ICE blogs

November 2, 2014

Celebrating the genius of John Tulloch

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, conferences — news_editor @ 4:44 pm

Richard Lance Keeble paid tribute at the ICE annual conference in London on 24 October 2014 to his University of Lincoln colleague Professor John Tulloch as the ‘quintessential journo: looking closely, witnessing with an ever critical, intelligent eye, curious about everything’

It is a great privilege for me to give a talk today in praise of my late friend and colleague John Tulloch. When I left City University for Lincoln in 2003 I was stepping into the unknown – but how lucky I was to work then alongside John for the last ten years of my full-time academic career. I could not have hoped for a better colleague. He was extremely supportive of my personal interests – such as peace journalism, investigative reporting, literary journalism – and we spent many hours thrashing out ideas late at night in his Lincoln home.

John could be shy and self-effacing in his relations with people. But he had a massive intellect; he was an extraordinary polymath: history, Indian culture, military aircraft, literature, music – from Bach to Bessie Smith and just about everything in between – the media, robots, the arts, politics, travel, second hand bookshops were a few of his obsessions. Just chatting to him was an education in itself. He estimated he had something like 20,000 books crammed into his north London home, university office and the terrace house he rented in Lincoln. But these books did not merely furnish the rooms: John had read them and more to the point he remembered what he had read. John was driven by an extraordinary curiosity about life. He was the quintessential journo: looking closely, witnessing with an ever critical, intelligent eye, curious about everything. I always remember as we went walking through the streets of say New Delhi, Paris or London he appeared to know the histories of every building we passed.

His writings and conference presentations over the years covered a vast range of subjects: peace journalism, Indian newspaper history, press regulation, media coverage of the US ‘war on terror’, the BBC; investigative reporting, literary journalism, journalism education to name but a few. He wrote beautifully: his prose was bubbling with original ideas and wit: he was able to mix subtle theory, even sections of quantitative analysis, with elegant references to some of the many books he had read. Take for instance, his Ethical Space review of Robert Fisk’s The Age of the Warrior, in which the author serenades his cat: John took the opportunity to slip in mention other literary cats – of Keats, Christopher Smart and Dr Johnson for instance, complete with apt quotations, of course.

John could even include the word ‘bullshit’ in an academic essay and make it appear both apt and profound! Indeed, there was a cheeky side to his personality that came out in his writings: while constantly critical of the ‘dumbing down’ of the media he always wanted to celebrate the tabloids for their mischief-making. So he was quick to challenge John Lloyds’ stress on the need for ‘responsible journalism’ writing:

Don’t we need a less solemn vision of journalism that has some space for active mischief-making, and scepticism and suspicion of the motives of the powerful, even if some of that mischief is damaging even to the body politic.

John’s contribution to the 2012 ICE annual conference was so typical of the man. Amidst all the avalanche of media coverage of Leveson, John picked on what he called ‘the witchifying’ of Rebebak Brooks – who might otherwise have been so easily passed over as a Murdoch crony not worth any sympathy or academic attention. So he read carefully from his script:

Last year, Rebekah Brooks positively willed herself to be my subject. She is, as many have seen fit to tell us, hard to resist. Not the Cotswold-living lady who rides retired police horses, or the tabloid editor and compulsive chum of celebrities … But the woman in the middle of the bizarre process that seems to happen regularly, when for a short period, they become a subject of press interest, are objectified and, not to be too dainty about it, monstered.

And he continued:

Apart from the too tempting opportunities for portentous moralising, her case is fascinating for what it can tell us about contemporary media culture, the persistence of class-based attitudes and a sexism so engrained into our public life as to appear ‘natural’, old boy.

Notice the vitality and wit, the subtle shifts of tone and register of John’s prose. How elegantly it mixes subtle theorising, journalese and witty vernacular. All of this crammed into just a few score words.

John was a regular attender at ICE annual conferences, was books reviewer for Ethical Space and he was always there in an email or at the end of the phone line with some wise words of advice for the ICE executive group. Indeed, ethical concerns lay at the heart of all his writing and teaching. Like one of his heroes, George Orwell, he used book reviewing as a way of expounding his theories about life and journalism and everything. So on Anthony Feinstein’s, Journalists under fire, The psychological hazards of covering war: he wrote:

The concept of the journalist as emotionless ‘filter’, devoid of social context, history, ideology jumps up like a claymore mine. Damn such ‘filters’. Surely the appropriate professional filter for journalists about conflicts within which we are enmired is paranoia about authority, empathy for the victims, and anger at the stupidity, historical illiteracy, ambition and greed which brought this to pass. Held together, of course, by a steely effort to construct credible ‘facts’. Patrick Cockburn, Robert Fisk, John Pilger and Ghaith Abdul-Ahad spring to mind.

