Thursday, May 19, 2016 

The artist subsequently known as PJS.

It would take a heart of stone not to laugh at the continued failure of the tabloids, News UK in particular, to get the injunction preventing them from making public the identity of the person known only as PJS lifted.  They must have thought it was a sure thing; how could the supreme court possibly disagree that the identity of PJS had become so well known, thanks to the name being all across social media, published in the National Enquirer, the Sunday Mail, numerous blogs etc, that it would be an absurdity not to let the Sun on Sunday print all the juicy details on the threesome?

Never underestimate the potential for judges to go against accepted wisdom (judgement PDF), especially when they notice something that's passed everyone else by.  IPSO's code of practice, Lord Mance notes, states that an "exceptional public interest would need to be demonstrated to over-ride the normally paramount interests of children under 16".  You could of course argue that consenting adults should consider the potential consequences for their children of extra-marital activities, regardless of the agreement of both partners, not least because of the obvious potential for it to cause difficulties down the line.  This is not by any means though a justification for a story that all the justices agree has no public interest defence whatsoever to be published.

Indeed, I would argue that it's possible in this case to respect the arguments of both Lord Mance for the majority in over-turning the Court of Appeal ruling that the injunction should be set aside, and Lord Toulson in his lone dissension.  It's hard not to respect a judge who risks incurring the wrath of Paul Dacre by directly referencing the paper claiming the law to be an ass due to the publication of PJS's identity elsewhere; if that is the price of applying the law, Mance writes, it is one which must be paid.  The court is well aware of the lesson which King Canute gave his courtiers, Mance goes on, in answer to the claims that injunctions in the age of the internet are defunct, with the Lord later quoting a previous ruling by Justice Eady "that wall-to-wall excoriation in national newspapers, whether tabloid or ‘broadsheet’, is likely to be significantly more intrusive and distressing for those concerned than the availability of information on the Internet or in foreign journals to those, however many, who take the trouble to look it up".  I would argue that distinction still holds up today, if barely: there is a huge difference between a story appearing on multiple newspaper front pages, available for anyone to see at petrol stations, supermarkets, newsagents etc, whereas online it is still possible to avoid such stories altogether if you so wish.

Lord Toulson disagrees, writing that the "court must live in the world as it is and not as it would like it to be", and also that "in this case I have reached a clear view that the story’s confidentiality has become so porous that the idea of it still remaining secret in a meaningful sense is illusory".  Toulson does not "underestimate the acute unpleasantness for PJS of the story being splashed, but I doubt very much in the long run whether it will be more enduring than the unpleasantness of what has been happening and will inevitably continue to
happen.  The story is not going away".

It most certainly isn't.  The only reason that the papers have been full of stories for the last couple of weeks about a certain Downton Abbey actor are due to a certain injunction still being in place from years ago.  One way or the other, the British media will get a story they want to be out in the open out in the open.  They might not make any money out of it, quite the contrary in the case of the Sun, with its legal fees likely to be astronomical, but for those who want to know they'll probably be able to find out.  If the case going to trial, with PJS and YMA likely to win, gives them satisfaction and protects their children, then great.  More likely however is that Carter-Fuck will go on getting richer while the kiddiwinks will find out one of their parents is partial to threesomes regardless.

All the same, coming in the same week as the IPSO decision that the Sun blatantly breached the editors' code of practice over the QUEEN BACK BREXIT bullshit, with the paper throwing its toys out of the pram in response, saying yes, the headline was a complete lie, but the one underneath "qualified" it, and the Queen isn't above politics anyway because she called the Chinese rude, for those of us whom enjoy schadenfreude, it's been a fine time.  Long may it continue.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016 

Orwell, as ever, had it right.

We all know the famous Orwell line, don't we?  "If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people who is banging whom".  Good ol' Eric Blair was thinking of the scandal involving the 3rd Duke of Massingberd, who was discovered in flagrante with a scullery maid called Bill, a dog called God and the young MP for Buckingham, Doris Bonkers.  Massingberd had succeeded in cowing most of the press through a combination of legal threats and blackmail, involving a recruited squad of bootblacks offering complimentary happy endings, only for an irrepressible young upstart from Australia called Wurzel to expose all concerned in his short-lived penny sheet the Fucks of the World.  Wurzel was sent to the Scrubs for 2 years for breaching the Obscene Publications Act, but Fleet Street was never the same again.

It's the humbuggery of it all that gets you more than anything.  The case of PJS and YMA has allowed the press to reprise their previous howls of rage from a few years ago over the brief super-injunction craze, despite the vast majority of such orders not being super injunctions as super injunctions prevented even the fact the order was in place from being reported.  It is after all remarkably easy to pose as a free speech martyr when your version of freedom of expression extends only as far as shag 'n tell and every so often running a borderline racist comment piece.  Say what you like about Charlie Hebdo, but no one is ever going to shoot up the offices of the Sun.

At least the Sun is entitled to feel pissed off its exclusive has been given out free to everyone.  What really grinds the gears is the "oh, we couldn't care less about all the sordid details, who did what to whom, but this is far more important than that" crowd.  No it isn't.   If you really couldn't care less about the sex lives of consenting adults, regardless of status, then you wouldn't be touching this "story" whatsoever.  No one involved prior to AB and CD going to the Sun was unhappy with what went on; they suddenly decided for whatever reason to get some cash out of it.  Only then are the angles on hypocrisy looked for, justifications however lacking or laughable clutched at.

At very best, there is the possibility the argument that persuaded the appeal court judges to grant the injunction, that the effect the revelation would have on the young children of PJS and YMA would be unfair on them, could be used by far greater scoundrels in the future to prevent disclosure of their wrongdoing.  That's all it is though, a possibility.  All the previous caterwauling over injunctions a few years back due to the danger to free speech failed to materialise.  Judges stopped granting them; celebrities stopped seeking them.  Why would anyone seek a gagging order that had the opposite effect?

So it is now with PJS and YMA, fairly or not.  They had an open relationship while supposedly giving the impression of being a committed, monogamous couple.  That turns out to have been enough for their slightly unorthodox sex life to be exposed, as it has been, if not by the English and Welsh press.  To regard this as some great crime against the right of the tabloids to make money you have to either be unbearably pompous, or part of an industry that defines the public's right to know on exactly such a pecuniary basis.

It would be easier to take also if say the rest of the media had rallied round when the Guardian was being threatened by the government with prior restraint over the Snowden leaks.  Instead the likes of the Mail took the side of the government and the securocrats.  GCHQ coming round and smashing the hard drive with the documents on is obviously one thing, while the danger posed by "unelected" judges deciding what YOU can and can't know about the disgusting proclivities of those who can afford to project an image is quite another.

Which leaves pretty much only the "absurdity" that it's just newspapers and England and Wales based media that can't name those involved.  Not that this stops them from running otherwise non-stories about them, say, or dropping the broadest of hints, or telling everyone precisely which sites are naming them.  When tabloids start playing the victim, the game ought to be up.  Rather sad when it's left to err, Holly Willoughby, to cut through the bullshit.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015 

If Tom Watson should apologise, then so must plenty of others.

