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Wednesday 20 December 2006
Letters: Political journalism
Forget BBC, all media must open a window on the political world
Sir: It is true that BBC News often fails to educate and inform people on the complex process of how nationally elected politicians form policy decisions, but superficial analysis is hardly a sin of which only the BBC is guilty; it is a problem increasingly endemic to British news journalism ("The BBC's coverage is symptomatic of an anti-politics movement that serves no one", Comment, 19 December).
The BBC is not specifically anti-politics. Being "anti-politics" is a trait common to much of the media. Yes, commercial pressures play a part, but much more important is a social discourse in which politics is the preserve of a small elite. Political parties are products to be purchased with a vote. Political parties therefore lose their central social value as the ultimate social movement organisations.
Long before NGOs appeared, political parties provided a means for collective action through which "interests" could be formed and debated into policy proposals. One solution by which to encourage wider funding for political parties would be to try to shift the discourse so this social value of the party system can be re-established.
Another solution is to remember that politics is about collective action and not elected politicians. The BBC is certainly guilty of under-reporting politics outside Westminster. Very little is known about local government. Even less is said of non-violent demonstrations. This was long ago evidenced in the "Bad News" studies of the Glasgow University Media Group, which showed the way in which the news media fails to provide more than a very narrow window upon the world.
Unless we can widen that window and start talking about politics in all its complexity, the news media (including the BBC) risk really becoming "anti-politics".
DEPARTMENT OF GOVERNMENT, UNIVERSITY OF ESSEX
Blair risks disaster in Palestine
Sir: What is Tony Blair doing supporting Mahmoud Abbas's call for new elections in the Palestinian territories?
First, the Palestinians may not yet be a sovereign people, but they should be; so what gives Blair the right to interfere in their internal political affairs? Second, it must be obvious to Blair that his endorsement of Abbas simply strengthens the perception among the Palestinians that their President is the puppet of the Americans, the Israelis and their British allies.
Were Abbas's Fatah party to be granted its election, and lose to Hamas (again), it would, presumably, keep calling for elections until it got the result it wanted (unless it could, in Brecht's words, "dissolve the people, and elect another"). The consequence of Blair's statement can only be to add to the potentially catastrophic divisions between supporters of Hamas and Fatah.
That, of course, may be exactly what Washington, London and Tel Aviv have in mind. Blair's dangerously inflammatory intervention looks more like conspiracy than cock-up.
Sir: Tony Blair needs to look at things from the Palestinian perspective. How would he have felt if, after Labour's landslide win in 1997, the world community had decided that it could not deal with him but would speak only to John Major? If this had happened, would there also not be fighting on the streets in London between rival factions?
Sir: On Sunday, Tony Blair told his involuntary hosts in Iraq that the killings and kidnappings besetting their country were the fault of "everyone who doesn't want to see democracy in Iraq".
Outside the fortifications, Sunni or Shia support armed attacks on the soldiers he sent there, although 62 per cent of British voters say that our troops should come home as soon as possible.
Then, in the name of the 19 per cent of the British electorate who chose him, he visited Ehud Olmert to renew his support for the collective punishment of the Palestinians. Their crime? To have mistaken democracy for the freedom to elect a government of their own choice.
Sir: If the police will not arrest Blair until he resigns for fear of a constitutional crisis, could they not at least confiscate his passport? As he bumbles through the Middle East bleating foolishly about peace in a last, pitiful attempt to be remembered for something other than rampant slaughter, the great Lord Blair of Kut Al-Amara shrivels to a creeping shade, Lord Irrelevant of Yesterday. He has been an embarrassment to his party for a long time, but now he humiliates us all.
At least the Cubans have the decency to keep their dying leader out of sight, while we allow ours to stalk around like a carnival zombie. Have we no shame?
A health service ruled by money
Sir: This government and previous ones have spent billions on administrators to reduce waiting lists. Now we hear that one "health" authority is creating new waiting lists for what non-medics are calling non-urgent cases. Thank God I got out of this so-called health "service" when I did.
One surgeon friend was furious because he was made to perform a cosmetic breast reduction in preference to a hand operation because the breast patient had been waiting more than the prescribed time; the hand operation was so urgent that without it the patient would lose the hand.
Why can't the administrators trust the doctors' judgment and put the welfare of the patient where it used to belong, at the top of the priority list?
How can some administrator judge that a tonsil op is non-urgent when he has not been for the past two years prescribing constant treatment for the long-suffering child and its parents? Is this administrator aware of the dangers of untreated severe varicosities? No, he is concerned only with money. Money rules today and to hell with the patient.
DR TIM LAWSON
Sir: Inefficiency in the NHS? What inefficiency? I can't believe that your leader writer (12 December) has experience of the same NHS that I have.
I am in my 80s and as bits of me wear out I am in increasing need of medical attention. But I have no trouble getting an appointment of my choosing to see my GP, and he is always thorough and patient. And visits to the local hospitals for tests and to see consultants are exemplary. I am seen after waiting, typically, for only 20 minutes.
In recent years, I have had day surgery for a facial cyst, three hernia operations, each involving a hospital stay of 36 hours, and an emergency visit in the middle of the night for a mild heart attack, which involved a stay of three days. I have only one complaint: the slow secretarial service which takes three weeks or more to send a consultant's letter to my GP.
I am greatly impressed by the efficiency and the quality of care in all parts of the NHS. If there is any inefficiency it derives from the perpetual meddling by politicians. The endless flow of new "targets" and "reforms" at all levels distracts managements from managing. Patient care is what the NHS is really all about, and perhaps it's a wonder that it hasn't declined, which, at least from where I stand, it has not.