In his essay, ‘What moral universe are you from? Everyday tragedies and the ethics of press intrusion into grief’ published in Ethical Space, he outlined four essential journalistic ethical approaches:

• Firstly: the journalism is a ‘rough old trade’ argument: journalists are special and should not be subject to ordinary ethical codes. The PCC Code is primarily a public relations exercise, a deal with the political class to buy off political pressures.
• Secondly: the ‘virtuous journalist’ argument. Journalists should be subject to ordinary ethical codes but virtuous behaviour can only be based on the operation of individual conscience.
• Thirdly: the ‘cultural meliorism’ argument. Voluntary codes can ‘improve the culture of journalism’ gradually via training and contracts.
• And finally: the ‘structural determinism’ argument. Codes and conscience will count for little in a newspaper industry run by media combines to maximise profit.

And he concluded: ‘My own prejudice would be to support the virtuous journalist argument but this is only feasible if journalists establish a right to refuse instructions that breach the code.’

Another of John’s heroes was Charles Dickens. And in writing about him in a chapter for a book I edited, The Journalist Imagination, he was able to articulate his profound belief in the cultural and political value of journalism as literature.

One obvious reason for the low status of English journalism has been its perceived lack of creative control by the author compared to the control allegedly associated with the ‘artist’. Arguably one of the malign effects of Romanticism in English culture was to define the ‘true’ artist’s status as not having a patron but a soulful relationship to the audience that precluded writing for anything as vulgar as the market. Certainly, the issues of creative control and his relationship to the mass audience tantalized Dickens.

Ethics also lay at the heart of John’s promotion over many years of journalism and media studies as academic disciplines. As far back as 1996, in the wake of an outburst of Fleet Street and Jeremy Paxman attacks on media studies, he wrote:

Media studies is not a discipline it itself but a field where a number of other disciplines meet – among them history, politics, economy, sociology and law. Far from being ‘incoherent’ in Paxman’s ignorant formulation, this field is a key meeting place to gain an understanding of the forces which shape our lives. Mediawork is strong in all the fashionable transferable skills – teamwork, self-presentation, research, negotiation, communicating with different audiences – that we are asked to value in higher education.

On the Westminster part-time Masters in Journalism Studies, he said: ‘We hope the theory provides a critique of current journalism and a forum for the discussion of ethical and political issues, encouraging students to be aware of the potential consequences of their activity.’

John was very much part of the John Mair/Keeble book factory system which has produced 12 books over recent years. For John, it meant bashing out massively referenced chapters to very short deadlines. Significantly Ian Sinclair, the Morning Star reviewer, always singled out John’s chapters for special praise. And that was not surprising. Whether writing on trust in the media, or the ability of literary journalists such as Gitta Sereny and Gordon Burn to confront evil, or on US and UK newspaper’s coverage of torture and rendition John was always original and insightful. His prose the fruit of years of reading, reflection and pedagogic commitment, lives on to remind us of his genius.

• Richard Lance Keeble is Professor of Journalism, joint editor of Ethical Space, and chair of the Orwell Society. He edited with John Tulloch Peace Journalism, War and Conflict Resolution (Peter Lang, New York, 2010) and two volumes of Global Literary Journalism: Exploring the Journalistic Imagination (Peter Lang, New York 2012 and 2014).

August 6, 2014

Propaganda, the BBC and Gaza

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism, conflict, human rights — news_editor @ 4:00 pm

Richard Lance Keeble, Professor of Journalism at the University of Lincoln, takes a critical look at the BBC’s coverage of the current Gaza conflict

All journalism is propaganda, as George Orwell argued. And, paradoxically, those who claim neutrality and objectivity are likely to be the most propagandistic. Let’s take one random sample from the BBC’s coverage of the current Gaza crisis.

On 3 August 2014, it reported: ‘Missing Israeli soldier Hadar Goldin “dead”.’ There was a photograph of the 23-year-old and the accompanying video commentary highlighted Goldin’s ‘apparent kidnapping’ by the Palestinian group Hamas who were blamed for the collapse of the ceasefire (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-28627888).

‘Kidnapping’ was the term deliberately used by the Israeli officials in their hyper-slick PR operation (see http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/israelgaza-conflict-the-secret-report-that-helps-israelis-to-hide-facts-9630765.html). Doesn’t this imply that Goldin was an innocent seized by opportunistic criminals rather than a member of one of the world’s most powerful militaries engaged in ‘the premeditated mass murder of civilians’, as described by the Asia Times journalist Pepe Escobar (see http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Others/Escobar.html). Did the BBC really need to mimic the Israeli deceit?