Tom Watson is a self-publicising tool, never happier than when he is at the very centre of attention.  Until that is he resigns in a huff, as he has done more than once previously.

The above could easily have been written before he had so much as voiced any sort of opinion on child sexual abuse.  More than anyone else Watson coat-tailed on the work of Nick Davies on phone hacking, and he did very well out of it.  Taking on Rupert Murdoch and News International was as righteous a cause as any, even if the motivation behind doing so was party political, having seen what the Sun did to Gordon Brown.  He also though has a habit of making an arse of himself, as he did when questioning James Murdoch, referring to him as a "mafia boss".  It took effort to make Murdoch junior look human, but Watson almost managed it, undermining at the same time his otherwise forensic attempts to get at the truth.

Having established himself as this crusader for the underdog, it's not surprising that he became the go to man for anyone who felt their problems had been ignored, their cause shat upon, their battle with the state and/or anyone else covered up.  Nor is it surprising that thanks to this new status and what must also be damn hard work, his efforts in encouraging victims of abuse to come forward have resulted in three convictions, and that's only so far.

You do then have to wonder if, more than anything, Watson's real failure is one of spreading himself too thinly, difficult as that is to imagine.  His doors have been so open that it reached the point where he either couldn't keep up, or he was so overwhelmed that he wasn't able to differentiate between all the accounts he kept on being given.  He might well have taken extra pleasure in how the claims he first raised at prime minister's questions of a Westminster paedophile ring mainly involved Conservative MPs of the Thatcher era, but he was also involved in the campaign to get the (Labour) Lord Janner to at least face a trial of the facts.

Watson is after all very far from the only person to have reported the claims of abuse victims as though they were incontrovertible.  Watson's main accuser since last week's Panorama, the Mail, has done a very abrupt about turn from revelling in the allegations being made to now declaring them without any hesitation a "witch-hunt".  The home secretary, Theresa May, apparently in reference to the claims being made by the likes of "Nick", said that "only the tip of the iceberg" of the extent of abuse had thus far come to light.  A very different attitude to the one of the prime minister, who on Monday invited Watson to "examine his conscience".  Simon Danczuk, who if anything has been even more vocal than Watson about cover-ups and was at the forefront of demanding that anyone with the slightest link to Leon Brittan be excluded from the overarching inquiry, now claims that he always felt Chris Fay, one of the key links between the actual accusers and the allegations about the Elm Guest House, was "wholly unbelievable and some sort of fantasist".  At the same time as Watson was penning his "close to evil" piece on Brittan, Danczuk was exclaiming on how he feared Brittan's death would mean an end to any answers on the whereabouts of the Dickens dossier.

The response to last Tuesday's Panorama has shown in microcosm everything wrong with the media, social media, the police and politics in their current state.  To start with, it should not take a taxpayer funded broadcaster to point out the gaping flaws in a police investigation so well resourced and funded.  Daniel Foggo's hour-long report was not sensational; it was even-handed, and did not reach conclusions.  They were left for the viewer to draw.  For the Metropolitan police to do their hardest to try and stop the programme from being shown, as they did, and to essentially criticise the BBC for doing their job for them was quite incredible.  The message from both the police (and Exaro News for that matter) was that only they were capable of investigating these cases, and for anyone else to do so would only confuse and potentially damage the chances of justice being done.

Second, where has the rest of the media been in all this?  They've known just as well as the BBC of the questions over "Nick's" credibility, and it's only been as the much-advertised Panorama approached that the likes of the Mail and Telegraph started to raise doubts also.  It's almost as though it needed one respected outlet to break the silence before anyone else would.  We know these are not new allegations; Chris Fay has been bandying his supposed list from the Elm Guest House around since the late 80s.  Nick's claim of a friend he could not so much as recall the second name of being run down by his abusers, fairly easy to check out, was left for the BBC to do.  Any fear of undermining the police investigation surely had to be measured against how in 9 months no one has been arrested despite the police declaring Nick's allegations to be "credible and true", and yet lives and reputations have been turned upside down regardless.

The fact is there has been much for some to gain from the misery of others.  I don't doubt Tom Watson started down this path with the very best of intentions; for him to use it as a reason for why he should be deputy Labour leader, as he did, and to respond to the demands for an apology by in turn asking for an apology for the previously ignored victims, as though he has been and still is their spokesman, is distasteful in the extreme.  It can be argued that by writing to the director of public prosecutions asking for a review of the decision not to charge Lord Brittan over rape allegations was overstepping the mark; presumably then the outrage that met the decision not to charge Lord Janner, from MPs and media alike, which resulted in the review that led to the upcoming trial of the facts should be judged similarly.  It's also now open season on Exaro News, which has managed to stay afloat almost solely through its claiming of exclusivity on those making the most lurid claims of abuse.  How very different from when the press and the BBC also worked through them to further publicise the allegations.

Panorama's case was that the police had gone from one extreme, from being too eager to dismiss and disbelieve, to being all too credulous, uncaring of the effect the raids, leaks and appeals for witnesses were having on those unable to clear their name.  Exactly the same could be said of the media, and indeed many on social media, all too willing to believe the worst and then claim the moral high ground.  Yes, the exposing of Savile has led to many being believed who previously weren't, of convictions of abusers thanks to other victims coming forward thanks to the publicity.  At the same time, others have been accused wrongly or acquitted in precisely the same fashion.  There is no easy balance.  For the Tories and the Mail to now attack Watson in such a hyperbolic way, partially in an effort to get Corbyn through his deputy, partially out of revenge for Watson's role in the Leveson inquiry and partially because they can, only lowers proceedings even further.  That Simon Danczuk and John Mann have been all but ignored despite playing a similar role speaks for itself.

The danger has always been that by focusing on the sensationalist, the lurid, which is subsequently disproved, you don't help survivors of abuse, you run the risk of once again returning to a situation where they are routinely belittled and ignored.  Esther Baker's allegations might also turn out to be unsubstantiated, but the Liberal Democrat MP would not have been able to dismiss them in the way he has today had it not been for the mistakes of so many.  It certainly isn't just Tom Watson who should be examining his conscience.

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Tuesday, April 28, 2015 

Me and Stephen Hawking we laugh.

You can't help but be struck by the Tories' lack of serendipity.   The economy is meant to be their trump card, their "jobs miracle" an unquestionable fact.  Of course, the recovery they stalled for two years would be put in jeopardy if Labour were to get in and rack borrowing up again, whereas there wouldn't be any negative effects from the Conservatives front-loading their proposed cuts in the first years of the next parliament in their quest for a surplus.  You know all this.

