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Fox News – The jihadists’ teacher

March 18, 2010 Leave a comment

Shock horror… Fox News are ratcheting up the fear factor again with another of their ever-so-fair-and-unbalanced reports … this time about GPS jamming equipment which could… only could you understand… be used to try and crash an aeroplane.

Having establish a tenuous connection, between GPS jammers and airline navigation systems, and said they can be bought ‘legally’ on the internet when every federal law enforcement agent they spoke to said “they’re illegal”, Fox then go on to tell you how they work and the potential disaster and havoc they could cause.

So any would-be terrorist doesn’t have to do any research, those kind folks at Fox News have done it all for them.

Of course what Fox don’t point out is that the only jammers with a signal that’s likely to be strong enough to affect a plane’s GPS system work off a car cigarette lighter … now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a car cigarette lighter socket on a plane … I can’t think why that might be.

Nor do they really highlight that fact that GPS is only one of the navigation systems used by aircraft, and that a plane wouldn’t fall out of the sky if its GPS system went offline – I wonder how many times that actually happens and the plane carries on normally under the control of ground-based air traffic control radar? Probably more often than you’d like to be honest.

The bottom line is a news story designed only to scare, and devoid of the facts that would make it not at all scary, and therefore, not news.

Maybe the channel should get a new catchline: FOX – Non-news written by non-journalists for non-entities.

Stop Press: Onion causes tears… of laughter

March 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Saw this on the interwebs today… another video that should be shown to every journalism student the day after they enrol:

Another day… another censor

March 10, 2010 Leave a comment

One day after I highlighted the removal of a blog piece from the Al Jazeera English website because it dared to tell the truth about an ally of the Qatari government, it seems the infection is spreading, and it’s another champion of free speech that’s succumbed.

This time it’s The Huffington Post who have removed a remarkably anodyne report from well known 9/11 sceptic Jesse Ventura – his posting told of how hundreds of architects and engineers have signed a petition calling on Congress to re-examine the destruction of the World Trade Center’s twin towers on September 11, 2001.

As usual, HuffPo management have shown a remarkably tenuous grasp on reality, and an breathtaking ignorance of the medium they work in, by openly removing an article which is bound to appear elsewhere along with suitable public approbium about how one of America’s standard-bearers of free-speech has joined the racks of the mainstream media’s blue pencil brigade.

Almost immediately the full article has appeared elsewhere on sites like 911Blogger, as have the reports of the takedown in the wider news media.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with having a policy that says “no conspiracy theories”, which is what the HuffPo is now cravenly hiding behind, and almost every site on the web will have different policies for dealing with different eventualities.

What’s troubling in this case is that Ventura’s report is not a conspiracy theory, but a factual report about how a group of real experts have done nothing more conspiratorial than call for a re-examination of the scientific evidence because their research says the science is inconsistent with the official story told by the Bush-administration appointed 9/11 Commission.

As Ventura pointed out, this was never covered in the mainstream media, so it is exactly the kind of story the HuffPo should be highlighting, but because Ventura mentions his new book, American Conspiracies, it was obviously too much for the spineless editorial team, who seem intent on putting their pensions before their principles. It is a sad day for the Huffington Post, and what’s worse is that it is not the first time they have been caught censoring their contributors.

As for the subject matter, well I’m no conspiracy theorist (I prefer cock-up every time), but given the choice between the American Institute of Architects and a bunch of Dubya’s lackeys… who would you choose?

Assuming of course you were given the choice, something which the American mainstream media and now, remarkably, The Huffington Post, don’t appear to want you to have.

Publish and be…. censored?

March 9, 2010 Leave a comment

A few months ago I noted the start of the ‘new’ blogs section on the Al Jazeera English website, and the utter lack of imagination that had been put into them, not least by the correspondents, who seemed to think that describing the tedium of their journey to their latest interview was a suitable substitute for in-depth analysis and investigative reporting.

Since then I have been watching with a growing sense of despondency the accumulation of lazy, pointless hackery which only serves to bolster the ego of the correspondent (as they weren’t bolstered enough by useless managers and acquiescent editors) and leave the audience wanting, especially while the excellent Focus section of the same site dwindled and atrophied.

Fortunately there have been some rare exceptions, including one excellent posting in February from Jane Dutton about her visit to Eritrea to interview the country’s president – now, you can follow the link if you like, but as of today, it goes to an Error 404 page, as it seems the article has been removed from the Al Jazeera website.

The posting, when it existed, was the perfect example of how to use blogs and first person narrative to get behind the story, and give the audience more understanding about the context of a piece – in this case using a blog written after the fact to get around the government minders and reporting restrictions so often imposed on journalists by dictatorial regimes.

