Monthly Archives: February 2008

Too Little Too Late.

Jersey Evening Post Goes Fully On-line – Provided You Can Afford To Pay For It.

Hey – I said my blog was becoming more widely read than I ever expected.

(OK, John, Chris & Rob? How’s it going? )

And my source was good – too. Got the story right on the money. I’ll get you a pint, next time we meet.

I wrote a post yesterday, the title of which was a moderated version of a famous Private Eye slogan.

In “New Technology Baffles Chain-Smoking Old Hack”, I cast a weary eye over the Jersey Evening Post – and in particular its absurd and inadequate adventure into the electronic age.

I mentioned this in Yesterday’s post, as my source (see – even I can do good old-fashioned investigative journalism, as opposed to press-release regurgitation) had been up-dating me from time-to-time about the belated stumbling of The Rag towards a technological age.

Following my Blog posting, the JEP of this evening rushed out an announcement of its new on-line edition.

So – trebles all round? A great leap forward? Good news for good news?

Look, I’m really sorry guys – but it’s just too little too late.

Consider the Guardian Unlimited site? I forget exactly when it began but it was quite some years ago now – probably around the time when the JEP was still using typewriters. The Guardian has had the full content of the paper accessible – as well as near round-the-clock updates for several years.

And it’s free – unlike the new “service” offered by the JEP. OK, so if you want to access its archive, or view an ‘as-printed-page’ edition, you have to subscribe.

But still – the full content of each day’s paper is available on-line in web format – for nothing.

You want this from the Rag? Sorry – you have to pay.

I could easily have categorised this post as “An Anatomy of a Spin” – so brazenly does the JEP pitch its new ‘service’ as some kind of marvellous advancement.

It aint.

What it is just another predictable and tired exploitative abuse of market dominance.

Paying subscriptions to the JEP is all-well-and-good – if you are the some scion of the local rentiers, an accountant, a particularly ruthless estate agent (is there any other kind? Ed.) or used car salesman.

But what about everyone else. People who have to do two jobs to make ends meet? People who have to pay £180 per week to rent some fly-blown and mildewed hovel?

Let’s get a few things straight.

The Jersey Evening Post is the island’s only newspaper. It has ruthlessly abused this monopoly – this market dominance for many many decades. It has – without so much as a single wobble, implacably supported the ‘greed-is-good’, ‘devil-take-the-hindmost’, short-term self-interests of the island’s oligarchy. Often to a degree, and in ways, that can only be described as contemptible – disgusting – disgraceful.

The JEP has been the key instrument in producing an environment in which the cost of living is higher than central London and in which it has determinedly striven to keep much of the population politically illiterate.

The great majority of ordinary people in Jersey are financially exploited – and denied organised and effective political representation – largely because of the purposes of the JEP and its owners.

And now – you can have the privilege of consuming its shallow and tedious propaganda – the opinion management tripe spooned out to keep the island’s bosses in bonuses – on-line – if you pay for it!

In a nut-shell – what has the JEP done? Produced another expensive, bespoke service – readily affordable by the local entrenched elites – and in the process merely re-iterated its calculated and deliberate marginalisation of the poor.

So what does the JEP expect for all this? A medal?

Sorry guys – its 2008 now. We see all this cynical manipulation for what it is.

There can be no redemption for the JEP.

A person who posted a comment asked me what I thought of the other media in Jersey – the local BBC, FM 103, and Rankine – err – sorry – Channel Television.

I’ll have a go at answering that question tomorrow.

Stuart Syvret

Book of the Post:

False Dawn, by John Gray.

Joke of the Post:

Q: How many computer journalists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Five. One to write a review of all the existing light bulbs so you can decide which one to buy, another one to write a remarkably similar one in another magazine the next month, a third to have a big one come out on glossy paper two months later that is by then completely out of date, a fourth to hint in her column that a completely new and updated bulb is coming out, and the fifth to report a rumour that that new bulb is shipping with a virus.

‘No Greater disgrace’.

‘There is no greater disgrace for a newspaper than to collaborate with a government in the propagation of a lie that leads to the deaths of many people.’

