Archive for the ‘Current affairs’ Category

Right wing rants about the alleged liberal-left wing bias of the BBC are as regular as the healthiest bowel movements but they’re rarely if ever based on evidence-based fact, the academic equivalent of roughage. There’s no content analysis, no scientific methodology, just this knee-jerk reaction to alien opinions. This kind of reaction is nothing more than an ideological rod to beat the back of a public institution, not least an institution that does something so dangerous as broadcast to the masses. It is interesting, however, to note that when my colleagues and comrades on Media Lens or Spinwatch produce something a good deal more evidence-based and scholarly, they’re dismissed by the media as just the same as the knee-jerkers on the right. Thus, the age old BBC excuse that absolves all transgressions from journalistic independence and integrity: that is, that if they’re getting attacked from the right and the left about something they’ve just broadcast, then they must be doing something right. This is nonsense! It’s the sort of two-wrongs-make-a- right sophistry that not even Machiavelli would contemplate. Unless, of course, he got a job as a BBC presenter.

But yet, I’m a left wing academic just about finished a 20-year teaching career in higher education and going independent! I’m on a roll and I feel like celebrating with a rant of my own. It’s not so much a rant about political bias. It’s more about the self-abasement the BBC has displayed in the last couple of days in its response to a triple whammy of events: the Queen of England’s 90th birthday and the deaths of Victoria Wood (20 April) and the Artist Formerly Known As Prince (21 April). (Listen now! I gave the Queen’s title capital initials as well so don’t quibble like a pedantic fool!)


One wants to go to a gig!

The BBC got up a good head of steam with the Royal Birthday, when on Tuesday 19 April, they helped Prince William out of a public relations hole (regarding his work ethic) by handing him a deftly scripted interview in the course of which Royal Correspondent Nicholas Witchel asked all the right questions to all the right answers. Witchel didn’t get down afterwards and lick the royal boot but hey! I caught that glint in his eye!


I’m in a hole!


A shovel, Sir?


william with shovel

Look at me work!!!

Now here’s the funny bit. The BBC ran the interview ad nauseum throughout the day and linked it to what it promised would be wall to wall, schedule busting coverage of the Queen’s Birthday celebrations the following day, Wednesday 20 April. Only, what happened? Victoria Wood died! Oops. The Beeb goes into a tailspin! Her Royal Majesty is 90 (shock!) versus National Treasure Comedian dies suddenly (horror!) What’s more newsworthy? Victoria Wood’s death, of course! It was a one-off news story opposed to an endless repeat!

And here’s the almost beautiful part! (Well, for me at least!) Just when the BBC gets back on track with its orgy of Royal obsequiousness (i.e. how did Her Majesty do while we were off yesterday mourning the death of our National Treasure, Victoria?) the artist formerly known as Prince only goes and dies suddenly! Shocker! What to do now? What to do? Yes! Let’s forget there’s nothing else going on in the country or the world and clear the schedules to talk about Prince and how much everybody loved him!!! Earthquakes? Forget them! Hundreds of lives lost? Forget them! Jobs lost? Forget them! Pope suffers constipation? Who cares? Let us BBC presenters sit in our stupid chairs and talk the biggest guff known to humankind about someone we never met, whose music we never listen to, and whose musical sensibility we neither understood nor really appreciated on any level resembling intellect or taste. Let us be very 21st Century BBC! Let us be stupid!! Let us show oneself up and let oneself down terribly!


The Artist Formerly Known As Prince. RIP.

Ok. That’s my rant over now. A more scientifically grounded version of this blog post will appear in the very serious, academic, peer-reviewed journal, Nature…out soon in 2065! Only 9.99.




book coverThe War Correspondent-1


bloody sunday cover

On Bloody Sunday, January 30, 1972, British paratroopers killed thirteen innocent men in Derry. It was one of the most controversial events in the history of the Northern Ireland conflict and also one of the most mediated. The horror was recorded in newspapers and photographs, on TV news and current affairs, and in film and TV drama. In a cross media analysis that spans a period of almost forty years up to the publication of the Saville Report in 2010, The British Media and Bloody Sunday identifies two countervailing impulses in media coverage of Bloody Sunday and its legacy: an urge in the press to rescue the image and reputation of the British Army versus a troubled conscience in TV current affairs and drama about what was done in Britain’s name. In so doing, it suggests a much more complex set of representations than a straight- forward propaganda analysis might allow for, one that says less about the conflict in Ireland than it does about Britain, with its loss of empire and its crisis of national identity.