Clichés that insult Turkey
Sir: Peter Hamilton's letter of 15 December is an extraordinary response to a very fair-minded leader of 13 December on Turkey and the EU.
It is just not possible to divide Turkey between a European Istanbul and a Middle Eastern Anatolia. Anatolia includes: Izmir (previously Smyrna) a traditional trading hub for the Mediterranean world and the capital city, Ankara, which includes several English-medium universities and a monument to one of the great secularist modernist leaders of all time, Kemal Ataturk.
Like all other countries, Turkey is divided between urban modernist culture and rural traditionalist culture. As a country that is still urbanising, Turkey has a lot of the latter, and it can be found in Turkish Thrace as well as Anatolia. Turks find it convenient to refer to the cultural divide as Istanbul versus Anatolia, but it is just a label.
Hamilton's comments about Middle Eastern culture are insulting and chauvinistic clichés. The culture of family and honour over public world and education could have been applied to the Italian and Spanish peasantry of the 1950s and still apply to the Greek peasantry. Urbanisation and modernisation have been dissolving that culture and a similar thing is happening in Turkey.
One of my students in Istanbul (at Bosphorus University) was recently in Kars, eastern Turkey, on volunteer work to encourage education for girls. What a shame when Istanbul students are working hard to bring education and gender equality to all of Turkey, that Hamilton should insultingly claim Anatolian culture makes such work irrelevant.
DR BARRY STOCKER
ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF HUMANITIES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES, ISTANBUL TECHNICAL UNIVERSITY
Stand by for a world without air travel
Sir: Your correspondents (Letters, 16 December) have correctly highlighted the madness of expanding airports but have not touched on the main reason for the imminent demise of the aviation industry.
It is this: when the oil runs out, there will be no more flying. Oil production is already declining, despite increasing demand, and there are no more major discoveries likely.
Aviation is dependent on hydrocarbon fuels derived from fossil oil. Although road vehicles, trains and ships can all be made or converted to run on alternative energy sources, the hydrogen-fuelled jet engine is not even a gleam in anyone's eye and will never get off the ground. We have to get used to the idea of a future which is entirely dependent on surface transport, and this will arrive sooner than most of us expect.
Annoying whine of the Nimby protest
Sir: Whine, whine, whine: these Nimbys make more noise that the wind turbines ("World's largest offshore wind farm plan given a stormy reception", 19 December). I would be happy to have a wind farm near me; there is a lot of rubbish talked about ambient noise from these statuesque and beautiful structures.
These farms need to be built somewhere if we are to have sustainable and green energy sources. It is no more noise than the wind rushing through the branches of the trees. I doubt if having these wonderful interesting structures would prevent tourism; I would have thought people would come to see them.
We have to have sustainable and green energy sources sooner rather than later; stop blocking one of the ways in which this can be realised. I am looking into getting my own small domestic wind turbine and solar hot-water heating.
Not a bird, not a plane - it's Santa
Sir: At 5.30pm on Christmas Day, if you go out and look overhead you may see Santa going home for a well-deserved rest. His sleigh will be seen for several minutes as a bright star-like object, due to heat from the skis generated by friction in the atmosphere. He travels at thousands of miles an hour to do his job, hence the white-hot skis.
Some people may try to convince you it is the International Space Station passing over. Don't believe a word of it. It is part of a massive conspiracy to hide Santa's tracks. He is very shy and doesn't like being seen. We can guarantee 100 per cent that this conspiracy theory is as accurate as the Moon landing hoax.
THE ASTRONOMY ROADSHOW PLANETARIUM, SITTINGBOURNE, KENT
Sir: Your feature on Office Parties (18 December) claimed to show how the British white collar enjoys itself at Christmas. Out of nine parties shown, only one was held outside London.
I don't think this was the usual case of London bias, more a realisation on your part that those of us who work outside the capital are more refined than to provide the usual cliches of gurning for photos wearing paper hats, boasting about how much we will drink and generally making fools of ourselves to the wider nation.
There are many Christmas traditions that can be enjoyed at a work party without resorting to the binge culture that plagues the nation. I have to go now, because it's my turn to sit on the photocopier.
Sir: Reading the yards of newsprint and air-time devoted to what may or may not have been behind that crash in that Paris tunnel, I have become plagued with doubts about whether I am normal. I don't give a toss who killed Diana. Should I seek help?
Sir: The imbalance noted by Jessica Duchen ("Messianic delusions", 11 December) in "historically informed" performances of Handel's Messiah also prevailed in the 19th century. The historian Robert Donington records that it was performed in 1834 with 365 singers and 222 players, and in 1874 with 3,500 performers, in the proportion of six singers to each player.
LEWES, EAST SUSSEX
Waste of space?
Sir: I agree totally with Martyn Bennett (Letters, 18 December) that we need more Britons in space. Could I suggest the next to go should be Tony Blair, David Cameron, the English cricket and football teams and, of course, their wives who always tag along anyway?
Sir: The corkscrew described by Miles Kington (18 December), and known as the waiter's friend, is the only instrument which could be used by a waiter standing up - or even mounted on the pillion of a motorcycle - but any ordinary, simple cork-puller would always win when a table on which to rest the bottle is at hand.
Sir: Lawrence Cross (Letters, 15 December) rightly asks how to reply to e-mailed Christmas cards. But the more pressing problem is how do I balance my computer on the mantelpiece?
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