– or that leads to the concealment of child abuse.

In Anatomy of a Spin #3, I recommended the new book by the award-wining journalist Nick Davies, ‘Flat Earth News’.

I thought the book would prove too much to stomach for the nation’s news editors – a profession which seems to require overweening vanity and self-deluded fantasy self-images as a pre-qualification – and so it is proving.

On the Today program on BBC Radio 4 this morning, they had a piece which featured Davies stating his case, and two senior editorial figures from national papers, defending the media. One was John Mullin, editor of the Independent on Sunday, the other Stuart Cutner, managing editor of the News of the World.

You can still hear this piece of you go to the BBC Radio 4 website. Under the Today program head and the ‘listen again’ service, you can find the piece at the 8.50 AM slot.

Naturally, both Cutner and Mullin were dismissive of Davies thesis. But they couldn’t brush away his evidence. He commissioned a university to analyse ‘news’ stories in the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Independent and the Mail. What this evidence-based research revealed was that 54% of ‘news’ stories were constructed entirely or partly from PR “product”. The sample size was over two thousand articles.

Interestingly, Davies concluded with a comment that matches my experience. He said that, of course, “senior managers and editors won’t accept it’s going on but speak to the peasants, the journalists at the coal-face, and they agree.”

I’ve been an elected member for about 17 and-a-half years. During that time I have known a lot of Jersey journalists. A significant number of them have admitted to me privately that the various ‘news’ organisations they work for are utter rubbish, shallow and deeply biased. Some have gone as far as to say they hate working for X or Y media – that it makes them feel sullied and embarrassed. Yet in Jersey – jobs within specialisms – such as journalism – are hard to come by; there are only a very limited number of employment opportunities. These journalists have often known full-well that if they get a reputation for being awkward, out-spoken or too challenging in their stories – they would rapidly find themselves unemployable in any Jersey media.

Nick Davies writes in today’s Guardian about his findings, and Stephen Glover in today’s Independent writes an interesting article about the book. And it is from Glover’s article that I have appropriated the title of this post.

In a piece titled “Damming allegations that, if true, bring disgrace upon ‘The Observer’”, Glover writes: ‘Many journalists will recognise his portrait of editorial resources being stretched ever thinner’ He goes on to describe Davies damning claims against the Observer newspaper, namely that there was a “collaborative relationship between The Observer and Number 10 in the lead-up to the Iraq war.”

Davies claims that Roger Alton simply lifted chunks from Alistair Campbell’s e-mails to incorporate into the Observer’s pro-war editorial comments.

Now, this kind of sloppiness just doesn’t occur at the Jersey Evening Post – oh no. At the rag, they wouldn’t dream of lifting chunks from Establishment e-mails to go in the leader comment – they just use the whole text instead.

I’ve written before about just how criminal and stupid the war on Iraq is, and how Alistair Campbell and the rest of the labour ‘in-groupers’ would dismiss all opponents of the war as not being “serious people”.

So, the British people were conned by spin into thinking that the war was necessary because Iraq – supposedly – possessed ‘weapons of mass-destruction’. This message was driven home by about 90% of the UK’s print media.

Want a better understanding of how this collective madness was conjured up?

Consider this astonishing claim by Davies. The highly respected journalist Ed Vulliamy, the Observer’s USA correspondent, filed a story actually sourced to a former CIA operative. The CIA insider stated that the CIA did not believe Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass-destruction. And this was back in the autumn of 2002! Vulliamy re-wrote the story no less than seven times – but still it was never used.

Thus a supposedly ‘respectable’ newspaper – the Observer – had an absolutely dynamite story – of world significance – and impeccably sourced.

And they didn’t run it.

According to the web site “Iraq Body Count”, between 81,020 and 88,466 people are dead because of the war. A war based on lies and omissions.

The word “disgrace” just doesn’t get close to describing the action of the Observer.

But what of similar circumstances in Jersey? Would the island’s only ‘newspaper’ sit on – and bury – a dynamite story – of profound public importance – rock-solidly sourced and evidenced?

You bet.

