Did Press Get It Right Over Westminster Terror Attack Coverage?

 

As the immediacy of the Westminster terrorist attack starts to fade, and before we get entirely preoccupied with the forthcoming election, I wonder if an opportunity has been taken to reflect on how the fast-moving and deeply disturbing events of 23 March were covered by the media, and the press in particular.

I am clearly not alone in this.  The Guardian’s Vicky Frost wrote round to all of that newspaper’s “members” to solicit views.  As she rightly  wrote:  “Lots of things have to happen very quickly: we need to understand what’s happening and blog it live; monitor sources, competitors and social media to see what new facts are emerging; get reporters on the ground … begin assessing pictures and video as they come in; and of course decide what we should include in our coverage.”

Asking your readers if they thought your editorial decision making was correct is a welcome dollop of humility in a world of amour-propre.  It is also an explicit recognition of the power, still, in newspapers to set the news agenda rather than simply report on it.

The Guardian was following its own Simon Jenkins, who wrote on the morning after the attack that media hype had exaggerated the event to such an extent that they had become “an accomplice after the fact” and in effect constituted “an open invitation to every crazed malcontent to try it again.”

There is a historical resonance to this starving of the oxygen of publicity, as a former PM said about the IRA leadership.  The apartheid regime in South Arica used to simply ban references to/by people they didn’t like.

To be clear, Jenkins was not advocating state censorship, but he was calling for much greater self-restraint and a higher calibre of editorial control than currently exits. So was he right?  How should Guardian readers reply to Vicky Frost’s invitation?

I think that there are four areas of debate.

First, the exaggerated over-exposure.

I simply don’t agree.  There was no glamorisation.  This was a major news story.  It was a shock but surely not a surprise. And the shock-waves rippled far and wide. We can’t pretend it didn’t happen or it was somehow routine.

And in  this age of instant digital, multi-platform news,  in a physical space where these is a huge concentration of  journalists and  individuals  who are intensely media-savvy,  you have  perfect, potent combination  of  an arresting news story,  lots of news space to fill,  and lots of people who are adept at filling it.

Second, publishing pictures of people in distress

The decision to publish was proportionate.  We should be slow to hide the grief, destruction and violence of terrorism and the response (sometimes heroic) to it.

Third, publishing a picture of the attacker either dead or near-death

This is the trickiest one.  It is an exciting image which was widely circulated.  I suppose one argument is whether or not he had any legitimate expectation of privacy.  This generally disappears when one starts murdering passers-by and police officers.

Another argument would be the clear ethic identity of the attacker.  But was revealing this pejorative or discriminatory?  I don’t think so.

Fourth, why so much overage of what happened in Westminster, when events in the UK or abroad of equal or greater gravity are marginalised.  I refer you back to my first point.   And newspapers are almost universally preoccupied with what is happening closest to home.

So in a nutshell, I think the Guardian got it right, and Simon Jenkins’ argument is well and sincerely made but has no traction in this specific situation.

But there is no doubt that our self-regulated newspaper industry needs to raise its game. Desperately. To deliberately mislead or allow a partisan editorial stance to infuse news coverage is one thing – and partly actionable under the Editor’s Code – but entrenched xenophobia, racism and sexism is profoundly unhelpful was well as ethically wrong and potentially illegal.  We are scarily not so far from the infamous “Hurrah for the Blackshirts” headline and article, and the more recent “remoaners and sabboteurs” splash looks disturbingly like an invitation to lynch-mobbery.

We all need to be very careful indeed what we wish for.

MacKenzie and Sun Equally Culpable For Horrendous Barkley Own-Goal

Ross Barkley celebrates Everton’s second goal against Burnley on Saturday

In my six years of adjudicating on complaints against the press,1 I am struggling to think of a case as bad as Kelvin MacKenzie’s assault on footballer Ross Barkley last Friday.

This has nothing to do with the ability of journalists to be offensive or controversial. Both are the price of our relatively free press. But from a regulatory point of view, MacKenzie’s article scrapped well below the bottom of the barrel.

I’m not going to reprise his rant – why recirculate and give fresh impetus to such bile?  But the piece was inaccurate, and so misleading.  It failed to differentiate opinion from fact.  And it used a “protected characteristic” in way that was pejorative and gratuitous.  All these things cross the red lines of the self-regulatory Editors’ Code.

