A Prisoner Of Fantasy

Not really anything to do with the story. My friend Abi just won a prize for this in a photography competition. Isn't it lovely?

Just watching J K Rowling giving evidence to the UK’s press ethics enquiry (“Quest For The Lost Ethic”). She speaks movingly about what it’s like to be a parent in the telescopic eye of the tabloid press, how it feels to be quite literally stalked by these agencies, the stomach-twisting feeling, as she put it, when you realise someone is watching you. How you wonder what is it they intend to write, what they’ve heard or expect to find, what they may know about you that you don’t even know yourself.

It’s interesting that she’s a fantasy author. We generally consider this something of a minority interest, but far from it; people avidly consume stories about the famous that are mostly or wholly made up. I’m not a particular fan of her writing, but she does speak interestingly about the language of the situation. For example she says she has enormous respect for journalism, which can involve reporters risking their lives to get important stories. Yet people who dedicate themselves to harassing others and getting photographs of children are also called journalists. Should there not be different words for these professions? She also uses the verb “to long-lens” someone, rather than to photograph, implying that to take a picture in situations where you cannot be seen to be taking a picture is a wholly different thing and, almost perforce, an invasion of privacy. It’s a useful distinction.

A picture emerges of someone effectively forced into hiding by the need to shield her children from the life-warping effects of publicity. She’d never make the analogy herself, but her success at, of all things, children’s fiction has brought her to a situation only a step or two away from that of Salman Rushdie. Yet the Press Complaints Commission, as currently constituted, seems unable and indeed unwilling to do anything meaningful about this sort of persecution. Even when it upholds a complaint, the tabloids seem able literally to laugh it off. After one such reprimand a paper responded by publishing a picture of her daughter as a baby. It would be hard to imagine a more subtle yet simultaneously barbaric threat.

I’m reminded of the time that one paper published a map to the home of George Michael, another known non-fan of News International and its ilk. Forced to apologise, they stated that it “had not been their intention” to reveal the location of his home. Can you think of an intention to a map other than revealing a location? But it seems that in the strange world of press regulation, a bare-faced, transparent and risible lie counts as an apology. It’s clear that the UK needs a better mechanism to punish the fantasy press for its transgressions.

The question as always is how you can do that without endangering the freedom of other papers to do good things. Well there is one simple way: Don’t buy them. Don’t ever buy them. No matter how tempting the pornography they put on their front pages, don’t buy them. It’s the only regulation that they understand.

Humour Politics

The Murdoch Show – A Review

Banana cream pie.
Critical Notice

The end of an extraordinary day, says the TV man. Did anyone else think so? To me it seemed a let-down; predictable, unchallenging, frequently tedious.

What we were watching was, as reader jonolan put it, theatre. And not even good theatre, unless you count the intervention by the pieman – that at least was unpredictable. Otherwise its sole moment of flair was Assistant Commissioner John Yates’ surrealistic claim to be a postbox.

The prince came across more like a villain, and it was the king who vacillated. He wanted to apologise as profusely and humbly as possible – yet he wouldn’t accept the blame. Such inconsistency in a character strains credulity.

The best you can say for the production is that it was well rehearsed. The Murdochs delivered their lines effectively enough: News Corp is a highly ethical organisation, the News Of The World a completely inexplicable and isolated aberration. It was at least a daring conceit. And memorable – though mainly because they kept saying it at every opportunity.

Then in the last act a whole new theme was introduced. The News Of The World was revealed by Rebekah Brooks to be a crusading journal, focused only on protecting children and the rights of soldiers, a paragon of what newspapers should be. But the transformation hadn’t been justified by anything that had gone before, so it lacked conviction.

That’s what this show needs more of. Conviction. Preferably several.


Murdochs – 1, Bunch of MPs – 0

Well, play suspended. Wonder what the member of the audience hoped to achieve there.

Then, I wonder what anyone was trying to achieve. The committee investigation was too unfocused to do anything of much use. They kept slipping and allowing the Murdochs to reiterate their “We’re sorry, we’re nice really, forgive us” message. Rupert even buttered them up by suggesting that MPs should be paid a million each. Now he’s getting to tell them some of his life story.

