Friday, August 8, 2014

READ ALL ABOUT IT! Idealist in Cumbria bids to solve newspaper TRUTH CRISIS by BUYING The Times and The Sunday Times! Full details pages 5 to 9. PLUS what to wear if you are carted off to the funny farm, a cheat’s guide to toasting bread, AND does Kate eat? We reveal all!

I’ve come across a rather touching, though wholly naive, attempt to ‘solve’ that ongoing crisis in British print journalism, the ‘phone hacking scandal’.

I say ‘ongoing’, but in fact it’s all gone rather quiet what with more recent news stories such as Boris Johnson’s revelation that despite the impression he might once have given that he was all for a quiet life and could well be retiring to Mid-Wales to open an arts and crafts shop in Brecon, he is, in fact, quite keen to re-enter the House of Commons with a view eventually to accepting the Crown of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, (although, to be fair, he described that as an ‘aspiration’ rather than a plan).

Then there’s Vladimir Putin’s quiet, but determined and very brave drive to extend the boundaries of Russia to Hounslow (which has caused quite some consternation in the Civic Centre, Lampton Road, because staff there are concerned Russia will renege on the promised moratorium on canteen price rises). The ‘onging phone hacking crisis’ was, however, top of the ‘news agenda’ for several years until recently. (‘Agenda’ does add a certain gravitas to whatever other word or phrase it’s attached to, so when I speak of my nightly ‘drinking agenda’, it does seem to soften the impression that I am, in fact, no more than a raging alky who’s well on his way to Hell in a handcart.)

Everyone living in Britain over these past three or four years will have been very much aware at the public’s sheer fury with Her Majesty’s print journalists over their practice of listening to the messages left on the mobile phones (‘cellphones’, ‘handys’) of ‘celebrities’ with a view to coming up with more ‘stories’. Outrageous or what?

Describing it as ‘hacking’ does rather over-egg the pudding a little in as far as the ‘hacking’ merely consisted of the hack who was ‘hacking’ (yes, I know it gets a little confusing, which is why they had to launch a public inquiry into it all) merely ringing the phone, and once he or, I suppose, she had reached the mailbox, he or she would merely input the relevant pin to access the messages. And as almost all of us (but especially our ‘celebrities’) couldn’t be arsed to come up with a more secure pin only they knew, the pin was usually, 12345 or 000000. So not much coding or programming expertise needed there, then.

Still, it was an outrageous invasion of privacy - far, far more outrageous, for example, than the new power recently granted to Her Majesty Revenue and Customs (‘the taxman’) to dip into our bank accounts if they felt like it and take money they felt we owed them - and the hacks got to hear all kind of dirty secrets the celebrities would rather have kept quiet.

With an immense stroke of luck the ‘scandal’ exploded just after our British MPs, or, at least, a great many of them, had been exposed as a gang of fiddling crooks who were manipulating the House of Commons expenses system to feather their nest very nicely indeed. (Incidentally, our MPs are in no danger of imminently starving to death: last December they voted themselves - that’s right, voted themselves - an 11pc pay rise, while the rest of us poor saps were obliged - in view of the ‘ongoing financial crisis’ - to settle for a .5pc rise or even just a sweet letter from management informing us that there was still no money in the kitty for a pay rise, but that we were all doing a smashing job which was much appreciated.)

So at a stroke the MPs were able to take their revenge rather sooner then they will have expected by launching what the British nation, with its customary irreverent wit, has come to call the ‘Leveson Inquiry’ with a view to fucking up the print press industry and stalwart souls who work in it in whatever way possible as often as possible and whenever possible.

Unsurprisingly, every last scam the MPs got up to was gleefully recorded by the newspapers, who know all about fiddling expenses — for several years when working in the South Wales Valleys, I made more on my expenses and ‘lineage’ (re-writing court and council stories I had done for my paper at greater length for an assoicated weekly paper than I took home every week in my regular pay) — but at least it isn’t public money.

One MP claimed for a ‘duck house’ on expenses, while a great many more managed to manipulate their housing allowances to — i.e. stipulating whether their London address or their constituency address was their ‘main home’ — to ensure their mortgage was paid off on expenses, then after some more fancy footwork, the house would be sold off at great profit and a new round of screw the taxpayer could begin. There are around 625 MPs and not all were up to it by any means, but a rather dishearening number were. Only two have been jailed, which compares rather badly with the number of fold regularly banged up for fiddling their benefits, but then, of course, such saps aren’t nearly as important as our MPs.

Being lumped together with redtop hacks has, of course, upset the hacks employed at the ‘serious’ end of print journalism, such as those on the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, The Times and something called ‘The Independent’, who insist they were far too moral to do anything as scruffy as listening to someone’s private phone messages, and so why should the get their nuts kicked in as well? To which the obvious answer is that if they weren’t doing any hacking, well, they missed a trick, didn’t they and only have themselves to blame. And that’s why they, too must also be scragged. Simple, really.

I have no idea what punitive measures Brian Leveson (pictured, who is, incidentally a Scouser, though whether he supports Liverpool of Everton I don’t know) has come up with, but you can read an account of his inquiry and his conclusions here (if that’s your bag).

