Saturday, 8 September 2007

Truth at last?

The Madeleine McCann saga has dragged on for so long now, it
almost seems as though it can't last much longer. But as
every day of it drags out - we're almost 4 months in now,
don't forget - you surely can't help but think we're getting
closer to the truth. And, much as it stinks to say 'I told
you so', the truth is closer to what's previously been
written on this blog than many have ever liked to believe.

The McCanns (who, in a twisty-turny sort of way, have
insisted on staying in Portugal until Maddie is found, then
changed their mind and decided to return to the UK, then
have insisted they are not interested in revenge on
'smear-campaign' Portuguese newspapers, before choosing to
threaten legal action if said newspapers utter a word that
could be construed as questioning the McCann's version of
'what happened') are now suspects in the case of their own
daughter's disappearance.

Of course, the UK media would never dare to question Kate
and Gerry McCanns' undying innocence, would they? The Sun
today brands as 'sick' the police decision to name Kate as a
suspect - because, of course, a parent can never possibly
have any role in child abuse. Because, of course, we live in
a world where every parent is perfect at being just that - a
parent. Have we really become so infatuated with
middle-class yummy-mummy Kate, and husband Gerry, that we
are unable to accept the police's suspicion of them as
perputators, if there is evidence to support that? If we
were talking about anyone else as the suspect here, the
media response would be entirely different. But we have
become so overrun with sympathy for the McCanns, not for any
real reason other than that we think that's how we should
act, that we become unable to question anything they do.

Of course, we can seek solace in the fact that this is the
Sun's reporting that we're talking about here. The other
lead story on their web site, at the time of writing, reads
'Abbey Serves Up Treat In Saucy Undies: Picture Special'.
So, yes, they really do care about Madeleine - not an ounce
of sensationalism going on, you understand.

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Code Madeleine

Madeleine McCann has frequently been the subject of posts on
this blog and, as we pass the milestone of 100 days since
she disappeared, it's only right that the issue should be
revisited. I've not always been the most sympathetic to the
McCann's cause and, while I continue to understand their
pain, that's not something that's about to change anytime

The News of the World's Code Madeleine - what to do if your
child is abducted - is, for a start, an enormous cause of
annoyance and disbelief for me. Again, it's something that's
been oft discussed before, but it surely needs revisiting if
things like this continue to appear in the press. You can
never prevent every abduction, I grant you. You can't watch
your children every second of the day; there's always the
chance that, just when you turn your back in their bedroom,
a twisted, evil psychopath will hatch up the window and
snatch them before you've noticed the slightest thing's
wrong. But there's a clear distinction to be made between
that and blatant neglect. This isn't something I'm going to
step down on, either - leaving your children unaccompanied
in a holiday apartment while you go out for a good time over
tapas with friends is, unequivocally, neglect. So you don't
need Code Madeleine, you don't need six steps to take in the
event that your child is abducted; at least not if this is
formed on the basis that you're not around at the time
anyway. Parents take on responsibilities at conception -
those responsibilities don't shrivel away because your child
is asleep, or doesn't need to be winded after a feed. If you
want to avoid an abduction (and again I stress avoid,
because you'll never eradicate every single one), there's a
simple answer - provide appropriate supervision, and don't
shirk your responsibilities as their only hope of being

Just a short note, too, on the presence of presumably
British tourists outside the church where the McCanns and
others said prayers for Madeleine on the 100th day of her
disappearance. I've heard condemnation of this by a certain
radio presenter and several call-in listeners and, to be
honest, I agree. Applauding and photographing Gerry and Kate
McCann as they leave church probably isn't the best way of
being sympathetic to their cause, if that's what you're
going to do. Though usually I'd seek to criticise
shaven-headed, tattoo-laden, beer-bellied chav-tastic
British tourists at every opportunity, here the issue lies
with the media - and the McCanns. It's entirely
understandable that they should want Madeleine's face on
every newspaper, TV station and web site in Europe as often
as possible (though why their faces need to accompany it is
beyond me), but the rough comes with the smooth. Public
interest isn't something you can switch on and off at whim -
if you're to manipulate (quite justly) the media in such a
way as the McCanns have, then you need to accept that
individuals and the press will want to keep themselves in on
developments all the time.

Camp for Climate Change

I've always trusted the BBC as a source of impartiality or,
if not impartial, then somewhat biased in favour of views
that I, as a left-wing liberal softie, might sympathise
with. But any impartiality is something I doubt more and
more, and a shocking report about the Camp for Climate
Change near Heathrow (shown on last night's ten o'clock
edition of BBC London News) serves to highlight that more
than anything. If the BBC isn't becoming a spout for
government propaganda then I'll be blown. Here's my
complaint to the BBC Trust, submitted this morning, which
goes into a little more detail:

"I was disgusted by Guy Smith's report, shown on the BBC
London News broadcast shortly after 10pm on 13th August, on
protests at the camp for climate change near Heathrow.

