The BBC Car Crash Rolls on: Entwistle’s Resignation Must Have the Rest of the Media Cackling

George Entwistle delivering his resignation with BBC Trust Chairman Lord Patten   ©Sky News/screengrab

So, BBC Director General George Entwistle has resigned after a record low of 54 days in the job. I can’t help but feel a little bit sorry for him; he’s had one shit-storm after the other, and it must be nauseating to kiss goodbye to your £450,000 a year salary before you’ve even upgraded your mobile phone contract. His appearance just before his resignation on Radio 4’s Today programme, however, in which John Humphrys interviewed him in the manner of a cruel schoolboy stabbing a writhing fish in a bucket, was uncomfortable to say the least: “Did you see the film the night it was broadcast?” “No, I was out”. “Did you read Guardian’s front page yesterday?” “No, I was giving a speech”. Amidst the stuttering and spluttering, Humphrys pinned down Entwistle to such a degree that –rightly or wrongly- he came across as absent and incompetent.

I have a growing sense that the rest of the media are mirthlessly rubbing their hands together while watching the omnibenevolent BBC stumble and fall, get up, shoot itself in the foot, and then fall over again. The BBC are always the impeccable good guys, the license-fee kingpins who perennially toe the line and hold everyone else to account, and those who were live-streamed on the BBC website squirming in their Leveson chairs are probably relishing even slightly the thought of Newsnight et al getting a dose of castigating headlines and glaring scrutiny.

Incidentally it’s been quite interesting, if not bizarre, to see the BBC adamantly play out its accountability virtue in a kind of twisted labyrinthine pseudo-parodying meta-journalism. There were Jimmy Savile’s sexual abuses at the BBC, which the BBC reported on from outside the BBC, with archive footage obtained from the BBC, and questions over whether the BBC was right to allow such practices at the BBC. Then BBC’s Newsnight programme was outed for not airing an investigation into Jimmy Savile’s abuses at the BBC because the BBC was airing a tribute programme to him at the time. BBC Newsnight reporters criticised their BBC Newsnight editor Peter Rippon who then stepped down, before BBC veteran John Simpson waded in to say the BBC was facing its ‘worst crisis’ in fifty years. BBC’s Panorama then investigated BBC’s Newsnight, and then BBC’s Newsnight jumped the gun and decided they’d better broadcast something, so they put out a programme which falsely implicated Tory peer Lord McAlpine in child sexual abuse. The victim of the abuse then appeared on BBC news to say he’d got it wrong, so BBC Newsnight was back in the slaughterhouse. BBC Director General George Entwhistle then gave that fist-eating interview on BBC’s Today before announcing his resignation from the BBC on the BBC news channel.

What next for the great British Broadcasting Corporation? I predict that this car crash will play out, more heads will roll and the internal and external torrent of frenzied accusations will inevitably dry to a trickle. But I think it’s important to remember that the BBC has produced excellent journalism, and in the scheme of things, a couple of (albeit very) bad decisions on Newsnight don’t constitute the abolishment of the programme or of the BBC’s entire ninety-year old reputation. Compared with the nebulous virtue of print media, Newsnight made journalistic and editorial errors while newspapers involved with the hacking scandal made moral ones.

Savile must be turning in his grave, but only to light up a cigar and have a chuckle at it all…

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Louder, better, faster, stronger: Women already posses the power to tip the gender imbalance in the media

This week, the Guardian published a report into underrepresentation of women in the media, and I have to say I was shocked but not surprised to learn that male journalists wrote 78% of all front-page articles examined and men accounted for 84% of those mentioned or quoted in lead pieces.

I’ve written about sexism before, arguing that there is an emerging form of women-on-men sexism, so I consider myself a reasonably lateral thinker in the sexism and gender inequality debate, but I found myself scoffing at the BBC director general George Entwhistle’s  lame response to the fact that 84% of reporters and guests on Radio Four’s Today programme are men. “The Today programme struggles because we are dealing with… the world as it is, and that’s a very male place. What the BBC often reflects is the way the world is.” Er, newsflash George: the world is only a “male place” if you treat it so.