How desperately unfortunate then that the GDP figures for the first three months of the year are so disappointing.  They are just a snapshot, based on incomplete data and may well be revised up.  All the same, that without the boost provided by the drop in oil prices and corresponding low inflation the economy would be all but flatlining is not the news the Tories were expecting at this stage.  Their response, the only possible one, however counter-intuitive, has been to say this just proves the last thing needed is a change of government or the instability of an inconclusive outcome next Thursday.  Clearly what's needed isn't just the certainty of a Conservative majority, but the impact the further austerity proposed would have on growth.  This is assuming the Tories mean what they say, which is open to doubt considering Osborne slowed the retrenchment programme in 2012 when the economy was double-dipping (since revised away to mere stagnation rather than a second recession), in spite of all his denials of adopting a Plan B.  We can though only go by what they say, rather than what a government not hell bent on an ideological shrinking of the state would do in such circumstances.

The further evidence this was precisely what the Tories weren't banking on is this is their designated "economy" week.  They would have known all too well today would see the ONS publish the latest statistics, and so clearly went ahead presuming their boasts of having rescued an economy on the brink would be further reinforced.  Oh and dear.  

Not that it will likely make much difference when actual news is the last thing on the mind of a press that has long gone past the point of embarrassment when it comes to serving up what's given to them by the Conservatives: the Mail today dredged up a two-year old story on Miliband somehow being a Stalinist for daring to suggest more use of compulsory purchase orders to help get more houses built.  The Times meanwhile declared there are 10 days to save the union, just as there were however many days in the past to save the pound, save the NHS, save Jennifer's ear and so on.  Considering the Conservatives have been going out of their way for the past two weeks to suggest a vote for the SNP is somehow illegitimate, with the two parties almost in cahoots in their attempt to squeeze Labour even further in Scotland, it's an odd line for Cameron to suddenly take.

Equally strange is Cameron feeling entitled to say who his opponents should or shouldn't be interviewed by.  Considering Dave's idea of an interrogation is less Paxman and more Philip Schofield, such is his preference for the sofa of This Morning as opposed to the rigour of appearing on say the Today programme, not to bring up the whole avoiding anything resembling a debate that wasn't a waste of time, it's a bit rich to declare Ed Miliband a joke for agreeing to an interview with Russell Brand.  Apparently Cameron hasn't got time to hang out with Brand, although he did find room in his schedule for the chuckleheads at Heat magazine to ask him a few truly important questions, such as whether Sam prefers pink or brown.

Brand, it cannot be said enough, is a gimp.  He goes after the easiest of targets, has no interest in anything beyond the shallowest understanding of what he talks about, does so in the most infuriating way imaginable and has, up to now, undermined any good he has done by supporting causes like the Focus E15 mothers and generally raising awareness by telling those about to shafted the most by a Conservative government not to vote.  As soon as he gets bored or gets a better offer than spending his days making money from Google via the YouTube partners programme for the Trews channel he'll be off doing something else.  

For Miliband to agree to be interviewed by Brand is nonetheless exactly the sort of thing he should be doing: he has absolutely nothing to lose at this point, and, if as the Graun is suggesting it's finally got through Brand's thick skull that not to at least offer a suggestion as to whom his viewers should vote for if they're going to would be a betrayal, then all the better.  Moreover, detest Brand's way of expressing himself as I do, I'd much rather listen to him and Miliband having something resembling a normal discussion on how to tackle tax avoidance than the cringe inducing falseness showcased in Labour's abominable "Ed Miliband: a Portrait" political broadcast.

Still, if tomorrow's front pages are anything to go by, we've reached the stage in the campaign where cries of anguish about what supposedly isn't up for debate, as exemplified by the Mail last week having the gall to claim immigration was the great unmentionable, have given way to straight ad hominem attacks.  Do you really want this clown ruling us, asks the Mail, the paper owned by the non-domiciled Lord Rothermere.  Oh for the chance, the mere possibility, of being able to say it was the right-wing media wot lost it.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015 

You mean these ridiculously subjective rules apply to us as well?

It's hard not to feel at least a smidgen of sympathy for the good burghers behind the Durham free school and the Grindon Hall Christian school in Sunderland.  After all, what's the point of allowing any Tom, Dick or Toby Young to open up a new place of learning if they can't then attempt to instil whichever belief system they adhere to into their young charges?  If the parents want it, clearly they will come.  Who quite frankly is the government or Ofsted to stick their noses in and say a school in an overwhelmingly "White British" area is failing to "prepare its students for life in modern Britain"?  What is this outrageous political correctness being foisted on Christian and Jewish establishments when everyone knows the problem is with the Muslims?  Why is Durham free school having its funding pulled while the "Trojan Horse" schools remain open, albeit unable to recruit new teachers?

A weaker man would at the same time as feeling a twinge of sympathy also have a jolly good laugh.  From the very moment the panic over the schools in Birmingham erupted you could see this was going to happen.  There can't be one rule for schools in areas mostly populated by parents who, like it or not, might prefer education with an Islamic influence for their children, and another for those whom for whatever reason feel the need to bring God into it at every turn.  The fact the schools at the centre of the Trojan Horse affair did not specifically have a Islamic ethos and were rather academies is by the by: start insisting every child must know what British values are, despite the vast majority of adults not having the first clue, and you get the kind of results the Daily Mail has been wailing about.  Kids asked if they know anyone who's gay!  Girl possibly asked if she was a virgin!  Child who says "terrorism" when questioned about Islam branded a bigot!  Schools failed on the grounds of being Christian!

Except, typically, if you bother to read the reports on either school the whole "not preparing students for life in modern Britain" angle, while there, is rather secondary to the schools just not being any good in general.  The Durham free school's governors, damningly, are said to "place too much emphasis on religious credentials when they are recruiting key staff and not enough on seeking candidates with excellent leadership and teaching skills."  I mean, blimey, who could have predicted that might happen with free schools?  Much the same is said of Grindon Hall, where "Many appointments are made without fair and open competition."

This does not make Ofsted's approach, which seems to be to ask young children questions on things they might not have the first idea about for perfectly innocent reasons, a good one.  How can they possibly conclude an answer which indicates lack of preparation for life in modern Britain™ is a reflection of the school's citizenship efforts rather than that of their life outside of school?  Why should the onus be on the school and not on the parents anyway, or would that be a government interference too far?  Worth remembering is that for all the shock and horror over the schools in Birmingham, there was not the slightest evidence presented of active radicalisation or that extremism was being taught.  Cohesion, folks, is a two-way street.  If clinging on to religion in a country that's become secular is seen as marking you out as not wanting to be a part of modern Britain®, might I suggest it could be time to join forces rather than spit out the dummy and say it's not fair?

Most amusing of all is the idea the ultimate architect behind this nonsense, one senor Michael Gove, was trying "to promote a politically correct diversity agenda".  Yes, that's exactly what Mr Drain the Swamp was doing.  Ofsted has been essentially recreated in Gove's image, even though he's now been replaced by Nicky Morgan, who coincidentally voted against gay marriage partly on the basis of, you guessed it, her religious views, so clearly more evidence of bias there.  The wiser heads might have seen the way this was going and spoke out at the time, before the education of more children was disrupted.  Such though is the way of those determined to leave their mark, regardless of the consequences.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014 

No sympathy for the devil.