Moreover, the Western corporate media in general parroted the Israeli approach in blaming Hamas for breaching the ceasefire (thus leading to a stepping-up of the bombardment of Gaza and the deaths of many more children) when both sides were involved in the incident. Hamas was clearly responding to yet another attempt by Israeli troops to destroy a tunnel (see http://www.jonathan-cook.net/2014-08-03/how-a-kidnapped-soldier-illustrates-israels-deception/).

The BBC’s fourth paragraph reported: ‘Health officials in Gaza say 30 Palestinians died early on Sunday as Israeli air strikes continued.’ This is the cold, conventional language of militaryspeak that aims to convey the illusion of warfare. But this is no war: this is nothing short of a series of completely illegitimate massacres. There are no photographs of any of those 30 dead Palestinians.

Moreover, as I write (5 August 2014), I see no photographic galleries commemorating the 1,865 Palestinians killed and 9,400 others injured – most of them civilians. In the Western corporate media they are usually not even deemed worthy of being named. In contrast, the BBC report goes on to show an image of Goldin’s understandably grieving family speaking at a press conference after his death was announced. In fact, the whole of the report is framed within a dominant Israeli perspective. Thirteen of the story’s 23 paragraphs highlight the Israeli line: just five that of Hamas. Its denial of taking Goldin captive does not appear until par 10.

And how many homes, hospitals, schools, mosques have been destroyed as Israel’s ‘scorched earth’ policy eats up 44 per cent of Gaza’s territory; how many Gazans are now homeless or jobless, how many have been appallingly traumatised by the constant bombardment and the lack of basic facilities? On these crucial points the BBC’s report is silent.

Excellent photographs by the BBC’s Jon Donnison, in an accompanying feature under the title ‘Faces from Gaza’, are given captions – but no full names of the tragically suffering Gazans are provided: So we read of a ‘young girl and her mother’ sheltering in a UN school, ‘young boys giving victory salutes’ ‘three-year-old injured Aya’, ‘Ahmed’ being treated for burns, ‘Ali’ injured while playing outside his home, ‘a young girl picking fruit juice’, ‘a man in Beit Haroun’. And so on.

Too often, the BBC and the corporate media in its Gaza coverage has ‘balanced’ reports of Israeli bombardment with accounts of the Hamas missile attacks on Israeli – reinforcing the illusion of ‘warfare’. Yet the Israeli response (in which 64 soldiers and just three civilians have died) is totally disproportionate to the threat posed.

Moreover, the mainstream media has largely failed to indicate the massive global opposition to the Israeli action and its seven-year economic siege of Gaza. Go then to sites such as www.counterpunch.org, www.globalresearch.ca; www.wsws.org; www.boilingfrogspost.org; coldtype.net; www.johnpilger.com (supported by the University of Lincoln); www.zerohedge.com; http://peacenews.info/; antiwar.com; www.washingtonsblog.com and see some searching analyses and investigative reports on the conflict and the protests. They can only inspire further protest action against Israel’s criminal military aggression.

August 4, 2014

The slaughter of the innocents 1914-2014

Filed under: Blogroll, News, Headlines, journalism, conflict — news_editor @ 10:26 pm

If war is to be reported ethically it must be shown it in all its brutality including the bodies of dead children and traumatised parents, argues Barry Turner

As the centenary of the Great War is now upon us the attention of the world’s press is drawn to the thousands of monuments to the fallen all over Europe and the rest of the world. Towns and villages across the combatant countries are almost without exception home to a war memorial to an event that is often said to have wiped out a generation. Now these monuments will be the solemn focal points for many pieces to camera over the next few months for local, national and international media.

The war memorials are often embellished with words such as ‘Our Glorious Dead’, ‘Pro Patria Mori’ and similar sentiments in all the languages of the combatants. They often feature heroic figures of soldiers and occasionally scenes of the fighting, as if commemorating those was as important as remembering the millions who died.

Apart from the haunting lists of names of people from the towns and villages that speak out from the stones there is often little sense of the loss or the suffering. One notable exception is the work by Kathe Kollwitz at the Roggevelde War Cemetery in Vladslo, Belgium. This has no inscription and shows no ‘heroic’ soldiers: just two figures in abject despair, the father with his arms crossed, shoulders hunched and the mother in total grief with her head held down. There is no ‘glory’ in the statues, no sense of a gallant falling for King and Country. Peter Kollwitz, Kathe’s son, died in the ‘Kindermord bei Ypern’, a reference to the biblical slaughter of the innocents. The parents received no consolation in it being for ‘Gott und Vaterland’.

We are now seeing the tragedy, captured so moving in the statue, played out on our TV screens every night as parents despair at the deaths of their children in a number of wars across the globe (such as Ukraine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya). There are now ethical debates about whether the broadcast media should show dead and injured children being dug out of their ruined homes and laid out forlornly in ramshackle hospitals. This is an absurd echo of the Great War censors themselves who thought it ‘improper’ to show the bodies of British soldiers killed in the fighting.

