Friday, October 14, 2005


Posting for the next week will be light to non-existent. I'll be back next weekend.

Who'd of thunk it?

The BBC's World Service is housed in....Bush House!

That must really grate.

A multilateral approach to news!

Read this story from the BBC about the UN trying to take over the internet. And then let your imagination wander…

News power struggle nears climax

Britain has an image problem when it comes to broadcasting.

It is seen as arrogant and determined to remain the sheriff of international news dissemination, regardless of whatever the rest of the world may think.

It has even lost the support of the US. It stands alone as the divisive battle over who runs the World Service heads for a showdown at a key UN summit in Tunisia next month.

The stakes are high, with the head of the FCC, Kevin J. Martin, warning of a broadcasting meltdown.

"The UK is absolutely isolated and that is dangerous," he said during a briefing with journalists in Washington.

"Imagine the Saudis or the Iranians doing their own World Service. That would be the end of the story.

"I am very much afraid of fragmented information flow if there is no agreement."

Brokering the peace

The UN has been wrestling over who should run the World Service for a number of years. It was one of the issues which divided nations at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Geneva two years ago.

The second phase of the UN conference is due to take place in Tunisia from the 16 to 18 November.

Currently a UK-based organization called the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the nearest thing to a world wide news outlet.

The quasi-private company was set up by the UK government to gather and disseminate news and information around the world. It transmits in 43 languages to around 150 million people throughout the world.

There has been talk that the BBC should gain its independence from the UK government, but just this month it began negotiations to renew its government charter for at least another 10 years.

Britain’s determination to remain the ultimate purveyor of international news has angered other countries which believe it is time to come up with a new way of reporting and disseminating information in the 21st century.

In the face of opposition from countries such as China, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and several African nations, the UK is now isolated ahead of November's UN summit.

The row threatens to overshadow talks on other issues such as getting more people to watch TV and tackling AM radio interference.

Global forum

Britain's traditional ally, America, has been left trying to find a way of brokering the peace.

"There is a problem as many parts of the world don't like the fact that one country is linked to the organism which is disseminating news to its people," said Chairman Martin. "Many countries would like a multilateral approach."

On the table are European proposals for some kind of international forum to discuss principles for running international news broadcasting.

The EU does not intend to scrap the World Service. It would continue in its current technical role.

Instead Europe is suggesting a way of allowing countries to express their position on how and what the World Service should be broadcasting, though the details on how this would happen are vague.

“We have no intention to regulate news broadcasting," said European Commissioner Viviane Reding, reassuring the UK that the EU was not proposing setting up a new global body.

Rather she talked of a "model of cooperation", of an international forum to discuss the World Service.

Her carefully chosen form of words may help assuage a Blair government which is vehemently opposed to any kind of international body to govern news dissemination.

"I am sure we will find a solution in interests of the news," said Mrs Reding. "We think we could have an agreement on what's on the table."

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Jewish evangelism?

Today, in an article about Harriet Miers and evidence that she is a friend and fan of President Bush (I wonder how much detective work went into uncovering that startling fact), Julian Borger provides us with a classic example of how The Guardian’s caricatured view of the right in the States prevents it from reporting the world as it is.

Detailing the grief that Bush is getting from within his own party over the nomination, Borger delivers this:
Many doubters on the right believe she has not shown herself sufficiently committed to evangelical legal causes, such as a ban on abortions and gay marriage.
Borger’s attempt to paint the objections of the right as religiously motivated, through the use of the characterization “evangelical”, reveals the great extent to which he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

In fact, it is the non-religious right that is up in arms over Miers. Evangelical leaders such as Marvin Olasky and James Dobson are in fact supporting the Miers nomination. It is the intellectual right, making distinctly intellectual arguments, that is opposing the nomination.

George “There is no reason to trust Bush” Will, Jonah “She’s a crony” Goldberg, Bill “Disappointed, Depressed, and Demoralized” Kristol, Charles “Withdraw this Nominee” Krauthammer, Peggy “What was the President thinking?” Noonan…this is not a roll-call of conservative, evangelical Christians. This is the intellectual base of the conservative movement. (Guardian readers, along with Borger, may be surprised to learn that the true “base” of the conservative movement in the US is indeed intellectual, and not religious.)