There's only one question editors should ask themselves when offered photographs of a famous figure who has just been told the most shattering news: how would I like to be splashed across the next morning's papers, grief etched across my face, in what ought to be regardless of it happening in a public place, an intensely private moment?

If they would truly answer that reporting the level of grief outweighs the considerations of not intruding into it, something that the PCC code makes clear should always be approached sensitively, then they should make that case themselves. More likely is as is so often the case, should any paper even dream of reporting on the private life of a fellow editor, there would soon be phone calls a plenty and threats flying, with both sides usually backing down. Hence why the tabloids didn't report on Rebekah Wade (as was) splitting up with Ross Kemp, let alone the employment tribunal finding that Andy Coulson bullied and unfairly dismissed Matt Driscoll from the News of the World.

However Paul Dacre and the editors at the Mirror and Star defended it to themselves, they must have seen just how distasteful it was to fill all but their entire front pages with the image of Mick Jagger in such obvious distress. The Sun, perhaps stung by the criticism it received following the death of Reeva Steenkamp, having decided an image of the model appearing to undo her bikini top was the best way to illustrate the news, opted for a far smaller inset of the image used by the others, still obviously objectionable but not on the same scale as using it to fill the page.

It does of course raises questions about what now is beyond the pale. The extremely long lens shots of the People's Kate sunbathing topless were, but the Sun decided Harry buck-ass naked in a hotel wasn't.  The tabloids had an attack of the vapours when an Italian documentary used the images of Princess Diana lying mortally injured in the back of the Mercedes, despite having arguably contributed to the crash, yet don't think an ashed faced rock star learning of a personal tragedy deserves the same protection. This isn't about Leveson, as you shouldn't need a judge to tell you to feel the most basic compassion and human empathy. It's about a tabloid press that has never set itself a boundary it hasn't subsequently broken.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014 

Both the Mail and Harman have PIE on their faces.

(This is 1,705 words.  Just so you know.)

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story.  It isn't the Daily Mail's motto, unofficial or otherwise, but it easily could be.  Perhaps though, in line with the Mail's sudden shock finding that paedophilia wasn't universally viewed with the same disgust as it is now back in the 70s, when the National Council for Civil Liberties had an extremely ill-advised sort of affiliation with the Paedophile Information Exchange, it could just as well be a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

That the NCCL, now Liberty, had links with PIE has been known since, err, it had links with them.  It is not a startling new discovery.  Indeed, not a single aspect of the Mail's investigation and its corresponding attacks on Harriet Harman, Jack Dromey (husband of Harman) and Patricia Hewitt, all leading members of the NCCL during the period when PIE was affiliated, is based on new information.  I'm certain that there have been newspaper articles pointing this out on occasion in the past, pieces which have attracted a slight amount of attention and then been forgotten about.  It's not a proud period in Liberty's history by any means, and it's one which current head Shami Chakrabarti has apologised for.

This said, and despite how it sounds like an excuse and a cop out, it has to be remembered that it was a different era.  As the proposed changes to the law that Harriet Harman lobbied on make clear, up until this point it had not been a specific offence to take or make indecent images of children, although to an extent this would have been covered under other laws, such as the Obscene Publications Act.  As we've been rather forced to acknowledge over the past couple of years, the 70s was the in-between decade, a period where the new freedoms and excesses of the 60s continued to an extent, not least in those few European nations which legalised possession of all types of pornography, even if the production remained unlawful, just not necessarily cracked down upon.  It also wasn't unusual for "mainstream" European adult magazines of the period to feature post-pubescent girls under the age of 16, not surprising when the age of consent in the country of origin often was (and in some cases remains) under 16.  By contrast, and as Harman in her paper quotes, the judge in the Oz trial defined indecent as a woman taking her clothes off on the beach in front of someone else's children, or athletes wearing clothing which didn't fit properly.  Harman was writing only 17 years on from the Lady Chatterley trial, and a year and six months after the Sex Pistols and Bill Grundy had their tete-a-tete.  Views on what was and wasn't filth were polarised far beyond what they are today, even by the Daily Mail's maiden aunt standards.

The Mail's fundamental problem with its claims, especially against Harman, is that they've produced the evidence against her in full and it doesn't stack up. Her paper's main suggestion is that images of naked children should not be held to be indecent unless it can either be proved or inferred from the photograph that harm to the child has taken place as a result. This sounds potentially outrageous, but in actuality this isn't far off from the test the authorities now have to apply when prosecuting those who have the lowest category of child abuse images in their possession, I.e. those where the child is naked and is posing in a manner considered to be erotic (see the controversy over Klara and Eddy Belly Dancing for instance). Harman's proposed amendment would have clearly left it up to the police and CPS and in turn judge and jury to decide whether or not a specific image or images were indecent. Her main justification was that parents could be prosecuted for taking such pictures when they had no malign intentions, something it was felt was possible under a new law. About the worst allegation that can be thrown at her is she was being naive, and that paedophiles would quickly exploit such grey areas. There is no evidence she was influenced in any way by NCCL's association with PIE, and the lobbying did not lead to the law being changed in the way she proposed.

Far more questionable is the NCCL's submission to the government on the age of consent, not signed but sent when both Dromey and Hewitt were with the organisation in 1976. While the Mail seems almost as upset about the proposal that it should be 14 instead of 16 (the age of consent was raised from 13 to 16 in 1885, so has never been set in stone, and while 16 seems a good middle ground between 14 and 18 to me, other Europeans nations continue to think differently), the real problem is that while it suggests that those under 10 cannot consent in any circumstances, in cases where those between 10 and 14 have sex with an older partner it should be considered that consent "was not present, unless it is demonstrated that it was genuinely given and that the child understood the nature of the act".  The law as it currently stands holds that children under 13 cannot consent in any circumstances, and if the other person involved is over 18, then the act is defined in law as rape regardless of what the child felt.  The NCCL's suggestion might not have quite been a licence for abuse, as the onus would still have fell on the older partner to prove the child understood and had given consent, but it most certainly would be a substantial dilution of the protection we have in force today.

Again though, the NCCL's submission did not win government support, and there is no evidence suggesting it was influenced by PIE.  The other claims against the three Labour grandees is that the NCCL's association with PIE amounted to apologia or validation, in 1975 complaining to the Press Council about coverage of the group, describing it in their annual report as a "campaigning/counselling group for adults sexually attracted to children", which seems to be before the NCCL was properly aware that PIE was more than that; and that as late as 1982 the NCCL's newsletter carried a missive from a self-confessed paedophile defending himself.  Clearly, newspapers and magazines have never published letters from those whose views they vehemently disagree with.  One of the founders of PIE, Tom O'Carroll, was subsequently jailed for "conspiring to corrupt public morals" (and continues to promote sexual relationships between children and adults as being entirely normal), with Hewitt later writing that "[C]onspiring to corrupt public morals is an offence incapable of definition or precise proof", the Mail finding this especially damning.  Except as Harriet Harman's paper makes clear, this is almost a direct lift from Roy Jenkins, who said something remarkably similar about defining "indecency".  The other allegations the Mail makes, that the NCCL's submission to the Criminal Law Commission called for the decriminalisation of incest and also claimed that "[C]hildhood sexual experiences, willingly engaged in, with an adult result in no identifiable damage", don't seem as yet to be supported by posted documents.