Watch this space. When I’m feeling strong enough I’ll recount for you the whole disgusting saga.

Stuart Syvret

Book of the Post:

Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.

Jokes of the Post: selection:

Chris Rock:

‘Bush lied to me, they all lied to me. “We gotta go to Iraq cause they the most dangerous country on Earth. They the most dangerous regime in the world.”

If they so dangerous how come it only took two weeks to take over the whole … country?

Man – you couldn’t take over Baltimore in two weeks.’

Craig Kilborn:

“This Iraqi intelligence scandal is growing. Americans are asking, ‘what did President Bush not know?’ and ‘when did he mispronounce it?'”

Jay Leno:

“War continues in Iraq. They’re calling it Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were going to call it Operation Iraqi Liberation until they realized that spells ‘OIL.'”

Jay Leno:

“CNN said that after the war, there is a plan to divide Iraq into three parts … regular, premium and unleaded.”

New Technology Baffles Chain-Smoking Old Hack!

Could Citizen Media be Heralding the End of the Rag?

I had contemplated establishing a blog, or full–blown website, for a number of years, but just never got around to it.

I have been writing this blog since January the 11th, not very long, but I’ve been really surprised at how much traffic it has had in those few days.

I want to thank those who have given me advice and assistance in finding my way around the technicalities of cyberspace. ‘Is This Jersey’ were very helpful, pointing me at some good ‘blogging tip’ sites and posting stuff from my blog. I’m also going to link up with the new ‘Planet Jersey’ site. Also, Neil, in particular, gave me that initial push to get me blogging.

And there was, of course, the small matter of having a lot of time on my hands now. You know, you can actually indulge in a big relief – when you’re on the ‘outside of the tent’ – so to speak.

I thought some States members would view the blog once or twice, just out of curiosity – before huffing and puffing themselves into that puce-faced and smugly “respectable” disapproval which the average State member does so well. I also thought I might get a few members of the public, a few people from links on sites like Is This Jersey? Or Planet Jersey. And maybe the occasional journalist.

OK – expecting the average politician or “churnalist” to put in much effort and exhibit much interest was perhaps being overly optimistic – but I thought I might attract maybe 40 or 50 site-users after a month or so.

Well – I’m very happy to report that the site – as at time of writing – has 436 individual users. And that from these users it has attracted 1182 hits.

At this rate, in a year or so, my ‘circulation’ might be greater than that of the Jersey Evening Post. Not that this will be a great achievement. Let’s face it – that rag is a busted-flush already.

So how do we gauge just how paralysed by fear of ‘citizen media’ is the JEP?

You can gauge this quite easily from examining its own web site. Now, the ‘standard’ of their site is so indescribably dreadful, so shallow, so amateurish, so insubstantial – that we just cannot put it down to stupidity and ignorance. Well, at least not on their own.

Even examining the web site of the JEP’s sister paper, the Guernsey Evening Press, serves as a stark contrast. The degree and latitude of reader involvement is so much greater than the Jersey propaganda rag. Hell – the GEP even carries the occasional article and leader comment scathing towards the Guernsey Establishment.

It is as plain-as-day to anyone with the faintest grasp of ‘media’ that the Jersey Evening Post is a rag in trouble. Big trouble.

And if you care about Jersey – you’ll be pleased about that. It’s not before time, either.

Ah….how they must hanker after the old days? Decade after decade after decade after decade of being the only established ‘newspaper’ in Jersey – and all of the awesome influence and power that conferred upon it and the entrenched oligarchy it has served without embarrassment throughout its turgid history.

Consider a few remarkable facts about the JEP. It has been – with only the very occasional and short-lived competition – the only newspaper in Jersey for a very long time. Thus, for good or ill, the only ‘source’ of record, as historians might describe it.

Yet here we are – in the 21st century – and did you know that the JEP does not have an accessible electronic archive? Sure – you can go and plough through anciently obsolescent microfiche at the library – but how many people would have the time and inclination to do such a thing – even 20 years ago, let alone in 2008?

OK – I’m a nerd; I have undertaken some such searches. And fascinating stuff was revealed. A few years ago, I had to actually pack-up and leave the library because I was engulfed by the urge to laugh out loud at the utter absurdity of past copy and leader comments.

