The Times they are a whingeing

I was given a free copy of The Times on my train journey from Hereford to Birmingham City University this morning. I’d decided not to buy my usual daily copy in a rather futile protest against the continuing employment of Rebekah Brooks (I suspect she’s getting her own back by not reading this).
I am glad, though, that I did take one because it allowed me to read the rather self-serving leader piece about the role of illegal activity in journalism. “News International,” says The Times, “is paying a high price for its hacking scandal. There will now be broader questions about journalistic techniques.”

The leader writer goes on to explain that ‘some of the greatest journalistic exposes in history were achieved using methods that could now be, and sometimes at the time were, challenged by the police ot taken to court.’ The article’s examples are the leaking of the Pentagon Papers, the Washington Post’s Watergate investigation, Clive Ponting’s whistle blowing over the sinking of the Argentine ship the Belgrano, the Daily Telegraph’s revelations about MPs’ expenses and the Guardian’s publication of the Wikileaks diplomatic cables which led to US soldier Bradley Manning facing criminal charges.

All these did involve newsgathering techniques that might be seen on one level as questionable but in each case there is a clear public interest in the publication of the material that was gained. The same cannot be said of much of the information collected by hacking the ‘phones of the Dowler family, or the families of service personnel killed in Afghanistan. Each revelation in the scandal in which the Murdoch empire is now mired seems to plumb new depths. What possible public interest could there be in revealing details of Gordon Brown’s son’s illness?

The Times piece rightly says, “Embarking on an investigation, journalists need to ensure that the methods they use can be justified by the motivation and the outome.” It might have added that in circumstances where journalists are tempted to stray, editors must show stong leadership and be ready to take responsibility. Today’s leader doesn’t say that so it’s a shame that Rebekah is more likely to read The Times than this.

On the seventh day…

This is my fourth time in India so probably my seventh or eighth Sunday here and I still can’t get used to the fact that it’s only a tiny, tiny bit less frantically busy than the other six days. My plan is to bottle the idea of the weekend and to market it here!

I suppose it’s because it is a truly multi-cultural country. In Bangalore on Friday I saw people gathering at Mosques for Friday prayers and today, on the way from Chennai airport to the Taj Connemara, I saw a large crowd flooding out of an Evangelical Christian Church. In fact, in  a few hundred yards there were three Christian churches on one side of the road, at least two Hindu Temples and a Mosque on the other.

The lack of a weekend – or any form of it that would seem familiar to someone from the UK – further underlines the sense that this is a country in a hurry with no time for a day, let alone two, off. Its rushing economically, new infrastructure is bursting from the soil like poppies in a cornfield and you get the sense that if you were to gaze too long at an open space a building would appear on it before your eyes. I have no doubt some better informed observers would say all this is happening against a backdrop of unchanging, timeless India. That may be true – certainly you wouldn’t see a cow strolling across a busy (for ‘busy’ read ‘insane’) road junction in Birmingham – but the overall feeling from the big metro cities, which are just about my only experience of the country, is that India is going places – lots of places – at break neck speed.

Seeing full frontal capitalism at work is a bit like being a rabbit caught stock still in the headlights of an oncoming juggernaut. All credit, though, to the profit-seeking the genius who came up with my favourite advertising slogan of the millions I’ve seen here on hoardings, shop fronts and daubed on walls. ‘Water’, it said, ‘now with H2O’. 

