Friday, 12 April 2013

Taxpayer's money and political stunts

I started to feel sorry for Paris Brown, the so called "Kids Commissioner", forced to resign from her job advising on policing in Kent. She had simply showed herself to be a party loving, vacuous, foul mouthed bigot. A typical teenager really. The problem was that she was being paid on the basis that she might offer some penetrating insights to her employers. Clearly that was not going to be the case.

The guilty party here is her unrepentent boss, Ann Barnes, the Police Commissioner who thought this was a good use of tax payers money. Elsewhere in the UK we are being threatened with sixteen year olds being given the vote on the basis that they are the future and they are entitled to have a say. These are pathetic stunts by useless politicians desperate for a nice fluffy, unchallenging TV appearance.

We are told that adults cannot have the perspective of an teenager, so we are unable to understand them properly. I have a vivid. albeit distant memory of being a teenager. Looking back on it now, I know only one thing for sure. I wasn't half as smart and worldly as I thought I was. Spare me from kids who think they know how the world should be run.

Journalists or Autocue readers? No doubt in my mind

Coverage of the death of Baroness Thatcher has provided dozens of opportunities to scream at the TV. The major channels have been unable to restrain themselves from blaming every negative aspect of modern culture on the Thatcher legacy. I always knew that the Blair government was hopeless but you’d think they’d have been able to do something to correct her mistakes in the thirteen years they held the reigns of power. Clearly not.

I am only too aware of the polarizing impact Maggie had on the UK and I fully understand why some people despise her. I’d just prefer it if the issues were discussed in a sensible and dignified manner once she had been laid to rest. Whipping up hysteria ahead of her funeral is frankly appalling.

It’s not my intention to discuss politics here, my purpose is to point out the shabby, lazy, unprofessional and often politically motivated actions of our media. I can’t bring myself to call TV news presenters, journalists. That would imply they sought the truth with insightful, intelligent, well-researched questions. Most are chosen for their appearance and are completely lost when expected to depart from the autocue.  Two tiny, but telling examples have struck me in the last few days. The first was on Sky News this morning and involved the normally tolerable Colin Brazier.

We were invited to share the wrath expressed on Twitter that radio stations might ban the song “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead,” even though it had reached number 1. The clinching argument from Sky was that banning the song would only make it more popular thus further enriching the people who had made it. This was by definition wrong as had been proved in the past. Artists such as the Sex Pistols were not mentioned but the link was implied. Well Colin, try to follow the simple logic…

The people who made the “Ding Dong” song have done nothing wrong, they are not being rewarded for being offensive. It is the people who wish it to be played on national radio that could be accused of causing offence but they will not benefit from further purchases. This is not therefore a case of encouraging the production of offensive content. Get the difference Mr Brazier? No, I thought not.

The other item was only a minor irritant. Many people are outraged that the cost of the funeral is being met from public funds. Some have threatened to disrupt the day in protest. The question I would have loved one of our uninquisitive presenters to ask is this…

How much of the funeral bill is for the security required to combat the threat posed by people who are outraged at its cost and have threatened to disrupt it?  

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Hate Crime - what other types of crime are there?

Sky News is a hugely reliable source of stories to make your blood boil and with presenters like Charlotte Hawkins; you can be guaranteed that no difficult questions will be asked to establish what is really behind the story.

Greater Manchester Police today announced what it described as a major breakthrough. It will now record offences against people who identify with certain sub-cultures (e.g. Goths, Emos and Punks) as "Hate Crimes". As a consequence they will be able to offer more support to the victims. It is a sad testimony of how low the police service of Britain has fallen that they can describe this as anything other than a cheap PR stunt.

My house was burgled a few years ago. After a half-hearted wander round the premises, the officers informed me that there was a lot of that sort of thing going on now and there was no real chance of finding the perpetrators or the jewellery that had been in my wife's family for generations. They asked me if we needed counselling, I replied that we did not, we would like them to find the people responsible and punish them. They looked at me as though I had lost touch with the real world. The police had already given up on solving crimes and were now simply offering victim support. I had missed that announcement. 
This is, of course, a trivial matter compared with the case of Fiona Pilkington.

In 2007, Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her daughter after a sustained and brutal campaign of terror by local yobs. The police said that they would have done more if they had realised that the victim was disabled and that it was therefore a "hate crime." Nobody disputes that the Pilkingtons were terrorised in their own home, the only argument has been whether it was motivated by hatred for the disabled. The police seemed to believe that the failure to correctly categorise a string of offences somehow absolved them from the responsibility to respond to the pleas of a desperate woman.   Have the police really sunk so low that they believe they should assess the motive of the perpetrator before they will respond to a reported crime?