The material from the last 7 decades really is that ridiculous – often, frankly, crypto-fascist in its crushing of dissenting opinions, dishonesty, ethical bankruptcy and nakedly greed-oriented positioning.

But, you know, reflecting upon the comedy of it as I cycled home – I was suddenly struck with the bleak recognition that today’s JEP is no better.

In fact, it’s worse.

At least, thirty, forty or fifty years ago it might have been regarded as commonplace for an entrenched claque of ruling elites to abuse ordinary people in that way.

But in the 1990s?

In the 21st century?

It actually takes a conscious and very determined effort to even imagine a paper of such contemptible conduct in modern Western Europe.

The Jersey parliament being used as a “legislature-for-hire”? In JEP world “That’s just fine – and anyone who says otherwise is a “threat to society”.

An elected member being illegally excluded from the Jersey parliament for 6 months, so as to protect the local oligarchy? In JEP world “Excellent. Just what these uppity proles need”.

An elected member making a Christmas speech to acknowledge the sufferings of child abuse survivors – many of them victims of the States of Jersey? “Disgraceful! The man’s a reprobate anarchist and is unfit to share the company of the noble statesmen who barracked him down and the Speaker who cut his microphone and ended the meeting.”

As I have said in other forums – when, probably soon, reality catches up with Jersey – when the bubble bursts – a very substantial degree of blame for the consequences must lay with the JEP. It has striven to foster deference, ignorance, distortions, lies and brazen short-term self-interest throughout its existence. It has been far more powerful than any Jersey politician ever was – and as much as you may hate them – at least they are elected, and vaguely accountable to Jersey voters.

Unlike the JEP.

Given that the JEP has been in a position to so nakedly abuse it’s monopoly for decades – so able to manipulate public opinion – and then abuse its power for commercial gain and political influence – you might imagine that it owed something back to this community. Nothing terribly dramatic, perhaps, just something as rudimentary as a full, searchable electronic archive?

But no chance. Even the computer system at JEP-central itself is rubbish, with no effective searchable archive of the papers historic output. I know this because JEP ‘churnalists’ have told me – so it must be true.

The JEP is certainly the most contemptuous towards, and fearful of, its readership of any comparable paper in modern Western Europe. So desperately is it clinging to an utterly obsolete model of market control – so determinedly is it clinging to the disintegrating ‘physical’ paper model – that it consciously keeps its web site so comically inadequate as to force people to spend money on the rag itself.

As a strategy – it isn’t going to work, of course. This much was obvious about 12 years ago.

I guess so much nicotine must rot the brain, eh, John?

Well, it does, actually. Brain cell death is accelerated by those nicotine-clogged veins diminishing the oxygen supply.

Whilst the physical paper still has a market, albeit a diminishing one, the JEP should have embraced the electronic age with enthusiasm. This should have become its main focus, with the actual newsstand paper becoming a secondary exercise.

Instead, today the JEP faces looming obsolescence. It could have been at the forefront of cyber-news and community interaction – right now.

Instead, it’s about to swept even further into irrelevance by the tide of citizen-media.

And let’s drink a toast to that.
At last – the people of this community are going to gain control over the direction and destiny of their island.

Stuart Syvret

Book of the Post:

The Best Democracy Money Can Buy: An Investigative Reporter Exposes the Truth About Globalization, Corporate Cons and High Finance Fraudsters, by Greg Palast.

Joke of the Post:

A journalist named Impos Syble was shopping for a gravestone. After he had made his selection, the stonecutter asked him what inscription he would like on it.

“Here lies an honest man and a journalist,” responded the journalist.

“Sorry, but I can’t do that,” replied the stonecutter. “In this county, it’s against the law to bury two people in the same grave.

However, I could put `here lies an honest journalist’.”

“But that won’t let people know who it is!” protested the journalist.

“Sure it will,” retorted the stonecutter. “People will read it and exclaim, “That’s impossible!”

Anatomy of a Spin #3

Even Journalists Think the Media is Rubbish!

In this blog I have, quite often, written about the media – or, to use its more accurate description – the Opinion Management Industry. 95% of journalists, 100% of ‘news’ editors – and about 20% of the general population will dismiss my criticisms of the media as being politically motivated, misguided, paranoid, bitter, fanciful and a conspiracy theory.

So who is right – me or the Establishment?

We don’t need to be guided by blind prejudice in answering this question. A sober and detailed analysis of the facts – using actual examples of the ‘reporting’ of a number of real ‘stories’ will guide us to an evidence-based conclusion.

In the coming week I will undertake that analyses on this blog; I will take a few examples of important issues, and examine the actual treatment of them by the media.

In addition to the direct evidence produced by such an analyses, there is a wealth of literature on the subject of the opinion management industry; a vast array of books which undertake painstaking examinations of media ‘performance’ in other jurisdictions. Noam Chomsky, for example, is famous for the sheer avalanche of facts re-produced in his works on the subject. Admittedly, this can make his work somewhat dry and heavy-going, but many other authors have written accessible works – many of which I would classify as essential reading.

In the coming blogs I will re-produce the occasional distillation of the writings of the experts, alongside some Jersey “news” examples. For those interested in exploring the subject further, I will, at some point, post a recommended reading list.

But to take our first piece of evidence – that it isn’t just me moaning; that, actually, most of the media really is crap.

And this piece of evidence is of the highest provenance. It is written by a journalist.

I would recommend that you buy the 25th January edition of Private Eye magazine, whilst it’s still around. Beginning on page 24, you will find a two-page special feature which consists of abridged extracts from a new book by the highly respected, award-wining journalist, Nick Davies. I will be buying a copy of the book as soon as I can, but to whet your appetites I can do no better than quote the Private Eye introduction:

“Nick Davies has been a journalist for more than 30 years. In his new book, Flat Earth News he turns his investigative skills towards his own trade and is forced to make a shocking admission: “I work in a corrupted profession.”

“He discovers that commercial pressures have led to the death of the old-style reporter and the birth of the “churnalist”: the hack as passive processor of material fed to him or her by understaffed news agencies and PR people, making the minimum amount of checks to produce the maximum amount of copy – or simply flouting the law to get what they want while loudly demanding ethical behaviour from others.

“This is the book, originally commissioned by the Guardian, that many claim led to the resignation of the Observer’s editor Roger Alton and one of his top executives, Kamal Ahmed. You can read the full story for the first time here in Private Eye. But you will also find a selection of other extracts which contain plenty of other revelations which no newspaper was prepared to serialise – because they too find themselves named and shamed….”

‘Look’, you might say, ‘surely 99% of what goes through the media is of no real relevance to the day-to-day concerns of ordinary people? Sure, those involved in the stories take a close interest – but, really, does most of it matter?’

It matters.

And it’s not only the way stories are cast that matters.

What about the stories that just don’t appear?

They matter as well. “Out of sight – out of mind” is another favourite maxim of the spin-doctor.

Think of something which has an effect on you and your family? Education standards? Inflation? House prices? The health service? Tax increases? Job opportunities? Global environmental destruction?

Absolutely all of these considerations are affected by – and fought over by – powerful forces. And for those forces to wield the power, to gain the upper hand – managing public opinion effectively is crucial – getting the population to identify with, and share, the objectives of these various forces is the Holy Grail of power in democratic societies.

And – strange as it may seem – the opinion management industry in our respectable democracies serves power in a more vital way than the propaganda apparatus of nutty dictatorships. Why should this be so? Because if you are a fascist dictator – or a mass-murdering psychopath, such as Stalin – you really don’t need to be so bothered by what people think. You don’t have to hypnotise them into believing things like “What’s good for General Motors is Good for America”. It isn’t so important to have your population brainwashed into a wiling and passive herd. Because fear achieves what you need. If people do not support The Glorious Revolution, the Reich, or whatever – well, you just have them shot or transported. People getting uppity about stuff like democracy and freedom? Make it clear – with a few examples – that the death-squads might come and knock on your door at 3.00 in the morning – and there you go – who needs Rupert Murdoch to rot your brain with such garbage as “reality celebrities” and similar oxymoronic trash when you can just send around a goon to rip out a few fingernails?

