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Friday 1 July 2011
Letters: Perspectives on Johann Hari and his critics
An inadequate apology
I was amused but also a little angered by Johann Hari's self-serving and mealy-mouthed apology for passing off excerpts from other published sources as the contents of his own interviews (29 June). He apologised for a "mistake" but not for dishonesty. As ever, the "mistake" was being caught.
He did not admit anything which hadn't already been proved against him, and supplied no evidence that the unattributed quotations which he had used did in fact correspond closely to what had actually been said in an interview. Hari does admit to having done this before, possibly in anticipation of further scrutiny. Perhaps his editor should have his work independently reviewed. Hari could voluntarily admit which interviews he altered in this way and document his sources.
Hari has won a lot of prizes but may now struggle to avoid the impression that he has habitually faked his interviews by using other published sources to make them look better then they were. Of course his interviewees do not complain as they too were made to look better than they actually were. His editors should investigate and report to their readers.
David Ayers, Canterbury
Revenge of the right
Of course the attack on Johann Hari was political. Hari has a brilliantly analytical brain and produces faultless critiques of the machinations of government, commerce, and others whose actions impinge on our daily lives. His crime is that he does so from the perspective of a left-of-centre liberal and his resultant crystal-clear, explosively relevant and indefatigable arguments get up the noses of the right wing.
But that's a free press, with which those on the right are uncomfortable. They should regroup to Thatcherland and join the Blue Meanies.
Mike Abbott, London W4
Off the moral high ground
To defend Johann Hari on the basis that none of his interviewees had complained about being misquoted is missing the point entirely. What about your readers, who work on the assumption that quotes attributed to a person in a particular interview actually took place in that interview, and who have been misled? Of course most of his interviewees wouldn't complain, because their less than coherent arguments have been spruced up and repackaged whenever it didn't suit the "intellectual portrait" that Johann Hari wanted to portray.
If Hari, who seems to spend a lot of time on the moral high ground denigrating the integrity of others, is incapable of making an unqualified apology when he is caught out then he should be severely disciplined if not sacked. However, if the editor of The Independent doesn't understand that a newspaper lives or dies by its reputation for accuracy and high journalistic standards then he should resign.
Shane Kelleher, Dublin
All in a good cause
Journalists do not usually influence my behaviour (although the brilliant humour of the late Miles Kington could make me choke on my tea). However, an article on climate change by Johann Hari did inspire me to support Greenpeace.
Hari was wrong to substitute written for spoken words in his accounts of interviews, but he did not misrepresent the views of his subjects. Most of us do far worse things (undetected) during our working lives. I shall continue to support Greenpeace.
Alison Brackenbury, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Facts and fantasies
As penance for his deplorable lapse in judgement in passing off quotes from other sources as if they were obtained during his own interviews, I suggest Johann Hari becomes an unpaid intern at Fortean Times, the monthy magazine that covers "the world of strange phenomena". He might then learn how to attribute quotes correctly by the use of footnotes, which list the original source, even if that source claims to be an alien abductee.
Martyn P Jackson, Cramlington, Northumberland
The Labour Party died today. For a Labour Party Leader to instruct his MPs to cross official trade-union picket lines, and for those MPs to comply meekly with his instruction, is the ultimate, unforgivable, final act of betrayal of the working class of this country.
Never again will Labour be able to say it is the party of the workers, and even the most hidebound of those workers must now realise that, if they vote Labour, they are electing Tories.
I hope all those Labour MPs who crossed the line today are hanging their heads in shame, for Kier Hardie and his contemporaries will be spinning in their graves.
Ian McNicholas, Waunlwyd, Ebbw Vale
So who do the hundreds of thousands of working men and women who have gone on strike to defend public services and their pension entitlements expect to defend them?
Not David Cameron, who says they are just "wrong"; not Nick Clegg who won't even meet them; and now the leader of the Labour party, traditionally the party of the working class, also puts the boot in. So there is no party to represent these striking workers. Is it any wonder the Greeks have long given up on the idea of fair representation and the need to address issues, and they have taken to the streets. How long before it happens here?
Steven Calrow, Liverpool
The Press regularly reminds us that public-sector workers are overpaid. In his column on 28 June, Simon Carr mentioned that the Ministry of Defence would be fourth in the FTSE 100 if it were a private company.
