Archive for category Media

Steve Bell just loves puppet imagery

Today there’s been a veritable faeces-storm over Steve Bell’s latest cartoon, which depicts Bibi Netanyahu using laughable “peace envoy” Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary William Hague as puppets, with missiles unleashed behind him. One Times hack went so far as to call Bell a Nazi, although that appears to have been a misunderstanding. Bell defends himself thus.

But anyone who is even vaguely familiar with Bell’s work (and I am a fan) knows he loves this kind of imagery. All sorts of people are depicted, largely legitimately, as puppets in his work. All these works are copyright Bell or the Guardian or both – I couldn’t always find them on the Guardian’s site, but if anyone from the Guardian wants me to take them down, just let me know..

Racist about Egyptians?

Racist about Russians?

Racist about Americans and Iraqis?

Racist about Afghans?

It’s a thing Bell likes. It fits with a certain left understanding of the world, especially international relations. So-and-so is really controlling what’s-his-name. Sure, some people who are antisemitic use it too, so should that make it off-limits as a metaphor? How would you illustrate that idea?

And yes, having a menorah on the podium might seem off. But you know, it’s just how the actual podium Netanyahu uses looks. That same pic has the same furled Israeli flags that Bell drew for today, too. Again, it’s just how a Netanyahu press conference looks. I’m as anti-antisemitic as anyone, but criticising Israeli politicians for bombing civilians, and criticising those who support them in doing so, that has to be allowed. This just looks like another attempt to shout down critics by disingenuously conflating their legitimate criticisms with racism.

After The Thick of It – what are your favourite British political programmes?

Like political obsessives across the country, I grieved this weekend as The Thick of It came to an end. Being misquoted so it sounds like English isn’t my first language in a newspaper article about it was hardly a consolation.

I actually think it got better and better, with the Lib Dems in the final series being particularly well observed. But (no spoilers) it would be hard to do more after that finale.

So what are your other favourite British political dramas/comedies etc? My top four consists of these three plus TToI:

  1. Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister. No explanation required. Nukes, the media, national service.
  2. A Very British Coup. Chris Mullin’s glorious fantasy of a proper Labour leader winning where Kinnock failed. Channel 4, 1988 – whole thing here.
  3. House of Cards etc. Owned entirely by Ian Richardson’s wonderfully vicious Francis Urquhart (pictured above), even more than Capaldi’s Tucker owned TToI. Sample monologue.

Go on – what should I add to that list? One thing that’s definitely missing is anything by way of Scottish political drama or comedy. Come on BBC/STV, let’s be having something: a dramatisation of Brookmyre’s Boiling A Frog at least.

A Soundbite for Scotland

Everyone loves a good soundbite. Even when they think it isn’t the right time, they just can’t help themselves (‘hand of history on my shoulder’ anyone?)

I suspect, with the starting gun for the independence referendum once again fired, we’re about to be hit with a blizzard of them with the various parties’ press teams having rhyming dictionaries bursting at the seams.

So, for a fun challenge on this day after the historic day before, and whether you’re pro-Indy or pro-UK or something else (pro-Devo Max I suppose), let’s have an open competition to get ahead of Salmond, Lamont, Cameron and co and find the best Scottish soundbite out there with 2014 in mind.

A (very) quick run through the past 13 years of devolved Scotland can get the ball rolling with several zingers from the past:

“we are in London not to settle down but to settle up for Scotland” – Alex Salmond, SNP, 2010

“Journalists have called me “the conscience of the Scottish parliament”, a role which I have been happy to fulfil.” – Robin Harper, Greens, 2003

“If you cut me in half, I’m a believer in the United Kingdom, it’s tattooed on me like a stick of rock” – David Cameron, Conservatives, 2010

“This parliament is the settled will of the Scottish people and I think we all have an obligation to make it work.” Tom McCabe, Labour, 1999

“We in Scotland will not be all that we can unless we lift our eyes to the horizon and look beyond our own set of circumstances.” – Jack McConnell, Labour, 2003

“”It’s not how you got there it’s what you do when you get there,” David McLetchie, Conservatives, 1999

“We’ve got what it takes” – SNP, 2009

‘My reason for being in politics is all about Scotland and its future. It is no secret that, as a teenager, I thought that the political creed of nationalism might offer that future. I also believed in Santa Claus.’ – Jack McConnell
“You can vote for more of the same, for business as usual, for another four years of the stale, grey porridge. Alternatively, you can vote to set Scottish politics on fire by voting for a dynamic new party that dares to be different.” – Tommy Sheridan, 2003

So go on then, what’s yours? Or if there are any from the past that are worth remembering, do add them below.