I don’t believe they didn’t know perfectly well that some of their papers used illegal techniques to get stories – even if they managed to remain carefully uninformed about who and where and when. But they’ve managed to say the opposite so many times, it’s bound to influence perception. Really, the MPs let them use this as a press conference.


Poor Questions

Some of these questioners seem very amateurish and unfocused. Not surprising I suppose – it’s an investigation designed by a committee. But do they really have two of the world’s most influential men here to ask them about the day-to-day running of newspapers? It’s like they’re taking advantage of the situation to ask things they’d always wondered, and it’s giving the Murdochs opportunities to paint themselves in brighter colours.


Murdoch’s Evidence – 2

Rupert Murdoch - World Economic Forum Annual M...
Murdoch when he still looked in control

James Murdoch apologises. He’s not addressing the committee, he’s addressing the shareholders.

“This is the most humble day of my life” – Rupert Murdoch. Yes, but what’s the scale?

By saying he cannot say who was involved in the phone hacking because of ongoing investigations, James Murdoch seems to implicate Rebekah Brooks.

Monosyllabic answers from Murdoch Senior. He denies knowing who lied to him. This may still be true if no one lied to him. But he is denying any knowledge of anything awkward in his UK operation – indeed, virtually any knowledge of how News International was run. Either you don’t believe that – and it is hard to believe – or you have to accept that the guy in charge is no longer really in control.

I can actually hear News Corporation’s share price falling.

Humour Politics Technology

Now That’s More Like Hacking

The controversial front page of the Sun.
The Sun - Not Famous For Truth

Funny how it doesn’t seem to be in the news this morning, but last night all the websites of Murdoch’s UK newspapers were brought down. The Sun’s by LulzSec, the fun-loving hacker network – they switched it to a fake version that announced Rupert Murdoch’s death – the rest probably pulled by News International itself in a somewhat desperate effort to protect them.

I like the humorous anarchy of LulzSec and their ilk, but I fear an organisation as media-canny as News Corporation will be able to turn this to their own advantage. You want to make Rupert Murdoch look like a victim, you attack him with something even more feared and poorly-understood than himself. Interweb hackers, that can do all sorts of mysterious and dangerous things. Things that are – sharp intake of breath – bad for business. Bring down a Murdoch website, and you give him a chance to portray himself as a champion of free speech. Which would be ironic in any number of ways, not least because most of Murdoch’s websites were not free.

Meanwhile, rumours fly that Murdoch is about to be deposed as head of News Corporation.

Meanwhile, perhaps even as you’re reading this (video feed), Murdoch and other heads of News International will be giving evidence before an investigating committee of the UK parliament. They didn’t want to much.

Meanwhile, the next domino in the Metropolitan Police has fallen: Assistant commissioner John Yates, the UK’s leading terrorism officer.

Meanwhile, the whistleblower who originally broke the phone hacking story has been found dead. The police say it’s not suspicious, but… The police say it’s not suspicious.

So thanks for the lulz, LulzSec. But it looks like things are already way beyond that.

Humour Politics Technology

The Long Weekend

Hiya. If you haven’t dropped in to I.Doubt.It over the weekend, it was a busy one. Thanks to everyone who made Saturday a record day for visitors. Here’s the best of what the rest of you missed:

What Phone Is Right For You? 7 – I, Android

Latest in the ongoing series of articles aimed at helping you pick the best fruit in the smartphone jungle. Today I look at Google’s Android and ask if it is a better alternative to Apple’s iPhone.

Don’t Trust The Data Protection Commission

The agency charged with keeping us safe from the likes of the News Of The World’s “phone hacking” has a suggestion to prevent the same thing happening here. Unfortunately, it’s wrong.

Expel The Papal Nuncio

Join the campaign to tell the Vatican that canon law is not above the law of the land.

They Really Are Out To Get You

Despite ever more excruciating cuts into Ireland’s budget, no matter how much we reduce health and social spending, the US-based agencies continue to revise our credit rating down. Could there be a hidden agenda?

Your Morning Monkey

Just a picture of me. With a monkey.

Some Of Last Week’s Highlights

Stuff you might not have seen yet if you’re new to I.Doubt.It

Good Morning, Euro. Euro?

I come up with a brilliant solution to the currency crisis.

