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Monday 11 July 2011
Letters: The Murdoch Empire
Is a once-mighty empire on the verge of collapse?
As a former Index on Censorship regional editor for Eastern Europe, who interviewed journalists, politicians and activists on the subject of media manipulation and abuse during the political transition there, I am fascinated to witness the nexus of media abuse involving giant corporations, journalists, police and politics now exposed to public view in the UK.
Journalists have been aware for years that abuse of media freedom, corruption and invasion of privacy have been issues in Britain and that the Murdoch empire has played a significant role in these. However, the power of that empire has chilled debate and obstructed investigation.
That a tipping point may have been reached just now is evidenced by the curious willingness of some key figures, such as former features editor Paul McMullan, to talk about activities that may implicate themselves and their media bosses. I witnessed a similar dynamic at work in Eastern Europe. Precisely those figures who had served an abusive system and felt it in their interests to preserve the secrecy of the abuse by remaining silent, once they perceive that system as vulnerable, become willing to talk and to implicate those whose orders they were following. This can lead to a rapid unravelling of empires, and News International may be no exception.
Chew Magna, Somerset
Mr Cameron is quoted as saying: "As a party leader you are bound to want a relationship with the media because you want to get your message over and if that means talking to the head of the BBC, the editor of The Guardian or Rupert Murdoch I will go out and do that."
Mr Cameron is being disingenuous. Of course the media is the means by which parties explain what they stand for, but having a relationship with the media is not the same thing as having a relationship with a media proprietor, and in the above quote Cameron clearly confuses the two.
Politicians of all persuasions would do well to reach a consensus on what contacts with media proprietors are, and are not, appropriate. This would go some way to neutralising the malign influence that unelected but powerful media proprietors wield by the exploitation of the competition that exists between political parties vying for favourable media coverage.
I find it astonishing that Mary Dejevsky takes this opportunity to praise Rupert Murdoch (8 July), saying: "With Sky, he transformed the television landscape, giving British viewers a breadth of choice that has only recently come to the rest of Europe."
This choice only came to British viewers who were willing and able to pay the cost of a subscription and actually reduced some previous choices. Years ago, I was able to watch free, via satellite, a German TV station broadcasting live English football matches which were concurrently being broadcast on Sky pay TV. The only difference was a German- language commentary.
Todmorden, West Yorkshire
Andreas Whittam Smith (7 July) writes of Section 79 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000: "This is the catch-all section of the Act. If you have presided over an organisation that has conducted criminal activities, either you gave the orders, or you gave permission, or you connived, but if you did none of these things, then you were neglectful. That is the trap, that is the box in which the directors of News International will find themselves."
Your readers may recall "Morton's fork". Morton, Henry VII's chancellor, stated that no one was to be exempted from taxes. If a subject was seen to live frugally, he was clearly a money-saver of great ability, and so could afford to give generously to the King. If he lived extravagantly, he, too, could afford to give largely, the proof of his opulence being evident in his expenditure.
This is an ingenious and persuasive way to curb Murdoch (and others) without infringing press freedom. I trust it will be successful: it should be called "Whittam Smith's fork".
Chris Huhne, a politician I usually admire, was uncharacteristically stupid with his comment "We should have a personal assurance from Rupert Murdoch that these illegal practices were confined to the News of the World". How would such an assurance help? If he gave it and it proved false, all he'd have to do was say that he was "not in possession of all the facts" when he did so, and he'd be home free – with BSkyB in the bank. After so many weaselling evasions, what grounds do we have to trust anything the man says?
G M Ball
If The Sun publishes a Sunday edition this will show the closure of the News of the World to have been an empty gesture which insults our intelligence.
Does a change of name exonerate a criminal, or entitle a debtor to repudiate his debts?
David Cameron should by now have been reminded of the wisdom of the proverb, "If you lie down with dogs, you will get up with fleas".
D A Reibel
As usual, Shakespeare got there first. Four hundred years ago, in a line that could have been written for today's craven politicos, he wrote in the "Dirge for Fidele": "Fear no more the heat o' the Sun."