Musings from Mumbai

Day four of my Indian adventure and the Broadcast News Production workshops at the British Council offices in Delhi and Mumbai are going well. There were more than a dozen at Monday’s session in Delhi, including two fearsomely bright high school girls and a couple of working TV journalists. It was very much an interactive session with questions covering news priorities, the use of real people rather than ‘official voices’ in news pieces and some important areas of journalistic ethics.
In Mumbai there were 29 students – all from media-related courses – at the morning session. Judging by their questions, contributions and responses they were fully engaged with the workshop and the feedback they’ve given to British Council staff bears that out. Again the workshop covered a number of elements but each of these could have been the subject of longer discussions given the intelligent points raised by those attending. It would be a pleasure to teach any one of them back at Birmingham City University.
The afternoon session was made up mostly of professional journalists – newspapers, radio, TV, web TV and online media were all represented. I’m not sure how much they got out of the experience but I learnt a lot. Journalists in India face a range of challenges that don’t arise in the UK, judging by the issues that were thrown up during our discussions. They ranged from commercial pressures on editorial staff, editors’ partiality, the way competition between channels is distorting news priorities and the over use of the ‘Breaking News’ or ‘Just In’ screamers on news channels. One participant was strongly of the view that this practice devalues genuine breaking stories. For what it’s worth I completely agree with her. We also looked at another over used storytelling device – the piece to camera – and the tendency for reporters to spring up like Jacks in the box (should that be on the box?) when letting the pictures and the interviewees speak for themselves among a well-crafted script would be much better.
I ended the afternoon with the clear feeling that Indian journalists – many of them still very – young are meeting all these challenges in a fast moving environment but on without the luxury of having been built on a heritage of TV news practice and conventions. All that seems to make high quality journalism education even more important. 
On a less stuffy note it was good to have the session with the professionals Tweeted live from the room and to have to respond to questions posted by followers. The British Council also filmed both Mumbai sessions and edited highlights will appear soon on their YouTube pages so more people can get a flavour of the event – so watch this space. 
Next stop Bangalore! 

Musings from Mumbai

Day four of my Indian adventure and the Broadcast News Production workshops at the British Council offices in Delhi and Mumbai are going well. There were more than a dozen at Monday’s session in Delhi, including a couple of fearsomely bright high school girls and a couple of working TV journalists.

In Mumbai there were 29 students – all from media-related courses – at the morning session. Judging by their questions, contributions and responses they were fully engaged with the workshop and the feedback they’ve given to British Council staff bears that out. The workshop covers a number of elelements but each of these could have been the subject of longer discussions. Topics raised in questions covered news priorities, the use of ‘real people’ in news pieces and some important areas of ethics.

The afternoon session was made up mostly of professional journalists – newspapers, radio, TVtv, web tv and

Musings from Mumbai

Day 4 of my Indian adventure and a few moments ‘down time’ to get some thoughts on line. The media production workshops at the British Council offices in Delhi and Mumbai have gone well. A mixed group in Delhi, including a couple of working journalists, and two very bright school girls so it was an interesting session. Questions ranged from news priorities to some important areas of ethics.
In Mumbai there were 29 media students at the morning session, again very bright and interested. The workshops cover a range of topics around production but we could have spent ages on each element. I’m not sure what the students get out of this – apart from an insight into a UK lecturer’s teaching style – but I’m learning lots.
That was certainly the case in the afternoon when the ‘audience’ was mainly media professionals – TV, online, web TV, radio and print all represented. There are, I learned, great challenges facing anyone working as a reporter here. Commercial pressures and editors’ partiality all came up during our discussions. The way competition distorts news priorities is another issue, not to mention the over use of the ‘Breaking News’ or ‘Just In’ tags on quite ordinary stories. Does that diminish the impact of this tool when you have a really bif news break? 
In terms of the range of news channels on offer to viewers here, India knocks UK output into a cocked hat but I get the real sense that this is a place where the news media have raced ahead with 24 hour news without the benefit of a long history of TV news. I don’t mean that in any patronising way but rather to make the point that UK journalists have the benefit of clear conventions on reporting in a number of areas, not least impartiality.
The sessions were filmed by the British Council in Mumbai so an edited version wi


I’m in Delhi and about to head off to the Brirish Council offices here for the first of a series of workshops I’m leading on Broadcast News Production. Today’s Hindustan Times has a story about almost 2,000 applicants sitting the journalism entrance examinastion at Delhi University which is some indication of the interest in journalism education in this country. (Whether that carries through to my workshops we’ll have to wait and see).

