Tag Archives: accountability

Scotland doing its own election thing – get used to it

Nicola Sturgeon uses protective glasses to look into the sky at a partial solar eclipse in Glasgow, Scotland. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Nicola Sturgeon uses protective glasses to look into the sky at a partial solar eclipse in Glasgow, Scotland. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

There’s a lot of talk about Scotland being the critical element of the UK general election 2015, things along the lines of a long analytical piece in today’s Guardian.

Scotland’s election result is the single factor most likely to shape the next government. No combination of parties would have the required numbers without the votes of the SNP

Yeah, maybe, but that sort of misses the point, if you ask me.

You didn’t of course, but here goes nevertheless, my comment in response to the piece.

It’s a good start but nowhere near enough – the way we are governed in 2015 goes way beyond Holyrood versus Westminster to encompass Brussels, Frankfurt (the ECB as a default arm of government, even for non-euro zone countries), the City (non-regulation of banks and financial markets, runaway tax havens and tax avoidance), Geneva (the WTO’s non regulation of corporatised trade rules), Washington (US globalised terror and non-regulation of biggest baddest multi-nationals that are major US corporations), New York (failed UN and non-regulation of Wall Street, as per the City for the latter).

So go SNP, if you can keep yourself above the near-inevitable traps of political incumbency, which I highly doubt. What excites me more is the multitude of experiments worldwide that together could lead to some broader vision of post representative democracy at all levels, local to global.

That would mean more day-to-day accountability of our governors to citizens and a clawing back of political authority from all these other agencies.

Maybe a bit ambitious for a Friday night, but hey, you have to start somewhere.

What do you think?

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Fraudcast News – lifting lid on media’s “subtle and pervasive bias”

Fraudcast review shotI was delighted to meet Ian Fraser the other day, an award-winning journalist and author of Shredded: Inside RBS, The Bank That Broke Britain. We compared our respective wounds received as journalists kicking outside of the usual confines of our chosen professional activity – an all-too-rare breath of fresh air for me.

We did one another the favour of paying cash for our respective books accompanied with promises to read and review the other’s output.

Ian came good, way ahead of me, doing me the following review on Amazon.

I am delighted by his enthusiasm for the book while also being cheered by his references to the likes of the ex-Telegraph columnist Peter Oborne as proof of the ongoing relevance of its arguments about democracy and journalism.

If I could be so ungrateful, my sole, additional wish would be to encourage anyone who is moved to buy a hard copy to do so via the more independently minded book retailer Hive.co.uk rather than adding to the tax-phobic coffers of Bezos and co.

There’s also the PDF version that you can download for free from here.

Whatever you do, this is the review – many thanks again Ian.

Patrick Chalmers has written an important and timely book. Building on his experience as a Reuters correspondent in London, Brussels and Kuala Lumpur, he lifts the lid on the subtle and pervasive bias of our mainstream media.

He outlines how this bias can include self-censorship, journalists allowing themselves to be “co-opted” by the rich and powerful, the cozying up of media to major advertisers (as we saw with Peter Oborne’s recent revelations that the Daily Telegraph either removed, toned down or failed altogether to cover negative stories about major advertiser HSBC) and the “spiking” of stories that undermine media proprietors’ prevailing pro-globalisation, neo-liberal agenda.

The chapters on the frustrations he felt as a Reuters correspondent trying to provide balanced coverage of the European Union, of dusty corners of the financial markets and of the attempts of Malaysian prime minister Mahathir bin Mohamad to resist the “Washington Consensus” are particularly good.

Patrick argues that the mainstream media in the West, as well as global news outfits such as Reuters and Bloomberg (whose journalism is largely funded by the leasing of data terminals to the finance sector), now see their role as being to buttress a failed economic ideology and to pander to an often corrupt elite. As such, he says they have become a pernicious influence that’s obstructing understanding and democracy. The lack of scepticism that most journalists display for international trade treaties like TTIP and unaccountable EU decision-making processes are just two of the areas of media failure covered in the book. Readers, listeners and viewers are being badly let down, writes Chalmers, adding that by amplifying ‘spin’, the media has unleashed a dangerous tide of misinformation that threatens to engulf our democracies.

The media failures outlined in Fraudcast News are also giving rise to a phenomenon that the writer and journalist Tariq Ali has separately described as the rise of the “extreme centre”. Prefiguring his recently published book The Extreme Centre: A Warning, Ali wrote: “What is the point of elections? The result is always the same: a victory for the extreme centre. Since 1989, politics has become a contest to see who can best serve the needs of the market, a competition now fringed by unstable populist movements. The same catastrophe has taken place in the US, Britain, Continental Europe and Australia.”

