Tuesday, 29 September 2009

A farcical attempt to deflect attention

The Times has an appalling piece today from Israeli Ambassador Ron Prossor, who seeks to deflect attention from the United Nations Human Rights Council's report on its alleged war crimes in Gaza with an attack on the UNHCR itself. He struggles to do anything except accuse the body of hypocrisy and anti-Israeli bias, somewhat handicapped by the fact that the report's author, Richard Goldstone, is Jewish and neither anti-semitic nor anti-Israeli.

Most farcically, Prossor writes:
Difficult issues, including the use of white phosphorus, as reported by The Times, will not be ignored.
Which translates as: OK so we lied about using white phosphorus but that doesn't mean that you shouldn't believe us when we say we made every effort to avoid harming civilians.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Boden as big brother

Another Boden/mini-Boden catalogue has come through the door with a plea to "help us shine a light on troubled wardrobes". If you recommend up to six friends you will be rewarded with £30 of account credit to buy your own middle class lifestyle essentials.

Grass your inadequate mates up to the Fashion Police - it's for their own good. Just hope they don't see the advert themselves and realise that you think their wardrobe "troubled".

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Gordon's Iraq Hoax

I've just posted a new story for Index on Censorship online about how Gordon Brown's promise in 2007 to make sure that the Iraq dossier debacle is never repeated turned out to me all spin and fantasy.

Monday, 21 September 2009

It matters who is lying

The awful John Rentoul said yesterday that he thinks calling one's political opponent a liar is "in poor taste and, worse than that, a mistake". He argues - if that is the word - that
"name-calling makes it hard to debate and is more likely to lead to disorder and fisticuffs"
This is just the type of mindless tosh people who are stuck in the political consensus come out with. It's on a par with people who say that using "swear" words (i.e. using more words than other people) means that you have a limited vocabulary. The problem with our political debate at the moment is that politicians regularly lie through their teeth and it's considered "poor taste" or "bad form, old boy" to say to.

Rentoul says that Tory George Osborne didn't actually call Gordon Brown a liar, as billed. But, bizarrely, today's Times says that David Miliband accused Osborne of "the politics of the big lie and the big smear". No comment yet from Rentoul.

The top line of the Times story is that "Treasury officials have accused the man who could soon be their boss of implying that they had broken the law". Senior civil servants are quoted, anonymously of course, as "voicing anger" at this.

Sadly, from the coverage that I've read, I can't work out who's telling the truth. That is what matters. If Brown really did conceal plans to cut spending while making such a virtue of not doing so, it really should change the landscape of politics, as Osborne claims. But the problem isn't that someone has called someone else a liar, it is that the media like the drama of accusation and counter-accusation more than analysis of who's right and who's wrong.

Have Trafigura got away with it

I've been following for a while the massive scandal of how oil Trader Trafigura had toxic waste dumped in Ivory Coast in 2006, injuring thousands of people, and according to Greenpeace, killing 15. After a campaign of dirty tricks, spin, denials and threatened libel actions, Trafigura has now settled a legal case, offering to pay about £1000 to each victim. The total of £30, is slightly more than 10% of the company's reported profits last year. Greenpeace is still trying to get the Trafigura prosecuted in the Netherlands, where the scandal orginated. But, as the Guardian reports,
Although the deal costs Trafigura £30m and does not appear to absolve it of blame for the illegal dumping or resultant injuries, company director Eric de Turckheim claimed today: "This settlement completely vindicates Trafigura."

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Four letter words

It's probably trite to point out that spin is a four-letter word but I would make the point that I don't mind what language people use, as long as they don't talk bollocks. In the Independent, Andrew Grice says that Gordon Brown has finally used the c-word, by which he means "cuts" - geddit? You could also make the point - made by many people already - that if you limit the language that people use, you limit their ability to discuss things. Cuts is a simple, short word loved by the media and usually avoided at all costs by politicians. The trouble is, there isn't an agreed definition. Is a failure to increase a budget in "real terms" a cut?

But then, if you say the wrong thing, you get punished. We also learn from the Indy that the "voice of the Shipping Forecast" (or, as the sub-headline puts it "voice of shipping forecast") has been dropped for reasons allegedly unconnected with having said "fuck" after a fuck-up, when he thought his microphone was turned off. Perhaps it should have been.

No comment on that bastard

Someone else who wants to make his point without coming out and saying so is, according to the Telegraph's Jeremy Warner, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King. In this case, King is apparently happy to be quoted, he just wants it understood that he isn't criticising former Monetary Policy Committee member David (Danny) Blanchflower, even if he is.

Spinning to save the planet

Is spinning OK if it's in a good cause? The Guardian's exclusive this morning says that Europe has clashed with the US Obama administration over climate change in a potentially damaging split that comes ahead of crucial political negotiations on a new global deal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The story is clearly planted by "Sources on the European side", who "say the US approach could undermine the new treaty and weaken the world's ability to cut carbon emissions." US negotiators have apparently told European counterparts that the Obama administration intends to sweep away almost all of the architecture of the Kyoto treaty and replace it with a system of its own design.

