ICE blogs

May 19, 2015

Site leads the way on citizen journalism

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

The-Latest.com is rapidly emerging as an innovative, important citizen journalism website. Not content with carrying regular scoops and original features on national and international issues – often ignored by the mainstream media – it recently joined up with the BBC to produce a documentary on the thousands of men and women who came to Britain from the Caribbean colonies to fight Hitler. In fighting for king and empire: Britain’s Caribbean heroes was screened to acclaim on BBC4 on 13 May as part of a series marking the 70th anniversary of VE Day.

Co-produced by The-Latest’s Marc Wadsworth and Deborah Hobson, the film exposed the colour bar enforced by the British military until political protests forced a change in policy.

The one-hour documentary followed the production of Divided by race, united in war and peace by The-Latest.com, which has been screened by the South African Broadcasting Corporation and at South Africa’s Tri-Continental Film Festival, the Samosa Film Festival in Kenya and recently at the prestigious MipDoc event at Cannes, France. It also forms part of an educational schools project, supported by the Historical Association, that has been well-received by trade unions, students and teachers.

The-Latest.com also boasts a Facebook citizen journalism group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/6539928013/) with more than 3,500 members making it one of the largest independent, English language groups of its kind.

Marc Wadsworth the editor of The-Latest.com, commented: ‘The big growth in support for our website and its Facebook group shows the thirst that exists for “news from the bottom up” citizen journalism. It’s clear the public are cheesed off with the corporate-owned big media that serves the interests of the rich and powerful 1 per cent in Britain’s broken democracy. We are proud to be a strong alternative voice for the marginalised and unheard.’

• See http://the-latest.com/bbc-film-recognise-britains-caribbean-heroes#sthash.0UVxvJIe.dpufn and http://www.theguardian.com/media/greenslade/2015/may/11/unsung-heroes-of-the-caribbean-who-fought-for-britain-against-hitler

• The BBC documentary is available for viewing at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b05v08b7/fighting-for-king-and-empire-britains-caribbean-heroes

• Organisations interested in screening Divided by race, united in war and peace can contact editor@the-latest.com.

May 7, 2015

On the ethics of celebrity interviewing

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 1:08 pm

The recent interview of the global superstar, Robert Downey Jr, by the Channel 4 News presenter, Krishnan Guru-Murthy – when Downey stormed out in a huff – raises many questions about the ethics of celebrity interviewing. For instance, what is in the public interest? Should journalists agree to restrict their questioning to certain topics? Should they be allowed to dredge up misdemeanours from the past? Here, the former BBC journalist and now communications consultant, Barnie Choudhury, considers the many sides of these complex issues

Walk outing: A confession
Walking out of interviews is nothing new. The best and most famous names have done it. Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, did so on CNN in November 2010. Few of us will forget the Bee Gees walking out after ten minutes of Clive Anderson’s rapier wit on his BBC1 talk show in 1996 with the infamous words: ‘You’re a tosser, pal.’ My favourite, though, is the then-defence secretary, Sir John Nott, who took umbrage in 1987 at being described as ‘a transient, here today, gone tomorrow politician’ by the late Sir Robin Day.

I, too, am a serial offender when it comes to interviewees walking out. Sourav Ganguly, the Indian cricket captain, walked away when I asked why he was always so sulky and rude. It was fitting, really, for he snubbed me at Lords, the home of cricket, in 2002. Then there was the former police minister, John Denham, who walked past me stony-faced after speaking at a National Black Police Association conference in November 2002 in Nottingham. It was memorable only because as I walked with him asking questions to no responses, we came to the exit to find it locked. It was then he unleashed his tirade. ‘You give journalists a bad name. You doorstep us and when we don’t answer you make us look bad. I’ll be speaking to your boss.’ To give him his due, the Leicester East MP did not walk out when he was surrounded by a media scrum in the run-up to the 2001 General Election. But he never did answer the simple question I put to him (‘Mr Vaz, how are you?’) after his return from collapsing during a television interview weeks earlier.

Questions: What is fair?
So what is fair? Downey’s walkout after being probed on his former drug habit and time spent in prison on 22 April 2015 does raise three fundamental questions:
a. Was Guru-Murthy’s line of questioning in the public interest?
b. When does the statute of limitations run out on past crimes and misdemeanours?
c. When is it acceptable to agree questions in advance?

The Information Commissioner’s Office defines public interest as ‘the public good, not what is of interest to the public, and not the private interests of the requester’. If you accept this definition, then the test is fairly clear: offending social mores is clearly not in the public interest. The case of the former Formula 1 racing boss, Max Mosley, was not. He was photographed at a ‘Nazi sex orgy’ and the court quite rightly (in July 2008) decided the Rupert Murdoch-owned News of the World had invaded his privacy. It was not in the public interest because he did not commit a crime, nor was he in public office where he could influence or be influenced. I make the distinction of public office because recent history shows how a sex scandal can damage the careers those in power. In September 2014, Brooks Newmark, the Conservative Minister for Civil Society, resigned after being found sending explicit photographs of himself to women over the internet.

The public interest test is important because an erosion of ethical values could lead to the introduction of strict privacy laws. The former Daily Mirror editor and now Professor of Journalism at City University London, Roy Greenslade, believes that privacy laws will inhibit journalism and he is probably right.