What though does any of this matter nearly 40 years on, and when so much has been known for so long?  The obvious reason is that paedophilia is so despicable and beyond the pale that regardless of the passage of time, just the connection with a group like PIE is still to be regretted and apologised for.  That the NCCL allowed anyone to affiliate and didn't at the time have a mechanism for expelling such groups isn't an adequate explanation, and indeed, it does seem as though there was a certain amount of sympathy within the NCCL towards PIE if only briefly, and then due to its stated mission as being to counsel those who found themselves sexually attracted to children.  Some within the NCCL may have been more involved, as the Telegraph has reported. In part however it also seems to be about simple revenge and glee at finding three well known politically correct right-on Labour figures didn't condemn paedophiles on sight, regardless of how long ago it was, especially when the left has been so quick to pounce on the past allegiances of Tories or horror of horrors, the Mail's own history.  Add in the typical Mail rage at how the BBC didn't address the topic until Ed Miliband did, and it all seems wearingly familiar.  That perhaps they didn't cover it immediately as a direct consequence of being so badly burnt over Lord McAlpine doesn't seem to have entered their thinking.

It would matter more if there was even the slightest indication the three held such views at the time, which again there is no evidence that they did, let alone if they had then carried such opinions with them into the Labour party and then parliament.  The fact is that they didn't, as Nick Cohen points out.  While Harriet Harman has been right to express regret today, something she didn't do in her Newsnight interview last night, she has been right not to apologise, as she has nothing to apologise for.  Whether perhaps Dromey or Hewitt do is more nuanced, considering their potential involvement with the age of consent submission and more besides, but again it needs to be stated that there are plenty of political figures who held opinions or which they even acted upon years ago they would now regret.  Bringing Jimmy Savile into it, as the Mail attempted to, is a nonsense.  They didn't validate Savile, just as the Mail and the rest of the media do not bear responsibility for failing to expose him while he was alive.  Despite the criticism of the lack of response, if anything it's Patricia Hewitt's silence that seems vindicated.  Reacting to the Mail just encourages it and convinces Paul Dacre that he was right.  The real reason the rest of the media ignored the reports at first is there simply isn't any evidence of anything other than naivety.  And if there's one thing that the Mail can't be accused of, it's precisely that.

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Thursday, October 10, 2013 

The feral press part 2.

Earlier in the week, Chris made a few good points about how us sad sacks tend to exaggerate the influence of the media in general.  It's an argument I'm more inclined to agree with than I was in the past, but I do think that over the longer-term biases against benefit claimants, asylum seekers and immigrants in general have had an impact that has contributed to the policies we're now seeing.  Of special concern is there's evidence that in some instances, the government and media have openly colluded with each other in such campaigns, as Peter Oborne revealed David Blunkett had with the Sun back in 2003.

It's more than reasonable then in light of the events of the last couple of days to wonder if the coalition has informally done a similar deal with the right-wing press over their sudden rage at the Guardian's revelations about GCHQ.  First we had the speech from Andrew Parker that gave them the laughable line that terrorists were being handed gifts via the Snowden files, accompanied by briefings that went even further.  Yesterday these were backed by the spokesman for the prime minister, who said he agreed entirely with Parker's choice of language, while today both Clegg and Cameron have come out and said the Graun is in effect helping terrorists.  The Mail and others meanwhile have further upped the ante by saying the paper "helps Britain's enemies" or is downright traitorous.

Quite apart from how this makes clear just how little it takes for the Mail to view someone or an institution as either hating Britain or guilty of treachery, it provides a quite wonderful contrast with last week.  Then we had the likes of Michael Gove defending the Daily Mail's right to tell lies about a dead man, which if said of someone alive would almost certainly have brought a libel suit, while other Tory politicians cautioned everyone to be mindful of the freedom of the press, as though criticism of the Mail equated to wanting to restrict its right to embarrass itself.  7 days later and we don't just have politicians attacking a newspaper on the grounds that its actions might have helped someone somewhere who wishes us harm, we have other sections of the press joining in, without so much as a thought to publish and be damned, as they have so often argued for in the past.

Criticising the Guardian on the basis that it hasn't properly thought through what its revelations could lead to is one thing.  To bring treachery, helping terrorists or putting lives at risk into it is quite another.  It's as though we've never been through these kind of controversies before: every single time the security services and government have shrieked about national security and lives being put at risk, and every single time they either fail to produce a single piece of evidence to back up their claims or they quietly drop them.  The prosecution against Chelsea Manning failed to provide one example of someone coming to harm due to the release of the files she leaked, and that was despite Wikileaks putting up the raw files for download, against the wishes of the media organisations they had worked with.  The claim by the prosecution counsel quoted in the Telegraph that agents have had to move due to the Snowden files isn't just ridiculous, it's an insult to our intelligence.

Despite having repeated the Guardian's articles, if we're to believe the Mail, Times and Telegraph, they now don't think the public have the right to know exactly what their intelligence agencies are up to.  They shouldn't have been told they were attempting to "master the internet", tapping into fibre optic cables and sucking up every single piece of data they can, that they're trying to break internet encryption, with all the potential consequences that could have, that they've been working hand in glove with the biggest internet companies behind the scenes, despite the denials of both in the past, and that all of this has been deemed lawful on the basis of a certificate a minister signs every six months, to focus on just the most notable things we've learned.  Indeed, according to the Mail all this has helped our enemies, while others quoted with approval suggest the paper should be prosecuted.

As John Kampfner points out, in the past the Mail has been (rightly) outraged over certain abuses by the security services.  That this time round it's taken the side of the government can't just be explained by anger at the Graun not agreeing with them on press regulation; it's that this is a government of a blue rather than a red hue.  It might not like Cameron much, but last week emphasised how it can expect nothing from a Labour government under Ed Miliband.  That their part in this campaign against the Graun betrays their readers' right to know seemingly doesn't matter, but then again, it never has in the past either.

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Wednesday, October 09, 2013 

The feral press, pathetic in the face of real power.

Wouldn't it be lovely to have a free press?  You know, the sort that, rather than concentrating on trivia or revelations along the lines that an X Factor contestant has two cousins who are convicted murderers, actually undertook investigations, exposed wrongdoing, and held governments and the state to account?  If you were to believe the likes of the Mail and the Sun, that's exactly what we have and exactly what we stand to lose should the government's royal charter be used to set-up a new press regulator.  That it seems the same newspapers that plunged the entire British media into a crisis will instead go their own way yet again doesn't enter into it.