So, be under no illusions – the control of public opinion is pursued with a fanatical devotion born of the knowledge that this or that public preference can make – or break – businesses, careers, governments, political parties, economies – pretty much all that goes on in modern societies.

As I said, I will be exploring this subject in greater detail in coming posts. In the meantime, begin to take a closer look, and listen, at what appears – or doesn’t appear – in the Jersey media.

Stuart Syvret

Book of the Post:

Flat Earth News, by Nick Davies.

Joke of the Post:

Rush Limbaugh and his chauffeur were out driving in the country and accidentally hit and killed a pig that had wandered out on a country road.

Limbaugh told the chauffeur to drive up to the farm and apologize to the farmer. They drove up to the farm, the chauffeur got out and knocked on the front door and was let in. He was in there for what seemed hours. When he came out, Limbaugh was confused about why his employee had been there so long.

“Well, first the farmer shook my hand, then he offered me a beer, then his wife brought me some cookies, and his daughter showered me with kisses,” explained the driver.

“What did you tell the farmer?” Limbaugh asked.

The chauffeur replied, “I told him that I was Rush Limbaugh’s driver and I’d just killed the pig.

The Jersey Child Protection Scandal.

A Few Brief Words.

A quick interim post for this lunchtime. I will try and get something more substantial together later today.

Jersey residents will be aware of the profoundly serious child protection controversy which is unfolding in the island.

I won’t go into detail right now for two reasons: firstly, now that arrests are beginning to be made and charges laid, any comments on the subject must be cautious and circumspect so as not to risk jeopardising trials and convictions; secondly, such has been the deeply disturbing and tortuous nature of the whole saga, that I just don’t have time right now to go into what might be termed the ‘political’ issues – though, I will at some point – be assured of that.

As “The First Social Services Minister in any Modern European Democracy to be Sacked for Whistle-blowing” (another glorious triumph for the States of Jersey) – I’m in a position to know great deal about the whole scandal. Far more than is presently in the public sphere. This knowledge will be shared with you when the time is appropriate; like I said – I absolutely do not want to jeopardise prosecutions of any of these bastards.

Suffice it to say for now that the local media – in best “let’s support the Jersey oligarchy mode” – is very keen to keep the focus upon the cases of historic abuse – events of decades ago. You know the kind of spin they’re seeking to generate: “Yes, dreadful allegations of abuse, but hey! It was all a long time ago. Things like that don’t happen these days.”

I said in an earlier post that I would occasionally break some news for you here – unmediated by the local opinion management industry – err – sorry, the Jersey media. So here is some news. And I don’t claim this is an “exclusive” discovery for the Syvret Fourth Estate – I told the media about this many months ago – and furnished them with the evidence. The Jersey “media” being what it is – scarcely a word about it was published, naturally.

The enquiries presently being undertaken by the States of Jersey Police Force (who, incidentally, are doing an excellent job) are not focused only on the historic abuse allegations – I know, because I have given evidence to the police, and taken victims to interview with them, in connection with far more recent events.

Readers of this blog will have gathered that I’m a touch cynical about public administration in Jersey. But believe me – what I have learnt, read and heard over the last 12 months concerning the decades of maltreatment and abuse of vulnerable children in Jersey has left even me – genuinely shocked. Actually “shocked” just isn’t a sufficient word to approach what I feel; “shell-shocked” maybe? “Traumatised” perhaps?

It’s a cliché, I know, but of what I have learnt?

You just couldn’t make it up.

Really – even the wackier reaches of conspiracy theory would have trouble inventing some of what has taken place.

As I said – caution must be the watchword so as not to risk any trials failing on technicalities. But believe me – when – eventually – the general public gets to learn of what has taken place in Jersey over the decades – the initial disbelief will, I’m sure, rapidly be replaced with a deep and burning anger.

Stuart Syvret

Book of the Post:

The Child Protection Handbook, by Kate Wilson and Adrian L. James.