The average take-home pay of CEOs in the FTSE 100 in 2010 was £3.5m. According to the listing of the pay of top civil servants published last year, the Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, earned just under £250,000. The same list showed the pay of David Nicholson, Chief Executive of the NHS (workforce 1.43 million) as being in the range £255,000 to £260,000.
With earnings of less than 7.5 per cent of those of their private-sector counterparts, these top civil servants don't seem to be that overpaid.
David Hewitt, London N1
I am 80 and living on a comfortable pension. When I started work, I was expected to pay into a superannuation scheme, where I paid a percentage of my salary into a pension fund, and this was matched by my employer. That built up a fund which, with contributions from past deceased employees, was invested and now pays my pension, for as long as I live. When I die that fund will still be there for people retiring after me.
Some years ago the funds were so large that employers gave themselves a "pensions holiday", and did not pay into the funds for a while.
Then Robert Maxwell started using the pension fund for his own benefit, and the rot carried on from there. So what has gone wrong? Greed.
I have every sympathy for the striking civil servants. They contracted for steady work that gave them a modest salary, and guaranteed a pension and the Government has arbitrarily broken that contract.
David Foster, Ipswich
Michael Gove is only the latest arrogant ideologue education minister to exceed his legitimate mandate. As with health, education is a long game: making just one bad school better: one average school good; one good school excellent takes years if the change is to be sustained.
What it doesn't need is ministers with short-term tenure and a few ideological nostrums and reforming zeal which is immune to the warnings of experience, research, and analysis.
Instead of underlying stability, properly funded organic growth and a strategic horizon nearer 10 years than five – we get half-baked revolutions; half-witted comparisons between the independent and state sectors; and reactionary political nostalgia for rote learning and memory tests.
Ministers – many of whom didn't go to a state school and others who don't send their children to one – have the barefaced effrontery to claim to know better than the professionals. Mr Gove is "in charge" of a multi-billion-pound structure but has never run anything as complex as a fish-and-chip shop.
Can anyone wonder at the anger of teachers at the imposition of unfair changes to their basic contractual agreements just as ill-informed, amateurish and ideologically mistaken as the so-called revolution Mr Gove's ill-conceived zeal is imposing on a profession that really does know better?
No one should be a minister for health or education who has not and does not use the structure for which he is responsible. If Mr Cameron and Mr Gove understood and respected teachers as they should, they would not be on strike today.
Keith Farman, St Albans, Hertfordshire
In your report on pension reform you say: "The Coalition has also proposed moving the uprating of all pensions from the Retail Prices Index ... to the Consumer Price Index."
I am one of those fortunate enough to have retired in 2006 on a Civil Service pension, just as the Government started to squeeze Civil Service pay. My pension was, therefore, linked to the RPI. In April this year I received a letter from Capita Hartshead who administer the scheme on behalf of the government. It included the following: "The government said in 2010 that it would in future be using the Consumer Price Index... for price indexation of... public service pensions.... For the year ending 11 April 2011 the increase is 3.1 per cent, based on the increase in the CPI."
The increase in the RPI was 4.6 per cent for the relevant period. While I am grateful that my pension has increased over a period when my former colleagues have received pay increases below either measure of the increase in the cost of living and, recently, no increase at all, it is misleading to suggest that this change is in any sense "proposed".
The value of civil servants' "gold-plated" pensions has already been degraded for those who currently receive them, let alone those who are fighting to protect the rights they have earned.
David Griffiths, Macclesfield, Cheshire
Some interesting reactions to the Great Strike Day, ranging from those parents who were outraged that the free childminding service had been cancelled, through to those who chafed at the inconvenience but were genuinely concerned that their children's teachers had found it necessary to take strike action.
The danger is that we will emulate America, where teaching is a low-paid, low-status profession that recruits from the lowest-achieving 30 per cent of graduates. In many American cities people without teaching qualifications are enlisted to fill the classroom trenches with the prospect of "learning on the job". There is a very high turnover of staff.
Richard Knights, Liverpool
How to alienate your audience
I understand that Christopher Alden and Deborah Warner justify their controversial productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and The School for Scandal by stressing that new, young audiences must be brought into the opera house and the theatre ("Not so great Britten", 29 June).