Aid doesn't help end famine
After decades of supporting charities, many of which are focused on Africa, I don't think I will be supporting the latest famine appeal. It is half a century since "the winds of change" swept across that continent, yet here we are again, confronting yet another endemic disaster. Something is radically wrong, and repeated calls for emergency aid and charity are obviously not the answer: in a classic example of unintended consequences, massive aid networks of industrial proportions could even be contributing to the problem, in a way that the benefits system in our own country seems to entrench dependency.
In Africa over the past 50 years, tribal kleptocratic elites have systematically plundered their own countries; endless civil wars and impenetrable conflicts have consumed millions, both in lives and currency, squandering vast resources.
And ordinary people bear some responsibility, too: a mother who turns up at an aid camp with six or eight starving children should have given some thought to whether she could provide for them before bringing them into the world.
Famines are a reflection of the state of civil society – even the ancient Egyptians knew this. Clearly, the post-colonial settlement has not worked, in the way that the post-Westphalian settlement once worked for Europe – without aid. What is now required in Africa is not just more aid but radically new thinking and structures.
It is heartening to see that the devastating drought in the Horn of Africa has finally begun to register internationally. While Britain's promise of emergency aid is to be welcomed, it seems particularly unfortunate that this will be directed at Ethiopia – the country that already receives the largest amount of British aid of any country in Africa. Djibouti, Eritrea, Somalia, Somaliland and parts of northern Kenya and Uganda are all suffering, but the UK Government seems more interested in trying to bolstering its position in Addis Ababa rather than targeting aid to those in greatest need.
Mark T Jones
Why kettling doesn't work
The upcoming court rulings are a welcome opportunity to examine the use of kettling, which, as has been made clear in previous cases, should only be used by the police as an option of last resort ("Pressure grows to ban kettling as police face triple legal challenge", report, 4 July).
Kettling should not be employed to control or manage a crowd, and is often counterproductive, making groups more agitated. During the student protests the Metropolitan Police undoubtedly faced a very difficult task, yet by kettling vulnerable young protesters for such long periods they failed in their duty of care, and alienated many young people on their first demonstration.
We hope the process will help the Met to learn lessons and prevent the repeat of scenes such as the dangerous herding and holding of freezing protesters for hours on Westminster Bridge.
Green Party Assembly Member
Your report on the UK Uncut campaigners offers a timely reminder that court appearances for "aggravated trespass" are not the only indignity these peaceful demonstrators have had to face. On 28 March the Home Secretary Theresa May told Parliament: "I can ... confirm that officers arrested more than 200 people on Saturday, and that 149 of them have already been charged ... The message to those who carry out violence is clear – they will be caught, and ... punished" – thus implicitly lumping the 138 non-violent Fortnum & Mason's protesters charged by the police in with those who had been violent.
When I wrote to complain about this, I met with the same childish evasions you regularly encounter when writing to any government department, with the added piquancy that the Home Office wouldn't confirm that any of its three (!) respondents to my emails were actually real people. Could the Government tell us how far beyond 10 Downing Street this tactic has now spread?
Women's world cup woes
I was very disappointed by your coverage of the England women's world cup performance. I'm sure there are all sorts of wonderful reasons why women's football is not given decent exposure in this country, but it's beyond me to explain why a country that loves football so much fails to take any sort of patriotic pride in the success of its national women's team and why the coverage of it is so limited.
While for many male footballers, the huge salaries and constant press attention of everyday life can render playing for England some kind of optional extra, the semi-professionals in the England women's team are playing because they have a real drive and passion for the game and are proud to be representing their country.
Clichés can be dangerous
There is a serious reason for abhorring clichés (Letters, 9 July). Often they disguise the speaker's laziness or inability to find their own words, and may also be used in ignorance of their actual meaning. An egregious example came in the statement of Baroness Buscombe, Chairman of the Press Complaints Commission, on the day that The News of the World imploded: "The reality is this is an opportunity for us to say 'time out' – we've got to move on, we've got to get some good out of this."
"Time out" is a sporting term indicating a halt in the action for rest; "to move on", if it means anything at all, tells us that the speaker is intending to take no action and regards the issue as closed.
I would hope that Lady Buscombe had neither of these meanings in mind, but she, of all people, ought to be able to express herself in clearer and more original language than this.
Cheques are the ideal way of making gifts (Letters, 9 July). One gets the urge to make a gift and a cheque can be written and posted before the often-fleeting feeling disappears. I am sure that many worthy recipients, such as charities and grandchildren, will suffer if other more cumbersome methods are substituted.
Say what you see
Brian Lile says Maria Sharapova once told an interviewer how to pronounce her surname (Letters, 6 July). I remember it well, and this is what she said: "In Russian it's ShaRAPova and in English it's Sharapoaver."
You can't get fairer than that. Or would Mr Lile like us to call Moscow "Moskva" and Paris "Paree"?
Perspectives on the care system
Politicians must seize the moment
In response to Dr Kailash Chand's observation that the care system is collapsing (Letters, 6 July), I, too, broadly welcome the recommendations of the Dilnot Commission on Funding of Care and Support in England.
The BMA has long argued that those who are most vulnerable need better care, and that we all need to understand better what is paid for and what will be means-tested. It has become obvious that a universal system, such as that in Scotland, is likely to be unsustainable and that a partnership model would be the best alternative.
Spending on personal care is not only the right thing to give our vulnerable and elderly dignity, but has the potential to save the NHS money through reducing inappropriate admissions. The £1.7bn per annum proposal increases public spending by only a quarter of a per cent.
It is a political decision for the Government as to the level at which they set the proposed cap: they could decide on a regressive solution, whereby those in the middle are capped at a far larger proportion of their assets than the very well off; or a progressive system, whereby the cap would be based on an estimate of one's assets.
Dr Helena McKeown
Chairman of the BMA's Committee on Community Care
There's a real chance for change
The details of Andrew Dilnot's proposals ("Over 65s 'should pay national insurance'", 5 July) are unlikely to win universal approval. A failure to take family wealth into account could spur accusations that the taxpayer is subsidising the inheritance of already wealthy offspring who could have paid for their parents' care. It is also unclear how pensioners will meet the ongoing cost of accommodation, food and heating, which in my experience are likely to be far higher than £10,000 per year.
Despite these reservations, Dilnot's proposals have the potential to finally create a more equitable and transparent social-care funding system. It has been many years since we've been this close, and politicians on all sides have a responsibility to finally reform the system. It will be a tragedy if this chance is wasted.
Chief Executive, Nightingale Care Home,
Means testing makes sense
The proposal to start charging pensioners NI contributions makes sense. The problem with a blanket charge is that it will bear very heavily on poorer people. This suggests that some form of means test should be considered.
The tax bill a person receives can be considered a kind of means test. I used to live and work in Germany where, when extra funds were needed, a percentage surcharge was added to the tax bill. Clearly, the higher the bill, the higher the amount paid.
For example, the surcharge could be 2 per cent starting at annual tax bills of £2,000. Such a person would pay £40 more. Somebody with a £20,000 bill would pay £400 more. The calculation would be one line of computer code.
Eric V Evans
Target cats, dogs and donkeys
To help fund care of the elderly frail, I suggest a tax of 95 per cent on legacies to cats' and dogs' homes. Donkey sanctuaries, too. This would be a small but significant step towards making older people face up to their responsibilities towards themselves.
Only a few days ago the Government was promising the voters that they would ensure that elderly, disabled and vulnerable people received dignity in their care. Now, following a Supreme Court ruling forcing a retired lady to wear incontinence pads at night against her express wishes (report, 6 July), it is obvious that neither our judiciary, nor our politicians, have the faintest concept of what the words dignity or decency actually mean.
Ebbw Vale, Gwent
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