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Friday 30 September 2011
Letters: Perspectives on regulating the press
Individual journalists must be called to account
Ivan Lewis , the shadow Culture Secretary, is right to suggest that there should be a remedy where journalists commit gross malpractice ("Miscreant reporters should be struck off, says shadow minister", 28 September).
When a new system of press regulation is devised it should enable the public to make complaints about individual journalists as well as editors and newspapers. No other profession in the UK has a system similar to that operated by late, lame and unlamented Press Complains Commission where the complaint needed to be centred on organisations rather than individuals.
Doctors, solicitors, accountants and other responsible professionals cannot escape the discipline of personal accountability. They are accountable to regulatory bodies armed with sanctions against bad behaviour ranging from a mild public reprimand to the serious punishment of being banned or suspended from the right to practise.
Far from interfering with press freedom, the availability of a tough remedy would improve the press. Individual journalists would be less tempted to compete with one another to provide pleasure, real or imagined, to aggressive editors or proprietors.
Steven Fogel, London EC4
Power goes beyond money
Stephen Glover so nearly hits the nail on the head in his piece "Too powerful? Far from it, the press is too weak" (26 September) but confuses the power of the press with its financial security (or lack of it).
To those of us who are not journalists, the power of the press lies not in your balance sheet or your viability as a business but in your ability to make public information about people and issues. It may be that the financial pressures have encouraged bad behaviour in news reporting but whatever the reason, this must be strongly discouraged by legislation and oversight from outside the industry.
Since any regulation would be applied equally to all, how would that reduce your circulation and profitability? It might even make it easier for honest journalists to make a living.
John Doylend, Bungay, Suffolk
In the market for a sovereign debt crisis
I am surprised by the naive reaction to the trader Alessio Rastani's comment, "I go to bed dreaming of another recession."
Every single day references are made to "markets" as if markets are a natural phenomenon, like the weather, and not what they truly are, a simple display of fear and greed. With today's choice of products, anything can be sold for a profit, including debt and a crash. There is not even a need to own anything. Once sold it is then buy-back time to make more money on a rising market.
Turmoil is fun and an opportunity to make money, if you are in the game, as Mr Rastani rightly points out.
A world held to ransom by the "market"? Should I be afraid?
Gunter Straub, London NW3
We are trying to recover from a recession caused by "the markets", but we seem to be allowing those markets to dictate the terms of the recovery. Why cannot countries support each other directly?
Peter Milne, Fareham, Hampshire
When are we going to stop allowing those criminal gamblers we so politely refer to as "investment bankers" running things? They blatantly manipulate stock and currency markets, trade in bare-faced lies and use fear and intimidation to get their own way with businesses and governments.
It is time we put a stop to it. Make it illegal to sell anything you don't own. Make it illegal to hold equity for less than a month. Attach punitive taxes on investment bank profits. Above all, stop attaching so much importance to what these leeches "think".
Sure, "the markets won't like it" and they'll threaten to go elsewhere. It's time someone in authority called their bluff.
Paul Harper, London E15
As an accountant, I am astonished that economists haven't been able to work out that IFRS (International Financial Reporting Standards) is the source of the global financial crisis.
Until IFRS came along, accounting standards adopted the prudence concept, which meant that profits could only be taken in the Income Statement if they were earned and realised.
For example, if a company bought shares for £10,000 and at its year end their market value was £25,000 but they had not been sold, then prudently no profit was taken and the asset was valued at cost. Of course, if the shares were subsequently sold for £25,000 then £15,000 profit would be taken as it was realised. Under IFRS, the shares would appear in the balance sheet at their market value of £25,000 and £15,000 profit would be taken in the Income Statement, even though such profit had not been realised.
The problem comes about when bonuses at the rate of 20 per cent are paid out on unrealised profits, because when the market collapses and the shares go back to (say) a valuation of £11,000, the company has a cash deficit of £2,000, having paid out £3,000 in bonus on what would now be a £1,000 theoretical gain.
It is not difficult to see why so many black holes are developing. A survey of published accounts reveals that many companies are declaring profits and paying dividends, yet they are not generating cash. In effect they are paying dividends out of borrowed money.
In addition, we have casino bankers betting on financial derivatives they don't understand, and yet every bank seems to make huge profits and pay out huge bonuses. It should be obvious that there is something wrong here as gambling is a zero-sum game; the gains of the winners must equal the losses of the losers. This illusion that everyone wins comes about through false accounting and IFRS is to blame.