Days later I was discussing the BBC’s Today programme with one of my colleagues, and I confessed that if I ever did make it as a successful national journalist and were asked to appear on the programme, I’d feel a bit like I’d been fed to the lions. “I’m not sure I’d agree to appear”, I said. His immediate response: “I would”.

Enter the Guardian’s Suzanne Moore, who appeared this week on Today, debating abortion with Huffington Post’s Mehdi Hasan. While she fully admits in an article after the catastrophic debate that it was not her “finest hour” (she and Hassan talked over each other frequently and she seemed shrill), and while I disagree with her when she states that Today’s debate structure “is tired and goes nowhere”, I can’t help but empathise with her in that I too would have felt like “I should have…gone to a training camp where they teach you how to debate”. The Today programme is Oxbridge debate club, it is male-dominated and it is intimidating. And I wonder just how respected I would have felt at being introduced into the debate with a patronising “What was your reaction dear?”, which was John Humphrys’ first utterance to Moore.

The same week I saw a Newsnight discussion on Jimmy Savile chaired by a man, with three male contributors and Vanessa Feltz as the only female contributor. The debate raged fiercely back and forth between two of the male contributors, and the third male who was a senior at a child abuse support charity was given frequent air time. The editors gave Feltz about a minute on screen, and I’d never witnessed such a blatant quota-filling. If they didn’t value Feltz’s opinion, why didn’t they chose a different commentator? And if they needed a child abuse charity spokesperson, was the only one they could find a man?

On work experience placements I’ve observed senior-level boardroom conferences at The Times, The Guardian and The Sunday Times. At each of them the male:female ratio averaged at about 11:2. In the boardrooms themselves the men were far more forthright in discussions and women spoke – and were heard – less. Women are clearly under-represented in the media and in journalism. The question is why. Why do less women get bylines, less women appear in broadcasts and less women make it to boardroom level only to be heard less once they reach it?

I argue that this isn’t down to some deep-seated intrinsic misogyny but more a case of psychology, and how men and women subconsciously interact with each other. During my first week on my Journalism M.A. at City University, I noticed that despite the women being equally as intimidating on paper as the men, the blokes seemed a lot more confident about speaking up in our class of fifty, answering questions and giving their opinions, and although the male:female ratio is slightly more balanced at around 30:20, I couldn’t help comparing it to the boardroom scenes I’d witnessed so many times.

In a discussion with some of the guys on my course I put it to them that maybe the men speak up more in the classroom (and therefore the workplace and boardroom) more than women because they think differently. Men generally have a tendency to act first and think second, whereas with women it’s the opposite, or, as we put it in the pub, “Men care less about looking like a tw*t for a few seconds than women do”.  The nanoseconds it takes to make a decision on whether to say your piece in a discussion is crucial before the topic rolls on, so men would perhaps say a point or speak their mind in a boardroom or in a class of fifty without worrying if they’d look stupid, where in the seconds-difference in speaking up, women may subconsciously consider their point as well as what the reception of it would be and what the implications of making it are.

In addition to men and women thinking differently, there is the obvious impact of the fairer sex generally being fairer voiced. Humans naturally hear- and listen- to a voice that is deep, loud, low and slow, so in a fast-paced debate it’s easy to see how a higher-pitched, softer, quieter and faster-speaking voice could be drowned out or ignored. I also think there’s something in the psychology of appearance and work-wear. The man’s suit, subconsciously, is a power symbol, both to himself when he puts it on to enter the work-place arena and to those around him. Even visually, the symmetry and defined lines of a man’s suit, shirt and tie create a powerful image. Women’s work-wear is wishy-washy to the point of insignificance, comprising of a collection of cardigans, blouses, skirts and tights, with no clear definition between work-wear and other-wear, which creates a degree of uncertainty both visually and in the mind.

So what’s the solution? Slip on a man’s suit and start boorishly shouting your opinions every few seconds? Not exactly, but I would advocate a variation on that, by psychologically squaring up to the men. Women should take a chance on speaking out more, as well as slowing down the pace of speech and lowering the tone of voice. High heels don’t just make legs look amazing, they also give an added few inches and men hate it when women are taller than them, let alone when they have to literally look up to them.