Now though, it has been removed, the blogger has been censored and the truth has been lost, probably on the orders of some invertebrate, obsequious lickspittle of a manager who knows nothing about news and journalism, and cares even less about his audience.

A quick Google search explained why – Qatar is doing business with this secretive and brutal African regime for its own ends, and the Eritrean president is lapping up their money and their largesse, while his people are trapped in their own country, and will be shot if they try to leave – no wonder the emir of Qatar wanted the truth about Eritrea suppressed, and since he pays for Al Jazeera, he calls the shots.

So much for Al Jazeera’s code of ethics, and its claim to be editorially independent, impartial and objective.

Fortunately as well as being spineless and brown-nosed, Al Jazeera’s managers are also remarkably stupid, as the article had been published long enough to be cached by Google and many other search engines; however in the interests of freedom of information, here is the article in full:

Eritrea’s president declares me ‘insane’ – by Jane Dutton

We hadn’t even arrived in Eritrea when I started to get a sense of the man I had been sent to interview. Our flight from Dubai airport was delayed. Nobody told us for how long or why. Four hours later, when the plane finally arrived, we found out the president had decided to borrow it for the morning, on a whim.

We were on our way to one of Africa’s most secretive regimes.

Granted a rare interview with the Eritrean president, Isaias Afewerki, a man constantly ranked in the top 10 of the world’s worst dictators and accused of helping turn the Horn of Africa into one of the most volatile regions on the planet.

Our plane – Eritrea’s only carrier – was one of the few international flights that still fly into the country: a desolate place blighted by years of war with Ethiopia and Yemen, and increasing political isolation.

At the airport we were met by unfamiliar silence – no network connections, no SIM cards, no blackberry! And Rafael, our minder. Rafael is a man of contradictions: even his backcomb appears to grow forward.

“Let me tell you the truth,” he would say every couple of hours, immediately followed by anything but. He also ominously warned that he could keep a watch on our every movement if he chose to do so, at our hotel, on the job.

Our interview was scheduled for Saturday and we were told it would take two hours to get to the city of Massawa, the president’s new bunker retreat on the coast. He is reported to spend more time there after an attempted assassination last year.

The roads are manned by checkpoints. The population’s every move seems to be watched and noted in this country. And it probably is. Eritreans need a visa to leave and there is very little chance of them ever getting one. But that hasn’t stopped tens of thousands escaping every year.

The UN estimates that 63,000 sought asylum abroad in 2009. Around 1,800 brave the shoot-to-kill police orders to cross over into Sudan every month. The majority say they are fleeing the permanent military service and repressive nature of the regime.

After several shouting bouts with Rafael, we finally get to Massawa, an exotic port city built by the Turks in the 14th century – a fascinating place with narrow alleyways and looming mosques. It is supposed to be the hottest place on earth. And I would concur.

I noticed then it wasn’t just the capital that was surprisingly clean – everywhere we went in Eritrea was immaculate. The streets are shiny bright, the hotels are spick and span, even the food is safe.

Our interview was delayed by a day and instead we were corralled into watching Massawa’s 20-year celebrations of liberation from Ethiopia. We decided to shoot a promo for our interview while we were there. People were out in that sweltering weather to see their long-time leader, carefully controlled by police.

What amazed us was that the police had no qualms about beating women and children with sticks a few feet away from where we were shooting. A truly shocking scene. And our cameras were still rolling.

The next day we were all set up and ready at our interview location in time for the planned dawn o’clock interview. We guessed the president would keep us waiting, and he did. Six hours later he arrived. We were all drenched with sweat and jangled with angst by the time he sat down.

Was he going to throw us out of the country for asking the questions we wanted asked? Why is he helping Iran supply weapons to Hamas in Gaza and the Houthi fighters in Yemen? Why does he order the police to shoot-to-kill anyone escaping from the country? Why is there no free press or free speech? Why were all of his political opponents whisked away never to be seen again? How come he refuses to let aid agencies feed the two-thirds of his country who are starving?

This was a man who came in on a promise of liberating his people 20 years ago. Every question I asked was met with a blank stare, a flat denial, cold laughter and finally allegations that we were making it all up. And he told me personally I am simply “insane”.

Back in the car and back on the winding roads, climbing thousands of feet to the cooler capital of Asmara. You can smell coffee percolating through the streets: thick, lovely and freshly brewed – the legacy of Italy’s colonial rule under Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime.

All the buildings boast a beautiful jaded art deco influence, and the streets are full of old men cycling with their hats doffed to one side alongside colourful Fiats from the 1960s. We ended the day with a piece to camera from the tank graveyard on the outskirts of the city. Thousands of armoured vehicles dismantled and stacked heading for the trash heap.