Nonetheless, if you ever needed further evidence what we in fact have is an industry that doth protest too much, you only need to see how the Mail, Times and Telegraph all decided today that rather than stand up for press freedom and journalistic integrity, they would instead side with the government and the securocrats against the Guardian.  Not only did they focus in laser like on what was a mere couple of paragraphs in the speech by MI5 director general Andrew Parker, in which he didn't so much as mention either the Graun or Edward Snowden, they were also helpfully briefed by "sources" who told them that "Parker is furious about the Snowden leaks", that the Graun has essentially provided a "handbook" for terrorists in how to avoid detection and that they "find it incomprehensible" there needed to be a public debate about such piffling matters.

When David Miranda was detained at Heathrow under section 7 of the Terrorism Act, plenty of people were quick to point out the number of Sun and former News of the World journalists who have been arrested, many of whom remain on bail, not knowing if they will yet face charges.  It was a fair enough point, and there probably hasn't been enough coverage in the ex-broadsheet press about the impact of the phone hacking investigations on journalism in general.  It's surely equally absurd though to then regard Miranda's detention, and as Alan Rusbridger later revealed, the pyrrhic smashing of a hard drive containing the Snowden files, as anything other than intimidation of the most unsubtle kind.  For the Mail, which unlike the other right-wing tabloids opposed New Labour's worst excesses on civil liberties, to tacitly agree with the government that the real danger is not from surveillance programmes which have grown exponentially without any oversight but the journalism which exposed them is a betrayal of the very values it claims to uphold.

There are obviously other factors at work here other than just anger at the Graun for not going along with the press barons on the new regulator.  The paper was the Mail's harshest critic last week during the Ralph Miliband row (with the possible exception of the Mirror)  and it was the Graun's own Jonathan Freedland who started the ball rolling with his column in the Jewish Chronicle on whether there was a whiff of anti-Semitism about the original article and then editorial (I didn't think there was, but can see why some felt that way).  This doesn't however explain why the Telegraph has took the government/securocrat line, especially when it was one of the few to follow up the Guardian's initial revelations.  The idea that either the Times or Torygraph would have refused to publish the Snowden files had he gone to either rather than Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald is laughable in itself.

The simplest explanation is that the majority of the press, and indeed MPs, are in thrall to the security state.  Parker's speech yesterday was in fact for the most part a sober, dry, and rather dull update on where MI5 stands at this moment.  Contrary to some reports, he did not say that the threat from terrorism was increasing, rather than it was diversifying, as anyone who's watched the news over the past year can tell.  Unlike previous holders of the job he didn't engage in scaremongering, and even suggested that some had done so in the past.  Whether it's true that as he said, the number of those who wish to do us harm remains about the same as it has for the past few years we simply can't tell, but it wasn't by any means an attempt to alarm.  Where he did venture into politics, apart from the nonsense about "gifts" and "handing the advantage to the terrorists" was in his claims that the intelligence agencies are well regulated and monitored, as well as all but asking for the powers that GCHQ already has to be given a proper legal basis.

All of which are the sentiments you would expect from a MI5 director general.  It's when the government agrees with those sentiments, and essentially accuses a newspaper of helping terrorists that we get into territory that ought to receive a response from all those who claim to believe in freedom of expression and the press.  The idea that terrorists or anyone else aren't already highly paranoid about how they communicate is laughable, unless they're the kind we've mostly dealt with of late, the incompetents.  The revelations about Prism and Tempora merely made clear what we and they already suspected.  Indeed, the New York Times reports that the US letting slip it was listening in to communications between al-Qaida leaders has had a far more chilling effect than anything that's emerged about the NSA and GCHQ.

The securocrat attitude is that nothing they don't reveal themselves should enter the public domain. And who can blame them? The last few years have seen their methods during the first stage of the war on terror when they were complicit in the rendering and torture of British residents brought into harsh light. They then lied through their teeth to the Intelligence and Security Committee about what they knew, even claiming they couldn't understand how the Americans were getting those they had captured to talk. They feel so secure in their position that they can make outrageous claims along the line that the Snowden files have dealt them their biggest blow in their history, as though the Cambridge Five never existed.  That these ridiculous sentiments are then repeated in a supposed feral press without criticism only underlines how supine they are in the face of real power.

When the media won't do the very basics, how can we expect those with even less inclination to do so? Just remember, if you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear. William Hague said as much.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013 

We are all bourgeois now.

As unhappy coincidences go, today's announced rise in unemployment seems as fitting a tribute to Maggie as anything else.  We all Thatcherites now, says David Cameron, and while you can't level the accusation against him that he believes unemployment an acceptable price to pay for his overall reforms, especially considering no government since has believed in full employment, his government is going way beyond Thatcher's obstinacy on economics.  She after all did relent to an extent when monetarism sent the economy into free fall; Cameron and Osborne seem likely to ignore the advice of the highest priests of neoliberalism, the IMF, to scale back on austerity, such is the way they've made it impossible to do so without humiliating themselves.

Just as I didn't watch the royal wedding (and why on earth would anyone, for that matter?), I somehow managed to avoid the funeral.  Quite why so many find something to admire in our ability to put on pageantry when required equally escapes me; authoritarian nations also tend to be pretty good at putting on a show, and yet with the exception of the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics, we usually make fun of them precisely on that basis.  Just as the only reasonable reaction to goose-stepping soldiers is to laugh at them, so the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the monarchy and also now the chosen few regarded as being the equivalent of royalty ought to be mocked.  It is utterly ridiculous, almost everyone except for the dewy-eyed few know it to be ridiculous, and so undoubtedly this ridiculous tradition will continue to be rolled out for every major state event, such are our ways.

If nothing else, today has at least been revealing of how politicians regard each other in private.  Both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown were first elected to parliament in 1983 on "the longest suicide note in history" manifesto, but neither it seems had any objection to Thatcher being given a quasi-state funeral.  Indeed, it seems the only major thing the Tories added to the plans drawn up under the last government was the military aspect.  They might not have known that the right would take the opportunity of her death to attempt to portray her as second only to Churchill in the great national figure stakes, yet if they've had any such concerns since they certainly weren't on display today.  Nor has the week of hype and eulogising left the Mail drained; if anything, it's reached such a peak that you doubt they'll be able to top it when Liz pops her clogs.  "A journey's end", the front page read, while below they claim up to 250,000 were lining the route of the procession (since changed to a more realistic 50,000).  Just as you have to multiple the figures given by the police for any demonstration other than one by the Countryside Alliance by the power of 4, so it now seems you have to divide the numbers given by the Mail by the same amount.

Nor was the ceremony itself beyond critique.  Today wasn't the time and place to discuss her politics, said the Bishop of London, Richard Chatres, who then decided at the end that it actually was as he defended her over the infamous "no such thing as society" comments.  She did believe in society, and the interdependence of people, he said, which is almost certainly true; what went unsaid was that however you read her remarks, she clearly said people shouldn't even expect to be housed by the state. I don't think anyone disputes that first and foremost our responsibility is to look after ourselves; it's that a majority of us still believe that the state should provide an adequate safety net, whether that be in housing or benefits. Society is not the state, as the Tories said at the last election, but Thatcher's government did more to fray the threads that tie communities together and make up society than any since the war.