Chalmers ends on a positive note. In his conclusion, he examines how as a result of, among other things, the rise of social media and the internet, it has never been easier for civil society and public-interest journalists to develop a more ethical, balanced and responsible approach to covering the news. He provides examples of the rise of alternative channels of communication that bypass the mainstream media, arguing that these are much more capable of challenging our dangerously flawed governance structures than the media we grew up with.

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Making case for Quakers to reach for their phone cameras

Showing by doing - Patrick Chalmers filmed by Judy Kirby in a video report featuring Compassion in World Farming's Philip Lymbery (l). Photo by Alistair Heslop.

Showing by doing – Patrick Chalmers is filmed by Judy Kirby in a video report featuring Compassion in World Farming’s Philip Lymbery (l). Photo by Alistair Heslop.

I’ve been working with UK Quaker organisations over the last couple of years, first as a journalist writing article series for the weekly magazine The Friend and latterly in various initiatives aimed at encouraging Quakers to speak their work to the world as citizen journalists.

I like spending time with Quakers – those I’ve encountered so far combine an engagement and energy for taking action to improve our society with a rootedness in their daily faith and practice. Though not a Quaker myself, I find this combination of activism and faith very inspiring. It somehow cuts a path between what seems like apathy on the part of many people with regard to the state of our political systems and the anger, judgment and aggression to which many activists can be prone, myself included. I understand why people might be either apathetic or angry, both at once even, yet I personally can’t accept not trying to do something about the state of things.

It is in that spirit that I joined forces with Quaker journalist Judy Kirby, ex-editor of The Friend and a life-long reporter, to pitch a funding proposal to the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, more specifically their Power and Accountability strand.

Our idea was, in fact it remains, to train Quakers as citizen journalists focused on improving both our media and the quality of our governance structures. For me, as I explain in Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies, there’s no point in doing one without the other.

Though we failed to get any JRCT money, I think basically we pitched for too much as an unproven start-up project, we have done some useful work in preparing the application and road-testing our ideas. We will build on these during the coming months on a more ad hoc basis, as funds allow.

Our latest example of road-testing was in London earlier this month, where Judy and I took part in the Quakers and Business 2014 Annual Conference. The theme was Food – there’s a story behind everything we eat, making it particularly suited to talking about the benefits of Quakers taking to citizen journalism.

Below is the 15-minute talk that I gave as an event speaker. I basically argued that yes, there are many food stories we can tell as citizen journalists but what we also need to understand are the chronic failures of our political systems to respond to those stories.

In addition to talking, Judy and I were also determined to demonstrate our arguments by doing.

That entailed shooting a series of sample videos, on the eve of the conference and on the day itself, to showcase the potential of using a smartphone video camera to shoot no-edit video reports for web broadcast. Had that been our sole mission for the event, what follows would be a more comprehensive video series than the four shown below. These are still a good sample of what’s possible.

We did a couple of videos featuring speakers John Turner*, a smale-scale Lincolnshire beef farmer and co-funder of The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, and Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming. These are the more conventional reports you might expect from an event such as this – allowing event non-attenders to get a flavour of proceedings.

In addition to these, Judy did her first publicly aired video interview – she, like me, having spent most of her career in print. It featured event participant Terry Hobday as the interviewee after she volunteered to tell her food story, one relating to researching the effects of poor nutrition on childhood behaviour and development. Terry then promptly accepted my challenge to take the microphone herself, conducting a debut interview with another volunteer storyteller John White having had only the most rudimentary training on how to do it. I was hugely impressed with the result – pure chutzpah!

The video series showed what is possible with nothing more than a smartphone, an attached microphone and some basic training in the shots template devised by those cunning types at visionOntv – Hamish Campbell and Richard Hering. Having spent decades of heartache trying to get activists to find their voices on camera, this duo have hit on a templates series for people to learn some very serviceable basics themselves.

Judy and I, during the coming months, are aiming to take this technique to Quaker groups around the UK. We’ve one event already booked for April – with the Quakers and Business group. We think it’s a potentially powerful tool to use as part of wider citizen-journalist efforts to promote positive-but-radical social change from the grassroots up.

Give me a shout via @PatrickChalmers if you think we can do something together.

