The Scots Law Student

The SLS : Life and trials of learning law in Scotland

Tag: media

Too discriminatory to stop

How do we know self-regulation of the media is an ineffectual farce?

This guy

The Palestinians are the pikeys of the Middle East. If they must have a homeland, give them part of Saudi Arabia, because the Egyptians, the Syrians, the Jordanians and the Lebanese don’t want them either”.… “No more hand-wringing. It’s time for neck-wringing”.

There is a lot of debate about if Richard Littlejohn is a

  1. professional troll,
  2. horrible bigot,
  3. free speech campaigner,
  4. genuinely unaware of what he’s saying.

I propose another option. Richard Littlejohn is trying to destroy the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) from the inside.

When I went to Sunday school, a million years ago, we were taught to love our neighbour.

I don’t recall ever being told that we should take an ‘eye for an eye’ literally. Or that the punishment for homosexuality was death.

Aged six, we didn’t even know what homosexuality was, even though we’d been warned to steer clear of that chap who was always hanging round the swimming pool.

A little while ago (the guy is prolific) he managed to imply that homosexuals abuse children. As a result quite a few people complained to the PCC. The PCC did not claim that what he said didn’t discriminate against homosexuals but that it merely discriminated against all homosexuals and that’s apparently ok.

The complainants were concerned that the article implied that homosexual individuals were paedophiles.

The Commission acknowledged the complainants’ concerns that the columnist had equated homosexuality with paedophilia. However, while the terms of Clause 12 (Discrimination) prevent newspapers from making prejudicial or pejorative reference to an individual’s sexual orientation, it does not cover generalised remarks about groups or categories of people. Given that the complainants were concerned that the article discriminated against homosexual individuals in general, the Commission could not establish a breach of Clause 12 (Discrimination) of the Editors’ Code of Practice on these grounds.

Basically, it’s starting to look like no matter what Littlejohn writes the PCC won’t do anything. Staggeringly Richard Littlejohn is showing us that something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Why do we need the PCC again?

H/T: Tabloid Watch
Enemies of Reason



What team do you support?

I don’t really follow football – I’ll happily watch it for an afternoon as long as I’ve got a good view and it isn’t too cold but I’ve never found the interest needed to really follow a particular team. It doesn’t help that one of my friends has a remarkable, encyclopaedic, knowledge of Scottish football and you can just ask him.

However, I do follow media regulation so make of that what you will. I was initially amused that someone has complained to the BBC Trust about the “constant denigration” of Rangers Football Club on the BBC’s Off The Ball because, you know, complaining about people slagging off football teams seems a bit spurious. At the end of the day it’s a successful football team and as long as it keeps making money and winning games the suspiciously tanned people on the TV can say what they like. Rangers is a company and companies should not get protection of their reputations from mean people on sports programs.

But, however much Rangers is a company it is not just a company – it was not too long ago that the only safe answer to a stranger asking you “what team do you support?” was “Partick Thistle” followed by running away. There is a rich seam of sectarian violence in Glasgow’s history and the two major football teams have a substantial part in that. It is a hot button that TV presenters should be careful about pushing.

Primarily it’s just hugely unprofessional for TV presenters to make comments about the evolutionary pedigree of a team’s supporters. You’re on TV, don’t do it.

The Trust have decided that it does not amount to code breaching bias but they have identified “problems” and will change them for the future. That came as a bit of a surprise for me I didn’t even realise Off the Ball was still on; I thought they’d cancelled it ages ago.


I’m bad at French horn

Ben Goldacre – best selling author of Bad Science (a good book which I do heartily recommend as a grim, anger inducing read about the venal and selfish side of human nature) – has given an interview for Intelligence Squared. The interview covers the ‘problem’ of media coverage of science.

Goldacre has a really appealing comparator for the way that science is needlessly dumbed down in the media: no one dumbs down snooker for TV. You either know the rules of snooker already or you just don’t understand what’s going on. Science really gets a terrible time of it in the media; it’s morphed into a game where one person says something that he seems awfully sure of for 30 seconds and another person says something that they are equally (if not more) sure of for 30 seconds that makes it sound a lot like the first guy was completely wrong in every way. There’s not really enough time to get beyond the very basics (like “X does/n’t kill you so you are/n’t fine”) so you don’t get to look into possible warning signs with either person’s research (if they have actually done any work on the subject to begin with) or even the reason why either person thinks what they do — that’s called the science bit and that’s a bit complicated.

He makes a good point during the interview about the portrayal of things as science issues to hide your underlying motive, for instance racism has many examples of “scientific fact” being used to justify the prejudices the speaker wanted to hold in the first place. That’s not science being a bad thing, that’s science being misused.

What about the…

All the above is important stuff and I do feel strongly about it, but the thing that really caught my ear is where the interviewer asks the “what about the people who say ‘I don’t know where to go to find the evidence’?” question. Obviously people being unable to integrate with the scientific process because they don’t have access to the source material is a bad thing so that’s a no brainer, bad thing is bad.