The report was anything but impartial, in fact the
antithesis of what should be rightly expected from the BBC's
correspondents. Mr Smith clearly had a chip on his shoulder
from the start of his report, in which he took a clear
stance against the protestors and became increasingly
aggressive as the report went on. He barged into the camp,
citing his right to be on what he termed private land,
whilst using the same argument (private land) to describe
the protestors' lack of right to be there. He also appeared
incredibly sexist, turning to speak to a male protestor over
two female protestors, as though he would be able to engage
more easily and get more sense from the man.

There was no balance to the report - whilst I accept that
the protestors were difficult to speak to, it was certainly
not beyond Mr Smith's reach to himself describe the
arguments, intentions and viewpoints of the protestors, to
balance the weight given to the arguments of BAA and to
balance, in addition, the arguments of local residents (who,
while opposed to the expansion of Heathrow airport, are so
opposed on different grounds to those of the camp
protestors). Local residents' views were given an
extraordinary presence within the report; considerably
greater than those of camp protestors. Further, if Mr Smith
had followed the guidelines set out by the protestors (shown
in notices at the border of the camp) he would have made
attempts to speak to the designated media team, and may have
had more luck this way, instead of simply barging through
and diminishing his integrity as a journalist in the
atrocious way that he did.

I was also enraged by Mr Smith's use of the term 'private
property' to describe a BBC camera when one of the
protestors put something over the camera, to obscure
filming, and was then accused of touching it. The BBC is a
public body, funded by licence fee-paying members of the
public. As such, Mr Smith has no right to claim that the
camera is public property - it is the property of every
licence fee-payer in the land. This includes, in all
likelihood, the protestor who allegedly touched the camera
during filming of the report.

This protest concerns far more than climate change - this is
a test of the right to protest in our ever-weakened
democracy. And the results are striking. The use of
stop-and-search powers entrusted in the police for the
prevention of acts of terror, is simply not acceptable in
these circumstances where there is no realistic threat of
such an act being committed. Every effort has been made by
the authorities to prevent this protest, and the seeming
compliance of media outlets, including the BBC, to broadcast
what appears to be an officially-sanctioned view of events,
wreaks of censorship and must be condemned at every level."

Breaking the Silence

Holidays are wonderful things, and in case you hadn't
noticed I've been on a somewhat extended one, but it's time
to start putting the world to rights again. So here goes.

Friday, 29 June 2007

Spice Fever

So, the Spice Girls are to reform for a 25-date international tour that will hit London on December 15th. While certain journalists turn conspiracy theorists to shakily conclude that the announcement was designed by the so-called 'Tory scum' Spice Girls to upstage Gordon Brown on his first day as PM, the girls themselves have insisted that they're only regrouping for the experience and 'for the fans'. Nothing to do with the £10 million they'll each pocket from it, then!

A Close Shave

Today's close shave with a car bomb in central London serves to remind us just how we continue to be under threat from terrorism. Blame Iraq if you will, but the police deserve a pat on the back for their swift work in reducing the impact of today's discovery. If the reports are true about the police officer who ran away with the mobile phone detonator to stop it working, he deserves a medal.

62p? Not from my money!

62p - that's the amount, according to the official reports at least, that the Royal Family costs each UK taxpayer in a year. Oh good, that might make you think. They're not as pricey as I thought...I don't mind keeping them around if they're that cheap to put up.

You wouldn't be alone if that's what you did think. A quick look at the message boards attached to the BBC's news story on the Royals shows many people seemingly convinced that the Queen et al are suddenly good value for money. Together they cost the UK public £37.3m last year, according to the Queen's public accounts.

If you look more closely, you'll find that the cost is closer to £150m. Graham Smith, the campaign manager for Republic, an organisation which I support and which shouts a lot for an elected head of state, has pointed out that the Royal Family's costings take no account of the tax breaks they enjoy or the cost of providing their security. Putting it rather nicely, he suggested that "this blatant spin would put Alastair Campbell to shame." Not that criticism of ten years of Tony Blair's Labour government is something I'd endorse, you understand.

But the problem with the Royal Family goes beyond their cost - it just happens to be the quickest and easiest way of showing our growing distaste for them. A monarchy - constitutional or otherwise, let's be clear - shows the UK as being stuck in the past, still obsessed with the idea that some of us are born above everyone else at birth, entitled to privileges and benefits while others suffer in poverty.

Republic's arguments for an elected head of state are certainly convincing, and are head and shoulders above the counter arguments that come back in favour of maintaining the status quo. An elected president would just as well maintain the standing 'above party politics' that the Queen is so often credited with doing. And to compare the prospect of a president with George Bush's standing just isn't fair - no-one knows we'll get someone like him, and I'm not sure the current situation over here is any better anyway.

The trouble at the moment is that, while she's not the favourite person of most Republic supporters, the Queen is in the country as a whole fairly popular. Queenie and her abstinence from meddling in politics, not the overall idea of the monarchy, is what keeps her and her parasitical relatives in the public light and living at the public expense. Charles, I suspect, won't be so safe. With him will come our time.

UPDATE: Peter Tatchell's barking up the right tree in his fantastic comment for the Guardian here.