But there are two things in addition  that take us to a new level. First,  the timing.  The article was published on the eve of the anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy, when 96 supporters from Liverpool lost their lives at the afore-mentioned stadum.  Either MacKenzie was aware of the date and ploughed on regardless.  Or he wasn’t which given his own personal involvement in mis-reporting the event in question is a profound act of self-serving amnesia.  Irrespective of the explanation, it is spectacularly insensitive.

And second, how did the article get from MacKenzie’s keyboard into the Sun?  Who proofed it? Who subbed it?  Who found the images and who laid out the page?  Again, two possible explanations:  Either MacKenzie, as a former editor and long-established figure, was given “carte blanche” to do as he pleased.  Or the editorial control was utterly lacking.  Either way, the failure of effective editorial oversight is truly shocking.  That is surely a question of standards that must be addressed.

The failure of editorial oversight is not just about the specific article, it is about the Sun’s standing and sales.  Other commentators have already speculated that commercially this episode could prove counter-productive in an almost existential sense. I am not so sure, but I do know that writing-off a whole region of the UK is a curious way to try to increase influence and revenue.

What was going on in the editor’s office of the Sun last Thursday night?  Was it some inexperienced southerner who has no idea of what this means on Merseyside and the North West generally? Was it someone who had the experience and knowledge but thought the notoriety would be somehow worth it?

I was at Goodison Park on Saturday and I have to say how wrong you can be. You could feel the resilience and unity of the capacity crowd over Hillsborough and Barkley. (And just by the way, referee Clattenberg was also wrong to book Barkley for his post-goal celebrations.  After the week he had been through, greater humanity should have been shown.)

However, there are two positives than we can take from this sorry mess.  The first is that People Power can and does work.  The public and business boycott of the Sun on Merseyside, now more widespread than ever, hits the company harder than can be quantified.  And second, that the ‘paper themselves suspended McKenzie shows that the reconfiguration of   how press complaints are investigated –so that they have a primary hard-wired responsibility to own and act on complaints – is having some effect.

But what we surely need is a proactive culture rather than a reactive remedy.  This was serious error of both judgement and procedure by the Sun.  With freedom comes responsibility. They need to stop up the bottle and leave the last-chance saloon, dispense with Kelvin MacKenzie – and to programme their IT systems to delete any copy containing the words “Football” and “Merseyside”

 

 

1 I was a Press Complaints Commissioner 2008-2014

New Asylum Seekers Scandal: A Comprehensive Political Stitch-Up

Misleading images: Not all migrants are asylum seekers

 

In these days of the unthinkable being normalised, it was still shocking to see the results of a new survey on where and how asylum seekers to the UK are dispersed. In case you missed it the stand-out points are:

  • Most refugees are sent to the poorest parts of the country
  • Labour-controlled local authorities house more than 20 times more of these people than Conservative ones
  • There is no extra funding for this
  • Councils volunteer to house asylum seekers but then “get very little control over how it works

There was strongly worded reaction from many commentators and politicians.  The unfairness is self-evident, and the impact on housing, education, social services and social cohesion were all name-checked.

But hang on.  Yes, hats off to the Guardian for splashing this on their front page, and to Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs committee for calling for a complete review of the system. But I am sure I cannot be alone in thinking that this is nowhere near enough.

This car crash of issues and policies is not merely a political spectacle affecting others. This directly and dangerously affects almost every one. The fact that even the Sun précised the Guardian’s article should ring bells here.

Yes – no critical comment in the Sun, but a stock picture straight out of the “Oh God, they’re going to swamp us” portfolio.  So we are straight in at the heart of the big toxic migration debate, including the asylum seekers we are talking about here.  This group – around 39,000 – are the people who are waiting for their application to be processed.  The total number of migrants is of course much larger.  And sadly I bet not many people will differentiate.  So there is a massive scaling-up – all migrants are perceived as caught up in this unfair distribution, so many more people are going to feel they are or will be affected by already scarce resources being spread ever more thinly.

Where does this lead us?  Middlesboro’s apparent and accidental flirtation with red doors for the accommodation of all asylum seekers was quickly remedied. But the stigma and misunderstanding  cannot always be controlled. In the wake of the attack in Croydon on Reker Ahmed, Aditya Chakrabortty eloquently poses the key question: “If Theresa May really wants to protect refugees why does she fuel such hatred?”

This impact on social cohesion is one of the fall-outs from the flawed asylum dispersal policy in a sensitised/traumatised Britain. Another is potentially on our politics.