Frankly, by characterizing the positions of people like Kristol, Goldberg, and Krauthammer – Jews all - as “evangelical”, even if just by implication, Borger reveals just how truly automatic and unthinking the association of evangelism with the political right in the US really is at The Guardian.

The BBC makes its case

The BBC is in the process of negotiating with the government over the renewal of its charter, which includes the pernicious TV “license fee”. Naturally, the Beeb is looking for an increase in the tax. Yesterday the BBC website posted a Q&A on the future of the BBC, which I think deserves some comment.
The unique way the BBC is paid for and governed means it is owned by the British people and accountable to them.
Actually it means it is owned by no one, and the British people, on their own, can do little to hold it to account, for if they refuse to fork over their money they go to jail, regardless of any objections they may have to the way the BBC operates.
Some think the BBC has been too occupied with ratings-chasing populist programmes and its public service role should be more clearly defined and imposed.
This is the unavoidable dilemma of the BBC if commercial broadcasters are allowed to exist. If it competes for viewers with other broadcasters by producing programs that the public at large actually wants to watch, then it is demonstrably not providing a service that commercial players can’t or won’t provide. But if it eschews ratings to fulfill its inaptly named “public service” (read: elitist) role, then it is demonstrably not serving the public at large that is forced to pay for it.
On top of the everyday output, BBC supporters say a healthy, independent public broadcaster is vital to a vibrant, well-informed country.
Oddly, no mention of what BBC detractors say. Funny, that.
The corporation says its role is to provide high-quality, creative and trustworthy services for everyone that other broadcasters cannot always provide because of commercial pressures.
Can anyone think of an example of such a service “for everyone” that cannot be provided by someone else due to “commercial pressures”?
The BBC also says it exists to investigate and challenge those in authority on behalf of the British people.
What makes the BBC think it is uniquely placed to do this? It strikes me, given that its existence is dependent upon those in authority, that it is instead uniquely subject to suspicion on this front.
The future of the BBC, as the UK's largest broadcaster, is also vital for the country's media industry. For example, the charter looks likely to give more work to independent production companies.
Oh, well, that’s OK then. Tax us all in order to provide income to production companies. Perhaps the government should use tax monies to create the UK’s largest clothing store, thus becoming “vital” to the textile industry.
BBC TV ratings have declined as multi-channel viewing, through services such as Sky Digital and Freeview, has become more popular.
In other words, as the BBC’s monopoly on broadcasting has waned, others are providing more and more of those previously mentioned services which supposedly couldn’t be offered due to “commercial pressures”.

The case for a state-mandated, tax-funded purveyor of news and entertainment has always been weak. It only gets more so as time passes.

Iraq trumps all

I attended a debate tonight in London sponsored by an organization called Intelligence Squared, which puts on debates throughout the year on various topics. Tonight's motion was "It's the journalists, not the politicians, who have fouled our political culture." It was an interesting debate, although ultimately a bit disappointing.

The best and most compelling speaker was the first, John Lloyd from the Financial Times, who argued in favor of the motion. He made the point that politicians, notably Tony Blair's New Labour, have adapted their politicking in direct response to modern methods of media coverage, much to the detriment of the political culture. The worst speaker was renowned anti-American journalist Robert Fisk, of The Independent, who went last and argued against the motion. What made him the worst in my view wasn't his presentation, which was fine, nor was it any overt anti-Americanism. It was, rather, his failure to even address the question. He used his time, instead, on a harangue about Iraq and the "lying" politicians who took us into it.

Which is why the debate was, ultimately, disappointing. Despite his failure to see the political culture as anything other than the product of the Iraq war, and his failure to address the motion in any meaningful way, Fisk recieved the most rousing ovation of any presenter after speaking. And I suspect that it was he who ultimately swung the final vote in favor of those against the motion. (The audience vote, which before the debate was almost evenly split - they do both a pre- and post-debate poll of the audience - with a large number of abstentions, was roundly in favor of the nays at the end, with, I think, a vote of 417-239.) Given the unpopularity of the Iraq war here, it seems that opposition to Iraq is like a trump card that beats all other arguments, regardless of the question at hand. The conclusion to be drawn from Fisk's presentation was simply that, if Iraq is a bad thing, and polticians are responsible for Iraq, then politicians must be responsible for the state of the political culture.