Our press still glorify war, images of tanks racing across the desert and princes in combat gear sell newspapers and draw audiences. The flag-draped coffins of ‘our glorious dead’ men and women are still paraded around our streets. It is quite remarkable that a century after the start of a war that was to ‘end all wars’ and during a 21st century slaughter of the innocents, in the very land where the biblical one took place, we still discuss the ethics of showing the consequences of war while the corporate media too often celebrate it.

The graphic and repeated images of Gazan children is not only ethical but essential. The images of the dead of flight MH17 and the haunting images of the toys of children killed in that horrible consequence of war need to be shown to us. That is what war is: our media is often too keen to show it in terms of what one side says followed by the other side’s version. War is not about TV interviews on who has a ‘right’ to defend themselves; it is about dead children, despairing parents and destroyed homes. We need to see those images far more than we need to hear politicians and the military justifying what they are doing.

As we enter this prolonged period of remembrance of World War One it is the consequences of that war that need to be reflected upon. In the Middle East just about every modern conflict today is a direct consequence of the imperialism that started the Great War. Our media should pause as it enters its period of mourning for the dead of a century ago to consider that tomorrow the slaughter of the innocents will continue there.

Perhaps if we (and, in particular, our leaders) had reflected more on the images of Kathe Kollwitz as a remembrance of war instead of triumphant monuments to militarism and our ‘glorious dead’ the Great War really would have been the war to end all wars.

Barry Turner is senior lecturer in law at the Lincoln School of Journalism, the University of Lincoln

July 26, 2014

The need for highest standards in brave new world exploding with social media

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 3:53 pm

William Morris reflects on the current state of media ethics on becoming Chairman of the International Communications Forum (ICF)

Few are old enough to remember the heady days before the newspaper revolution when computers replaced hot metal. But having been brought up in and around newspapers as a copy boy, I can remember the smell of the ink and the dirt and the clatter of the little presses and the deafening hum of the big monsters that rolled rivers of newsprint three stories into the air and back down again. For many of us those days are gone. Gone too are the great teams of investigative journalists. The Sunday Times’s ‘Insight’ team was, perhaps, the last of these but even they have long disappeared into the mists.

In those days who were the guardians of ethical journalism? The broadsheet proprietors cared about their reputations. And even the tabloid newspaper owners cared in some measure. Editors in chief took pride in the standards they adhered to. Even subeditors had a conscience, though then as now they could be staggeringly ruthless.

Have things changed? Well yes and no. Men and women of conscience still run some of our newspapers. Men and women of vision and mission still comprise many of our radio and television broadcasters and newspapermen. But the pressures are perhaps greater. For most journalists, spending a week working on a story is a luxury they can only dream of. Was it ever thus? Perhaps they always had to churn out copy but there was, I believe, more space for investigative journalism, if only because proprietors once had deeper pockets and more journalists to share the load.

Many Western papers have less than little time to sub copy anymore because of ever tighter budgets. There are the exceptions such as the Washington Post with its awesomely professional and well-staffed Foreign Desk (I must confess a bias because my daughter works for the Post) but such exceptions are rare.

What then does this mean for ethical journalism? It means that the journalist becomes the guardian of media ethics. It is a world in which we each take our own responsibility for what we do. We no longer have the moral conscience of the sub or the editor to fall back on. The editors themselves – for the most part – are still great women and men of conscience and principle. They still do heroic work shaping the overall vision of their publications. The great names are there. Alan Rusbridger, Editor in Chief of the London Guardian is a classic current example. But can Rusbridger even begin to read more than a small proportion of the vast quantity of copy the Guardian churns out in its online and print editions? Most modern editors are simply too busy to concern themselves on a day-to-day level with being the conscience of their junior reporters.

So, is xenophobia an issue? Sure it is. Media stories about classic pariah groups, the gypsies, the Romanians, the Arabs, the ‘Islamists’ and so forth, can descend into obscenity so easily and we don’t even notice. One Jewish writer I know wrote a whole opinion piece titled ‘LONDINISTAN’ and does not understand, to this day, that the mere headline (and it was of her choosing) was pejorative. She would be horrified to be called racist and, of course, she is not, just more than a little thoughtless perhaps.

In a similar vein, is desensitisation to violence an issue? Of course. Here in the West we think nothing of broadcasting images of brutality and torture if they are screened past the ‘9 o’clock watershed’, with little consideration given to the fact that many pubescent, vulnerable children are unlikely to head for their beds before midnight. And in the rest of the world things can be worse. The images of blood and violence on television sets in countries such as Israel and Iraq are breeding a generation desensitised to gore to such a degree that it is truly flabbergasting.

