Celebrity Outshines Country

Tripoli

When asked where I am from, I now just say, “Chelsea” and then there’s instant understanding. For a Spurs fan this is irritating but one has to do what works. When Libyans on the street ask me where my wife is from (of course they ask me not her and quite right, too) I say, “Obama”. Again, this gets the job done much better than saying U.S. or America. Cameron, Nick Clegg, Mitt Romney, Santorum — absolutely no recognition. Beyonce works, though.

What a strange world we live in now: celebrities and sports teams have greater name recognition than countries.

I am thinking of trying Simon Cowell next.

DSK — Sarkozy Did It

Let’s get this right. The former head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, is arguing that “political enemies” linked to Nicolas Sarkozy and the French President’s ruling UMP party choreographed the scandal triggered by his alleged assault on a hotel maid.

The basis for his accusation? Evidence, he says, that his cell phone and text messages were being monitored by his political enemies and a “victory dance” two employees at New York’s Sofitel hotel were caught doing when the police were summoned.

He now says he doesn’t believe that the “incident” with Nafissatou Diallo was a setup but he argues that the subsequent “escalation of the events”, including his arrest and imprisonment were “orchestrated” by political opponents.

Let’s unpack some of that. According to journalist Edward Jay Epstein writing in The Guardian, DSK “accuses operatives linked to Sarkozy of intercepting phone calls and making sure Diallo went to the New York police, thus sparking an international scandal.”

The only evidence he provides for this is a warning from an unnamed friend that a copy of an email his wife, French broadcaster Anne Sinclair, had sent him had been found by a sympathizer inside the UMP party headquarters in Paris.

That’s the only evidence on the monitoring side of the accusation that he provides: an unnamed friend and one email (not a cell phone text message).

And the dance? What on earth could two male employees being doing a jig about? It could be anything at all and nothing connected with DSK, of course. One of them could have got laid the night before, got engaged or won the lottery! Got a great deal on a car! Secured promotion, got a new job. Anything. Or maybe they were celebrating the fact that the police were called in to investigate a nasty assault on a maid by a rich, powerful, arrogant SOB, who thinks women are just “material.” And they didn’t need to feel this way because they were in the service or pay of the French Secret Service.

None of what DSK says passes the laugh test. And what his attitude conveys is this: that there had to be foul play because the law doesn’t, or shouldn’t, apply to the powerful; the law is for the little people.

Sleight Of Hand Reporting On Murdoch

The Guardian is running a big story today on how U.S. shareholders are “deeply troubled” by the testimonies provided by Rupert and James Murdoch before the Leveson Inquiry.

“U.S. shareholders are said to be worried that the Murdochs’ testimony this week has raised new questions about the management of the company and posed potential threats to other areas of its media empire,” the report claims.

And then it goes on to quote from a “senior policy analyst with Change To Win (CtW), a U.S. advisory group that works with pension funds with over $200bn in assets.”

According to the analyst, Michael Pryce-Jones, the Murdochs’ testimony raised two immediate concerns for shareholders: the future of the firm’s control of broadcaster BSkyB and the ethics of top management.

I am sure some shareholders are nervous about what is unfolding in the UK vis-à-vis phone hacking, public inquiries and the on-going investigation by broadcast watchdog Ofcom. But are they the immediately relevant shareholders?

The Guardian should have explained who Change To Win is? It isn’t just some kind of neutral advisory group. It was founded in 2006 as the CtW Investment Group and, as the organization explains, it “works with pension funds sponsored by unions affiliated with Change to Win, a federation of unions representing nearly 5.5 million members, to enhance long-term shareholder returns through active ownership.”

The leadership council of the Change To Win federation consists of Joseph Hansen of the United Food and Commercial Workers; James P. Hoffa of the Teamsters; Geralyn Lutty of the United Food and Commercial Workers; Mary Kay Henry of the Service Employees International Union; Arturo Rodriguez of the United Farm Workers of America; Eliseo Medina of the Service Employees Union; and Tom Woodruff of the Service Employees International Union.

So, I think, we can take it that there is no love lost for Rupert M. from such an organization. Does that mean their views should be discounted? Of course not. If the union pension funds have investments in the Murdoch media empire, they have every right to voice their opinion and concerns. But it would have been more honest journalism for The Guardian to explain exactly who Change To Win is and where they might be coming from.

Of course, if the paper had done so, then the story would have been weakened. Maybe that explains the omission. And also why the report glides over as quickly as it can this bit of contradiction: “Nonetheless News Corp shares rose during the three days of testimony, rising 0.7% to $19.76 on Thursday.”

Hmm. In the end, the only important News Corp. shareholders are the top five in voting terms: the Murdoch family and Rupert Murdoch, who control 39.74 percent of the votes in News Corp.; Alwaleed bin Talal Alsaud (7.04 percent); Invesco (1.8 percent); Bank of New York Mellon (1.19 percent); and Taube Hodson Stonex (1.07percent).

 

The Digger And Leveson

Day 2 of media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s testimony before the Leveson Inquiry. What a difference in appearance and manner from last summer when he testified before a House of Commons committee. The Guardian described his Commons testimony in July as a “complex performance of shame, wryness and amnesia.”

I saw something else – a man in shock, and an old man at that who just didn’t look like he was altogther there. Was that an act to garner sympathy and wrong-foot his pursuers? Murdoch-haters would say it was, but I am not so sure.