Interested readers can find out more at Amazon Author Central.

There was great excitement on The Pat Kenny Show on RTE Radio 1 this morning (20 May 2013) when security analyst, Tom Clonan, came on to tell Pat what we can expect for the forthcoming G8 Summit in Fermanagh.  This, said Tom, was a fantastic opportunity to ‘showcase’ Northern Ireland to the world!  Yes indeed. Northern Ireland, land of dissident golfers, flag protestors, horsemeat processing and world-leading centre for excellence in evicting the elderly from the their homes. Oh…and Coleraine cheese, which in Chinese medicine is a much sought-after, PC alternative to rhino horns. Now, the people of North have a lot of experience of being locked out of their own countryside – look at the new golf resort planned in place of the Causeway Coast World Heritage site. But the G8 are taking it to a new level altogether. Consider the following measures, for example.

To secure the beautiful Fermanagh Lakelands for our global masters in June, the British government are moving the local population cross-country to the controversial Maze Prison site (anti-capitalist protestors are getting Magheraberry Prison, lucky bastards!) and drafting in over 2000 security and intelligence personnel, some of them presently deployed foiling the evil Taleban in Afghanistan and all manner of terrorists and defenceless civilians in Iraq. After all, we know what a good job they’ve been doing in those theatres to date. The scary bit in all this is the involvement of private security contractor, G4S. Yes, the same G4S that cried off from doing security at the Olympics in London last year because it couldn’t guarantee the safety of Boris Johnson. Rumour has it that if they mess up this one in Fermanagh, they’ll win the contract to protect Edwin Poots. Hooray!

Due to the fact that every hotel and hostelry in Fermanagh will be booked up by the security entourages of the Americans, Russians, French, Chinese and Michelle Obama, these extra spooks from MI5 and other British intelligence services will be put up in so-called ‘snooze boxes’.  These are high-spec storage containers kitted out with all the mod cons and keyless entry as standard (although fussier personnel can choose bolt-ons such as soft furnishings, scented candles and cushioned toilet roll).  Presumably, the keyless entry will be biometric, meaning that a Northern Ireland accent/stare/spray-on-tan would trigger an all-out code-red alert and shut the whole county down. But if you come from Northern Ireland and you’ve ever had weird conversations with call-centre personnel (or worse, computers!) based in England, you will understand that such precautions are totally unnecessary.

Apparently, and I am unable to independently verify this information, elite units of MI5 have been trained in the jungles of Borneo, using chickens and pythons, to distinguish between a Fermanagh farmer and a dissident republican or between a terrorist training camp and a home farm sale. I bet Finance Minister, Sammy Wilson, will be looking for more cuts to health and social services to pay for that kind of training! It doesn’t come cheap, you know, and we should be grateful to Sammy and the NI Executive for continuing the fight against terrorists, evil doers and traitors to Ireland. Isn’t that right, Martin?

What I understand to be more definite though, at least according to Tom Clonan, is that the Brits will order mobile phone companies to shut down their networks for the duration of the summit and deploy two or three predator drone aircraft to keep an eye on things from above . The drones should help with the farm sale –  their high resolution photography is so hi-spec that it can mark out a turnip from a swede from 60, 000 feet up and target it for destruction with a margin of error of just 3 inches. Impressive. But I’m not so sure about the mobile phone bit. They say it is to prevent terrorists using a fiendish new app to remotely detonate whatever bombs they plan to hide in the vicinity of our defenceless masters.  We can only hope that if we have an emergency during the Summit, we can find a telephone box but it seems a very extreme measure when all they need do is shift us all onto the Orange network.