Is disinformation an issue? Absolutely. The current Syrian civil war has bred such a flood of intelligence agency feeds, as did the Iraq war little more than a decade ago, that it is near unbelievable. And most, I repeat, most, of these stories are published without serious qualm or question. My late father, a newspaper editor himself, had a maxim: ‘A story without a source is a source of trouble.’ This maxim we still use in our Media Ethics Code. He had a far better one too. It ran: ‘When in doubt, cut it out.’

So where do we go from here? Perhaps the key is that a number of prominent journalists make a public commitment to truth in Gandhiesque fashion. An affirmation that Absolute Truth is their standard. Or is that too extreme? Too fanatical? Undoubtedly we need to do something. If the editors can no longer always be our bellwethers we must find new heroes, new women and men we can point to and say: ‘They believe in fair play.’

Ethical journalism requires standards of vigilance that are unprecedented precisely because we are our own moral guardians and cannot lean on our bosses any longer. We should embrace that challenge with excitement. It heralds a better age. We are no longer children. We must stand up for ourselves. Gandhi once wrote (and I paraphrase slightly): ‘By experience I have found that people rarely become virtuous for virtues’ sake. They become virtuous by necessity. Nor is there anything wrong in becoming good under the pressure of circumstances.’ Raghvan Iyer, Gandhi’s main disciple, added: ‘Human life is an aspiration, a continual striving after perfection, and the ideal must not be lowered because of our weaknesses.’

Exactly! Herein lies a role for organisations like the International Communications Forum. We should extol virtue and excellence where we find it, through every means possible from the razzmatazz of the International Award to the private and personal accolade. And where necessary we should gently and respectfully cajole and criticise, through conferences and seminars if nowhere else. And we should support, nurture and foster media ethics, by doing everything from extolling the merits of media ethics codes to encouraging training in best practice.

Just as physicians and other health care professionals swear a Hippocratic Oath to practise medicine honestly, perhaps the ICF should promote our own oath of journalistic integrity which members of the trade could swear to in an effort to bolster internationally recognised standards of media ethics. After all, the world has changed. In a brave new world exploding with social media, demonstrations are called on Facebook, corruption is exposed in blogs, and reputations are destroyed by Twitter. In an era in which the internet provides an arena in which citizen journalists abound, it is the professional press that must adopt the highest standards of media credibility if they are to have a distinct place of their own, a territory that is truly theirs, in a world peopled with rumour and the viral tweet.

And it is exciting, truly exciting, that that should be the case.

The war of lies and deception

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 3:50 pm

The press have sunk to a predictable new low in their reporting of the air disaster in Ukraine - as Cold War rhetoric and misinformation returns, argues Barry Turner

The reporting by the world’s press of the destruction of a Malaysian airliner is a reminder of how nasty and manipulative the press can be when a tragedy arises from the current civil war in Ukraine.

Both sides of what has now become an entirely polarised debate about Russia’s involvement in Ukraine are equally to blame in producing the crudest of propaganda in the name of journalism. The Western press howls with moral indignation at the Russian president going so far as to blame him personally for shooting down the aeroplane. The Russian media and its international propaganda platform, RT, continually refers to the disaster as a ‘crash’ or at worse suggests the aircraft was a victim of the Ukrainian government’s actions in the Russian-speaking part of the country. The resignation this week of RT’s Sara Firth in protest at the coverage of the disaster is an embarrassment to the station perhaps as much as the sight of Sky TV’s news reporter Colin Brazier rummaging through a dead passenger’s luggage while the Western press howls about looting.

While the UK tabloids scream in horror at the treatment of the bodies and the alleged looting of passengers’ luggage and the Russian press blames Ukrainian military and air traffic control, the most obvious explanation for this tragedy is almost entirely missing from the popular press. The Western press continually insinuates that the use of a ‘sophisticated’ surface-to-air missile is evidence that the Russians were behind the attack. But this is nonsense. The system most likely to have been used is an old-fashioned but highly effective radar-guided missile. At least one of the vehicles carrying four of these is known to be in rebel hands. And, let’s remember, the rebels are not ‘farm boys’: the majority of them have served in not only the old Soviet forces but in the Ukrainian army too. There is no shortage of civilians in former Soviet republics with the knowledge of how to use this weapon.

The most likely explanation for this appalling tragedy is that an over-zealous rebel in charge of a powerful weapon system fired it at the commercial airliner by mistake. This does not seek to mitigate what is still a criminal act but it does place it in a proper context. What benefit would it have been for the rebels to have deliberately shot down a neutral civilian jet? At the time of the missile strike 478 civilians had been killed in the Donetsk region and 1,392 severely injured by bombing and shelling. On 15 July, a Ukrainian military aircraft bombed a civilian apartment building in the city of Snizhne. Little has been reported on these outrages with the exception of a very good article in the Economist (of 19 July)

In short, the reporting of the fighting in Ukraine has now descended into the pits of cynical propaganda – just as it was promoted by the press 100 years ago at the beginning of World War One.

