, who are used to tragedy, have now suffered their worst. The pits themselves do not kill children….There must be a safe way for the Coal Board to get rid of its waste. There must be a way of ensuring that yesterday’s tragedy is not repeated.”
The Aberfan disaster was also the first national tragedy to be covered extensively on television and, in the opinion of Stuart Hood, who was controller of BBC television in the early 1960s,  there was no more accurate or poignant method of reporting the tragedy than to “let us see the faces of the men and women waiting as the rescuers dug into the black mud”. 
For Hood, writing in 1967, television was an enabler, facilitating involvement in events where Aberfan became part of a greater community. Royal weddings, the football World Cup and Churchill’s funeral had all been events where national community had been created by television, Hood argued, it was therefore right and proper that at a moment of national tragedy television cameras should be present.
Perhaps Hood was right – and to be fair to him he does acknowledge that there is a certain brutality about journalism in these situations – but his rather idealistic words would have provided little comfort to the bereaved families who saw their shattered environment overrun with the world’s television crews all eager to send images back home. 
This was something that occurred to Gwyn Llewelyn, the first television correspondent to arrive in Aberfan.  In 2013 he told Media Wales of the broadcasting circus and the angry local reaction. He came, he said, to feel a certain guilt very quickly:
“I did ask myself numerous times what was on earth I was doing standing there reporting when the rescuers were up to their waists in slurry clearing the debris. I knew I was there providing a service by reporting from the scene of the tragedy, but I did feel like something of a voyeur staring at the heroic efforts of these people.”
Llewelyn’s concerns mirror those of many reporters who have covered disasters and the like. As Al Tompkins of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies put it in 2001, a journalist’s symptoms of stress are similar to those of firefighters or police officers in the immediate aftermath of tragedies – but while public safety workers are routinely offered counselling after trauma, “journalists are merely assigned another story.”
In the aftermath of Aberfan very few people, journalists or otherwise, received adequate counselling or psychological treatment. During the course of the day at Cardiff University devoted to the discussion of events, what became increasingly clear was range of people represented. There were survivors of the actual landslide itself, ex-police officers, former Coal board officials and journalists – all in empathetic unity.
So whatever is written or broadcast about Aberfan now, as we approach the 50th anniversary of this tragedy, must be undertaken with greatest of care and respect for those still living with daily reminders of what happened to them.
Sitting in the comfort of a warm lecture theatre listening to the testimonies of those speaking, some for the very first time about their experiences, I was struck by the searing honesty and bravery of those who stood. Wounds have not fully healed, memories have not dimmed. 
Not for the first time, the privilege of my own existence, concerned as I am by the frustrations and trivialities of modern life, shamed me. Here were people whose entire lives had been shaped by the morning of  October 21, 1966 and, in the words of Professor Kevin Morgan, we should respect their knowledge.
Western Mail Aberfan front page

John Jewell is director of undergraduate studies at Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies