Phone-hacking: where the blame really lies

These letters appear in the Tuesday 1st July issue of The Independent

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The deluge of reporting over the results of the phone-hacking trial has reintroduced us to the terrible behaviour and lack of respect for privacy which characterised much of Fleet Street.

However, there is one group of people who must bear some responsibility for what happened but who appear to have been airbrushed out of the debate. I am of course talking about the millions of people who read the vacuous drivel that passes for news in the tabloids and gossip magazines.

Some weeks ago, I stood in a shop at a motorway service station and counted the number of celebrity gossip magazines which filled the shelves in the prime position, just beside the entrance.

I got to 20 and stopped in a kind of despair. These magazines and their companions, the tabloid newspapers, must be filled somehow to keep up with the apparently insatiable desire for more and more news about people in the public eye.

It is only natural, then, that the limits of what is and is not permissible in the search for this news are likely to be expanded.

If the demand for this nonsense was not there, there would be no gap to fill and there would have been no phone-hacking. So, perhaps one way of stopping these terrible events being repeated is to become a less cruel and a more caring society, and the first step in that is to stop buying these magazines and newspapers; in other words, to let people in the public eye have a private life.

John Dowling, Newcastle Upon Tyne

 

Irrespective of the verdict, the length of the hacking trial indicates serious failings in the judicial system. For the trial to take over six months is an unreasonable use of public facilities.

Perhaps there should be a body independent of the legal system which puts limits on the time cases may take.

David Warrick, Cranbrook, Kent

 

Market success for university research

The recent success of Imperial College in realising £10m cash in exchange for a 10 per cent share holding in Imperial Innovations shows the continued market interest in the commercialisation of university research (report, 24 June).

However, the availability of investment funds for promising university spin-outs will not on its own deliver the economic impact that the UK might expect from its world-class research base.

For commercialisation to thrive it is vital that the UK invests appropriately in the entire pipeline of development, from early-phase frontier research through to technology development and thereafter commercialisation.

However, there is evidence that the UK is failing to do so. According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2012 Britain invested 1.7 per cent of gross domestic product in research and development, the lowest percentage in Europe, and some way from the 3 per cent achieved in the US in the 1950s.

There is plenty of evidence that commercialisation of university research can deliver returns, but only if it is approached as a long-term investment. But the good news is that investment in university research not only fuels innovation but also sustains and underpins our world-class higher education sector, which in turn delivers a more immediate economic return.

According to a recent report from Universities UK, the higher education sector delivers some £73bn to GDP, £10bn in exports and more than 750,000 jobs.

Although funding and investment are essential ingredients for continued academic and economic success from UK higher education, money alone will not suffice. We must imbue a much greater sense of ambition in our university communities, so that we can not only create the successful companies of the future, but we have the confidence to grow them so that they can provide employment and tax revenues for future generations of UK citizens.

Professor Stephen Caddick, Vice Provost, University College London

Under arrest in Tajikistan

Today (1 July) William Hague will meet the visiting Tajikistani Foreign Minister, Sirojiddin Aslov, who has come to Britain to request economic and political support to bolster his country’s security forces and develop some ambitious hydroelectricity generation and export programmes.

At the same time, a University of Exeter-employed researcher, Alexander Sodiqov, has been arrested on baseless charges of espionage and treason while conducting scholarly research as part of a UK research consortium. His family and supporters have been denied access to him since his detention a fortnight ago, and there is growing concern for his safety in a country with dismal human rights records. Amnesty International has recognised him as a prisoner of conscience.

It would be unconscionable for the UK to be bolstering Tajik security services whilst they deny basic freedoms of speech and association to their citizens in this way. When William Hague meets Mr Aslov today he must insist that Alexander Sodiqov be freed.

Dr Nick Megoran, Lecturer in Political Geography, Newcastle University

 

Cameron enigma over Europe

I am puzzled by David Cameron’s stance on Europe. What, in detail, does he think? Is his present behaviour just a smokescreen? Why couldn’t he avoid blundering into the dismal isolation he finds himself in?

If Tony Blair were Prime Minister at this time we would be given a fully contextualised account of what he thought Europe was or should be. Even if he was hiding his true view, at least the rhetoric might have been engaging.

Cameron wants to “reform” the EU. How? What does he want? He is, I suppose, against a “federal” Europe. Why?

There seems to be little that is articulate and intelligent in politics these days, or that gives the electorate any credit for being capable of informed, critical judgements.

Eric Harber, St Albans, Hertfordshire

 

Where are the politicians of today’s generation who would speak up for our membership of the EU, apart from in the Liberal Democrats, who might be regarded as a busted flush?

The only people I have heard setting out the case in a fluent and convincing way recently are Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson and Ken Clarke, all of whom are yesterday’s men. The Labour Party’s silence on this issue is as unforgivable as it is deafening.

David Cameron’s ham-fisted attempts to stop Jean-Claude Juncker’s appointment were frankly embarrassing, and underline that he is not the man to bring about reform of the EU.

Were Labour to seize upon this own goal and set out a coherent pro-European strategy, rather than running scared of the right-wing press, they might be able to garner some support and prevent the impending disaster of our leaving the EU from unfolding. Without this, and the intervention of some credible heavy-weights, we are heading straight for the cloud-cuckoo land so beloved of Nigel Farage.

Ian Richards, Birmingham

 

You report (27 June) an EU diplomat as saying that Jean-Claude Juncker’s alcohol consumption “has been raised by a number of EU leaders”. If I’d been in his position dealing with Mr Cameron over the past month, mine would have been too.

Philip Goldenberg, Woking, Surrey

 

An alarming letter from the revenue

I expect many people were dismayed to read that 3.5 million people were undercharged by HMRC for tax and could expect letters in the post. Like many we thought ,“Oh dear, we hope we are not one of them”.

Luck however was not with us, and this morning my husband received four pages from HMRC to tell him he owed the huge amount of £1.81. The temptation to write to them to ask how much it cost to produce the letter was, with some difficulty, overcome.

Sally Bundock, Eastcote, Middlesex

 

Standing up for ‘standee’

Like Max Double (letter, 28 June), I was puzzled by “standee”, but discovered that it has been in use since at least the middle of the 19th century. Jenny Macmillan’s account (letter, 27 June), entirely logical though it is, does not match usage. Consider that a bargee is someone who operates a barge, not someone who is barged.

Martin Smith, Oxford

International comedy

I was sorry to see the absence from Tom Vallance’s excellent obituary of Eli Wallach (26 June) of any mention of Le Cerveau, Gerard Oury’s 1969 multilingual comic epic. Wallach acquits himself wonderfully alongside David Niven, Jean-Paul Belmondo and Bourvil.

Conrad Cork, Leicester

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