They were used in the 30-year battle against Ethiopia. And although that was two decades ago, Eritrea remains on a permanent war footing. The majority of the population is conscripted – whether it be in the army, in the hotel bar, as a street cleaner or our ever present minder Rafael. They remain braced for an Ethiopian attack that may never come.

Hull Daily Mail reaps its whirlwind

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

According to a friend who lived in Hull it was known universally as the Dull Daily Mail – the newspaper that served the readers of Hull and East Yorkshire was never known for its journalistic prowess and from all accounts spent most of its time rehashing the day’s breakfast headlines from BBC Radio Humberside.

In the last 24 hours though the Hull Daily Mail has put itself right on the map as the local paper that completely lost the plot, embedded its foot firmly in its mouth and reaped a whirlwind of 21st century feedback that will serve as an object lesson in social media that will be repeated by journalism teachers around the world for years to come.

A few days ago the HDM led its tatty tabloid edition with an exposé of a local website producer, Paul Smith, who also happened to be the mind behind a hyper-local news site HU17.net, which covers the town of Beverley and surrounding areas.

Much to the HDM’s disgust, Mr Smith had, in the past, built the infrastructure for various porn websites, so they mounted an ‘elaborate’ sting operation involving a reporter posing as an escort (complete with fake Facebook site), and lined up various clueless local councillors to heap on the moral approbium, then produced an article which stayed just the right side of the defamation laws but still managed to suggest the Mr Smith was responsible for the content of hundreds of porn sites, and using inneundo even suggested paedophilia!

Hull Daily Mail - Classified Ads example

Hull Daily Mail

Of course they failed to point out a few salient facts, like the fact that Mr Smith’s site was a direct competitor to their monopolistic presence, was a better and more popular website than theirs (those in the know say the HDM’s coverage of Beverley was always woeful and doesn’t seem to have improved much), and that the HDM is financed by large number of ads, many of which offer escort and massage services (see the screenshot to the right).

They also only just managed to point out that Mr Smith’s business is entirely legal, and while I leave it up to you to judge the morality, it is a fact that one of the few business sectors making a resounding profit out of the interwebs these days is the pornography industry, so they, along with the online bookies, tend to pay website builders pretty well compared to most other clients.

Mr Smith’s response to the ‘sting’ operation was to pose for a picture and invite the hapless reporter in for a cup of tea so they could see for themselves the purely business relationship he had with the website owners in question, and he himself posted a rebuttal on his own website outlining the facts for his readers.

What the HDM didn’t point out was that there is a world of difference between building the infrastructure for a website and providing the content, they also failed to make any inquiries about domain name ownership, which would have shown that website contractors usually own the domain names on behalf of their clients because the clients don’t usully have the experience or training to secure and manage these themselves.

So that fact that Mr Smith “owned” these websites was, in their view, proof positive of their case, and of course, they’re not going to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and the HDM has, in its zeal, posted some follow-ups to their story which, of course, they claim are all in the public interest. So, no self-interest there then.

Aside from the fact that this is a deeply distasteful article and a great example of truly appalling journalism, what’s been interesting is the huge backlash that the HDM has reaped from the online community, where hundreds of posts have appeared in the last 24-48 hours supporting Mr Smith.

Even on the HDM’s own site comments have been suspended after hundreds of people took them to task for running the article, only a handful were on their side; John Meehan, the HDM’s editor, then tried to defend his mistake with weasel words and sophistry … and then made things worse by suggesting that those whose criticised the HDM were “misinformed”, and claimed the comments facility was still open (it’s not).

Whatever your views on the story itself, this is a perfect example of the fights to come, as the old media press barons struggle to hold onto their readership and their incomes in the face of growing competition from smaller, leaner and more agile publishers who know their community way better than the press barons’ lackeys could ever do.

The bottom line is that in this age of media literacy and instant interactivity, misguided old farts like John Meehan (and his head-in-the-sand overseers at DMGT) insult the intelligence of their audience at their own peril.

Further coverage at Journalism.co.uk, Virtual Review and Journopig, who pull out some of the unnecessary and unsupported paedophile-innuendo running through the story.

Interestingly The Register also provide coverage, although if I were them, I’d check their headline with a good libel lawyer.

Essential learning for new journalists

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Charlie Brooker has always been a bit hit-or-miss for me, but his new BBC series, Newsswipe, really has hit the mark – here’s an example which will probably become essential viewing in every journalism school across the UK:

Headliner headline

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Quick posting on a potential headline of the year, courtesy of News.com in Australia:

Dead fox terrier prompts ‘bloody rifle frenzy’ revenge attack

Hats off to the sub who came up with that gem, the only thing it’s missing is the word “shocker”!

Plaudits also to the twit who came up with the pay-off line.

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