The story makes clear that "European officials are reluctant to be seen to openly criticise the Obama administration, which they acknowledge has engaged with climate change in a way that President Bush refused to." So one of them is doing it anonymously. We are even told what the European negotiators "fear" - that the US move could sink efforts to agree a robust new treaty in Copenhagen in December.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Cupid Stunts

The Independent's Pandora tells us how Tory MP Nadine Dorries has enlisted the help of a couple of rightwing bloggers in her attempt to sue Brown's former spin chief Damian McBride and New/Old/New Labour spinner Derek Draper. In what Pandora rightly calls a "stunt" Dories got "Guido Fawkes" and "Tory Bear" to deliver the writs to McBride and Draper.

Does Dorries really think that this type of stunt will earn her the moral high ground - or is she just after cheap publicity?

By the way, I didn't know that McBride and Draper had accused Dorries - in emails that Guido Fawkes/Paul Staines published - of having an affair. Interesting...

Monday, 7 September 2009

Never ever trust Straw

As the Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war gets stuck in to a mass of documents, it will have the opportunity to compare what ministers said about them while they remained secret with what they really say. On many occasions, the leaking or publication of papers has shown that ministers lied.

I've just come across what Jack Straw said when the remainder of Elizabeth Wilmshurst's resignation letter was leaked. She was the Foreign Office legal adviser who resigned when attorney general Lord Goldsmith changed his mind - allegedly for a second time - to give unequivocal legal backing for the war.

In the Commons, Straw was challenged by Tory Dominic Grieve over the new part of Wilmshurst's letter that appeared to most people to show that Goldsmith had changed his view.
The view expressed in that letter [of 7 March] has of course changed again into what is now the official line.
Straw was having none of it. In the Commons - where ministers are supposed not to lie - he said:
The hon. Gentleman then made a wholly tendentious claim based on his reading of Ms Wilmshurst's letter. He said that it showed clearly that the Attorney-General had one view on 7 March and a different view later. He asked what change of law or fact had taken place. The letter showed nothing of the kind...
Goldsmith's advice of 7 March was leaked and then published in full soon afterwards and, as everyone now knows, it was different from his later advice. In fact, the government
then published an account of how Goldsmith came to change his mind.

On 13 March the Attorney General discussed the matter with his Legal Secretary. ... As the Legal Secretary recorded at the time, the Attorney confirmed in that discussion that, after further reflection, having particular regard to the negotiating history of resolution 1441 and his discussions with Sir Jeremy Greenstock and the representatives of the US Administration, he had reached the clear conclusion that the better view was that there was a lawful basis for the use of force without a second resolution.

Straw being Straw, he would probably claim that even this does not mean that the "conclusion" that Goldsmith had "reached" was any different from what he had thought before. But that's why no-one should ever, ever trust anything that Straw says.

Friday, 4 September 2009


Today's Guardian has an absolutely shocking story about swine flu. Shocking because someone - the subs presumably - doesn't know the difference between could and will. It is nevertheless good news.

The headline says that swine flu won't be as dangerous as was thought. But the subheadline gets all mixed up:
The estimate of the number of Britons who will die of swine flu this winter has fallen dramatically after health experts admitted the virus is less lethal then they feared
When it was estimated in July that that up to 65,000 people could be killed across the UK, a few tabloids made a meal of this worst case scenario but it was generally clear that that was what it was. Now the official estimate of the number of Britons who could die this winter from swine flu is to be reduced substantially to roughly 20,000.

In both of these cases, I've quoted from the Guardian article itself, which in both cases talks about the number of people who could die. The article also quotes Scottish health minister Nicola Sturgeon as saying "that that (sic) official worst case scenario had been revised downwards".

"Worst case scenario", "could" and "could". Which bit of that did the sub on this story not get? Thankfully it is a story that is about the numbers being revised downwards, which lessens the impact. If the story was that more people "will" die such sloppiness would be outrageous.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Privacy and Censorship.

There are a couple of interesting new stories on Index on Censorship online - and a moral dilemma or two.

The new information commissioner Christopher Graham has told MPs that privacy breaches are not being taken seriously enough. He cites the case of the former BNP member who was fined £200 after leaking membership details. It's hard to have sympathy for BNP members who have their membership revealed and you could say that if people are in the BNP we need to know about it but then you could say the same about communists etc.

Graham wants people banged up. He accuses MPs of being “seduced by the siren song of Fleet Street” into not pushing for a tougher approach to privacy breaches. On this point, he's probably right. The tabloid press have made it very hard for politicians to take action on breaches of privacy and if they try they will no doubt be accused of self-interest.

Index also has a piece by Lal Wickrematunge on the horrific 20 year sentence with hard labour handed out to fellow Sri Lankan journalist JS Tissainayagam for writing the wrong kind of article. He says this has not sunk in with the journalistic fraternity yet. But, he says " the message to the journalistic fraternity in Sri Lanka is loud and clear."