As I said, a disappointing result.

(In case you hadn't guessed, I voted in favor of the motion.)

In any event, I've been to a few of these Intelligence Squared debates, and they are generally worthwhile. I'd recommend them if you get a chance to go.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

An inexplicable lack of interest

The BBC has recently been acting very strangely. Generally one has come to expect it to revel in the troubles, real or perceived, of President Bush. Back in August and September, when Cindy Sheehan was hounding the President down in Texas, the BBC couldn’t get enough, doing no less than 12 articles on Sheehan and her antics. (This is, I suspect, an on-going count.) It was equally relentless in its coverage of, and at times initiation of, criticism of Bush during Katrina. And barely an article mentioning Bush goes by without at least a passing reference to his apparently flagging approval ratings. And yet, with Bush currently suffering probably the biggest crisis in confidence he has faced since entering office, the BBC has remained remarkably silent on the issue.

Back on October 3, Bush announced Harriet Miers as his pick to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court. On the day the BBC website carried two stories on it, one announcing the pick and another discussing the lack of public knowledge about Miers. The following day, it added two more stories, one summing up the immediate press reaction to the pick, and another noting Bush’s defense of Miers at a press conference. Since then, the BBC has done exactly zero stories on the Miers nomination.

But in that time, Bush has come under increasing, and probably unprecedented, criticism for his pick, and, perhaps most notably, not from the usual suspects. Republicans in general and conservatives in particular are seemingly aghast at his nomination of Miers. Listen to some of the things that are being said, in conservative circles:

Miers was Bush's consigliere in Dallas during [the early 90's]. There can be no doubt that Bush is now seeking some kind of protection-- perhaps against decisions that revisit his torture policy-- for his admin in future cases. The appointment stinks to heaven, and must be withdrawn as soon as possible. - Former Bush speechwriter, David Frum

During his nomination process, there were signs that Roberts was pro-life. But the White House didn't want any of that discussed — his personal views were deemed irrelevant. Now White House aides whisper to conservatives that Miers is personally pro-life, as if it is a clinching argument in her favor. - Editor of National Review, Rich Lowry

George W. Bush's nomination of White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court was at best an error, at worst a disaster. There is no need now to elaborate on Bush's error. He has put up an unknown and undistinguished figure for an opening that conservatives worked for a generation to see filled with a jurist of high distinction. There is a gaping disproportion between the stakes associated with this vacancy and the stature of the person nominated to fill it. - Editor of The Weekly Standard Bill Kristol

[Bush] has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their pre-presidential careers, and this president particularly is not disposed to such reflections. Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists. - Conservative columnist George Will

And these are the more temperate criticisms. Charges of cronyism, arrogance, and a lack of seriousness are rampant among well-regarded and serious conservatives, all strong supporters of Bush. A random look at almost any hour over the past week on National Review's The Corner, for example, will provide ample grist for the anti-Miers mill. It strikes me that Bush's loss of the intellectual core of his conservative base over his Supreme Court nomination, and the vehemence with which opposition to it are being expressed, is a big story, with potentially big consequences. Certainly it would seem an irresistable story to an organization that usually seems to be searching for reasons to report that Bush is in trouble. Yet the Beeb has not written a single word on this story, at least not on its website. Why?

(Conspiracy theories are welcome.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

Evans: Crichton is wrong, nuff said

Harold Evans uses his most recent "Point of View" slot on the BBC to confirm that he is a) a committed believer in man-made global warming and b) uninterested in a substantive discussion about it.

His article is, ostensibly, a critique of novelist Michael Crichton's own very critical position on the science behind many of the global warming claims. I say ostensibly because in fact Evans ends up ignoring Crichton's actual arguments, and instead makes points that are at least twice removed from anything Crichton has said.