This is a hypothesis that has yet to be tested, but the uneven burden of the cost of accommodating asylum seekers could well impact on elections in those council areas most affected. It’s not rocket science to anticipate that stretched-to-breaking-point resources will encourage a xenophobic “blame game” to the detriment of incumbent local politicians.  The correlation between low average household incomes, Labour-led councils and asylum seeker population is strong.

The third stand-out element in this mess are the policy decisions that led us to this point.  Cooper is dead right to say this is so bust it can’t be fixed without revisiting these. In 2012 the contracts for housing asylum seekers were privatized, with predictable and disastrous profits-before-people consequences. So arguably we have another illustration of a sell-off that has not benefited service users or the general public (And a well-deserved plug here for the excellent work of We Own It in making the case for public ownership)

Take these three elements together (and I readily acknowledge each merits a book of their own) and just look at who benefits from such an incoherent, unfair, damaging scenario.  I would argue that it is political chicanery of the highest order.

More than 20 years ago, the Conservative leader of Westminster Council scraped the bottom of the barrel with a breathtaking vote-rigging policy. With no pun intended, is Theresa May just about to trump that?

 

Young Core Workers Set To Save UK Unions?

We are on the brink of the biggest shake up of the UK trade union scene in a generation. New work  lead by the TUC in collaboration  with the Good Innovation agency seems set to break through the  deeply entrenched disconnect between younger workers  and organisations  that  despite not enjoying  the  influence of years past,  still have over 6 million  paying members.

But the outlook is stark.  Overall trade union density is down to a quarter of the workforce. The numbers of employees whose terms and conditions are union-negotiated has fallen in parallel to around 30% across the economy as a whole. And in areas where employment is expected to rise – and which have a high number if young workers – density levels can be as low as 5%

The TUC term these people as “young core workers” – they are characterised by being aged 21–30, predominantly working, full- or part- time in the private sector,  they’re not in full-time education and earn  low to average wages. They are disproportionately represented in the hospitality, social care and customer services sectors.

The challenge, to a certain extent, is as it has always been:  Get the membership/engagement offer right for this group and you then have a proven tool that will be transformational.  What’s different this time is the power and energy behind the initiative.

Some very significant research has already taken place, involving a survey population from these target areas.  As a result   it  has been possible to identify  two key  dimensions  that  characterise  the employment experience of  these YCWs – how important do they regard  their job,  and are they more  preoccupied  by  the present or the future?

This leads to four generic worker types described in the table below:

YCW

These four types sit under some challenges that seem to be on the radar of all YCWs,  namely Realisation  (they don’t  perceive that  bad,  even illegal treatment at work  is  problematic, Trust (sharing  information or concerns  is  seen as a weakness to be seized upon  by  fellow workers) and Futility (the belief  that any attempt to  effect change will end in failure).

Conceptually, the next stage is to identify a successful series of engagement strategies.  We know already that this is possible – look at Unite’s Sports Direct campaign, or the GMB work in respect of Uber.  But the YCW strategy is an upscaling of these victories on a wider, larger, deeper scale. Something those driving the report – including a specially convened “President’s Group” of senior representatives from TUC affiliates – must recognise cannot be accomplished within the existing spheres of influence of individual trade unions.

The breadth of and foundation for of the YCW project is ground-breaking: This is more, much more than a “we can’t change anything but we’re going to try anyway” throw of the dice. The early response from young trade unionists is determined. But there is a necessity for habitually territorial unions to break out of the Balkanised industrial landscape created in the post war years.  What was once comfortable has been increasingly unfit for purpose for many years.

Of course, this won’t solve all our problems in one hit, but the exciting, tantalising, real prospect of this project is the formation of new collaborative, cross union structures to deliver success in what everyone in the movement knows is an existential challenge.

Back To The Future With The New £1

 

So the new 12-sided £1 coin is about to hit our streets. Panic at Tesco’s (who haven’t been able to convert their trolleys in time) and a source of national pride in “the most secure coin in the world”.