I have a soft spot for: ‘Scotland stands ready to embark on its unique choose your own adventure story’

If there’s enough takers, I’ll put out a shortlist one by one on twitter with the most RT’d being the winner. So do it, your nation needs you.

Keeping in touch with Auntie after independence

Some in the independence camp have got a bit of a bee in their bonnet about the BBC, with such luminaries as Pete Wishart describing the corporation as the “institutional enemy” of independence. It will, he said, need to be replaced with a new SBC that can buy in £50-75m worth of BBC content a year. Newsnet Scotland’s attitude to the Beeb, similarly, is akin to the Daily Mail’s attitude to gay asylum-seeking carcinogens. Even the First Minister himself has played this game, invoking Godwin’s law by implying his own removal from a rugby commentary slot was so far up the scale of misbehaviour that we would normally associate it with the Nazis.

And to be fair, the BBC’s approach to anything non-metropolitan is often poor, and sometimes it does feel very partisan. Their treatment of the SNP during the 2010 leaders’ debates was unacceptable, for instance, although full equality would have been inappropriate for viewers outside Scotland. And it’s not just them: Greens can tell you a tonne of such stories. As just one illustration, on election day itself in 2007 the lunchtime news showed pictures of a certain Robin Harper voting while a voiceover intoned that he was only there for the cameras, having voted by post some days earlier. Could we get someone to correct this baseless nonsense even in time for the teatime news? We could not. Irritating. On a more minor but telling note, they were right to fix the infamous weather map tilt back in 2005, the most directly graphical illustration of a skewed agenda.

And yet I cannot agree with the SNP’s solution, just as I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theory that their anti-BBC attitudes are some kind of quid pro quo with the Evil One. I do not want an independent Scotland to cut itself off from the BBC and set up a new organisation instead, especially not one if it’s one that trades indy-scepticism for partisan political loyalty. I recognise the bathwater but I also value the baby.

Sure, Good Morning Scotland is essential listening during Scottish elections, despite its obsession with weather and travel reports, and I regard Newsnight Scotland as first-class if cramped (and I’d also rather it didn’t clash with what’s often the most interesting 20 minutes of the network edition), but their focus is necessarily narrower, less internationally-minded. Do we really want an SBC replacement for the remainder of Newsnight to have to staff foreign bureaux, including one to cover rUK news like just another outpost, or to have to try and replace Paul Mason or Susan Watts? I don’t.

After independence I would like to watch a Question Time that covers Scotland more, not less, and listen to a Today programme that deals with Scottish issues properly as well as providing excellent global coverage. Some of this can be achieved very easily now. As a start, they could use their own staff on the ground more for network news, for example, i.e. going to Brian Taylor or David Miller for comment on UK-wide programming rather than a separate Scotland correspondent.

Leaving the news and current affairs side for things I know less about, do we want to have to pay for more Scottish drama and other content as well as paying the BBC for what they do best? Wouldn’t it be better to see the BBC take a more radical approach and give more power and more channel access to their “nations and regions” instead?

BBC management couldn’t continue with the status quo if there’s a yes vote, clearly. An independent Scotland that retained that link would need to be a spur to the corporation to look at alternative models of management, structures that better reflect the growing diversity of their audiences. They should do so anyway, whatever the outcome of the referendum, not least because they’re competing with a revitalised and increasingly confident STV, an STV that’s expanding its hyperlocal services and doing well by doing so. A less constrained digital network gives the BBC the space to up their game accordingly. The right answer is not what would truly be separation, just as it isn’t for rail infrastructure or the electricity grid: it’s surely something more like devo max for BBC Scotland, or even that old Liberal solution, federalism.