The George Michael Revelations

Disgraced Murdoch minion Rebekah Brooks admitted her papers got celebrity news from police informers – or so George Michael claimed on Twitter. I edit his tweets together to make his allegations clear.

The World’s Greatest Secret

Before she was fired herself, when Rebekah Brooks made the entire staff of the News Of The World redundant, she told them that when the full story comes out in a year from now they would see she had no choice. I think I know what the terrible secret is.

First Impressions of Google+

Is it the new Facebook? Is it the new Twitter? Is it the new Twitface?

Politics Technology

Don’t Trust The Data Protection Commission

A printed circuit board inside a mobile phone
Can't find any messages here

It’s extremely worrying when the national Data Protection Commission doesn’t seem to understand the basics of phone security. Moving swiftly to unbolt a horse, they have found a way to protect us against the News Of The World: Asking phone networks to turn off remote access to voice messages.

But remote access itself was never the problem, it was access using a default PIN such as 1234. The existence of this useless PIN gave an impression of security, while providing absolutely none – surely the worst possible combination.

And the misunderstanding goes even deeper than that. To quote from the above article:

Deputy Commissioner Gary Davis confirmed his office had been in touch with the providers since the details emerged last week.

“Who does it serve to be able to access the messages left on your mobile phone?” he asked.

The messages are not on your phone. They are held by the network. So this service is useful when your phone is lost, stolen, left behind or simply turned off. You can use another phone to access the messages left by people trying to call you. It’s the kind of service that will not come in useful very often, but once in a while could be a complete life-saver.

The obvious solution, and the one the Data Protection Commission possibly should consider, is to not allow remote access unless a real PIN has been set, so that strangers can’t access it but you can. That would be all you needed to do to allow us to enjoy the service while protecting everyone against the predations of tabloid journalists.

But that’s the thing. Do we all need protection against the predations of tabloid journalists? I don’t really think we want to start living our lives as if we do. I haven’t set a PIN on my voicemail. You can access my voice messages any time you like. You will find that they are so boring that, frankly, I never listen to them myself. (Really, it’s much better to call me back.)

Don’t turn remote access off by default. I am never going to think to turn it on just in case. So when the day comes that I do need it urgently, I’ll have to call up the phone company to request the service using someone else’s number, and they’ll have to establish my identity over the phone, which will mean they’ll have to ask me for another PIN, which I also haven’t set up…

And all this to prevent papers doing something that’s illegal anyway? Fine them, jail them. Don’t protect me with bars.


Murdoch’s Apology

Here, according to sources, is the full-page advert that will be carried by all UK daily papers tomorrow.

Was the News Of The World “in the business of holding others to account”? I didn’t realise. I thought you bought it if you wanted to read about famous people having sex.


Press versus Politics

Murdoch's papers actually boasted that they could decide elections

What’s happening in Britain today is pretty damn exciting. Bluntly put, politicians have been running scared of Rupert Murdoch for decades. He has been a kingmaker. He owns enough of the media, including dailies and sundays in both the broadsheet and tabloid markets, to influence the entire political agenda, arguably even deciding the outcome of elections.

Politicians have feared him, politicians have tried to appease him. And not just because he could shape the agenda of public debate. He could also use his papers, and the people employed by them, to exert personal pressure. The man who owns the London Times also kept a couple of rottweilers, and had no qualms about using them to intimidate.

The more success he had at pushing politicians around, the softer they went on media regulation and ownership, so giving him more power. His ownership of leading names in all the paper markets was leveraged into a major interest in Sky, the biggest money-earner in UK TV. Money which helped further increase his market dominance and so his ability to push politicians around.

This was never going to end well.

And it looks likely to happen all over again in the US, where his Fox News has helped shift the debate drastically towards the right – and indeed away from debate at all, to a place where actual democratic politics is paralysed by polarisation and shouting. Murdoch is a businessman willing to damage the public cultures of countries within which he operates in order to profit.

What we’re getting to watch here is the worm finally turning. And it’s wonderful to see. Realising that public opinion might for once be on their side, cowed politicians are beginning to get a gleam in their eyes. They are imagining a world where they are not afraid. And they are thrilled by what a better world that could be.

For once, you can sympathise with the politicians. The press must be powerful, it must be free and strong. But dominance by one man and his organisation is every bit as pernicious as dominance by government.

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