The real irony of today is that for all their tributes to her, not to forget George Osborne's solitary tear, Cameron spent his first years as Conservative leader trying to repair the damage her overthrow did to the party. Arguable as his overall success has been, the last week has been a reminder to everyone that her legacy is still inescapable.  To suggest this is unlikely to go down well in those places that the Tories need to win to get a majority next time out is to put it too lightly.  The overwhelming mood might be apathy rather than anger, such as that in Leeds and Edinburgh rather than Goldthorpe, yet you shouldn't bet against Labour using a few of the images of the past week come in 2015, hypocritical in the extreme or not.

This said, Cameron was right in saying we are all Thatcherites now.  At least he was if he was meant the political class, as they clearly are all Thatcherite in one sense or another.  A significant number of the population by contrast remain in favour of an alternative, it's just they aren't so much as offered one. Nor are they likely to be. And eventually, something is going to break.

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Monday, April 15, 2013 

A small, ridiculous gesture for a massive, undignifed death jamboree.

One of the problems that comes from Labour deciding to just let the Tories have their week of mourning/deification with the very minimum of criticism is that you let the likes of George Galloway represent what a significant amount of people are thinking.  It was an utterly absurd, cowardly move for the BBC to not play Ding Dong in full, instead opting for the typical compromise that pleased neither side.  I really thought we'd moved past the point at which things that were in poor taste were banned/censored due to outside pressure, not least when it comes to music.  There's plenty of music in the top 40 that's offensive in terms of how objectively awful it is, but if people buy it, it gets played.  It's how the system works.  Start altering that and it renders the entire exercise even more completely and utterly pointless than it already is.  Also, regardless of what Guido or the Mail think, for 52,000 people to buy a song in one week purely as a protest only underlines how the attempts to claim Thatcher as our greatest peacetime prime minister are a step too far.

And so now Big Ben is to be silenced for the duration of Saint Margaret's funeral.  It's a small, ridiculous gesture for what is turning into a massive, undignified summation of how for all Thatcher's rolling back of the state, the parts that were in most need of trimming are still fully functioning.  Turning your back on the entire charade really does seem to be the best possible way to register discontent with what has been a fully fledged political campaign from the moment the news of her death came through.

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Thursday, April 11, 2013 

A political Queen.

Writing about Thatcher (and politicians in general), it's easy to forget that behind the often harsh, apparently uncaring exterior, there was a real, feeling woman who clearly was capable of great kindness as well as denouncing her opponents in the strongest of terms.  One of the more myth-squashing anecdotes from yesterday's Commons and Lords sessions was Lord Butler's retelling of how a student challenged her on referring to children as "illegitimate", despite their parentage not being something they had any control over.  Thatcher responded that it was better than calling them the alternative (bastard), yet later she reflected to Butler that having thought about it, the student had been right.  Looking at the photograph taken of her in Battersea Park only last month, I was reminded of my grandmother's passing last year, who also spent her final years battling with dementia.  Regardless of what we do with our lives, at the end every single one of us dies the same way, alone.

All the more reason why we shouldn't let Thatcher be remade into what is effectively political royalty.  The way Tory MPs tried to shout down both David Winnick and Glenda Jackson yesterday may well be typical Commons behaviour which all sides are often guilty of, yet it was surely inappropriate when so many of their colleagues made tributes that went far beyond the sycophantic and instead into the most slavering hero worship.  The idea she had any role in the fall of the Soviet Union beyond her early picking out of Gorbachev is absurd, as is her much overstated love of freedom.  She believed in it for those under Communism, not so much those under authoritarian regimes that were British allies.

Fair enough, David Cameron clearly admires her deeply, and so his rhetorical flourishes can be forgiven.  Ed Miliband also acquitted himself well, making a well-judged speech that covered both the good and the bad without riling either side. It's also unclear just how much of the planning for the funeral was done by which government: we now know Operation True Blue dates back to around 2006, indicating that some sort of public remembrance was going to take place regardless of who was in power. Which would have been fine. A ceremonial funeral goes well beyond that, giving her the same status as a royal, ignoring how one of the reasons we continue to grudgingly put up with Brenda is that she has stayed resolutely above politics.

The comparison is apt, because much as any criticism of Liz is treated as being akin to a modern form of blasphemy, so it seems the likes of the Mail now want Maggie to get the same treatment. As predictable as the outrage was from the usual suspects at those not treating their heroine's death with the due amount of respect, the Mail's pursuit of those behind one such death party is incredibly petty. Splashing two days in a row on the opponents rather than celebrating Thatcher's life and legacy seems a really odd way to go about things.

Then again, perhaps the Mail thinks focusing on the beastliness of some is the only way to win over those it would normally consider its natural allies.  To judge by the ratings the tribute programmes hastily screen on Monday picked up (3 million) and the number of views news stories on the major websites have received since, Thatcher's demise and the circus that has followed since might be fascinating the politics nerds (guilty), but it doesn't seem to be transfixing many others.

And why should it?  Those born on the day she left office are now 22, while the passing of time for those older appears to have dulled both the interests and opinions of the majority.  Moreover, we can either bemoan or celebrate her legacy, but none of the mainstream political parties want to truly break with it.  The battles she fought appear to be all but over, while her main disciple is urging Ed Miliband to not so much as inch leftwards.  Looks as though, yet again, it's up to the next generation to break the spell Thatcher cast over British politics.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013 

Anthems for a 17-year-old girl.

One thing almost completely buried (ho ho) by the passing of Margaret Hilda Thatcher (and credit where credit's due to both David Winnick and Glenda Jackson for refusing to go along with the consensus in today's tribute debate) has been the remarkable treatment meted out to Paris Brown, the unfortunately named 17-year-old appointed to be yoof crime tsar by Kent's police and crime commissioner.  Try to put aside the fact that Brown's mission was supposedly meant to be to bring the police and young people closer together, as "they used to be", or that almost no one wanted the PCCs in the first place, and instead marvel at the sheer laziness, cynicism and callousness involved in the Mail on Sunday's attack on someone still not old enough to cast a ballot herself.

You might recall that back in 2009 the Scottish Sunday Express ran what was quite possibly the most ill-judged and despicable newspaper piece in many years.  Written by Paula Murray, the article "exposed" what it described as the "shame" of the survivors of the Dunblane massacre, who now having reached 18 were daring to live their lives the way almost every other 18-year-old would. Murray had scoured their social networking profiles for the slightest evidence of "bad" behaviour, whether it be drinking, swearing, sex, getting tattoos or even into the odd fight, and instead of being told by her colleagues or indeed even her editor that this was just about the most appalling breach of privacy imaginable, Derek Lambie went ahead and splashed it on the front page.  Deserved opprobrium duly landed on the heads of all involved.