• See also http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/06/propaganda-war-ukraine.html

July 3, 2014

Protests over moves to jail journalist for not revealing sources

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 10:33 am

Some 50,000 people have already signed a petition protesting at threats by the Obama administration to jail a journalist for not revealing his sources.

In State of War (2005), New York Times reporter James Risen revealed a bungled CIA attempt to set back Iran’s nuclear programme in 2000 by supplying the Iranian government with flawed blueprints for nuclear bomb design. The CIA’s tactic might have actually aided Iranian nuclear development.

Now five organisations – RootsAction.org, the Nation, the Center for Media and Democracy, the Progressive, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation – have launched a campaign to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to end legal moves against Risen.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation has condemned the administrations effort to force Risen to reveal a source ‘one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades’ while Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg comments: ‘The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing executive branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war. Without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.’

• The online petition can be read at act.rootsaction.org. See also http://zcomm.org/zmagazine/an-assault-from-obamas-escalating-war-on-journalism/.

June 23, 2014

Diversity deja vu?

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 2:11 pm

Barnie Choudhury, a former award-winning BBC network correspondent, welcomes the BBC’s latest diversity announcement - but remains sceptical about the corporation’s chances of becoming truly racially diverse

Picture this scene: a BBC director-general stands up to be counted when it comes to racial diversity. He wants to make sure his organisation truly reflects Black Asian Minority Ethnics (BAME). He will set targets, run training programmes and leadership courses. He will make challenging statements and ask pertinent questions such as:

You can have all the equal opportunities policies you like, but if actually, the gateman doesn’t let blacks through the gates, you’ve got a problem, haven’t you? I don’t believe the BBC is like that, but we are not saying: ‘What are we going to do about this?’

That man was Greg Dyke and the year was 2001. Of the five director-generals I worked for, he was the most inspirational who genuinely got it. It was not about the sound-bite, it was not about pleasing people or bowing down to public pressure. For Dyke it was, and remains, about doing the right thing. If only he had more time in office.

So last week, thirteen years later, the latest BBC director-general has his photo opportunity, surrounded by a bevy of black and Asian people outside a fictitious underground station to make his latest diversity pronouncement. ‘The BBC should be giving talented people a chance wherever they come from,’ said Lord Hall of Birkenhead. He was once Chief Executive of BBC News. Our paths probably crossed because he oversaw the launch of Radio 5 live when I first joined network news. I am sure he is a good man.

So there is no scintilla of doubt, his package of measures, how ever limited, is to be welcomed. When you are drowning, a line to a rescue boat is better than none at all. What I am disappointed about is the lack of ambition, the emphasis once again on recruitment and the missed opportunity to deal with the root causes rather than the symptoms. I say all these things with a sense of deep love for an organisation I gave almost a quarter of a century to and one which I would go to war to ensure it keeps a viable licence fee.

Lack of political will
So why do I think Hall is presiding over a failed venture? Organisations need capacity, capability and confidence to succeed. Things do not happen for two main reasons: the lack of political will and inadequate funding. So I echo the thoughts of Simon Albury, the former Chief Executive of the Royal Television Society and Chair of the Campaign for Broadcasting Equality. Some £2 million is nothing, he said, when the BBC has a content budget of almost £1800 million – it is just 0.1 per cent. Think about what change 1 per cent funding could make?

I am also not convinced about the targets for on-screen representation. Hall wants one in six people on-screen to be BAME within three years. This is an increase of 5 per cent, according to BBC News. An excellent suggestion but my research suggests that for the past fifteen years BBC News has not been able to break through the 12 per cent barrier.

An aside: the problem is that I do not trust the BBC’s own figures, even when offered under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act. Unfortunately, the FoI Act does not prevent an organisation from spinning its data, as long as it is true. In the latest figures the BBC has given me under the FoI Act, it has cleverly not told me how many BAME senior managers there are in BBC News, despite my asking. Instead, it has lumped together Band 10 (editors and correspondents) with senior managers. The result? As of 31 March 2014 BBC News has a whopping, target busting 17.1 per cent. This is not untrue but it is disingenuous, at the very least. It is an old political trick countless governments have played on its unsuspecting citizens. Make sure the figures add up to say what you need them to say. Surely the BBC should be above this?