Media ownership – an alternative model

A guest post today from Dave Boyle, a writer, researcher and co-operative consultant, and author of “Good News: A co-operative solution to the media crisis“.

He has written and lectured on sport, culture, economics and co-operation, and was previously Chief Executive of Supporters Direct, the organisation that helps fans who want to take control of their clubs.

He blogs at and tweets as @theboyler.

In 2009, the West Highland Free Press was sold. The new owners – one of the big 4 groups who dominate local media – made lots of promises upon acquisition, but they soon fell by the wayside in the face of their need to make a profit of 30% to service their group debts. Journalists were sacked, and then the offices were closed, with production moving to Oban (it was close enough, the senior managers felt). Sales and advertising slumped, as people saw coverage shrink, and what remained was churnalistic cutting and pasting of press releases. The community goodwill which sustained it disappeared, and the cost of delivering it to the further flung parts of the paper’s patch couldn’t be sustained. After 40 years, the paper closed in 2012, with the owners blaming a shift in reading and advertising habits as a result of the internet.

* * *

Of course, that’s not actually what happened. In 2009, the paper was bought by its employees, who all own an equal stake. The paper hasn’t been late once, and whilst it is suffering the difficulties that all businesses struggle with in recessions, its 2% margin does what it needs to do – pays the staff a decent wage to do what they do, and pays back the debts the employees took out to buy it. They’ll have paid those off in a few years and the paper will be able to think about capital investment, new staff and other happy things.

The Free Press, I was told by someone working for the BBC in the area, is at the base of the pyramid of news, keeping them honest and connected, making sure the media ecosystem is vibrant, and so having a positive impact on political performance, honesty and the rest.

When I started thinking about whether the co-operative movement had an answer to the problems of the local media, I was shocked by what I found. I’d been led to believe that dead tree media was failing in the face of the web, but in fact it looked more like a common or garden failing of the era of cheap credit. Local groups who owned papers sold them to larger groups, who started to treat them as lines on a spreadsheet, not parts of their communities. I’m absolutely convinced that better ownership models will give newspapers, and more importantly journalism, the resilience they need.

But co-operative models have other spin-offs too. They’d be accountable to their readers or their reporters (or both), depending on which type of co-op route they picked. The underpinning story of Leveson is that a news culture developed which was set at the top, with reporters powerless to stop it, aside from quitting. Readers had no means to affect change, other than registering their unhappiness by stopping reading. Which is actually what half of newspaper readers have done, but no-one ever thinks it might be because the news we have isn’t up to it; the media couldn’t be the cause of the media’s failings, could it? Better blame something epochal and impersonal like the web.

The beauty of co-operatives is that by being accountable to a wider public, they embody the public interest – the thing we want most from our media, when thinking about sustaining a civil society – far better than any privately owned concern ever could.

The final benefit is that co-ops can be understood as organisational software, which for over 150 years have been proven to unlock people’s goodwill, and their ability to take responsibility for the things that matter to them in their communities.

This speaks directly to the biggest challenge the media face, the genuine threat from the internet, which is destroying the advertising base that has subsidised news production, and so making the industry, like many others, newly precarious. Media outlets are discovering a social mission few had noted in the last 30 years of their activities, and are calling for state support and subsidy.

But the subsidy for cover price could be made good by people paying its true costs – or something more like it. That’s where co-ops come in. Paying more to make someone else richer isn’t a very sellable appeal; it works best as a by-product for owners of capital, not their sales pitch.

But people would be more interested in paying to own and run and support a paper they controlled, held to account and knew was in the heart of their communities. One which like the Free Press, wouldn’t need to make a profit per se, just enough money to cover its costs and build some reserves.

It’s an issue where the Scottish Parliament can go far beyond the timidity of Westminster. It could make local media companies into assets communities can register an interest in to buy, and provide loans to enable them to so, and give people tax incentives to use their own capital to benefit the community. It could legislate to ensure that whenever a newspaper office closed, people had the right to buy the title that used to be produced there, like the Community Reinvestment Act did in the US.

With imagination and commitment, you could do something quite extraordinary. And the beauty is that politicians should be on board. After all, who else is going to print pictures of them kissing babies?