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Saturday 5 March 2011
Letters: BSkyB ownership
If not Murdoch, then who?
It is hard to criticise Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's decision to approve in principle News Corp's bid to take full ownership of BSkyB.
With Ofcom and the Office of Fair Trading now accepting News Corp's restructuring proposals and the European Commission on competition having previously given the green light, anything else would have smacked of naked politics and placing the representations of the anti-Murdoch lobby above the competition regulations.
As an admirer of Sky News (and as someone who has previously held senior executive roles both inside and outside the Murdoch stable), I feel that the survival of an outstanding media channel is paramount. Only last month Sky News was again named News Channel of the Year.
Over the years, both the quality and impartiality of Sky News have been unquestioned and it's hard to see how that would realistically be threatened by News Corp owning 100 per cent as opposed to 39 per cent of BSkyB. It's also hard to see who else but Rupert Murdoch would have been willing to invest in a television news operation that loses at least £20m annually.
Floating off Sky News as a "standalone" company represents (arguably needless) additional safeguards. Sky News is a valuable component of the media plurality landscape and, one way or another, its outstanding quality and ultimate survival will continue to depend on the fiscal support of Rupert Murdoch.
There may well be a very important debate to be had on whether competition law adequately covers the thorny issue of media plurality generally. But it cannot be applied retrospectively.
St Albans, Hertfordhsire
Murdoch's and Hunt's decision to treat Sky News separately is irrelevant. BSkyB will retain 39 per cent of the shares, and will be the main funder and have the loudest voice on the board.
In any case, media plurality is about more than the funding of news channels. A truly diverse industry would encourage, the widest range of voices and creative forms. Hunt's timidity and Murdoch's greed will bring us the exact opposite.
Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis and others complain about the lack of "transparency" in the decision to hand BSkyB over to News Corp, but in fact it seems perfectly clear to most of us just how this decision was made.
The fight against match-fixing
Jacques Rogge is right to call for all stakeholders in sport – governing bodies, governments, players and the betting industry – to work together to tackle match-fixing ("Sport's integrity is being eroded by cheats", 2 March). He is also right to single out illegal and unlicensed bookmakers as the major conduit for corruption, and to call on reputable, licensed betting operators as firm allies in the effort to protect integrity in sport.
Where he is wrong is in claiming that the advent of internet gambling has increased the potential for corruption. Far from being anonymous, taking bets online enables bookmakers to track and trace all transactions back to their source and affords a high level of security.
When match-fixing does occur bookmakers are the victims. This is why the licensed and regulated bookmakers have invested so much money in recent years in security and early-warning systems, so that irregular betting patterns can be identified – and the relevant governing body alerted – straight away. It will only be through a collaborative approach such as this that we will be able to kick match-fixing out of sport.
European Sports Security Association, Brussels
Cuts mean more danger at sea
It is good that the Government has made a commendable U-turn over the privatisation of the forests. However, at least no one would have died had the privatisation gone ahead.
The Maritime and Coastguard Agency's proposals to "streamline" the Coastguard Service by closing down most of the coastguard stations will certainly cost lives, not just within the fishing and commercial marine industries or leisure sailors, such as my members, but also children drifting out to sea on inflatables, swimmers and cliff-path walkers.
The Coastguard also manages pollution incidents – remember the Sea Empress disaster at Milford Haven a few years ago. Should such an incident happen again at night, the closest Coastguard station at Swansea Mumbles will be closed, since it will only operate during daylight hours. What a nonsense!
The consultation period is ending shortly. I urge your readers (particularly any who have ever taken their children to a beach, taken a pleasure trip around the bay or walked a cliff path) to lobby their MPs and their Scottish Parliament or Welsh Assembly members over this issue.
Commodore, North West Venturers Yacht Club
Beaumaris, Isle of Anglesey
Like Anthony Fairclough (letter, 4 March), I sat in the public gallery, along with my daughter and grand-daughter, as this year's local council budget was set. Here in Hull our council is led by the Lib Dems, and as they were proposing massive cuts in public spending, including frontline services, feelings in the gallery were running high.
We were not surprised that there was sporadic heckling and slow handclapping from the public, but we didn't expect to see some councillors reading, sleeping or texting as compulsory redundancies and closure of crucial social programmes were discussed.