Four years later, and we have the first major evidence that the politicians and public figures of the future are likely to be damned for what they put on their Twitter or Facebook pages potentially decades previous.  The hatchet job performed on Brown is still astonishing though, both for the vehemence of the attack and the sheer breadth of what the MoS decided to focus on.  Understandably, most attention was focused on Brown's comments on "pikeys" and her description of everyone on Made in Chelsea as "fucking fags", but the paper also saw fit to draw attention to the fact that Brown talked of how the "worst thing about being single" was "coming home ... horny and having to sleep alone".  A young woman daring to express sexual desire in a public forum? How dare she!

Regardless of when she made some of the tweets, and as Brown swiftly deleted the account we can't check whether she did make some when she was 14 or 15 and not recently, there really isn't much here to get even slightly outraged about.  No, it isn't clever to say you're glad your little brother hit someone who gave his friend a black eye, nor should it be acceptable to call people fags or faggots regardless of the changing meaning of the word, although it should be remembered programmes like Made in Chelsea are produced with the intention of winding people up.  As for her attack on "pikeys", it's fairly apparent she was using the word not as an attack on gypsies directly, but in the sense it's came to be used in as shorthand for thieves in general.  Still not anywhere approaching OK, but are there many who can say that at Brown's age they didn't also make such sweeping condemnations of people, or even use racist language?  I know I can't.

Quite apart from the hysterical hypocrisy of the Mail stable of newspapers condemning someone's non-PC comments on race relations and gay rights, what really rankles is that they chose to draw attention to some of her more introspective, vulnerable tweets, including one where she's obviously criticising herself for how she has sometimes behaved when drunk.  17-year-old has on occasion had a drink! Hold the front page!

It was hardly surprising then when, presumably pressurised into doing so, Brown sat across from the PCC Anne Barnes apologising for the messages while crying her eyes out, all in front of the TV cameras.  I don't think I've seen a more pitiful sight in quite some time; a young person thought she was doing something to help those her own age, and was duly rewarded for it with the kind of attack usually reserved for those who have in some way or another attracted the Mail's ire.

Brown shouldn't have had to resign, but almost certainly had no option. Joe Jones says she have been fully vetted, with her social networking profiles looked at, yet is this really the kind of territory we're now getting into?  When teenagers can't even be allowed to make mistakes or say stupid things for fear they might later have them picked up on, we're in clear danger of creating a generation of politicians who are so desperately dull and have such indistinct opinions that the public becomes even less enthused with the system than they currently are.  Whatever you thought about Thatcher, she believed in what she was doing.  Plenty of those now growing up have the potential to be outstanding future leaders with similar qualities, and are presumably exactly the sort the Mail on Sunday would approve of.  If we're going to attempt to kill them off before they even get started because of daft things they've done on the internet, our democracy is going to be a very dry place indeed.

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Friday, February 15, 2013 

The tabloids: publishing death porn since the advent of the printing press.

Much comment, understandably, on the Sun's decision to run a front page splash (and in this instance it really does seem the right word) on the death of Reeva Steenkamp, illustrated with a full page photo of the model and presenter appearing to undo her bikini top.  It's certainly tasteless, and as Marina Hyde notes, just happens to come the day after the One Billion Rising protests, the campaign intended to bring more attention to violence against women.

It's hardly the most egregious recent case of tabloid death porn though, and one which at the time barely caused a ripple of complaint as far as I can remember.  Back in 2008, the Daily Star splashed on the latest evidence heard at the trial of Mark Dixie, who was subsequently found guilty of the murder of Sally Anne Bowman.  "MY SEX WITH SALLY ANNE'S DEAD BODY", the front page screamed, alongside the ubiquitous shot of Bowman from her modelling catalogue, hands in the top of her jeans.

As for the motivation behind using such photographs to illustrate crime cases, Dixie's trial more than provided a clue.  Found on Dixie's digital camera was a video of a man masturbating over a copy of the Daily Mail, the front page of which featured a photograph of Bowman.  The police also found said copy of the Mail in Dixie's possesion, and noted the cover was dashed with a "sticky substance".  The Mail, all but needless to say, merely reported that the police had found a video of Dixie "performing a lewd sex act on the six-month anniversary of the model's death".  Not, you understand, which publication and what material had further energised his "lewd sex act".

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Thursday, June 23, 2011 

Paul Dacre must die!

It's always nice being surprised. Just when you think those behind this nation's tabloids couldn't be any more hypocritical, pathetic or cowardly, along comes the legal threat from the Daily Mail to Kevin Arscott, blogger at Angry Mob. Two years ago he wrote a furious post on an atypical piece of Mail immigration dog-whistling which took what was a heart-warming story on the number of babies treated on a ward in Chelsea and Westminster hospital and turned it into an example of how NHS services were being exploited by foreigners, while also expressing horror at the number of mothers who themselves had been born abroad even if they were British citizens or legally resident here.

By the standards of swear blogging (including some of my own angrier responses to Mail articles), it was fairly tame stuff. Arscott wrote:

I hope Paul Dacre dies a slow and painful death and that people queue up to shit on his grave.

Thanks to Google's wonderful algorithms, his post somehow became (and remains, for now) the second result when you search for Paul Dacre. Whether or not Dacre was Googling his own name (doubtful, considering his aversion to the internet) or he was simply alerted to it by an underling, it seems that he was enraged enough by Kevin's impertinence to set the Mail's lawyers after him. As Unity points out, it's apparent that nothing he wrote is either libellous or defamatory; it's simply abuse, nor is it similar to yesterday's case where a man in Northern Ireland was convicted of an offence after writing on Facebook that a DUP MP should "get a bullet in the head". Arscott merely hopes Dacre dies a slow and painful death, not the most pleasant thing to say, but by considering the depths some on the internet sink to it's incredibly tame.

The Mail's lawyers must have known that the chances of winning any case for defamation on something so slight were minute; that almost certainly wasn't their aim, however. Just through sending their threatening email to Angry Mob's UK based hosting company they will have counted on them caving in immediately, thanks to the notorious Demon ruling and successive EC directives, or demand that he take it down himself or else they'd terminate his account for breach of their terms of service. They did the second, and like myself when faced by threats from Schillings over Alisher Usmanov and Craig Murray, he's removed the post for now.

It is remarkable though, isn't it, that the editor of the very newspaper which has so fiercely campaigned against super-injunctions now resorts to the use of solicitors over something so unbelievably petty: he doesn't want an affair or something embarrassing about his private life hidden away, he just wants someone being nasty about him on the internet to feel his wrath. The editor of a newspaper that repeatedly attacks those whom it thinks have risen above their station, whether it be through a perceived lack of class or for "outraging decency", who feels so self-concious about the second Google result for his name being something that isn't entirely adulatory. An editor who according to numerous accounts treats his staff in the typical tabloid fashion, where they ask each other whether they've been "double-cunted" that day, having been called a cunt twice in one sentence by a man who dedicates page after page to why-oh-whying over the supposed decline of standards, dares to send in expensive briefs over a 2-year-old post which doesn't even begin to lower itself to such name-calling.

Mr Dacre, if you or your solicitors happen to come across this, I too hope that you die a slow and painful death and that people queue up to shit on your grave. It won't even begin to make up for the shit you've been forcing down the throats of the English public for the last 19 years.

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