On-screen window-dressing
It is not just the figures. It is the fact this is about on-screen representation. On-screen representation is important. Of course it is. But it is window-dressing. It gives false hope and a false impression. We went through this during the Dyke era. If I had a pound for every person who said the BBC was diverse because we now see so many non-white faces on screen, I could afford to retire. No, we need to be more nuanced. What we need is a critical mass behind the screen in positions of real power. This is not necessarily about recruiting new staff. I think they may already be there in the organisation. This is about talent management which, if the BBC is honest, it has never really been good at that, except in a few cases. It has a tendency to create big beasts while the rest become minnows. Should we not think about retention? Should we not also be thinking about truly developing the talent within and focusing a little on succession planning and building a legacy? Who are the natural heirs to Jeremy Paxman, John Humphrys and David Dimbleby?

So what would I do? In my view, the BBC needs to do the unthinkable. First of all, it should hire an independent group of academics with a deep contextual knowledge of the creative industries. Not that I am touting for work, but I can help there. Ideally the first question to be considered by this group should be: Why has the BBC failed to produce a permanent BAME domestic news and current affairs sequence editor, controller of a radio or television channel, director of news, radio, television or director-general since its creation almost a century ago? As leaders, should we not be leaving a proud legacy? The same question can be asked of any major UK broadcaster, incidentally.

Also, ask these academics to audit the careers of every BAME in the BBC. It will not be more than 4,000 people. Ask them to look at how many years the BAME employee has been in the organisation; where they were educated; how they entered the BBC; plot a career path; whether they have progressed; whether they perceive barriers to their success; what development opportunities they have been given; whether they feel they have been properly led; and what they feel about their position in the organisation now. These are difficult questions but measureable.

The second stage would be to audit forensically the careers of the top 100 BBC leaders. Ask the same questions plus some others. How long did it take you to become a senior manager? Apart from your drive and ambition, what do you put that down to? What were the crucial steps to your success? Do you believe anyone or anything in particular helped you? What advice would you give to those wishing to become a senior and influential leader?

Need to identify workable solutions
The third stage is to draw out themes from both sets of data and then suggest genuine and workable solutions. My judgement tells me that, controversially, race, colour, religion, gender, disability and social class often have little to do with real progress. Yet unpicking this data will allow us to strive for a better, richer and more diverse workforce. If we do not do this, I fear we are doomed to repeat past mistakes. My fear is that we will have the same debate in another thirteen years knowing we did not dare take a creative risk, we were too scared to be different and we made the excuse that this was too difficult, not politically convenient and too expensive.

Finally, here is where the lack of ambition and the repetition of past mistakes concern me deeply. According to BBC News online:

Incorporated into the 2017 targets is also a new senior leadership development programme providing six people from BAME backgrounds with experience working at the top level of the BBC – including a placement with Lord Hall himself.

I hate to say this but this is the third iteration of such a scheme to my knowledge. I should know I was on the previous two. One was called ASCEND and the other was called the Mentoring and Development Programme. Different names but essentially the same failed strategy. Hall rightly says: ‘We’re not guaranteeing a job at the end of it. I’m certain they will get a job either at the BBC or elsewhere – but what I’m saying is we want to make a difference here to finding great talent and backing them. I’ve seen it work in the arts. If it doesn’t then we’ll look for other things.’

Raising and dashing expectations
But past schemes failed because they raised and dashed expectations. They failed because the gatekeepers did not buy into it. And, when it came to it, they failed because of the ingrained BBC culture of recruiting in its own predominantly white, middle-class, Oxbridge male image.

In my case, when I wanted to become a BBC leader, with a chance to use all my learning to influence and drive forward an organisation, I was told not once but three times by very senior managers: ‘Barnie, we see you as a very successful on-screen talent and are confused why you should want to stop doing that. Don’t be disappointed but we have people who’ve spent their whole careers on this path. Why should we risk giving you a chance?’

They do make an excellent point. Why should they take a risk? Perhaps I should gently point out something attributed wrongly to Einstein: ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Perhaps I should add that clichéd phrase: ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.’ The more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps I should whisper in Tony’s ear: ‘Please DG, dare to be different.’ Surely we must do better?

Barnie Choudhury is a former award-winning BBC network news correspondent who is a consultant on pragmatic diversity and communications leadership. He is currently undertaking a Master’s by Research investigating diversity in BBC News. He is also a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Council for England and the Interim Director of Communications and Marketing at the University of East London. These are his personal views.

February 6, 2014

Call for Papers: Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 11:31 am

Sleepwalking towards Big Brother?: The Ethics of Communication in an Era of Mass Surveillance

Call for Papers
The unauthorised release of documents from the National Security Agency by dissident contractor Edward Snowden has raised a new set of ethical questions for the media, politicians, the national security state and the public. Snowden has revealed that, as a result of the pervasive nature of modern electronic communications, we have sleepwalked into the mass surveillance state, capable of documenting the citizens’ every electronic communication and much of their telecommunications and internet usage. This surveillance state is far more extensive that anything that could have been conceived by the Stasi. Yet the publication of Snowden’s material by leading news organisations has been challenged not only by the states concerned, but also others parts of the news media, the academy and the public in those countries. Some have found mass surveillance reassuring and others felt able to ignore the Snowden disclosures.

