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
soon.

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
safe.

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.