Goldacre’s answer is interesting – for the example of climate change evidence he points people towards the IPCC advice to governmental policy makers and calls it a good piece of popular science writing. He talks about the controversy over the melting glacier issue and explains why it doesn’t affect this document. I think that’s a good example.

However, the interviewer then says words to the effect that he doesn’t even know what the letters mean and I think this might be linked to Goldacre going on to give a bright line distinction between people who genuinely don’t know where to find information (people aren’t born knowing this stuff and that is a problem) and those who say it because it sounds better than “I don’t care enough to look it up”. I think the access to information thing has to go both ways, especially if the other party has access to Google. If we’re talking about snooker and I mention a “cue” that’s not necessarily because I’m trying to exclude you with jargon, it just might be that I assumed you knew a wee bit about the basics before entering the conversation.

I’m no good at French horn but that’s because I’ve never even attempted to do it.


Turns out that police guard might not be needed after all.

There was a police guard posted outside of the home of the twins that were allegedly attacked by a fox. I commented at the time that this was utterly ridiculous and who possibly thought that was necessary or a good idea. It just proved to me that people were taking the whole extremely rare fox attack issue too seriously for its own good.

Foxes get a hard time. There isn’t a big movement out there that seems to actually like them and it’s a hard, short life for the average fox no matter where it lives. It got a whole lot harder for the urban fox a little earlier in the week when the Urban Fox Hunters posted a video of themselves pretty much lynching a fox on YouTube, Blogger and Facebook.

It was a grainy, horrible video on YouTube. The video was extremely brutal – it showed a fox eating dog food, laced with Xanex to stop it running away, and then clubbed to death by four masked men using cricket bats. It was so bad that it was later removed, from Facebook (home of the Raoul Moat is a Legend group) and YouTube (without Viacom being involved).

It was a very social media aware act of ultraviolent animal cruelty but isn’t everything on Facebook these days? The group, particularly a ringleader called “Lone Horseman” then defended their actions with comments like:

“I haven’t laughed so much since my brother fell off that roof,”

“So we cornered Mr Fox in a dark alley and we pummelled the s*** out of him. And boy do these vermin stink. It was f***ing awesome to get a kill – one down, several hundred to go!”

“This is NOT about inflicting pain or torture to an animal, but about ridding our neighbourhood of a pest.”

It was picked up by the Mail, the Mirror, the Guardian, the BBC, the Evening Standard, the Times, and was generally reported quite widely. The problem is that it was an elaborate hoax which was specifically supposed to show that the media would report anything with a fox in it no matter how ridiculous or untrue. Basically the moral of the story is that they indeed would. They made a video for the Guardian which makes good watching, particularly when you see just how scrappy the hoax really was – it turns out they were chasing a “fox” that was actually someone’s dog with a bushy tail taped a tail on it and the reason they used dog food was because a fox had managed to steal all the other bait they had with them.

The makers of both the hoax video and the making of the hoax video video did it to show the reality of fox hunting in light of the Government planning to give MPs a “free vote” – one where the whips don’t tell them what to vote – on the Hunting Act. I agree with their stance and the amount of horror that showing what killing a fox looks like generates shows the strength of opinion that exists on the other side of the issue. It seems clear that, no matter what you’ve been the paper for, we don’t want anything killed in that manner and no matter what class you are.

The film makers suggest that you should write to your MP to show your feelings on the possible repeal of the hunting act. I agree and I urge you to do this too.

Some good commentary (of course meaning it reflects what I think about the issue) is at the artoftheprank.


Happy Inauguration Barack Obama

Normally I would say that American politics is out with the remit of this blog but I have been watching the ceremony on BBC News 24 (hurrying home to get to see it happen) and it is nothing short of awe inspiring to see the crowds who travelled from as far afield as Africa and Europe to see him sworn in. He’s an amazing speaker and whether you agree or disagree with his words they demand to be heard. This day will change the world in a way that does not usually happen with these, strictly speaking, procedural ceremonies.

However, as a comment on the press, I find the media coverage to be faintly one sided – from Obama’s message of diversity and equality the press have turned to commenting nearly exclusively on the African American community. I personally dislike the concept of racial communities being collectively described in anything, I’m technically a member of the “white community” along with the Neds who throw used chewing gum on the bus and members of the BNP but it would be a cold day in hell before I feel kinship with either of those groups. I suspect it’s the same for people of other races and the oft repeated comments that the “black community” is happy that Obama is president don’t ring true to me; groups of completely different people can’t be spoken for like that. For example, the prayer given by the black civil rights leader that he hopes there comes a time when “white can do right” is probably a fairly heartfelt statement for that particular man who undeniably suffered but cannot possibly cover every single white person in the world.

Russell Howard tells an anecdote in his act about his mother joining a “5 foot club” and discovering that the only thing the members had in common was their height and this did not mean that they had common ground or even got on as people. The same point stands for people grouped together by age or religion or nationality or race – the members might share this characteristic but they are still individuals and no one should ever forget that and pigeonhole anyone.

I would much rather consider Barack Obama as an exceptionally talented, intelligent and sensitive man, human being even, than a half black, half white Hawaii-born American. To say any less is to diminish him as a person.