But they cannot experience these productions until they are actually inside the building. The posters outside still advertise boring old A Midsummer Night's Dream by Benjamin Britten (plus boring old Shakespeare) and boring old The School for Scandal by Sheridan. How are the young to know that the opera has been refreshed, all for their delight, as a monochrome documentary on an out-dated educational system, or that the classic comedy of manners has been disguised as a pop concert?
These two works, I had to remind myself, were supposed to be funny. So how come nobody was laughing? The directors were too earnestly displaying their erudition to permit the author, composer and audience to share the fun.
Mr Alden and Ms Warner will brush off my reaction as that of a stuck-in-the-mud old fuddy-duddy with eyes closed to innovation. I took a young friend to the Dream. It was his first opera and he loves the Shakespeare play. This, I thought, was the ideal way to introduce him to a new experience. He was, unprompted, as anxious to leave at the interval as I was. He does not care to see an opera again. Well done, Mr Alden!
I pity ENO's team of singers for being denied the happy opportunity to be the characters that Shakespeare and Britten created for them, and having, instead, to play the school staff and pupils created by the director.
He had made the amazing discovery that Britten liked boys – something we all knew already – and he set the Dream in a school. This was as relevant as setting the play in an estate agent because Shakespeare invested in property and bought himself a house.
Peter Forster, London N4
Red hair is a red herring
Mary Bousted's use of red hair dye is indicative of the "parlous state of the teaching profession" according to Mary Dejevsky (29 June). Perhaps Ms Dejevsky would tell us what it is that renders the state of the profession parlous apart from Ms Bousted's hair. What uniform hair style and colouring would she recommend for teachers? Presumably uniform dress would be even more important.
And how does the state of the banking profession, including those who gamble at the expense of the nations, and the legal profession, with its ambulance chasers, and our politicians, with their expenses fraudsters, compare with the teaching profession?
Colin Yardley, Chislehurst, Kent
Mary, Mary, cast your mind back to your own schooldays and consider how you then judged by appearances, and then rethink how the leader of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, Mary Bousted appears to her students with her little red streaks in her hair.
These are my best memories. Tiny, fierce Mrs R (Eng lit), swathed in tartan wraps, mad hair. Tall, elegant Mrs A (classics), bangle jangles, posh and polite. General heap Mrs H (biology), lab coat missing, cardi with holes in.
How did we judge our teachers in the 1950's? We loved them and their sartorial foibles but we were not so dull as to fail to appreciate that however scruffy, daft or elegant they looked, it was their teaching that inspired, and I can't imagine today's students are very different.
Mary Cousins, Usk, Gwent
I appreciate that this is an amazingly trivial subject but I found Carolyn Bourne's list of etiquette offences (report, 30 June) sent to her future daughter-in-law and guest, supported by Victoria Summerley, both offensive and – a less cardinal crime – unmannerly.
Should Mrs Bourne not trust the judgment of her 29-year-old stepson, that he sees beyond these trivial social solecisms, generated possibly by a realistic fear of a dominating matriarch?
I am probably a generation older yet than Mrs Bourne and can certainly understand that she did not expect massive media coverage. That does not excuse her lack of good sense, tolerance and indeed good manners. Could it be that she is outraged that her husband's family should use his money on weddings rather than it being devoted to herself and the pinks of her garden?
Sue Cooper, Hedgerley, Buckinghamshire
Heidi Withers, the prospective daughter-in-law of Carolyn Bourne, should understand that the aspirational and insecure lower middle classes are notorious for obsessing over etiquette. She should set her sights higher.
Alex Palmer, Epsom, Surrey
New leader, same policies
Your leading article "Turbulent times as China chooses its future" (28 June) ends by saying that only when we know the name of Wen Jiabao's successor as prime minister "will we know how China will conduct itself at home and on the world stage in the decade to come". This is a strange judgment on two counts.
First, we do know the man's name – Li Keqiang – or, if something prevents him getting the job, Wang Qishan. Neither has any record of favouring political liberalisation. Secondly, even if they had, it might not mean any more than Wen's pro-reform statements over the past year. The prime minister is only head of the government after all – the real power lies with the Communist Party.
Jonathan Fenby, London WC1
Your correspondents suggesting an end to the debate on clichés have made me as sick as a parrot – but if you publish this letter I shall be over the moon.
Jan Cook, South Nutfield, Surrey
The cliché strand is getting past its sell-by date. Anyone can come up with a string of well-worn phrases to get a cheap laugh. It's not rocket science.
Charles Hopkins, Norwich
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