Dredging up the past: Is a ‘statute of limitations’ needed?
So when is it OK to dredge up the past? In the UK, the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act (1974) means that with the exception of immigration transgressions, most crimes have a shelf life. Can we argue that after a while, those in the public limelight, who have served time or admit to committing crimes, should be allowed the freedom not to talk about their past? A statute of limitations, if you like. It is unlikely that a journalist will agree when it comes to celebrities, politicians and public officials. Downey obviously did not want to talk about anything except his new film. But some celebrities will. Four years after going to jail, the pop star, George Michael, spoke about his ‘horrific’ time’ there. So it depends on the situation, the relevance and the star. We should never underestimate timing in a celebrity’s life. Stars with fading careers, desperate for publicity will probably answer any question because they need attention and the money. At the same time, those who have cultivated a brand or have more to lose and are more guarded with their comments. What appear to be innocuous questions may lead to a revelation which creates bad headlines. The interview by the BBC broadcaster Simon Mayo with actor Naomi Watts springs to mind. Watts had portrayed the late Princess Diana in a film but for some reason Mayo contends she cut the interview short in September 2013 – and we will never know why.

Journalism works on the principle that reporters ask questions, no matter how uncomfortable, and expect an answer, unless there is a legal reason not to do so. Equally, an interviewee has the right not to answer.

Rules of the game: The PR side
Interviewing today has become a game and you need to follow the rules. I should know, it is my job to protect clients from making a gaffe. I would not allow any client of mine to face a grilling alone and neither would I permit them anywhere near a journalist without a fully prepared strategy, which will include a mock interview. I make sure I know the line of questioning so there are no surprises and then plan for the worst, just in case. I hone the messages to perfect sound bites. Paradoxically, I also acknowledge that the prevalence of spin doctors, media trainers and communications experts make it increasingly difficult to get authentic answers.

Today, politicians and VIPs will have press officers to intervene just in case carefully laid plans are swept aside. If your client messes up, you, the spin doctor, are at fault. Politicians and VIPs will not answer difficult questions. Instead they will have been trained to ‘reframe the question’ to give the message they want to get over. Indeed, politicians and VIPs are afraid to tell unpalatable truths because the consequences could wipe out shares, guarantee ridicule and cost careers. Who can forget the PR disaster that was Tony Hayward, the former Chief Executive of BP? He was the boss during the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 – and who admitted his company were ‘not prepared’ to deal with the fallout. Hayward may have wanted ‘his life back’ but it was an inappropriate comment, especially when people had died and your company was responsible for a major environmental disaster.

No self-respecting journalist will reveal what questions they will be asking. Doing that means only staged answers are given and we may as well return to the early days of television when interviewers asked: ‘Is there anything you’d like to tell the nation Prime Minister?’ Staged or planted questioning is a deception and journalists disrespect their readers and viewers by engaging in that. Why should the public trust journalists ever again if they made such deals? Yet we know it happens. I am told that the pressure to get that scoop, that access, to be in the know, means some journalists will even send the copy, including the headline, to the subject in advance. My fear is that the more journalists give away, the less the public will be able to trust what they read or see.

The responsibility – easily lost amidst the din of the 24/7 news cycle
By his own admission, Sir John Nott’s encounter with Sir Robin Day delayed his eventual slide into obscurity. He took Sir Robin’s comment and made it the title of his memoirs. What is perhaps regrettable is that, according to Nott, Sir Robin felt he had let down his profession when, in fact, he had simply done his job. Indeed, journalists need to remember their profession holds decision-makers to account for reporters are in the privileged position of probing those the public may never get to meet. It is a huge responsibility often lost in the din of the 24/7 hour news cycle, PR and spin.

Notes
• Barnie Choudhury, a former BBC network correspondent, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Council for England, Director of Communications (Interim) at the University of East London, Associate at the National Police College and crisis communications consultant.

Surveillance Act ‘threatens journalism’

Filed under: Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines — news_editor @ 1:05 pm

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has criticised legislation in France that will expand government surveillance and threaten journalistic activities. The measure was backed by French parliamentarians despite criticism from rights groups. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Dunja Mijatovic commented: ‘If enforced, these practices will impact the right of journalists to protect the confidentiality of sources and their overall work. … If confidentiality of sources is not safeguarded within a trusted communications environment, the right of journalists to seek and obtain information of public interest would be seriously endangered.’

The legislation was drafted by the ruling Socialist Party just days after a group of armed Islamists attacked France’s popular satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo on 7 January killing a dozen members of the magazine’s staff.

The newly approved bill provides blanket-approval for the wholesale interception and storage of communications metadata, which include information about the location and size of internet-based communications exchanges and the identities of those sending or receiving electronic messages. The legislation also includes a provision for the setting up of a National Commission for Control of Intelligence Techniques to supervise the use of surveillance powers by France’s six intelligence agencies and handle complaints from the public relating to communications interception.

The bill was backed by 438 votes for – with just 86 against. Most parliamentarians from the three main parties – the Socialist Party, the rightwing Union for a Popular Movement, and the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents – supported the bill. The Radical Party of the Left also voted for the bill but the Communist-led Left Front and the Greens voted overwhelmingly against the bill.

• See http://intelnews.org/

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