If you are of a certain age (or older) it is a perfect occasion to recall the last time we had a dodecagonal (12 sided to you and me) coin,  the  beloved thr’penny bit,  last minted in  1970 and condemned  by decimalisation less than a year later to the recycling mills of pecuniary history.  Yes, three old pence was one victim as 12 old pennies to a shilling migrated to one shilling being 5 new pennies. Thrupence, as it was known, didn’t map across being more than 1 np (new penny) and less than 1 1/2 np. (Yes, children, we used to have ha’pennies until 1984)

There is an obvious temptation to use today as a springboard for comparison between now and then.  No doubt someone somewhere will say that the old thr’penny bit and new pound coin are worth about as much as each other. Perhaps we might contemplate how this rediscovery of dodecagonicalism is proof positive of a bright Brexited future. For me the emotional lure of a 12 side coin is hard wired into my childhood, and a grey rainy early spring afternoon in west London.

Pocket money was a new preoccupation to the seven year old me. Introduced a year before,  and topped up with an extra allowance for sweets on Saturdays,  it was empowering as only a young person  getting actually cold hard cash for the first time can be.  There was not much to spend it on, given the sums were modest even by the standards of the day. And not much to spend either. Six or seven pence a week could keep you well stocked in those chewy sweets, sold then at 8 for a penny.  It was probably four weeks before you could get that latest Matchbox model car you’d spied on the last trip to the shops.

But, shame to say, I got a kick out of seeing the seven big one penny coins stacked on my mantelpiece on pocket money day. Sometimes it was a tanner (six old pence, a nickel coin the size of a 5p piece) and a penny.  But my favourite was when it was two thr’penny bits and a penny.  Those coins felt somehow more real more solid than the pennies or tanners.  Yes, the former was worth more and silver.  The latter was old, heavy, and historic.  But the brass coloured twelve sided discs were definitely special. Different, Had special value.  Looked like what the “white heat of technology” should mean in practice.

I had decided I need an increase.  It was simple, really, my differential had been eroded.  My younger sister had come on to the pay scale, and was close to catching me up.  My status as the senior partner needed respect and recognition. (Ok – seniority based pay bargaining has fundamental gender discrimination issues, but in my defence, I’d have taken the same stance with a brother too. And I was 7.)

The negotiations were protracted. The employer (my parents) was resistant. And it wasn’t an ability to pay situation either. No, they just didn’t think I was worth it. Actually, that is deliberately misleading spin caused by years of exposure to modern media. The truth is that they thought I wouldn’t appreciate the extra dosh.  That I would be trying  to supplement  my confectionary intake,  or that  I would fritter it away  on  things they  didn’t approve of.

On reflection, this was a crazy stand-off.  What did they think me, as an almost wholly dependent 7 years old would do with two extra pennies a week?  I was hardly about to step on a plane to Las Vegas.

By a combination of persuasion and tenacity, and thanks to some much appreciated sibling support, I won the day.  7d would be increasing to 9d and consolidated – with no reduction in sweet money.  But there was one caveat and although I didn’t want to acknowledge, it was potentially onerous – to get the extra 2d I had to commit to ”save it for a rainy day.”

The first pocket money day of the new era arrived. There on the mantelpiece – two thr’penny bits and three pennies.  That crucial ingredient of any successful negotiation, fate – was with me that day: The heavens opened. I had indeed saved it for a rainy day, and that rainy day happened to be right now.  My little victory.

I’m looking forward to seeing and holding our new coin. But more for the memories it recalls than anything else. The change it represents is inevitable, but as we stare into the unknown it is worth remembering where we have come from, what values we have in common and why shared history is important.

Next time in Tales From My Childhood:  How My Father Taught Me Gambling Doesn’t Pay.

Shock! Gig Economy Is Not The Only Show In Town

 

The future workforce of Britain – where the jobs of the future are  going to be and what they are like – has been spotlighted by new research. And the findings will surprise you.

The Changing World of Work, by NIESR’s Jonny Runge (edited by Becky Wright), will be premiered at the Unions21 conference tomorrow.  In a landscape over-populated by talk of robotics, artificial intelligence and the use of technology, one universal truth is that certain industries will rise, and others will begin or continue their descent in the labour market.

This gives three inescapable questions:

  • Where will workers of the near future be?
  • How will they be represented at work?
  • What changes will we need to make in light of the future of work?

For trade unions, the questions are all the more pressing – existential really, given the low levels of union membership amongst the young and also amongst certain sectors pf the economy – retail, hospitality, and social care – especially when the predominant form of employment is precarious.

There are challenges to an “establishment” view that unions are technophobes and laggards when it comes to connecting with the so-called “Young Core Workers”. There is excellent work being done by the TUC and the Good Innovations outfit.  But a key point of the new research is that crucial as it is, we should not put all our eggs in the one Gig economy basket.