I told my male colleagues early on in the course that my intention was to speak up in discussions as much as them, as terrifying as it is, because my motto is “fake it ‘til you make it”. I hope that after a year of discussions in front of fifty people, I’ll become more articulate and will learn to present my opinions cogently and forcefully, so that if I ever make it to boardroom level at a newspaper, men – and women – will sit up and listen to what I have to say.

It’s in women’s hands to shift their unfair underrepresentation in the media. Deliver that pitch. Have your say. Argue your case. Get that byline. Speak your mind. Louder, better, faster, taller, stronger. Projecting an air of confidence which we may not feel is half the battle won.

Telegraph Executive Editor on the Future of Journalism

On only our second day of the City Newspaper/Interactive course, after a morning’s workshop with eminent journalists and editors Paul Bolding andMaurice Chittenden, we were treated to a discussion session with the executive editor of The Telegraph Media GroupMark Skipworth.

Intimidating title aside, Skipworth struck an amiable figure. Stood in the far left corner of the room in a dark blazer and striped shirt, with a notable absence of Powerpoint presentation and lecture notes, occasionally sipping his carton of coffee or unassumingly shifting the chair in front of him, he spoke frankly and earnestly on his views on the changing industry and how to break into it.

He told of publications’ collective angst over when to “flick the switch” from predominantly print to online content, and noted that whereas previously correspondents felt that writing pieces for print was higher up the pecking order than writing for online, this notion has faded.

Online content most certainly has advantages over print, from greater engagement with readers to the speed of rolling news online, and from SEO and story promotion to the lack of space restrictions for copy length. Skipworth bemoaned, however, that online content loses the “serendipity of print”, the purchasing of a newspaper as a whole and turning each page with surprise and delight.

I must admit my elation at the opportunity of being face  to face with a national newspaper editor to ask the question I’ve always wanted to ask a national newspaper editor: What’s the future of your paper and of journalism when you charge for print content but give away online content for free? Skipworth’s answer revealed a far less nihilistic future of print than I’d always imagined it to be.  The Telegraph’s tablet and smartphone app subscribers – 350k, and counting – reveal a trend that readers actually want an online version of a printed newspaper instead of merely a website,but Skipworth does admit that it’s not as cut-and-dry as Tablet Triumphs Website: “The website is the thornier issue…[But] I’m not sure if a pay wall in the long run [will work].” What does work, however, is advertising, and with Telegraph.co.uk drawing in around 50 million unique website hits per month, of which two thirds are international readers, advertising on the site will remain lucrative.

The journalism industry is certainly undergoing a radical change, causing disquiet among established hacks as well as amateurs, but Skipworth was encouraging in his advice for adapting online and technological skills. Yes, the industry “are looking for digitally-savvy, creative people”, and yes, social media and video/audio skills are lauded, but  people make different contributions to different areas of digital media, so it’s best to go with what you personally feel comfortable with, whether you’re a blogger or a tweeter.

One message resonated loudest and clearest throughout the print vs. online debate: good journalism should never be compromised on, regardless of the form it takes: “[The Telegraph] has to dedicate time and resources to quality journalism. That has not changed. If we were not involved in quality journalism we would be out of business.” Conventional ways of moving up in the media industry may have disappeared, but no matter how forwards, backwards or sideways it moves, without good quality journalism, “both you and the industry will fall down”.

Kony 2012 and the Bandwagon Revolution

This post was originally published on Impactnottingham on 25th March 2012  http://www.impactnottingham.com/2012/03/kony-2012-and-the-bandwagon-revolution/ 

My first thought – and indeed my first Facebook status update – was ‘I sense a bandwagon’. Within 48 hours my wall had been polluted with people from across my friendship spectrum ‘sharing’ and ‘liking’ the same video and urging others to do the same. What really got my attention was the nature of the video – this wasn’t Angry Tram Lady or Teacher Beats Student in Rap Battle, this was a promotional video for a charity campaign.

With over 100 million hits in ten days, I probably don’t need to expand on the content of the Kony 2012 video. But I will expand on my opinions of it: how at first, it made me angry and how it then made me optimistic, and how it made me think about the changing faces of activism and apathy in 2012.

