Lessons that the media brat pack still have to learn

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The Independent Online
This October, I'm going to be talking at the second annual Media and Democracy Congress in New York. Its task: "to strengthen independent media and public interest journalism and to support broad efforts to encourage the media to play its part in fostering a healthy democracy." Just as the Internet's barrage of information is in no way equivalent to awareness or knowledge, news as entertainment is not news. Investigative journalism empowers its readers to become active in their worlds. I believe an enormous number of readers crave that degree of engagement - and miss it. It is depressing to think about how controlled our media are - and how much worse the situation is getting. The media monopolies are concentrating an appalling amount of power in a very few hands. Murdoch media reach two-thirds of the world's population. Such numbers undoubtedly confer the power to form opinions, but it's the power to neutralise opinions I'm more freaked out about. God help the average person who falls under the wheels of these media juggernauts.

That is why I'm taking more notice of PressWise. Established in 1993 to improve standards in British journalism, the organisation goes to bat for people who have been set up by inaccurate or irresponsible journalism. Understandably, it receives next to no mainstream media coverage, even though the number of people contacting PressWise for advice has doubled over the last year. It offers an informative collection of public education leaflets, covering everything from putting the record straight when a journalist gets things wrong to avoiding the pitfalls of selling your story to the newspapers. PressWise Training aims to equip charity and voluntary groups to deal effectively with the media. And right now, PressWise is campaigning to encourage readers and journalists to let editors know what they really want; in other words, to create a citizen's media charter. Talk of a re-definition of "the public interest" and "conscience clauses" for journalists hint at the exciting possibilities. PressWise can be reached on 0117 941 5899.

THE bete noire of the Media and Democracy Congress is "news you can't use from sources you don't trust". That crossed my mind when I came across an item about the Canine Testicular Implant programme, run by the CTI Corp of Buckner, Missouri. After neutering, dogs can "look and feel the same" with the insertion of Neuticles - "cosmetic canine genes designed to make dog owners, and maybe even the dog, feel better about his life change. "Definitely not the dog's bollocks, I'd say, but they are made of polypropylene so at least they're recyclable. And in their own impotent way, they're a peculiarly potent symbol of the trad all-mouth-no-trousers male attitude, which seemed as entrenched as ever this week when something called the National Male Lifestyle Survey coughed up statistics showing that the caring, sharing "new man" is still a media mirage. If money wasn't such an issue, most men would still prefer their partners to cook, clean and care for the kids. This, in the week when Harriet Harman pitched a whole new position for women's issues at the heart of government policy which will allow more women to take charge of their lives. Still, what is it about gender stereotyping that roots it so deep in the human psyche? Is it comfort food for the soul? Look what's happening in Russia. After 70 years of communism, the population is cutting loose with a wallow in he-man/she-woman gender games. It starts in the state schools, where little girls are ribboned and bowed and steered towards sewing and cooking, while the boys are directed towards woodwork and, later, car repair. Their mothers are waxing and painting themselves to screen-queen perfection, dyeing their hair shades of henna or blonde, chasing the dragon of glamour whatever the time of day or night. Racier female government employees have taken to wearing sparkly cocktail dresses to work. God forbid they'd be caught dead in trousers. And if a man comes calling on a single gal, he'd better show up with chocolates, flowers, perfume and some specially penned poetry. The reverie evaporates at the first "I do" but until then, idealised romance seems to offer these women escape and the opportunity to be in control of at least one thing in their lives.

JUDGING a book by its cover has always been considered an indication of superficiality, even though we do it all the time, but I've just had my features read by a specialist named Simon Brown and I'm astonished at how much my face is an open book.

Face reading is a diagnostic tool in Eastern medicine, based on the idea that your face mirrors your soul, your character, your health and your physical condition. The key is to find the balance between yin (calm, creative) and yang (determined, logical) that is central to Eastern medicine. Too yin and you're liable to become listless and pessimistic, too yang and you'll be tense and frustrated. Oriental doctors use face reading to detect potential problems while they can be treated by lifestyle changes, which might include simple remedies and therapies such as yoga, Tai Chi, martial arts, breathing exercises, massage and adjustment to diet (salads if you're too yang, stews for the over-yin). All that aside, the fun part is having all sorts of accurate details fired at you by someone who couldn't possibly know them! Rather like a visit to a good palmist in fact. For example, there's something in your eyebrows that can tell on your relationship with your parents. And the tiniest little details about your upper lip reveal the state of your digestive system.

There is one amusing caveat, which makes me even more partial to the procedure. Cosmetic surgery makes an accurate reading impossible. So Simon says that face readers can't make a living in Hollywood, even though the idea seems tailor-made for the self-obsessed lotus-seekers of La-La Land.

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