This is interesting and innovative territory, and it seems to me to be well-founded.  Runge and Wright have identified and tried to extrapolate  five key  influences on the labour market – demography (growing and ageing population will lead to increase demand/consumption in particular sectors), technology (automation of certain human-only occupations will take place,  but  the extent is arguable), productivity (and what is the post-crash stagnation  become entrenched in the short  to medium term), globalisation (certainly a factor,  but its impact now obscured by resurgent nationalism and protectionism), and changing contractual arrangements of certain services (from, yes,  worker-status contracts (as opposed to employee status), demands  for  a better work-life balance, and  the rise of the “collaborative economy”).

Clearly there is a degree of uncertainty about some of these influences, but using data from the estimable UKCES, Runge and Wright have identified three industries with expected high employment growth – the retail trade (surprised?) hospitality and management services.

Collectively, these three sectors will see employment growth by an estimated 900,000 jobs in the period to 2024, accounting for half of all the new jobs in the UK economy is this period.  There is a noticeable decline in self-employment, a growth in those in workers in these sectors with at least a first degree, and  no dramatic change in the balance between part-time and full-time working, or between percentages of men and women employed.

Three “ones to watch” are also suggested – Construction, Social Work and Information Technology, who between them are projected to add over 600,000 jobs between now and 2024.

The report concludes with a brief over view of UKCES employment projections for over 70 industries, with a preliminary view on the likely impact of Brexit.

From the perspective or worker representation and employee voice, this analysis – with its detailed demographic, hours-worked and occupational breakdown – is very helpful indeed.  The snapshots of the level of  union membership and collective bargaining  give grounds for cautions optimism  that there is a platform for trade union growth in each sector.

Runge and Wright give us the answer to the first of our three questions, and paint a vivid picture of the dynamics and challenges of union organising in these sectors.

Whether it is the overall constructive engagement with workforces that is part of the Taylor review, or practical questions of the extent to which unions focus on particular sectors, geographies and roles, the Changing World of Work is an important contribution.

The Changing World of Work can be downloaded here.

Full disclosure:  I am a board member of Unions21, on whose website this piece also appears

Budget 17: Tax Is The Biggest Elephant In The Room

We just have to talk about tax.

For a brief moment it looked like we were going to cross the Rubicon into a sensible discussion.  Surrey County Council’s plan to put proposals for a 15% increase in council tax – in order to pay for social care – to a local referendum seemed to be a break-through moment.

But in one blink it was gone. The “blink” seemed to be central  government’s,  whose so-called “sweetheart deal” on extra funding has been revealed by clandestine recordings of a meeting of the council’s ruling Conservative group.

Once again a debate on tax was dragged back into the political never-never land.

Until yesterday, when the Chancellor’s decision to raise National Insurance contributions for the self-employed catapulted tax back into the spotlight.  Outrage has followed.

Howe dare such a dirty trick – allegedly breaking a manifesto commitment –   be played on our “wealth creators,” who because they are self-employed are particularly vulnerable.

This furore is over a modest increase – from 9% to eventually 11%, meaning on average £240 per annum extra, with exemptions for the lowest earners and still below the Class 2 (or employee) rate of 12%. 

All this points to the inability to have a sensible, rational reasoned debate on taxation as being the biggest elephant in a room full of these beasts.

In fact, you can’t move in the room for elephants on taxation. Huge great issues that dare not speak their name.

Desperate under-funding of adult social care is one. Endemic tax avoidance is another (not much from the Taxpayers’ Alliance  on this, strangely).   The inescapable fact that for some things there is no free-market solution (take your pick from the Armed Forces to a national high-speed broadband network). We just pretend that they are not there because the discussion would have to involve talking about tax.

The latest row is indeed both symptomatic and depressing. A large slew of tax avoidance activity surrounds so-called bogus self-employment.  As finance journalist Paul Lewis quipped “Set yourself up as a company and take dividends:  low tax and no NICs at all.”

And significant  workers in the  ever-expanding “gig”  economy,  are effectively told  to  be self-employed as a  condition of getting the irregular jobs  they do.

But the bottom line is that the government needs money to run public services and things that the private sector either can’t or doesn’t want to do.  That money comes predominantly from taxation in one form or another.  To have turned taxation into the most sacred of all sacred cows is an act of supreme folly and self-delusion. We cheat ourselves by not talking about tax or condemning those who do.

