Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Pontevedra Pensées: 21.12.16

I recently read of what was treated as an innovation - that there'd be an oral test for English in the Selectividad, the national university entrance exam. Just a few decades after my own - disastrous - oral A Level exam in French. Can this really be true?

I mentioned the decline of newspapers yesterday. Below this post is an article on the threat to it in the UK from cack-handed attempts to prevent intrusions into the lives of the rich and famous.

It's a little difficult reading Moscow's assurances of how close Russia and Turkey now are, given that merely a few months ago almost the only topic on RT TV was just how evil the Turkish state was. For reporters on other channels, doing such a volte-face might be a tad difficult or even embarrassing. But I imagine that, if you're happy to spew Russian propaganda at its best/worst on a daily basis, this won't represent much of a challenge. As it wouldn't, of course, in an equivalent case with Fox News. That's the beauty of having a cause to which truth can be sacrificed.

It seems that every EU country has not only entrepreneurs but also intrapreneurs. Emprendedores and intraemprendedores in Spanish. The former set up their own businesses and the latter are innovative within a company. And there are league tables for both. Sadly, Spain comes near the bottom of each of these - 22nd out of 28 for entrepreneurs and 26th for intrapreneurs. Click here if you want to know why. One thing is clear, Southern Europe is a lot less entrepreneurial than Northern Europe. Which isn't exactly a great surprise, of course.

Spain has a minimum legal wage of almost €800 euros a month. So, how come 4 and 5-star hotels here are paying their cleaners less than €700? Are they, along with others, exempt from the law?

I've admitted to perpetual confusion about retail trends in Pontevedra. This a new knick-knack shop recently opened:-

Right opposite one which has recently closed:-

Talking of the Pontevedra scene . . .  If there's one thing worse than a bloody bagpiper on the streets it's a bagpiper in a stupid hat. As my brother used to say: It's amazing what you see when you don't have your rifle with you . . .

Finally . . .  An irresistible comment on theist support for Donald Trump:-

A free press must not be bullied by the state: David Aaronovitch, The Times

Newspapers are being threatened with a massive stick to sign up to an unfair and unworkable system of regulation

Karen Bradley is not the woman off The Apprentice but probably wishes that she was. Instead of swanning about on telly looking theatrically unimpressed with the antics of millennial selfies-on-legs as Karren Brady does, Ms Bradley is quiet and close-cloistered in the middle of an unpublic public consultation designed to delay the moment when one side or another in the great dispute over press regulation decides that she’s a total loser. January 10 will be the end of the public (99.99 per cent blissfully unaware of their historic mission) being consulted, at which point the secretary of state for culture, media and sport — for it is she — has to make a decision.

What decision does she have to make, I hear almost no one cry. Well, a pretty important one, actually. 

To illustrate its centrality I want to let you in on the one column that I never got published in the last two years. It fell because it was decided, almost certainly rightly, that there was a real risk of a successful libel action being pursued. I knew what I’d said about the well-known individual concerned was fair comment and true, but we wanted neither the reputational problem of losing an action nor the substantial cost involved. I wrote something else.

Readers don’t know, but this happens all the time. Rich men and women threaten, companies threaten, gangsters and dope cheats threaten, aggrieved and time-rich individuals threaten; day in, day out letters before action flow like little streams of menace into our legal department. Almost every single time you expose someone or something, it happens in the context of legal threats. People don’t like it if you tell lies about them and they like it even less if you tell the truth.

Which brings me to the most important thing being considered by Ms Bradley. It goes by the tedious name of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and is something that can be invoked, or not, by the government. It is, in essence, the stick that could be used to get newspapers and publications to sign up to the new state-approved press regulator, Impress.

What it says is that any publication not agreeing to be regulated by Impress will be subject to the costs of a legal action — even where it wins. Really. That’s what it says. Call the next Lance Armstrong a drugs cheat and even if he loses the case it will cost you hundreds of thousands. Well, no one in those circumstances would take the risk of running the story. These are not days in which newspapers make much if any money and the fastest way to bankruptcy would be to fall foul of Section 40.

And that of course is why, as sticks go, it’s a knout, a knobkerrie, a bludgeon. It would have to be because otherwise the British press, from the pinkest metro-sheet to the shoutiest judge-hating tabloid, will not sign up with the government-approved regulator. Impress was given the thumbs-up by the odd panel appointed under the terms of a royal charter granted by MPs, and therefore opposed on principle by almost the entirety of the British press, which values its independence from government and the legislature above most other things.

There is lots that could be said about Impress. Space and patience forbid, however, except to point out the capriciousness of a decision that recognises a “self” regulator that no selves want to belong to, and not one — Ipso (the Independent Press Standards Organisation) — to which most do. And this despite the fact that the two have adopted very similar procedures for dealing with complaints.

This is absurd. And I don’t say that as someone who is parti pris, but wearing a rather different hat. This whole business of Leveson and press regulation has been like a driverless bus careering along a mountain road. We all got aboard because of the crime of phone hacking and now we can’t get off, despite the fact that we are long past our stops and heading for the cliff.

Leveson came about not because of weakness in press regulation but because a crime had been committed. That crime was prosecuted and people went to prison and others were rightly taken to task for having failed to notice what they should have. What business does government have interfering in the editorial decisions of an independent press on matters unrelated to criminality?
Let me be even more controversial: what business does any regulator have in seeking to intervene in any legal activity by a publication? It seems to have escaped everyone’s notice that two of our national newspapers — the Financial Times and The Guardian — have, for more than two years now, been entirely self-regulating. They’re not signed up to anyone. Has the sky fallen in on them? No. Has their readers’ trust in them collapsed? It seems not.

Me, I hate many things that are published, broadcast and said. I hate the Daily Mail with its attacks on migrants, “Enemies of the People” headlines, its conspiracy theories and cod science. I also hate the Kardashiansand Made in Chelsea and regard them both as cultural blights.

But no one ever forced anyone to buy the Daily Mail and even my daughters couldn’t make me watch the Kardashians. The right of nubility experts to publish the prurient “sidebar of shame” is the same right that underpins the existence of this column. What self-regulation should be is a compact between the publication and its readers about what kind of publications they want to read. If you desire a newspaper that has a fact-checker or a concern for fairness, then buy one like that. Buy one like this. If you don’t, don’t.

In the old days you could counter this argument with a reference to a monopolistic media which no one could escape. But the internet, cheap publishing and ubiquitous broadcasting have put an end to that. Today Macedonian teenagers can make money creating false anti-Clinton stuff to sell to pro-Trump American internet news sites. Leveson was obsolete before it began.

In addition to being a hack I’ve chaired the freedom of expression organisation Index on Censorship for nearly four years. In that time I’ve seen the variety of ways and the ingenuity of arguments that people use when looking to constrain or limit free speech. It never stops and it’s by no means mainly autocrats who seek to do it. There’s always a good and urgent reason, but to me it’s evident that freedom of speech and expression is the one freedom that underpins all the others. The ring that binds them. 

So, Ms Bradley, if I may, a politician in a liberal democracy should want to limit or control such awkward and essential freedom only in the most extreme conditions of national emergency. Otherwise be brave and let them alone.

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