* Correction made on November 27, 2014, John Turner’s surname was corrected from “Hunter”

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Media bias against Scottish independence laid bare

David Patrick

Yet another example of why Twitter is a hugely useful source of information. @DrDavidPatrick turns up as a follower of my @PatrickChalmers account – so I take a look at his profile. Up pops his excellent short film cataloguing and analysing the media coverage – sorry bias – of a year’s worth of newspaper coverage in the run up to the Scottish independence vote.

I highly recommend you invest the 22:35 minutes it takes to watch – not only for some profound insight into the Scottish referendum debate, which is important enough, but far more importantly for an introduction to what is an endemic problem of pro-establishment media bias when it comes to covering any politically important issue you care to name.

This is not a left-right thing as far as ordinary people are concerned. Anyone who gives a damn about their political future, that of the people they love not to mention wider humanity and the planet, needs to wise up to this stuff. This is what Fraudcast News is about – as it says in the book’s strapline – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies.

Unless we take personal responsibility for our political and media literacy – which includes understanding these well-worn but generally poorly-known and highly-effective techniques – we will continue to be kippered all ends up when it comes to having any influence over our lives. This is vital stuff for us all to understand, and to be able to spot, in the propaganda that bombards us daily. What’s more, you won’t, or didn’t, learn this stuff at school.

Dr David Patrick has done a great job for all of us with regard to the referendum – you can read about it all in more detail here – we should all be hugely greatly to him for that.

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The bloody realities of self publishing

Self-publishing is a grind. Don’t kid yourself that you can just kiss off that bestseller, throw it up on line as an eBook or paperback then lay back and count the royalty cheques as they roll in, particularly if you forgot to put in the teen vampires chapter.

Here in the grunt room at Fraudcast News, I’ve got to the stage of promoting my book beyond the immediate circle of family and both of my friends. Time for a brief run through what got me here.

There’s quite a skillset to build up or borrow just to get this far, the first being to have the idea for a book.

The ones behind Fraudcast News  began germinating 15 years ago, when I first wondered about the realities of political power in the European Union. No really, it’s sad but true, that’s the sort of thing that bothers my head in idle moments, I can’t help it.

As a Reuters reporter in Brussels, I witnessed political decisions being taken over the heads of European environment ministers – by finance ministers, heads of governments and even European Commission civil servants. It made me think about where power truly lay, who had it and what I as a journalist should be doing to write about that. My immediate concern was why so little ever got done to resolve environmental issues such as climate change. As I now know, the problem goes far wider.

My questions about power and how journalism should cover it mushroomed out over the years, eventually forcing me out of Reuters. They spread down to national and local levels of government and up to the global level. It took ages for me to work them into the broader critique of representative democracy and journalism, and possible remedies, that is Fraudcast News. It’s complicated but not impossible stuff.

The work required me to write and re-write the text, getting various clever friends to read through each version for coherence, content and so on. With a complete first draft in hand by last May, I re-wrote it all again in the subsequent months on the back of people’s comments, positive and negative. Many times over the years, I considered jacking it all in as a bad job. The project survived, emerging complete at the start of 2012.

That took me to lulu.com, one of several self-publishing sites. My first goal was to publish an eBook, which took a few days to work through their system.

My Word document needed juggling about to strip out unnecessary formatting and to make its chapters suitable for the table of contents generator Lulu uses to turn a document into EPUB format. There were all the usual annoying glitches you get with any formatting process but I got there in the end, this being the result. I used one of their off-the-shelf covers to get me going. Once it was done, I read the ebook from start to finish, picking up quite a few grammar howlers, spelling mistakes or wooly sentences as I went. Strange how a changed format threw up errors I’d missed in the previous one.

Next was the paperback, which was more straightforward. I created a PDF from the Word document, played around with fonts, headers and footers and the extra pages at the front. I appealed to the world for help designing a cover before eventually doing one myself and market testing it with my Facebook friends. They were great – I got tonnes of helpful and useful advice.

The process was faster than it would have been with a conventional publisher, once I’d worked the text through to its first complete draft. I’d tried but failed to get a conventional publisher a few years back and decided this time around to do it myself.

Would I recommend that others do the same and bypass the old-style route?

It depends, though probably yes. I’ve learnt a lot having to do all this stuff myself, to say nothing of the experimenting I’ve been doing with Facebook, Twitter and the rest.

You certainly need friends who are willing and able to help and plenty of time that you don’t have to spend on other things, with or without full-time, paid work.

No conventional publisher would have accepted me doing a Creative Commons book or giving away free PDFs, so I was probably always destined to do it this way. Technology set me free then made me work my backside off.

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