Ethical Space is planning a special double issue in the middle of next year to examine the ethical issues in this contested discourse. This could include ethical issues around mass surveillance, the secret state, privacy and the media publication of the Snowden revelations. Ethical Space’s editors believe the implication of Snowden’s revelations is so profound that it needs multidisciplinary response. In addition to the journal’s existing and established media-based community, the editors solicit papers from other disciplines including intelligence studies, political studies, criminology, psychology, international politics, history, law and computing on a broad range of topics. This could include:

• the ethical issues surrounding new concepts/activities such sousveillance [the surveillance of the state by citizens];
• the impact the collective knowledge of a mass surveillance state could have on citizens’ behaviour;
• the ethics of social engineering;
• the legality or otherwise of the collection of data by the NSA network for each country involved;
• the part played by ‘patriotism’ in media coverage of this global story. What are the ethics of patriotism?
• the special strategies (perhaps of ‘deep scepticism’) required by journalists dealing with information about the secret state whether from ‘official’ sources or dissident whistleblowers.

Editors Professor Richard Lance Keeble and Donald Matheson have invited Paul Lashmar, of Brunel University, who specialises in the relationship between intelligence agencies and the media, to be guest editor of this issue.

Expressions of interest in contributing to the special ES issue can be registered by submitting a 250-word abstract by the 1 July 2014 to paul.lashmar@brunel.ac.uk. Publication guidelines can be found at: http://www.communicationethics.net/espace/index.php?nav=guide

August 17, 2013

Ethical Spaces: What Leveson Missed

The 10th anniversary conference of the Institute of Communication Ethics, to be held at the Frontline Club, 13 Norfolk Place, London W2 1OJ, on 25 October 2013, will explore some of the many crucial ethical issues which went missing during the Leveson Inquiry.

One of the keynotes is to be given by Jake Lynch, Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney and a Senior Research Fellow of the School of Communication at the University of Johannesburg. His paper is titled ‘Reporting conflict: The critical, realist approach’.

A selection of papers given at the conference will be published in a special conference issue of Ethical Space: The International Journal of Communication Ethics.

• Cost of attendance: £65; students £10. For more information contact Dr Fiona Thompson, Director, The Institute of Communication Ethics, 69 Glenview Road, Shipley, West Yorkshire BD18 4AR; email f.thompson287@gmail.com.

Corporate media accused over Private Manning

Edward Wasserman, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California, Berkeley, has criticised the corporate media for failing to call for the release of the WikiLeaks whistleblower, Private Bradley Manning.

He says: ‘Bradley Manning was a great source. His information was solid and truthful. There was no fabrication, there was no subterfuge. The world’s best news organisations believed the material was of immense public value. So now he goes to jail, perhaps for life, and the media stand in silence? No mainstream news organisation, even those that benefited directly from his leaks, has had the effrontery to demand he be freed.’

The ferocity of the Obama administration’s attack on Manning and WikiLeaks had been ‘withering’. According to Wasserman, since the government pressed ahead with charges of ‘aiding the enemy’, Manning technically faced the death penalty. This was the first time in 150 years that anybody had been charged with aiding the enemy for leaking information to the press for general publication. On 30 July, Manning was convicted of multiple Espionage Act violations – but cleared of the most serious ‘aiding the enemy’ charge.

Wasserman continued: ‘The world’s most powerful news media agreed, and turned Manning’s leaks into riveting stories. The WikiLeaks material was vetted and worked over, and ultimately used extensively by the Guardian of London, The New York Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel and Spain’s El Pais. The materials continue to reverberate and, as recently as March 2013, the Guardian and the BBC spent 15 months on developing a sensational story about sectarian death squads in Iraq. It was prompted by reports Manning provided in which shocked US soldiers described seeing Iraqi detainees who’d been tortured by their countrymen.

‘So if they did right and the world benefited, did Manning do wrong? On what grounds can they say – as former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller and Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger have – that they would help defend WikiLeaks boss Assange if the US charges him, while they won’t lift a finger to protest Manning’s incarceration?’

Yet, on 1 August 2013, after Manning was found guilty of 20 counts relating to the transmission of state secrets, the Guardian’s editorial spoke out strongly in his support. It said the conviction was not fair ‘because American law in this area is not fair’ – not allowing a public interest defence. The editorial ended condemning ‘the brutal punishment of one fragile young man’.

• See http://www.mediaethicsmagazine.com/index.php/browse-back-issues/145-spring-2013/3998874-242-wasserman-preview-waiving-private-manning.

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