This piece also appears in The Huffington Post

 

 

The APR* May Be Dead But Watch Out For What Follows

*Annual Performance Review. Photocredit: http://www.flytrapcare.com

Earlier this year, Accenture boss Pierre Nanterme announced with a flourish the death of annual performance reviews.  As I read his rationale I found myself nodding in agreement, but by the end I was more anxious than reassured.

From an employee and union perspective Performance Management is a big big deal – even more so in a deregulated labour market with increasing emphasis on basic pay and pay progression being linked to performance.

Put any ten union reps in a room and we will quickly  come up  with just about the same “top five”  of poor performance management  regimes – inappropriate target setting,  seeking constant improvements when the employee doesn’t have the means to achieve them,  “levelling” or a  lack of transparency/objectivity,  discriminatory  practices , and their use as means to manage our members out of employment.

We all will have had to face the sometimes awful, life-changing or, tragically, even life-ending, consequences of bad performance management.

Without wanting to state the obvious, this is bad for our members but also for the employer who risks productivity and reputation by pursuing misplaced methods.

So when M Nanterme asserts that “the traditional annual review process does not justify the cost, effort or outcome…the process can actually demotivate the vey people that companies want to retain and develop, “ I want to read more.  (I also want to invite him to a Unions21 event to expand and debate this some more).

Reading on, it seems that M Nanterme may be one of those employers who can see things the same way as we do: “No longer will we rely on forced rankings and comparisons of employees…..no longer will we fill out time-consuming assessment forms that focus upon the past. It’s not what we need.”

So far, so reassuringly good.  But it is one thing to identify a problem, and quite another to solve it. And this is where I start getting nervy.

If our same ten reps standing in a room turned their attention to what a good performance management system would look like, I think it would be less likely that we would come up with the same visions. In an ideal world, would we have PM at all, still less determine anything to do with pay on the basis of it?

But recognising that we do not necessarily have all the answers doesn’t debar us from a critical review of the post-APR world.

“Our job as leaders is to create the right environment for the new [millennial] generation to flourish in their careers…..the focus is on the future and how through frequent, timely and individualised coaching decisions – people can improve their performance….” says M Nanterme.

Two immediate issues, don’t you think?:  What is the concept of a “career” in the future world of work?  And just how “frequent, timely and individualised” is the new way of working?

Fortunately, M  Nanterme gives us a further insight: “The change we are making at Accenture puts people at the center [sic]…our people are looking for real-time, on-demand conversations to define priorities and to get and to give feedback….This new approach is entirely digitally-enabled so that conversations can happen anywhere, anytime and on any device.  This is the new world all of us are operating in – with fluid feedback at the point of need.”

Well let’s just stop right there.  A “Martini” approach to performance review. How alluring. Rather like a Venus Fly Trap to an unfortunate insect. Where are the limits to and control on such an all-enveloping utterly invasive mode of assessment? Whose “need” are we talking about?  What means do employees have to ensure that the commitment their employer expects from them is reciprocated?

That is the real and pressing challenge in what M. Nanterme is championing. Every instinct points to anxiety – that the reality of such a scheme will be assessment on a granular scale, 24/7/365.  The savings from digitalising and automating this function will accrue to employers but not employees.  And further automation means that algorythms will present irresistible opportunities for further savings – only for the lack of control and responsiveness from managers that so many 21st century workers have complained about for years to increase still further.

From there it is but a short step to a dystopian “Black Mirror” future where life chances and experiences are predicated on measures you can neither see nor alter.

I warmly and genuinely invite Pierre and his colleagues at Accenture to tell us it isn’t so?

 

This post first appeared on the Unions21 website

IPSO’s Rebuke And The Sun’s Setting Standards

The so-called “Hijab-gate” row regarding the on-screen appearance of C4 newsreader Fatima Manji at the time of the Nice truck terror incident continues.

As Press Gazette has reported, press regulator IPSO has upheld a complaint that an article in The Sun (a member of IPSO) had inaccurately reported the numbers of refugees in Calais lying about their ages as part of an application to enter the UK. The newspaper was obliged to print a correction in print and on-line versions, and had failed to do the latter. Careless would be one, kind, description of this, er, oversight.

But twinned with this was a public criticism for IPSO Board Member Trevor Kavanagh – a senior Sun journalist – for criticising Ms Manji whilst she was pursuing a complaint against the Sun.