Accounting standards should go back to the prudence concept, bonuses and dividends should be paid out only from realised profits and retail banks and casino banks should be entirely separate companies.
Malcolm Howard, Banstead, Surrey
I suggest we look hard at Greece's new property tax. I'm someone who is persuaded both by the Coalition's deficit reduction and by Labour's call for stimulus. What better way than taxing the super-rich - and I mean those with £10m-plus, who have profited hugely from recent deregulation, and continued to do so through the recession. Indeed many of these super-rich have invited us to do so.
This would bring in vital funds from those who don't use them, and reduce the need to cut from those at the bottom end – whose extra spending would help fuel our return to growth. In effect it would transfer idle savings into active consumption, while balancing the books.
Historically of course this kind of redistribution might be addressed through social revolution, but let's hope the Greeks have, as previously, found a better way.
Chris Naylor, London NW5
Adoption not the answer for most
It is indeed vital that adoptive homes are found quickly for those children who need permanent new families. However your report gives the impression that this is most children in care ("Just 60 babies a year adopted in England", 29 September), and this is misleading and unhelpful.
The vast majority of the 60,000-plus children in care in England need to be found safe and stable homes until such time as they can move on elsewhere or return to their families. For four-fifths, this will be with a foster family.
Around 4,000 children are awaiting adoption. The focus on this minority to the exclusion of the rest means that proper investment and priority are not given to foster care, and that the shortage of thousands of foster families is never tackled.
Robert Tapsfield, Chief Executive, The Fostering Network, London, SE1
Plenty of work for Miliband
If Ed Miliband is serious about taking on the so-called "bad" companies in order to rectify rip-off Britain, he has my full support and probably that of a very large swathe of the UK population, but he's got quite a task on his hands. For starters there are the major banks, the train operators, the energy suppliers, most of the supermarket chains and a certain Irish airline to keep him busy.
Today I booked a hotel room with a national chain. The recorded message told me my conversation would cost me so much per minute, and then proceeded to talk to me for three minutes before I could select an option. Will he include them as well, please?
We truly are ripped off whichever way we turn. What does surprise me is that in neither his speech nor in any subsequent comment that I've seen is there any mention of co-operatives or mutuals as an alternative model.
Patrick Cosgrove, Chapel Lawn, Shropshire
Since his success in spearheading Nato's efforts to liberate the Libyan people, David Cameron's standing has risen while Ed Miliband's has flat-lined. Mr Miliband is Labour's least charismatic leader in decades and seriously lacks a sense of connection with the electorate.
Despite an economy heading for a slump and the Coalition's deeply flawed policies on health, welfare and the military, Mr Cameron can look forward to a Conservative majority at the next election.
Perhaps Labour will then consider electing the only woman with the Balls to do the job, Yvette Cooper. Ms Cooper was the star of a Labour Party conference which was otherwise as dull as Mersey water on a grey Monday morning.
Anthony Rodriguez, Staines, Middlesex
Like Alan Carcas (letter, 29 September) I have no affection for the Labour Party. But even I can see that the NHS, comprehensive schools, the Open University, the Health and Safety Executive (the one we all mock except when we're at work), Acas and nationalisation of the railways are all examples of Labour "getting it right".
Allan Friswell, Cowling, North Yorkshire
A better chance for state pupils
I entirely agree with the AQA's proposals on university admission ("Exam board to penalise private school pupils", 27 September). Last year I wrote to the Principal of my former Oxford college, saying that I believed that only a system of lower offers to state school pupils could counter private schools' immense advantages of smaller classes and more consistent teaching.
I would not suggest the return of entrance exams (which would now have to be set by many popular universities). But I think it has been forgotten that these, with their emphasis on potential, removed dependence on A-level results. In 1971, I was offered pass grades for a place at Oxford. As my time there led to a First, and to 30 years of writing and broadcasting, I hope that the chances this offer gave me were not wasted.
If now – as in 1971 – I was a lorry driver's daughter in my local state sixth form, would its teaching enable me to achieve a string of straight A*s, and gain that Oxford place? From recent experience, I would say no (and the answer would probably have been the same 40 years ago).
Yes, the AQA's proposals would (like all policies) have anomalies. But in general they would offer state pupils valuable chances now denied to them by a school system whose injustice we seem to accept with extraordinary meekness.