Human Rights legislation comes under a huge amount of, often justified, criticism but Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that, "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law." The role of the police is to enforce the law, regardless of who the victim might be. Changing the way they record crimes makes no difference whatsoever. Announcing that they intended to come down like a ton of bricks on those who commit these offences regardless of the victim would represent a real breakthrough. We have a police force more concerned with its image than with fighting crime so that is never going to happen. 

What Greater Manchester Police did today was a shameful PR stunt. Trying to throw a few crumbs to well organised and highly effective pressure group, they announced that they will change their record keeping system, they said nothing to suggest that they have a single idea as to how such crimes will be reduced. 

Sky allowed this story to be presented as a ground breaking initiative by a regional police force without ever asking the basic questions that a journalist should ask, such as" 
  • What does this mean is practice?   
  • How will it change how you respond to a reported crime?
    What impact do you expect this will have on the instances of such offences?
  • Are the perpetrators more likely to be caught as a result of this initiative and will they be punished? 

The police are paid to enforce the law of the land, not to decide which offences they would like to prioritise. Sometime in the coming week a Goth may be attacked in the street simply because of their appearance and a little old lady will be mugged because she has just left the Post Office and might have a bit of extra cash in her handbag. Which of these should the police prioritise. The answer is - Both. That was not the message we got from the PR department of Greater Manchester Police today.   


Saturday, 30 March 2013

Today's big stories

It's pouring with rain, we haven't seen the sun for a week, but as I switched on Sky News this morning, I knew my day was not going to be wasted. The next segment would be a forensic review of the day's newspaper coverage. I'd already seen that North Korea had raised the stakes in its conflict with the South, the Euro is still teetering on the brink and violence has broken out in Brazil where government policies ahead of next year's World Cup are under intense scrutiny. Which story would these highly trained professionals choose to analyse. There were four:

  • The Welsh couple who got stuck in a lift and missed their flight
  • The fat woman who had been on TV then stole a cake from a shop
  • A twenty five year old who had breast implants paid for by internet voyeurs
  • The travails of pretty women who see their film careers go south when they are no longer pretty.

Welcome to 24 hour news. I used to think it was because there wasn't enough going on in the world to justify round the clock programmes, now I realise the producers of this crap really can't be bothered to come up with anything worthwhile. 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Pay more if you weigh more

A barmy Norwegian scientist suggests that airlines should charge passengers according to body weight and Sky News makes it one of its top stories of the morning. Eamon Holmes bumbled through the piece in typical style, still under the delusion that appearing clueless and unprepared for every story is somehow charming. Guests included a strident woman from the "something must be done brigade." This is an increasingly vocal group that object to a great number of things but have no real clue how to fix them in practice. She would have us all book our seats as usual then queue at the airport whilst we are weighed and an army of airline staff process adjustments to the cost of our flight. Cue the arguments that would ensue as a family of four check in for their return flight from Malaga.
"That's impossible you must have weighed little Billy twice or something, can you check it all again please?"
"Well I said I was fifty kilos on the booking form but the desserts were so delicious I might have overindulged, I'm sure you can overlook it this once."
We would all have to get to the airport the day before our flight the queues would be that long. The airlines would have to introduce new systems and processes, staff would have to be hired and who would pay the price? Passengers both fat and thin of course.
I flew from Geneva to Gatwick today and BA failed to get the plane to the right terminal and once it got there, they couldn't get any steps to offload the passengers. They really don't need any more challenges.
Ms Strident also informed us that the BMI Index could be used so that only revoltingly fat people would be targeted, they had after all brought their vile bodies on themselves. Johnny Wilkinson, one of the finest rugby players to pull on an England shirt is clinically obese by that measure. Hands up all those who think he should be penalised for being a fat bastard. No I thought not.
Airline travel is already one of the most miserable, unpleasant experiences most of us inflict upon ourselves. Giving the airlines another opportunity to treat its customers like cargo would be the straw that breaks the camel's back. 

The professor in question is a Dr Bhatta, he thinks that a 90 kilo person should pay double the price for their ticket as a 45 kilo person. Yet a quick look at BA's accounts shows that fuel is less than a third of the company's costs. We aren't talking about getting heavier people to pay their way here, this is punishing them for not being thin. Who do we go after next? Google the professor and you will see that he is well known only because he made this suggestion. Expect an appearance on Norwegian Big Brother or its equivalent.  

Arguably there is an issue when someone is asked to sit next to a passenger who is so obese they simply do not fit into their seat. In thirty years of extensive international travel I have encountered this just twice. If you don't fit in the seat - I guess you probably ought to buy two tickets. Maybe airlines could be encouraged to offer slightly bigger seats to those of a fuller figure. But to put every passenger through a weigh-in is preposterous. The answer is simple, make the doors that lead to the check in area the same width as the seat you have purchased. Can't get through the door? Can't get on the plane. It's not rocket science.