Pat Kenny was very excited by all this but rather taken aback to hear that the Irish government would be obliged to secure its side of the border and pay for it all itself without any financial support from the G8. As Clonan pointed out, though, that’s because Ireland is a EU country and, after all, Pat, we’re all in this together!

Speak for yourself, Tom! Count me out!

PS. Grumpy old Rab is getting very vexed about the media build up to the Summit over at Media Studies Is Shit.  Definitely worth a look for those of us who just can’t wait to be ‘showcased’ to a bunch of neoliberal gangmasters!

Anyone who has been following the raft of public scandals in Britain in recent years will not only be feeling numbed by it all at by now but will also be struck by the recurrence of a particular buzz phrase: “learning the lessons” or sometimes the variant, “a lessons learned process”.  This seems to have replaced that woeful phrase used to manage the current financial crisis: “We are where we are” and, by implication, “lets move on now rather than looking to see how we got here and whose fault it is.”  Yet both gambits have a virtue in common: in a few words, they fend off questions of responsibility and possibly even punishment. “We are where we are. Let’s learn the lessons, move on and forget all about it”. It’s so easy!

The British Army talked about learning lessons and its lessons learned process in the wake of the Aitken Report into cases of abuse and unlawful killing of civilians in Iraq (2008) and, again, in response to the findings of the Saville Report on Bloody Sunday (2010). South Yorkshire police talked about learning the lessons of the Hillsborough disaster after the publication of the Independent Panel Report in September this year. During the Leveson Inquiry into the press, editors, journalists and politicians talk about learning the lessons of the phone hacking scandal and the corrupt relationships between journalism and politics or journalism and the police. Social services in Wales have today (8 November) reassured the public that they have in place an “over-arching lessons learned process” to “learn the lessons” of the current child abuse scandal that has dominated public debate in the past few weeks. I haven’t yet heard the BBC talk about learning lessons in the wake of the revelations about Jimmy Saville but I am sure readers can think of many other examples of this apparent craze among public figures, bodies and institutions for learning lessons of past wrongs. As it stands, we’ve seen lots of lessons learned in these cases but so far no prosecutions or disciplinary actions.

The key point I want to make here, though, is what all this talk about learning lessons is nothing more than a public relations response to getting caught. I would be rather more impressed if some public individual or institution came clean about some crime or misdemeanour without having to be investigated or exposed. Maybe the government should set up a permanent Public Truth Commission by which guilty public figures and institutions could fess up without fear of disciplinary action or legal prosecution? Alternatively, maybe as a private individual I should adopt the lessons learned strategy? If on some day I’m stopped by the police for speeding or hauled up before the University disciplinary committee for fiddling my expenses, I will bow my head humbly and assure my accusers that there is no need to take punitive measures against me because I have in place an overarching lessons learned process to deal not just with my present wrongdoing but with all those I’m likely to commit in the future. Surely that will make everything okay?  No?

No. That wouldn’t work at all because as a private individual I am subject to the laws of the land and the regulations of my employer. If I am found guilty of a breach of those laws or regulations, I am obliged to accept responsibility and do my time. That’s as it should be. So why is the standard so different in public life?

I can’t believe the news I heard today…David McNarry MLA in the NI Assembly has joined UKIP, the UK Independence Party. While this must be the greatest crisis in Ulster Unionism since Tom Elliott was leader, it’s great news for UKIP because, get this, it makes it “a truly national party” according to its leader,  Nigel Farage.  Truly national, that is, in the sense that the BNP are truly national.  But it’s still good news for democracy in the NI Assembly – I mean, somebody has to be loyal opposition to Jim Allister.

So how has the UUP reacted to this development?  Well I just had a look at the “latest news” section on its website here. There’s  lots of worrying on there – about computerized testing in schools, the proposed resurfacing of Rugby Road in Belfast and angry Ulster farmers but not  a peep about David’s departure. They’ve also airbrushed him out of the photo of their MLAs but you really have to look hard to notice the gap.  I think the UUP need to come to terms with this situation and express it openly; denying bereavement can cause all sorts of psychological problems that could spill over at a later date. In fact, party MLA Michael McGimpsey is worrying that wild salmon stocks in the North are “near extinct”. See that?  A bit of projecting going on there I think.