In a state of boredom I watched the video, and for at least the first half felt mildly nauseated. I found the video itself cheesy and overly earnest, with its opening ‘hard-hitting’ written statements in monochrome followed by the out-pan shots of the globe to highlight that we are all part of one planet! I disliked the resolutely sombre voice of the narrator explaining in the introduction (which reminded me uncannily of Lady Gaga’s opening speech in ‘Born this Way’) that ‘humanity’s greatest desire is to belong and to connect’, and I was irritated by the clichéd ‘yes-we-can’ scenes of the Kony crew doing good, and yes,enjoying it, punctuated by the uplifting ‘Roll Away Your Stone’ Mumford and Sons song, a seemingly mandatory soundtrack to any do-good moment. Most of all I was highly averse to the director Jason Russell’s cheap use of his adorable, butter-wouldn’t-melt toddler Gavin in saccharine scenes intended to highlight just how BAD Joseph Kony is: Russell explains to his son that Kony ‘forces [children] to do bad things’. Gavin, with his big brown eyes staring into the camera, replies, ‘that’s sad’, subsequently melting the hearts of millions of viewers and prompting the intended empathy.

It was these millions of viewers and sharers that I had a problem with, though. The intentions of Kony 2012 are wholly positive and should be applauded, but what I didn’t like were people’s sudden responses to what is, frankly, one horrifying problem in a sea of many in the world. If everyone cared that much, why didn’t they share information on Facebook about child soldiers before? What about the RUF’s Small Boys Unit of child soldiers in the Sierra Leone blood diamond civil war? What about the FNL’s army of child soldiers in Burundi in its thirteen-year long civil war? There are/have been child soldiers in Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia, Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe in Africa as well as in countless other countries worldwide- all in addition to those in Uganda which Kony 2012 draws attention to.

If half the people who claimed to feel so strongly about the issues in the Kony video actually did then I’m pretty sure they would have given some indication of this before the video came out. The Kony response to me smacked of false philanthropism, over-hype and viral craze, as well as the modern-day phenomenon of  people believing that clicking a button is equivalent to getting out there and actually doing something real to help a cause.

It was with these fairly cynical and admittedly vitriolic thoughts that I continued to watch the video. And then I changed my mind.

After watching the video I decided I was generally in favour of the campaign for several reasons. It seemed deliberately aware of how over-reaching it was, and the explicit references to Mercedes, Coca Cola and Dior made it seem specifically aware of what consumerist and materialist culture propagates: fame. The Western world is awash with media overload and the glorification of celebrities, but Kony 2012 intends for us to use this as a tool. Whether for better or for worse, we are good at making people famous, which is why it’s so clever of the campaign director to intend to ‘make Kony famous’- it has a zany twist to it which is far more appealing than ‘let’s stop Kony’ i.e. the imperative of virtually any other activism campaign.  I thought the ‘2012’ part of the campaign was very well thought out. Targeting twenty high-profile celebrities like Rihanna and George Clooney to Tweet and discuss the issue was bound to result in the video going viral, and it makes sense to target twelve top policy makers for action after the issue has been raised.

While following the Arab Spring for the past twelve or so months, I’ve been struck by how amazing it is that people of all ages are prepared to go out every day and literally risk their lives to fight for what they believe in, and I wonder what people in the West would do if faced with a situation like that in Syria. Most of us are arm-chair activists and button-clickers: we go about our day to day lives, and our equivalent of activism is sharing a link. It’s sad that in Syria the average nineteen year old right now is out on the street risking his life for democracy, while in the UK the average nineteen year old is probably on Facebook, but I think the Kony 2012 campaign understood contemporary youth and what activism in the internet era is. I know myself and many others would usually have bypassed the link on our wall, let alone have watched the entire thirty minute video (a light-year in the age of one-click gratification and minimised attention spans). But we did watch it, and something in it made us realise that we can do our very small part, even if it is just posting a link and sharing in order to raise awareness. One small step for the average Facebook user, one giant leap for 21st Century Western apathy.