Alison Brackenbury, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire
Natalie Haynes (28 September) calls the exam board AQA's plan to rank A-levels on the basis of schools attended "defeatist communism". She seems to believe that the present A-level grading system is an absolute standard of intellectual worth.
No such standard exists: only the ones humans can invent, and for a long time the UK has tolerated the social engineering that is the private school system.
The function of the private sector, for most of its pupils, is to produce middle-class over-achievement by getting averagely endowed students better-than-average exam results, and effectively queue-jumping access to elite higher education.
Assessing intellectual potential is a lot more relative than Ms Haynes seems to believe.
Christine Butterworth, Penzance, Cornwall
How much are lives worth?
So, there should be a "very strong presumption in favour of taking all steps which will prolong life" ("Brain-damaged woman denied right to die in landmark ruling", 29 September).
It is curious that the presumption is often wheeled out in tragic cases of people suffering, despite evidence that they would want their lives ended; yet the presumption fades at other times. It fades when governments reduce fuel bill payment assistance, aware of how many people (who want to live) will die as a result, and when they casually decline to count the number of innocent civilians killed in far-off bombing campaigns.
Instead of paying lip service to the mantra, it would be far, far better to bring out into the open how there are serious questions about how to weigh the quantity of lives with the quality of lives. It would be better to accept that most of us often prefer some silly luxuries to saving a life – and, arguably, it would be better if judges did not promote the life-preserving mantra in those cases where it would seem to deserve demotion in the face of unwanted suffering.
Peter Cave, London W1
Police raise fear of crime
It is one of the aims of any police service to reduce the fear of crime, but once again the Police Federation heads to the gutter, by taking out full-page advertisements in the press which can only have set out to raise the fear of crime in order to express their objections to police cuts, by implying that your home may be burgled if the cuts go ahead.
Whatever the legitimacy of their grievances in being opposed to cuts, the Police Federation has no legitimacy in raising the fear of crime solely to then use that fear as a political lobbying tool, and I am disgusted with their actions.
Edward Keaton, Ramsbottom, greater Manchester
Toddlers at the National Gallery
How fussy of the National Gallery to worry about sticky fingers on their Titians ("Where have all the children gone, Britain's galleries wonder", 29 September).
Our noisy and excited offspring should feel free to run up and down those temptingly long galleries squealing in delight: "Look at the brushstrokes, and just feel the impasto!" And while we're at it, let's encourage the National Theatre to put on mother-and-toddler performances of King Lear. They could all scream "Watch out" to Gloucester as he pitches over the cliff.
Let me not be mad, sweet heaven...
Sheila Lee, London W10
Let me stay off this gaydar
You publish a "gaydar" quiz with questions such as "Have you ever had a dream where you were best friends with either the Queen or Katie Price?" (29 September).
I am gay, but I feel no association to Big Brother, X Factor or Project Catwalk. So long as such stereotypes persist many men and women will be afraid to come out of the closet in case they are forever associated with something they are not.
Scott Bryan, London N11
Football fans in Downing Street
Mike Allaway (letters, 29 September) complains of constantly being told about politicians' football allegiances. He should blame Harold Wilson, who was, so far as I know, the first Prime Minister to acknowledge publicly his support for a football team – Huddersfield Town. This, as with his penchant for brown sauce, was a reminder of his working-class roots, which he was proud to proclaim.
John E Orton, Bristol
With reference to the seemingly interminable Dale Farm saga, it is reassuring to learn from Mr Justice Edwards-Stuart's latest judgment that "there were triable issues in relation to almost every plot on the site", and that with everyone else concerned losing money hand over fist, at least the legal profession will not be out of pocket.
Tristan York, Norwich
Surely farmer Alan Graham has missed out on the greatest religious experience. If I had chanced upon a scantily clad Rihanna in my barley field, I would have concluded two things: there really is a God; and the greater God is actually a Goddess.
Kevin Ramsey, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey
Rochester aftermath: Sacking of Emily Thornberry will make work of Labour MPs '10 times harder'
Millions of Britons 'only days from the breadline,' claims report
Exclusive: UK approved £7m Israeli arms sales in six months before Gaza conflict
Benefit changes are killing the vulnerable, say campaigners
Left-leaning patriots unite! Let's get straight about Ukip
Rochester by-election: A little respect goes a long way, Ed Miliband
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