Monthly Archives: July 2012

Worse than “cock-ups and casualties” at Thomson Reuters

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I wrote this comment in response to a commentary piece by ex-colleague and current friend Paul Holmes about recent editorial changes being for the better at Thomson Reuters, despite the recent “cock-ups and casualties”.

I disagreed.

Patrick Chalmers • I have a great deal of respect for Paul Holmes as an ex-colleague and as a human being. This measured critique of Thomson Reuters today versus all its yesterdays is very much true to Paul’s style.

Where I think Thomson Reuters totally misses the mark, as I told Paul when we were both on staff and which I say all the louder now I’ve left, is that it fails to imagine anything but the narrowest idea of “independence, integrity and freedom from bias”.

The Reuters of my dreams, before I joined it and during the 11 years I worked there, was one that served the whole of humanity. That is what I imagine as freedom from bias. This is far from being the case.

As Paul notes in his piece, there are examples from today of excellent journalism by Thomson Reuters staff. These are, however, the exceptions rather than the rule. It is in the mass of coverage, the flood of day-to-day stories, that Reuters old and new totally fails its tests of “independence, integrity and freedom from bias”. Given its role as wholesale news supplier to the world’s media and also the internet – this is a spectacularly important failure.

This coverage is chronically biased towards the interests of established governments and capital, to the global corporations and financial markets that wield such outsized influence on the world’s seven billion people. The former come to power by electoral processes that are wide open to abuse by the latter. The latter are never elected, subject to only the scantest of scrutiny or global regulatory oversight yet they are so extraordinarily powerful. They also contribute the vast bulk of Thomson Reuters income.

So here comes the self publicity – I’ve written about all this in Fraudcast News, How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies. Not only do I lay out this case in detail, I also suggest governance and journalism solutions to be built from the ground up.

You can buy a copy or download it for free via this page (http://fraudcastnews.net/).

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Opportunities lost in Guardian/Observer global wealth stories

The Cayman Islands: a favourite haven from the taxman for the global elite. Photograph: David Doubilet/National Geographic/Getty Images

There have been some great stories and columns from the Guardian/Observer news operation over the last few days – on trillions of pounds lost to secrecy jurisdictions, drug money laundering by global banks such as HSBC and the way banks write loans by magicking money out of thin air.

The big shame, for me, is that the newspaper group doesn’t join the dots between them all, or give the deeper context that would help people see their ways through to the fundamental failures of governance underlying all the stories.

Take just the offshore trillions story, there was no reference in the piece to Nicholas Shaxson’s excellent Treasure Islands.

The book blows the lid on tax havens, or secrecy jurisdictions as Shaxson calls them, making clear how the City of London and places such as the US state of Delaware are part of a global spider’s web whose effect is to entrench the divide between a tiny, wealthy super elite and ordinary mortals. This is the essential link between the abstract billions and trillions in the Observer story and real, physical people and places.

Similarly for the drugs cartels story – there are reasons it’s fine to be part of a white-collar corporate criminal entity but not to spill green custard on a London street as part of a protest about corporate sponsors of the London Olympics. Our legal frameworks are totally out of whack.

Failing to join the dots keeps us all stupid – we have to do better. Following stories through from the bare facts to the deeper failures of governance that underpin the stories is a critical part of that – essentially the argument I lay out in Fraudcast News.

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Setting The People Free – a meeting with the author

I was delighted to spend a couple of hours today talking democracy with John Dunn, emeritus Professor of Political Theory at King’s College, Cambridge.

Professor Dunn wrote the excellent Setting the People Free“, a book that helped me nail down my thinking on the evolution of “democracy” since the Ancient Greeks coined a term for government by the people. That learning process was an essential step for me to take in fleshing out the arguments and observations I make in Democracy Now?, the fifth and final chapter in Fraudcast News.

We talked about what he’s planning as a follow-up to the book – a text due out next year in which he intends to lay out the book’s political implications, not least for the United States.

The meeting was a great way to prepare for a Fraudcast News reading and Q+A I’m due to deliver later on Sunday in CB1 cafe in Cambridge.

For a potted take on Dunn’s thinking, this Russia Today interview from a couple years ago does a good job. That should only be as warm up to the full works presented in Setting the People Free, which I can’t recommend enough for anyone interested in the way their lives are governed.

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