If this Kony campaign works, who’s to say we can’t achieve the same results using the same strategy? While I disagree with some of Kony 2012’s means, and while I think there are hundreds of other causes deserving of equal attention, I feel excited at this new way of approaching global change for the better. So, I’m sharing the video. Not because I feel it’s more deserving than any other of the hundreds of campaigns we see (and aspects of the campaign are emerging as being deeply flawed), but because I’m excited at the prospect of being part of something different-something that might just work- to bring about global change. I’m excited to see what (if anything) will happen on 12.04.2012.

What I like most about the Kony campaign is that it intended for itself to be a Facebook bandwagon: something which blazes through cyberspace and creates a lot of attention in a short space of time before the fire dies out. This decade, this century, indeed this millennium (still so very young) has produced some mind-blowingly world-altering events in such a short space of time, and history is being written before our very eyes. The Arab Spring’s achievements are unprecedented. Who’s to say we can’t bring about similar change? It seems only natural that if a revolution in the West did occur, it would be through the media of social networking, mass-consumerism and celebrity culture, but if it works, it works.

Will Kony 2012 achieve its aim? Only time will tell. Is it a sound campaign? Debatable. But it’s shown a new and powerful method of globalized activism and pricked the consciences of many apathetic people worldwide.  Is Kony 2012 a bandwagon? Most certainly, but being a bandwagon is exactly its strength and the reason for its global popularity. The crux of the matter is how long people will stick with it. What we need is a bandwagon revolution, and not a revolution bandwagon.

Sian Boyle

Murdoch’s Media Monopoly

Amidst the furore surrounding Murdoch and his empire, not to mention the tsunami of scandal that has swept this country since the first wave of News of the World allegations just fifteen days ago, I feel that now would be a good time to publish my archive piece, ‘Murdoch’s Media Monopoly’, first published in Impact in December 2009, a time where Murdoch’s omnipotence was the status quo and no one could ever really see that changing. 

His satellites deliver TV programmes in 5 continents. He publishes 175 newspapers, including The Sun, The News of the World, The Times, The Sunday Times, The New York Post and the majority of Australia’s nationals. He owns Fox Studios, News and TV networks, 19 sports channels and 35 TV stations that reach 40% of the U.S. public. He also owns Sky TV, Harper Collins publishing, MySpace, record labels and countless other media components which all make up his formidable company NewsCorp, which employs 55,000 people and has a market capital of $30.72 bn.

Rupert Murdoch’s career began in his native Australia, where first owned a small paper and then went on to dominate national media. In 1968 Murdoch bought The News of the World, and later The Sun, The Times and The Sunday Times. His power and company grew rapidly: in the 70’s he snapped up and revitalised the New York Post and the New York Magazine, and then went on to found Sky. So, how has he become so successful?

Murdoch systematically trades his media components’ editorial bias for political favours, and by carefully cultivating relationships with national governments he has bought ever more influence throughout the world. This has enabled him to break down or sidestep media legislation intended to prevent the emergence of media barons such as himself.

The media has an undeniable influence on public opinion. It can make or break a would-be celebrity or politician overnight. Take Jade Goody who one day faced a barrage of scornful headlines, the next was a national heroine.

Tabloids are more of a liability than broadsheets as they are more prone to sensationalism, which can galvanise readers into more extreme actions or views than they would have otherwise had. It is also a big fat pound sign in the eyes of the editors. The Sun and its ilk are culprits of Yellow Journalism – a term used to describe journalism that always downplays legitimate news in favour of eye-catching headlines that sell more. Similarly, Junk Food News describes ‘news’ that is sensationalised and inconsequential trivia, which is ‘not very nourishing, but cheap to produce’. The whole point of news is that it should be informative, not entertaining, and unbiased enough for us to make our own opinions on matters.

Murdoch, as the owner of the most widely read newspaper in the country, is all too aware of his power, and uses it to influence the political scene. He has a history of private parties with influential politicians, and even has Barack Obama begrudgingly doing deals with him to keep is PR in check.