Evans first errs by conflating the plot of Crichton's novel, State of Fear, with his real life objections to the science behind global warming claims. The plot, as Evans describes it, involves "eco-maniacs" who are able to create "natural" disasters, which they then claim are due to global warming in order to advance their own political agenda. This, Evans says, is Crichton's "conspiracy", which he then goes on to liken to such other conspiracy theories as that FDR and Churchill conspired to have Japan bomb Pearl Harbor, and that assassins hired by LBJ were manning the grassy knoll in Dallas. Needless to say, Evans is as unimpressed with Crichton's conspiracy as he is with the others.

But the thing is, unlike the others, Crichton's "conspiracy" is an acknowledged work of fiction. Sure, Crichton has undoubtedly used the novel as a vehicle to make a point about global warming theory enthusiasts, but for Evans to pretend that the plot of Crichton's fiction represents his actual objections to global warming science is to avoid the very substance of Crichton's real-life arguments. Which, clearly, Evans is intent on doing. For, even with regard to the novel itself, Evans has nothing to say other than to dismiss it as a "paranoid" conspiracy theory.

Instead he spends his time commenting on what other people, like Senator James Inhofe and President Bush, say and do. Or, rather, what they don't say or do. Evans finds it "quite significant" that, in the wake of hurricane Katrina and the fact that "the ferocity of Katrina and Rita" was "widely blamed in the press on the unusually hot waters in the Gulf," Bush didn't reassert his doubts about the threat posed by global warming. Apart from the fact that the "unusually hot waters" were not quite so unusually hot, and the fact that Evans' very own employer poured cold water (sorry) on the haste with which Katrina and global warming were linked by some, apparently it hasn't occurred to Evans that perhaps Bush has more important things to do than to object every time the global warming crowd announces that yet another naturally occurring event has been caused by global warming.

Evans also points out that, despite Senator Inhofe's doubts, the senator has failed to explain the "rare consensus" of "top scientists" regarding catastrophic consequences of unchecked gas emissions. Which is an odd point, inasmuch as Evans had already noted Crichton's disparagement of consensus science..."If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus" Crichton says. One would have thought that, having decided to site a scientific "consensus" in an effort to knock Inhofe, he would have at least found it necessary to rebut Crichton's criticism of its oxymoronic nature. Instead he acts as though no such point had ever been made, and that such a scientific "consensus" is self-evidently meaningful. Again, he simply ignores rather than addresses Cricthon's arguments.

Evans can't even get his timeline correct. After mentioning (correctly) that Crichton has become "something of a hero" to groups opposing Kyoto-like reforms, he says that Crichton was invited to speak at the American Enterprise Institute about science policy in the 21st century. "The sceptics needed this kind of reinforcement," says Evans, suggesting that the recent hurricanes, and presumably the, er, obvious link to global warming, had silenced them. The thing is, Crichton's appearance at AEI came back in January, some 8 months prior to the "need" foisted upon the sceptics by Katrina and Rita which it apparently fulfilled.

Evans also cites 5 organizations, such as Advancement of Sound Science Center Inc, Comittee for a Constructive Tomorrow, and the Annapolis Center for Science-based Public Policy, which he accuses of have "deceptive titles". Deceptive how? Well, they all raise questions about the validity of the science behind global warming. Apparently the only "science-based public policy" worthy of the name is one that accepts the claims of global warming alarmists without question. The other problem that Evans sees with these organizations is that they accept money from the likes of Exxon, which is interesting given that this is precisely one of the problems cited by Crichton himself in both of his public speeches...the politicization of the scientific process. One would think this might be a point on which agreement could be found. The problem is that, where Crichton recognizes that all the science, including that of proponents, has become politicized, Evans seems to think that only the science of the sceptics is colored by their biases.

Ultimately, although his piece is entitled "Crichton's conspiracy theory" and it is introduced as taking issue with Cricthon's latest thriller, ultimately Evans decided to punt on Crichton and discuss other things. Which is unfortunate. Both of Crichton's speeches, back in 2003 and at the AEI this year, in which he lays out his objections to the science surrounding global warming claims and the process by which they are made, are compelling. It might have been interesting to see someone take him on, and attempt to show why his objections have no merit. Despite his pretense to the contrary, however, Evans is simply not up to the task.