Sadly I’m in this rather beautiful city for only a little over 24 hours so exploration time is limited but I did get to the Gateway to India – actually a large memorial to Indian soldiers killed in the First World War – and walked along the broad avenue to the Parliament buidling. Not the kind of ‘research’ on which to build any firm conclusions but it did underline the importance of ‘the media’ here. An area close to the Parliament building looked a bit like a used car lot for broadcasters’ satellite trucks. There were more than a dozen there, most unstaffed late yesterday afternoon but all obviously on standby to beam news around the country.

Then, just a few yards away, a crew was shooting a Bollywood movie (it’s called ‘The Wedding Gift’ if the clapperboard is to be believed). As the crew, swathed in scarves to protect themselves from the sun, set up in the road other members of the team patiently ushered curious passers-by, including me, out of shot. That included, at one point, stepping bravely into the traffic to stop cars going about their normal life.

Meanwhile the extensive grassy area stretching beside the broad avenue bore testament to another constant in Indian life – cricket. There were perhap half a dozen improptu matches each with sizeable numbers of players. Nobody seemed at all moved when the odd straight drive or sweep – depending on which side of the avenue – saw the ball hurtle through the short hedging and into the road.

Next stop Mumbai!

Trial by Twitter

Interesting piece in The Times on Monday about some jurors using Facebook to run polls on whether the accused in trials they are hearing are guilty or not. Rather puts a new spin on ‘throwing the book’ at someone. In a letter the next day Frances Quinn, author of the excellent ‘Law for Journalists’ pointed out that this was worrying evidence that jurors are making up their minds before hearing all the evidence. She went on to say that judges needed to ensure jurors understood clearly the nature of their duty, especuially as Contempt of Court carries the possibility of a prison sentence.

I’d like to add a couple of thoughts. First, the day the Quinn letter appeared I was in court with my latest batch of postgrad broadcast journalism students. Many of them opted to sit in on a murder trial, assuming it would be exciting. What they heard was lots of police evidence (and some cross examination) about pictures of the scene of the alleged crime. In the end even the judge ventured to suggest the jury had probably had enough and must be wondering if they were taking part in some kind of ‘spot the difference’ competition. To their credit the jury members stayed awake throughout – though I’m not sure I could say the same about the students! It underlined how much the system demands of jurors but God forbid we ever reach a stage where we believe it would be better to do without them.

Secondly, the whole business of Facebook polls, jurors doing online research and even Tweeting about ongoing cases, serves as further evidence that in the area of Contempt in particular the law is now well outpaced by social media. We saw it over super injunctions and we see it here. Judges have always adopted the view that juries are smart enough to put from their minds anything they might have read or heard about an offence – or even an alleged offender – in the pre-trial period. What weight, though, does that have in the light of the latest revelations about what some of the twelve good people and true might be up to?

If Tweeters and now jurors are flouting the law on Contempt how much longer can we justify the mainstream media being bound by it. I’m happy to stick to reporting restrictions whiledoing so ensures a fair trial on – and only on – the evidence heard by the jury. If they’re not taking the job seriously we may as well have a free for all. Back in 2006, in another Times piece, Magnus Linklater suggested that the Contempt of Court Act was ‘The law that was abolishing itself’. Who’d argue with that view now?

Go east young man

Well maybe not so young but I am going East, flying out on Saturday for my fourth trip to India in the last 13 months. I’ll be running some broadcast news production workshops in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai. I’m really looking forward to it, largely because India is such an interesting place in terms of media and journalism… well as all the other things that make it such a fascinating country.

It’s a nation where the print media is strong and papers like The Hindu  have added extra editions in the last year. There are countless television stations and lots of speculation that the Government will allow radio stations to carry news. Mobile ‘phone penetration is good but growth in PC ownership is slow. All that means India has the opportunity to ‘manage’ the growth of electronic media in a way that didn’t happen in the west where the explosion online swept away circulation. How the future pans out in India will be well worth watching even if it may be too late for us to mlearn from it!

The other delight is the way young journalists and journalism students at places like the Asian College of Journalism, Anna University (Chennai) and Christ University (Bangalore) see their  role in the world’s biggest democracy.

I’m looking forward to working with more of them in the next week or so