In 2008 Obama, Murdoch and the President of the Fox News channel agreed upon a “tentative truce”. Obama resented Fox’s portrayal of him as “suspicious, foreign, fearsome – just short of a terrorist”, while Fox News’ President was quoted as saying: “It might not have been this way if Obama had been more willing to come on air”. NewsCorp even had the power to recruit the Kennedys as go-betweens, and eventually an agreement was made that Obama would be portrayed more favourably as long as he would be more willing to appear on Fox.

Closer to home, Murdoch has our candidates for PM eating out of the palm of his hand. In October 2006, when Murdoch was asked what he thought of David Cameron, he shortly replied “not much”, and was actually highly impressed by Gordon Brown. Fast forward to last year, when David Cameron accepted free flights on Murdoch’s private jet to hold private talks with Murdoch on his yacht – the total sum of which cost Murdoch a hefty £30,000. Cameron had declared in the Commons register of interest that he accepted the private jet and yacht invitation, but would not disclose the content of the discussions. Later in the same year, Cameron welcomed Murdoch to his house in Kensington, knowing that winning over Murdoch would lead to his most important endorsement ahead of the general elections.

One recent example of this media oligarch wielding power over politicians in order to change laws so he can expand his company, as well as the biggest indication as to why Murdoch went from thinking Cameron “a lightweight” to fully supporting him in just a few short years, is the 2009 Murdoch/Cameron BSkyB/Ofcom/BBC deal. Murdoch has always been very candid about his dislike of his rival BBC, complaining that the BBC is “feather-bedded” because it’s funded by the license fee. Murdoch’s son made a scathing attack on the BBC in August, as well as attacking Ofcom, accusing the communications regulator of intervening “with relish” at any opportunity.

Ofcom is currently investigating BSkyB (Murdoch’s company which runs Sky), and has demanded that BSkyB sell its’ premium content to rival broadcasters for up to a third less than it currently charges, as well as selling off its’ holding in ITV. Enter Cameron. He engineered a parliamentary vote against the BBC, proposing to freeze the license fee, claiming that the BBC needed to “do more with less”. He also pledged to abolish Ofcom, promising that if he were elected Prime Minister, “Ofcom as we know it will cease to exist.”

Then, who could have guessed it, in September this year The Sun announced the end of its’ 12-year support of Labour with the headline LABOUR’S LOST IT. Sky News spent much of the day reporting on the political reaction of The Sun – remember, this is a NewsCorp component reporting on another NewsCorp component. The reaction of The Sun, hyped up by Sky News, fans the flames for us, making The Sun’s political decisions appear important. Murdoch has the power to make The Sun’s political stance headline news in itself.

Incidentally, the Tories had to defend The Sun’s move, denying that it had nothing to do with their appointing of Andy Coulson – former editor of The News of The World – as the Conservative Party’s Head of Communications.

All this evidence, to me, points to a deeper corruption than Joe Public realises. We all know that MPs can be dishonest (I think the expenses scandal will remain raw in everyone’s minds for a long time to come), but these examples have shown that the MPs, the Prime Minister or even the President for that matter, are not at the top of the food chain. The real predator is Murdoch, because as the media is the world’s most powerful force, and he’s the most powerful man in media, then he’s leading by the balls every big player whose career and reputation depends on public opinion.

NewsCorp is swallowing up every small, medium and even large fish in the industry, and it’s frightening because this isn’t globalization in the way that Coca Cola or Nestle swallow up every other company in their sector. By buying a chocolate bar from a small brand I could unwittingly be contributing to the unethical Goliath company that owns it, but then I’m only being misinformed as a consumer. NewsCorp owns a large section of the media, and the media forms peoples’ opinions and thoughts. How many people’s opinions does this man covertly form? NewsCorp reminds me sinisterly of The Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984. Take note: Murdoch is watching you.

Hypothetically, if Murdoch managed to take over every media outlet in the world – which he could well be on his way to doing – then we would all effectively be reading the stance, bias or opinions of just one man, which is nothing short of brainwashing.

I am wary of one person controlling so much information. If all we consume is junk food, then we will rot our bodies, but if all we consume is Junk Food News, then we will rot our minds. Murdoch is a fearfully powerful man who knows that the pen is far, far mightier than the sword.