So, what now is the point of Leveson?

These letters appear in the Thursday 26th issue of The Independent

Independent Voices
Wednesday 25 June 2014 19:16

The grossly expensive phone-hacking trial made one thing abundantly clear: there was no justification for setting up the disturbingly unsatisfactory Leveson inquiry.

This exercise in curbing press freedom was driven by a claim in The Guardian that the News of the World deleted Milly Dowler’s messages, raising false hopes she might be alive. The claim was shown to be groundless, and, as the conviction of Andy Coulson confirms, existing laws against phone hacking are entirely adequate to deal with rogue journalists.

After the imprisonment of three journalists in Egypt, David Cameron had fine words to say about the vital importance of a free press to democracy. Yet to save face after the unwise appointment of Coulson as his director of communications he was prepared to jeopardise 300 years of press freedom from state interference.

Dr John Cameron, St Andrews

You, as an editor, might be able to tell us what the editor of a national newspaper is paid to do.

Is it to know nothing about what your paper prints? Is it never to enquire about the source of a story?

Is it never to ask a reporter: “How on earth did you find this out?”

Is it never to wonder how something personal and private all of a sudden becomes public in print?

Is it to open the newspaper you are in charge of and be as surprised by what you read as are your readers?

Peter Forster, London N4

Long wait for a living wage

I agree with Hamish McRae (25 June) that social media campaigns and voluntary action can have a positive impact on low pay, but he overstates the success.

High-profile cases such as Starbucks’ tax avoidance are a small step forward, as is the Living Wage campaign, which has signed up over 700 forward-thinking companies to date.

But in London there are now more people earning less than a living wage than in 2008, when Boris Johnson became Mayor, promising to promote the voluntary campaign. Only 3 per cent of our big businesses have signed up. I have joined citizens’ groups, a trade union and tweeters in lobbying for John Lewis cleaners to be paid a living wage, but the company has held out for two years now.

We need a mandatory living wage, so everybody can build a life on their income. This should be a legal baseline, leaving us to campaign for other improvements such as more equal pay and jobs that bring more meaning to workers’ lives.

Jenny Jones, Green Party Member of the London Assembly

Fighting both Assad and the Jihadis

Patrick Cockburn is an experienced observer of the Middle East, so it is disappointing that his article of 23 June oversimplifies a complex situation.

When he writes, for example, about the “revolt of the Sunni in Syria” he represents the uprising in Syria as entirely religious or sectarian in nature. This is untrue. Members of all religions joined in the protests against Assad’s government, and all religions are represented today in the Syrian Opposition Coalition. His statement that “the Syrian opposition is dominated by Isis and al-Qa’ida groups” is, again, the opposite of the truth. Our own affiliates the Free Syrian Army – defined by the UN as “Syrian moderate nationalists” – are fighting with some success on two fronts against both the Assad regime and Isis. Their successes would be greater if they had more help from the West.

On 3 June, on this letters page I warned that insufficient support for moderate nationalist rebels in Syria would result in the strengthening of religious extremists, and that the spillover from Syria would soon affect other countries in the region, and maybe Europe. Six days later, Isis took control of Mosul and now Western jihadis are paraded in propaganda videos or on social media urging their former compatriots to join them or, worse, return home with malicious intent.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. Our fight with Isis is part of a wider struggle and deserves greater support.

Monzer Akbik, Chief of Staff, Office of the President of the Syrian Opposition Coalition, Istanbul

Football in the gutter again

Uruguay’s Luis Suarez is a fantastic footballer, but why didn’t the referee red card him immediately after his latest stupidity?

When is Fifa going to sort football out? We have seen dives that an Olympic diver would be proud of, more shirt pulling, pushing, grabbing and holding than you will see in any rugby or wrestling match, and Suarez tops it all by biting an opponent again.

Unless the authorities take very strong action the game will get dragged further into the gutter. Stop turning a blind eye to the actions of people who are supposed to be role models for our children.

Dave Croucher, Doncaster

Will Fifa show it has real teeth when dealing with Luis Suarez?

John Payne, Gisleham, Suffolk

Finnish lesson for our schools

Alan Bennett highlights in his article the effects of discrimination in the UK’s education system (19 June). I was surprised that he made no reference to the alternative model as practised in Finland.

Finnish schools continue to outperform schools in the UK and governments have on occasion had to acknowledge this, but they never seem ready to grasp what may be the reasons.

There are no private schools in Finland. This means that the movers and shakers in society put their efforts into ensuring that the state education system is good enough for their children, and therefore for everyone else.

The state regards it as important that there should be a role for education in developing equality in the country. School meals are free to all students and care, guidance and health provisions are school-centred for the relevant age group.

Finnish students do not face testing until their teens. Students pursue their studies without the threat of failure. The state regards co-operation as preferable to competition.

Teachers are very highly regarded. They are all qualified and require five years’ training with a master’s degree. Many of the best students aspire to become teachers. Teachers are trusted to choose the teaching methods and materials best suited to them and their pupils, and not to fit in with the whims of a politician.

A far more fundamental change in our perception of what schools should be is required than any government seems prepared to present.

David Battye, Sheffield

The ‘balance’ shifts to the right

The recent furore over the threat to Yasmin Alibhai-Brown is deeply disturbing, and not simply because a Conservative MP has expressed the desire to do her harm and received no more than a mild admonishment from his party leader.

The whole episode has cheapened the issue of violence against women by turning it into a personalised and media-confected cartoon.

The chief problem is the virtual disappearance from public discourse of any sane, leftist account of the world. The major parties are indistinguishably right-wing and news organisations in search of “balance” now look further right for their discussants.

This means, among other things, regular work for a growing cadre of far-right provocateurs, one of whose favourite tricks is to play off the dreary myth of “political correctness”.

Stephen Wagg, Leicester

Less management and more doctors, please

I have just received a letter from my local GP practice informing me that as I am over 75 a named GP has been appointed to have overall responsibility for my care and support. But it adds that this will not stop me seeing my usual GP, in whom I have great confidence. What on earth is the point of this?

This seems to me to be an inept example of micro-managing by Whitehall bureaucrats in adding another layer of administration at a time of a serious financial shortfall, particularly when we need more medical staff, not managers.

T G Harris, Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Consider the lilies as a weapon

Having previously made fruitless attempts to track down plants recommended by gardening experts, I have often wondered whether they bother to check availability beforehand.

In the light of Sandra Bishop’s well-meant warning that lilies are toxic to cats (letter, 25 June), I wonder whether a lily shortage might be anticipated, given the many letters in gardening magazines seeking a means of “discouraging” cats from using gardens? Take heed, garden centres, it may well be a busy weekend.

Rob Hallows, Llanddulas, Conwy

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