Yes, the UUP needs some group therapy. It can’t go forward fearing extinction every time a member of the party leaves.

Okay, it’s late at night and I should be really in bed but I’m just recovering from the trauma of watching the opening ceremony for the London Olympics. Am I alone in thinking it was, in the immortal word of one Mr Dizzee Rascal, who himself made an appearance, bonkers? What was it all about? The tree uprooted by a chimney stack from the industrial revolution? The very scary woman with the glasses, on drums?  And the James Bond-Queen Elizabeth routine?? That parachute jump they did was either really funny or a very bad idea. (The Queen could have died! The whole event could have fallen flat on its face along with Her Majesty!) And then that NHS work-out! Feckin’ hell! That was either an inspired piece of political subversion not seen since the days of the Trojan Horse or a truly creepy piece of child exploitation. Again, I’m undecided. Danny Boyle, I think you got a bit carried away, lad. Don’t give up the day job – if you’ve still got one.

But hey! It’s over now. Three or four weeks of “fun” to go. I can’t wait for winter!


Commemorating the Hillsborough Disaster. 20th Anniversary, Anfield.

The recent leak to BBC Radio 4’s World At One (15 March) of confidential cabinet papers on the Hillsborough disaster provides a fascinating insight into the workings of official propaganda. The papers recall a series of briefings given by Merseyside Police to Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, just four days after the disaster; essentially, they supported the view of colleagues in South Yorkshire Police that Liverpool fans were to blame for the deaths of the 98.

We have always known in the aftermath of the disaster that the police had privileged access to the media and to the very centre of government; and thus the opportunity to get their version of events on the record in public and in private as quickly as possible. Indeed, the scurrilous news headlines at the time, blaming the fans and exonerating the police operation at the ground that day, were not simply media inventions. In all likelihood they derived from police briefings, whose version of events and the headlines it generated are actually still believed by many today.

The Sun's take on the Hillsborough Disaster, 1989. All lies and no doubt sourced to police briefings.

It was very reminiscent of how quickly and effectively the British Army promoted its false version of events on Bloody Sunday in Derry on 30th January 1972, telling the British and international media that the 13 people shot dead by paratroopers that day were nail bombers and gunmen when in fact they were all innocent.  The army propaganda machine was so successful at this that some remarked on how quickly lies march around the world before the truth gets its boots on. The Widgery Inquiry into Bloody Sunday, just 11 weeks later, shamefully accepted and endorsed the army version and it took nearly 40 years for the Saville Inquiry to establish the truth that all 13 victims were innocent and for the British Prime Minister to formally accept this in parliament.

This is the kind of thing the Hillsborough families have faced ever since the loss of their loved ones in 1989. They’ve heard the lies of the media; they’ve seen the injustice of the inquest with its verdict of “accidental death” rather than “unlawful killing”; they’ve had the flawed verdict of the original Hillsborough (or Taylor) Inquiry of 1989, which left many questions unanswered but at least concluded that the police bore primary responsibility for what happened that day; and they’ve had to bear the insult of the Blair-sponsored judicial review by Lord Stuart-Smith in 1998, which decided there was no new  evidence on which to challenge the original Taylor Report.

Most recently came the news that the release of thousands of confidential papers that might help answer still unanswered questions would be delayed until this Autumn at the earliest because of the sheer weight of information they contain. Sheila Cole of the Hillsborough Justice Campaign accepts the reasons for the delay but she and many others will think it curious indeed that this particular document is being leaked now. We don’t know who leaked it and what interest they have in perpetuating the lies about how and why the disaster happened, which is a problem in itself. But the Hillsborough families, Liverpool Football Club and Liverpool fans everywhere will no doubt have strong suspicions that the police are, once again, getting their version out before the full range of papers are released, papers that might rightfully damn the police version once and for all, answer the still unanswered questions, and vindicate the finding of the original Hillsborough Inquiry that the fault for the disaster lay fully and squarely with the police and their operation at the ground that day.

Though I’m sorry to say personally and as someone brought up in Derry during the Troubles, I don’t hold out too much hope that the families will get justice from the British police anytime soon.