This time round the wryness is still there and so is the shame but the amnesia seems on the whole to have gone. He looks fitter and much more together. And his frankness is appealing, especially when it comes to his relationships with prime ministers.

And he is utterly right about government regulation of the press when he says the laws as they stand now are “perfectly adequate” but “lack of enforcement” is the problem. Do we really want the political elite to have control of what papers say or more importantly don’t say?

But was he convincing on whether there was or was not a cover-up at senior levels at News International of the phone-hacking scandal? He places all the blame with management at the News of the World. But having worked at News International, I find it hard to believe that James Murdoch and other corporate executives were so in the dark. And if they were, then there was monumental incompetence.

Government Subsidies For Local Newspapers?

Government subsidies for the local press? Government encouraged or supported community media trusts? Of course, my American libertarian friends would throw their hands up in horror at such ideas. But UK Conservative MP Louise Mensch is pushing the government to do such things.

Mensch is worried rightly about the consequences of the decline in the UK of the local press and what it means for local government accountability and democracy. She wants a serious review and is calling on the government to introduce subsidies and tax advantages for local newspapers.

And she has a point about trying to create a level playing field for local newspapers. The country is awash with local Pravda-type propaganda newsheets put out by local authorities and financed by council taxpayers. Local newspapers have to compete also with regional BBC television, again funded by the public.

Britain’s local press is dominated by a handful of newspapers groups — Johnston Press, Newsquest and Northcliffe. And they have been slashing away at their properties. Newsquest’s ownership of the Herald Group in Glasgow has been nothing short of a disaster and both the Glasgow Herald and the Sunday Herald are pain shadows of what they once were. Johnstone has failed to revive the Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday. Down south there have staff cuts, papers getting thinner or being shifted from daily publication to weekly.

Of course, in these straitened times the big newspaper groups have suffered dramatic falls in advertising revenue and huge drops in profits. But there has been a marked lack of thought and creativity by managements as well.

Citizen journalism isn’t filling the gap.

So would government subsides bring government control? That doesn’t have to be the case. And there are examples of where it has worked — in Italy for instance.

 

 

RIP Dick Clark

Sorry to hear of Dick Clark’s death. Back in March 1998 I was on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect show on ABC with Clark – the other guests were Kathy Griffin and Michael Bolton. I assumed Clark wouldn’t be that alert when it came to politics and international affairs. Boy, was I wrong. Not only was he sharp as a tack, he was also charming and just plain good fun.

 

 

We Women Warriors

We Women Warriors

I received this today from independent journalist Nicole Karsin, who has done some fine work on human rights in Colombia.

“I would like to reach out in light of the upcoming Summit of the Americas (April 14-15), to put the spotlight on an important documentary film project, scheduled to premiere this summer.

We Women Warriors follows the lives of three native women leaders caught in the crossfire of Colombia’s warfare, who use nonviolent resistance to defend their people’s survival.

The film makes an excellent talking point given the President’s first visit to Colombia this week. Filmmaker Nicole Karsin will be actively speaking on issues addressed in the film and advocating participation in the National Day of Action for Colombia organized by a coalition of NGOs working to secure justice in Colombia.

The U.S. has given more than $8 billion in military aid to Colombia since 2000. In that time, some 30,000 civilians have been killed. With more than five million displaced, Colombia stands just behind Sudan as the world’s second worst internal displacement crisis in the world.

As a U.S. correspondent based in Colombia for seven years, Nicole reported on human rights issues in remote villages, and witnessed the conflict in Colombia firsthand. She also directly experienced the loss of friends to violence that erupted, and has since dedicated herself as a filmmaker to share this story.

We Women Warriors, now six years in the making, gives voice to the lives of women whose lives and communities are still imperiled by Colombia’s complicated drug war. We have 39 days to raise completion funds through Kickstarter, and we are mobilizing friends, colleagues and new supporters to join us to help bring this film to the public.

Please be in touch to get the conversation started. There are multiple ways to participate through Facebook, Twitter.”

 

More on Bob

Damian Thompson over at the Daily Telegraph has picked up on the unfolding Bob Fisk story. Bob apparently feels the criticism he’s coming under can all be put down to malice because he is a “moderately successful journalist.” In other words, it is all a matter of jealously. Well, I would have thought Ian Black, Hugh Pope and myself could all be described as moderately successful journalists, too. No jealously here, Bob. I just called it like I see it.

A Sobering Tale

The BBC’s Malcolm Brabant has been an excellent commentator for nearly a decade from Greece.  He has been someone the BEEB could parachute virtually anywhere in North Africa, the Middle East or the Med region to get some solid reporting. He is also a fun man to have a beer with. The Daily Mail has a saddening first-person account by Malcolm of the psychotic consequences of a Yellow Fever jab that has gone very bad for him.

A Word From Me

For three months from August 29th I will be filling in as the Comment Editor at The Hill newspaper in Washington DC. The Hill newspaper has built up a fine reputation as a serious news publication, one that is really fair and balanced. It welcomes on its opinion and comment pages all major political views — as it does so also for the opinion departments of its online product. Columnists, for example, are drawn from both sides of the political aisle.

The Hill’s comment editor functions in many ways as a ringmaster. It would be unfair for a ringmaster to comment publicly on the acts. And so for the duration of my time at The Hill I will be refraining from commenting here on this blog on domestic U.S. politics. But I will continue to blog on politics outside the U.S. and also to share some opinions on economics.