As far as I know it’s a stalemate at the moment, a stand-off between Parliament, i.e. the MPs who were caught with their hands in the till, who want every last word newspapers intend to publish to be submitted to them for scrutiny at least a week in advance of publication, and newspaper circulations to be restricted to just 1,000 copies a day and only to be read by nobility and ‘persons of, or pertaining to, or by birth assumed to be, or intended for a position of prominence in the Shires of Her Majesty’s realm at home and overseas (as defined in the Land Belonging to The Queen Acts 1907, 1912 and 1971)’.

You won’t be surprised that the newspapers, who relish a fight if it boosts circulation, want none of that, no sir! They admit that their methods have, on occasion, you know once or twice perhaps been a little over-zealous and that once or twice rogue reports and executives (who have since been dealt with) overstepped the mark, but that Britain is a democracy with an enviably free press and should be proud of its free press and that quite apart from curtailing the freedoms the press enjoys in the public’s interest, they should be extended even further.

So for their part they propose that by law everyone in Britain over the age of 18 should be obliged to buy two papers a day (a ‘serious’ one and a ‘not-so-serious one’), although they will not necessarily be required to read them; that all all those employed by them in an editorial capacity should be exempt from parking charges of any kind while in pursuit of their professional activities; and that monies invested by the industry in industry-related enterprises should no longer attract Vat. We await the outcome of this particular tussle with interest.

You’d assume, given the fact that I have served before the mast in the newspaper industry man and boy since June 4, 1974, that my loyalties would be with the Lords Copper and Zinc of this world, but, unfortunately, it’s not quite that straightforward as I have plans (coming along quite nicely as it happens) to become a ‘person of prominence’ here in Cornwall, which does rather complicate matters.

. . .

But what about the rather touching, though wholly naive, attempt to ‘solve’ that ongoing crisis in British print journalism? Well, it is a novel, though from where I sit, quite daft solution: a group which calls itself Let’s Own The News has launched an attempt to raise enough cash from the public to buy The Times and The Sunday Times. Think I’m joking? Well, take a look. It all has to do with the latest fad known as ‘crowd sourcing’ or ‘crowd funding’. I don’t know whether they are just

two different words for the same new and exciting activity, although I gather that etiquette is demanding that only gays call it ‘crowd sourcing’ and the rest of us must call it ‘crowd funding’ (or the other way round - if are interested in following that up, you’ll have to do your own research. Sorry.)

The enterprise is so charmingly naive and ludicrous and as close to a spoof as you might get (though I am pretty certain it isn’t one) that I am finding it difficult even to say something facetious about it. So I shan’t. In brief, the group behind this particular wacky proposal is fired up by the idea that if loads and loads and loads of folk have a small financial stake in The Times and The Sunday Times (and, in their tiny minds, I should imagine bit by bloody bit the rest of the stable of papers which make up Her Majesty’s Press) rather than, as they claim, Britain’s newspapers being owned by just five families, the ‘voters can control the source of information we rely on for our votes’. Fancy! And I’m still finding it almost extremely difficult to come up with anything facetious.

So far (as of now, 9.45am on August 8, 2104) 655 folk have ‘pledged’ a total of £212,569.50. The ‘pledged’ implies that they haven’t - thank God - parted with any moolah yet. The site goes on to suggest that buying the papers is achievable because News Corp might well be willing to sell to the group if it can come up with the money as it has been willing to sell before and both papers are making a loss. It then outlines why buying the papers - despite the losses they are making - is ‘an attractive investment’: ‘[the papers are] already close to profitability. The Times and The Sunday Times are already close to profitability with a £6m loss last year on £348m of revenue. The loss is down from £72m in 2009’.

Explaining why the group would make a financial success of the papers where News Corp has so far failed (although by its own admission losses have been reduced from £72m in 2009 to just £6m last year), it says that Murdoch had previously promised not to merge the two papers, but once the group had its hands on them, that promise need no longer be kept, the papers could be merged, savings could be made and Bob’s your uncle! Easy really. Look, I think I’ve got to find a dark room and lie down. Take a look at the site, have a laugh, then go and do something more useful. But I shall book mark the website and keep an eye on it.

Incidentally, it is ‘backed’ by The Young Foundation whose mission is to ‘... harness the power of social innovation to a tackle the root cause of inequality’. Well, I’m all for people not being treated like shit (and as I grow older feel more and more and more inclined to drift to the left), but when I read vacuous, woolly statements such as the above I have even more reason to find that dark room and lie down for a few hours. NB Actually, on reflection that last jibe might be a little harsh but I do find many such groups do tend to waffle rather too much. It’s as though if you’ve got the jargon down and can spout it when and wherever, you feel you have done something, rather as activity is all too often mistaken for action.

It does occur to me that I might look into crowd funding as a way of lightening the financial burden of my nightly drinking agenda. You never know.

. . .
Finally, a picture I took yesterday because it was so nice and sunny of Wenfordbridge just down the road from where I live and where the potter

Michael Cardew used to have his workshop, which was then taken over by his son Seth. That cottage us now up for sale. I don’t think the workshop and kiln were kept up, though I might be wrong. So if you got £750,000 handy ...

Pip, pip.

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