It’s worth citing the ruling on this from IPSO in full. After noting that Mr Kavanagh has no role in considering individual complaints, it said:

“IPSO is committed to ensuring that individuals who believe that they have been wronged by the press are able to seek proper redress without fear of retribution or victimisation. In this instance, public comments by an IPSO board member brought the strength of this commitment into question. This should not have happened.”

Mr Kavanagh has apologised and IPSO-sceptics Hacked Off has demanded his removal.  No surprises anywhere there.

But the Sun has form for being somewhat cavalier when it comes to the standards IPSO promote and that, through their membership, they have signed up to.  The ‘paper seemed to “declare war” on IPSO in a row over reports of the Queen’s position on Brexit. Its mealy-mouthed apology to Jeremy Corbyn  also attracted criticism.

So the question is fairly asked: How many “strikes” before you are “out” – out in this case meaning the involvement of IPSO’s still evolving Standards arm.

Hacked Off and others traduced the PCC and, I think, unfairly berate and under-rate IPSO.  On the plus side, there is now at least an acknowledgement and some focus on Standards issues. Last week saw new work on an arbitration scheme, a form of alternative dispute resolution that many thought would not be possible.  And IPSO Chairman Alan Moses has done wonders in securing finance from tight-pursed newspaper groups on a more ambitious scale than the PCC could achieve.

And yet it would be foolish and complacent to believe that this is sufficient. The phobic and often contradictory stance of many IPSO-supporting newspapers is frightening and cannot be conducive to a healthy, inclusive, confident, politics and society.  The New York Times “truth” campaign  in response to President Trump’s attitude to news media also talks to our experience in the UK.

That Mr Kavanagh was rebuked and called out for it  is right and important. The fact it happened on a Friday afternoon is unfortunate. The fact he can still sit on IPSO’s board rightly raises eyebrows.  But the real problem is that he and his Sun colleagues thought what they did was entirely ok.

Self-regulation depends on high levels of buy-in, self-awareness and self-restraint from those regulated. I need say no more.

 

Full disclosure: I was a Press Complaints Commissioner from 2008 to 2014

Hey Eddie – You’re Having A Rucking Laugh Aren’t You?

England rugby coach Eddie Jones has spoken out against the tactics used by opponents Italy in Sunday’s international match. He said, variously, that “wasn’t rugby”, that “fans were cheated” and that they “should get their money back.”

At best this is sour-graped pedantry. Yes, England were outplayed in the first half and went in for the break 10-5 down. But they bossed the second period and ran out 36-15 victors – moving to the top of the 6 Nations’ table as a result.  At worse, if you will excuse my being blunt, this is simply cobblers.

England are on a great run; unbeaten in a year and 16 matches. Despite many reservations – including mine – about Jones’s tactics, the team has been transformed in fitness, determination and tactical nous.

So when Italy determinedly and pre-meditatedly tried to frustrate the men in white by refusing to form a ruck it was almost the equivalent, as commentators have been quick to point out, of bowling underarm in a cricket test match.

Tactically, it clearly threw a spanner in England’s works.  They seemed slow to comprehend what coach Connor O’Shea had put into play and then pondered what to do about it – prompting the best line of the tournament to date from match official Romaine Poite: “I am the referee not your coach.”

A few points here, aside from the overbearing fact of an England win:  First, the referee is in charge of the game.  If he didn’t see a problem, then the players have to just get on and deal with it. Second, England are one of the leading Rugby nations. No offence but Italy aren’t (yet). If this David needed a no-ruck strategy as their slingshot to challenge Goliath, then that is surely fair enough.

Third, it’s exciting. Although there are modifications to the rules all the time (it seems), there is little startling difference from one game to another.  The Italians should be applauded for daring to be innovative.  Certainly most of my friends and workmates who follow the sport agree.

And fourth, it is actually good for England to be challenged in this way.  To have to recognise and then work out how to counter such a strategy (not so very difficult – in theory anyway – you can contrive to pull people in in order to form a ruck) –it is a great learning exercise for a team that  is currently meeting just about every challenge  (New Zealand excepted, but I would hope that will come).

The young men I coach came up with their own bit of innovation on Sunday too: Taking a restart, the ball was kicked along ground, not up in the air. Totally flummoxed the opposition and we duly scored a valuable try. Not the orthodox way of doing things, but no objection from the referee.

I was pleased at this innovation and my opposite number took note of it for probable reproduction in his own training sessions.

That our national coach doesn’t have such a similarly positive outlook is a shame.

 

This article also appears in The Huffington Post