We were even more shocked next day to discover that one Tory councillor had described us as "retards"' in his Twitter correspondence. Not only was this a huge insult to all of those who suffer from mental disability but was also completely unfair to the majority of concerned Hull residents who sat quietly and respectfully throughout the proceedings.
The language of grasses
Dougal Dixon, editor of Grasses, Sedges and Rushes, 1979, felt the technical nature of the descriptions in his book was dismissed by Dr Caroline Dowson. He sounded hurt (letter, 2 March).
I cannot know what Dr Dowson's feelings about nomenclature are. But speaking for myself as a classicist and lover of words, I rejoice in scientific nomenclature, and was brought up by my paleontologist father, C W Wright, to find it deeply fascinating. If only I could retain these delightful words well enough to use them in Scrabble I should be happy.
From C W Wright's last publication (jointly with A B Smith) in 2008 when he was 91, British Cretaceous Echinoids, perhaps I could share with Dougal Dixon the following example: describing Hemiaster morrisi ... "Diagnosis. A rather depressed species of Hemiaster, wedge-shaped in lateral profile and ovate in outline, with petals that taper distally and end gradually one or two plates before peripetalous fasciole."
New names for old stations
Your report on the inquest into the deaths on 7 July 2005 (2nd March) mentions the confusion of emergency services as to which of the two separate London Underground stations named Edgware Road they should attend.
I remember in my time as a trainee manager with London Transport in the early 1970s querying this anomaly, to be met with the response that all relevant staff, including British Transport Police, were aware of the situation and it had never caused any problems.
I had more success with the renaming of Charing Cross underground to Embankment, with Strand becoming Charing Cross, as it lies under the main line station. Now we have a more forward-looking management at Transport for London, can the Edgware Road change be made?
Victim of US secrecy
On Thursday Bradley Manning, the US Army private accused of passing confidential information to Wikileaks, was charged with 22 new offences including "aiding the enemy". This carries the maximum penalty of death. US authorities have indicated that they will seek a sentence of life in prison .
Who is "the enemy'? The Iraqis who were killed in the "collateral murder" video allegedly leaked by Manning? Those in the Arab world whose protests were in part triggered by Wikileaks cables revealing government corruption? Or Wikileaks or any news organisation that prints content which the Government does not like?
Barack Obama has made statements to the effect that whistleblowers are essential in free societies. The latest charges against Manning demonstrate a brazen intent to protect governments' right to ensure that their actions cannot be held accountable by their publics.
I found Julie Burchill's flippant assertion (3 March) that she has undergone "five abortions – or was it six?" without any emotional impact, extremely irresponsible. Can she really lack the intelligence to seek contraceptive advice and encourage others to do so?
Perspectives on Afghanistan
Who are we fighting for?
I am disappointed that friends show little enthusiasm for my suggestion of forming a Women's International Brigade to fight the Taliban. Our firing line in Afghanistan is largely filled by young men who aren't even selected for being of particularly liberal or progressive outlook. They are employed on the same pay scales as their numerous female colleagues, yet typically at much higher levels of risk. Is it reasonable asking these men to bear the brunt of what is essentially a war for women's liberation?
Who else here has a direct interest in the struggle? There are parents who want their supposedly sentient offspring protected from the voluntary act of taking harmful drugs, through the expedient of killing other people in faraway places. I would say if you want anything so barmy done then do it yourself.
We ought to be able to raise a few battalions of gay volunteers. There may be many who value the right to listen to music enough to fight for it. Some may take seriously the need to protect ancient monuments from religious vandalism.
But numerically the main burden would need to fall upon women, who demand an equal share of power yet refuse to acknowledge that such power grows out of the barrel of a gun.
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
A future for the heroin trade
The fantasy is that once the troublesome Islamic militants are properly policed, Afghanistan will revert to being a normally violent, contented collection of tribal societies that will thrive on the export of dried apricots and sheepskin coats.
Congratulations, then, on publishing the letter from Viktor Ivanov of the Russian Federal Narcotics Service (2 March) on some of the dangers of leaving heroin out of the Afghan equation. Could we hear more?
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