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Finally, the long heralded debt deal has arrived, and with no small fanfare. As the Dáil debate ended, Enda Kenny declared “[t]he Anglo promissory-note payments are gone“, which made for a catchy, if misleading, prepackaged headline. The deal, as you’ll have read, postpones payment of IBRC debt for up to 30 years. Which means that while Anglo’s debts aren’t quite gone (we are still being forced to pay them), they have been pushed far enough in to the future so as to make them look much more…manageable.
This is obviously great news, which is why the Irish Times asked economist Pat McArdle to explain to us lay people why. McArdle (in terms befitting a property supplement-cum-newspaper) made the point: “every borrower knows, a longer mortgage is easier to service as inflation and time erodes the real burden of the repayment“, which offers us “some light at the end of a very dark tunnel“. For the ungrateful among you still disappointed that you’re paying off bondholder’s mortgages, the Irish Times was quick to declare that the deal was the best we could hope for “given that debt write-offs were never on the cards.”
Needless to say the Government were not the only ones proud of their deal. In the following days the Irish Times’ Stephen Collins marveled at the “scale of the Government’s achievement“. Using the same phrase to lead not one, but two articles. He went on to reassure them the deal “should steady nerves…after a wobbly few weeks”. While it was a team effort, with the “Coalition’s credibility as well as the country’s vital national interest on the line”, there was still a opportunity to single out certain individuals who had risen above the rest.
Here is usually the last place you’d find a defense of a body like the National Newspapers of Ireland (or anything at all for that matter, given the level of activity of late). That possibility is made all the more unlikely given NNI’s now well publicised legal harassment of Women’s Aid, which lays out a demand for hundreds of Euro in recompense for linking to their newspaper member’s content. Targeting charities for money on the basis of an obscure reading of law is pretty abysmal behaviour, but there’s slightly more to this story than a case of big business bullying.
It is certainly not, as has been described, a challenge to the very sharing of ideas, this is not an attempt to roll back the renaissance. This episode is fundamentally about a newspaper industry frustrated by the new business environment it has been plunged in to since the advent of the internet. A frustration which has caused it to lash out in a slipshod and counterproductive manner.
It goes back to the traditional media’s (particularly in Ireland) collective failure to grasp the transformation brought about by the web, both intellectually and economically. Examples abound, from regurgitative Twitter trolling from the likes of John Waters and David Adams in the Irish Times, which are tellingly promoted over and above the incisive views of their less branded contributors, to the crass and lazy photoshopping of bikini titillation by the Irish Independent, who seem to conceive of the internet as merely a tool to refine objectification of women and celebration of celebrity.
In today’s Irish Times’ Colm Kenna has an opinion piece titled ‘Public reaction to advisers’ pay indicates need for leadership‘ where, after threatening to say something interesting, he essentially goes on to say that we, the public, are distracted by trivial matters. Therefore it is the government’s responsibility to show ‘leadership’ in addressing those trivial matters in order for the public to have full confidence in them to do ‘what needs to be done to get us out of the mess we are in’.
So, instead of wasting your time reading that, read this instead:
Some burglars will try to trick their way into your home. A distraction burglary is where a bogus caller to your home gains entry on a pretext / lie or creates a diversion so that an accomplice can sneak in separately.
– Personal Safety Security for the Older Person, An Garda Síochána Crime Prevention Information Sheet
What does it feel like to live in a kleptocracy? How would you know if you lived in one? Here are a few pointers.
- A kleptocrat, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is ‘a ruler who uses their power to steal their country’s resources’. It is true that no dictionary definition of anything is ever truly definitive. Nonetheless it is worth dwelling on the fact that the definition of a kleptocrat says nothing about what kind of ruler a kleptocrat is. There’s nothing specified about the institutional role afforded to the ruler, or whether the ruler is legitimated by popular authority, or the number of rulers that make up a kleptocracy.
Continued… Cunning Hired Knaves
Media Lens recently explored the UK media reaction to news of Julian Assange’s bid for asylum in Ecuador. Their Alert exposed an embarrassing example of groupthink among an already visibly introverted Twitter clique, comprised of an array of liberal journalists from the country’s respected broadsheets.
In their haste to “groan with each fresh turn of the story” (as the Guardian’s readers editor described the prerogative of Assange’s detractors) few journalists bothered to address the substantive issue of the threat of extradition to the US. They instead framed the asylum bid as a ploy to avoid questioning over sexual assault allegations in Sweden.
Rather than a ‘groan’ this ‘fresh turn’ triggered an avalanche of abuse and ridicule directed at Assange, with journalists attempting to out do one another in a show of radical on-message-ism.
The lurid nature of the commentary cited in the Media Lens Alert stands in stark contrast to the professional hesitancy typically displayed in print, and perhaps hints at what lies between those carefully crafted lines. These interactions are more suggestive of private exchanges between colleagues at the proverbial water cooler, dominated by fact free or counter-factual mockery. Bluntly referencing the antagonistic history that has been the relationship between Assange and the British press.
“Comment is free…but facts are sacred” proclaims the headline banner on the Guardian’s comment pages, yet in this particular case, they were conspicuous by their absence.
Even George Monbiot, a journalist who is well known for meticulous footnoting, demanded only a cursory review of whatever evidence his Twitter followers put in front of him before passing judgement. A method of investigation potentially hampered by his habit of ‘blocking’ people who disagree with him, MediaBite included.
A perspective which just so happens to comfortably align with that of his editor-in-chief:
“the Guardian’s editor-in-chief, still supports many of the principles of WikiLeaks and would support Assange in any attempt by the US to extradite him over the release of the cables”
But it would be unfair not to mention those instances where journalists attempted to back up the vitriol with those ‘sacred facts’. New Statesmen writer David Allen Green made numerous threats to outline the legal thesis that undermined Assange’s fears of extradition to the US, however they came to nothing. His hastily penned blog published soon after Wikileaks’ Twitter account announced Assange’s arrival at the Ecuadorian embassy constituted his singular offering to the New Statesman’s readers, reflecting closely the tone of his tweets on the subject:
[Source: Tweet since deleted]
“It appears to me that Assange’s ploy is just another desperate stunt to frustrate and circumvent due process for investigating these allegations.” [David Allen Green, New Statesman, 19/06/12]
In the end it was left to the Guardian’s Nick Cohen to step up to the plate. Cohen, a liberal apostate (think Hitchens without the conviction), who threw his reputation on the bonfire that was Tony Blair’s invasion of Iraq, is highly regarded in the British press and his piece on Assange was well received by colleagues:
However, there were gaping holes in his argument, which relied on a (perhaps purposefully) farcical understanding of US politics and law. His article was all the more strained by the simply ridiculous attempts to denigrate advocates of opposing positions, such as Salon journalist Glenn Greenwald, who Cohen referred to as Glenn Beck’s “mirror image on the American left”. Cohen wrote:
“American democracy is guilty of many crimes and corruptions. But the First Amendment to the US constitution is the finest defence of freedom of speech yet written. The American Civil Liberties Union thinks it would be unconstitutional for a judge to punish Assange.” [Nick Cohen, The Guardian, 24/06/12]
A day later Forbes contributor, Mark Adomanis, described Cohen’s grasp on US law and its relationship with politics and power:
“How is it possible for anyone, let alone a someone who is employed as a professional political commentator, to think that the ACLU’s opinion carries any weight whatsoever? How shockingly naive or uninformed do you have to be to think that Obama, or anyone else of consequence in Washington, gives a half a whit about the ACLU?
Will Julian Assange be tried by the US government? I don’t know, and neither does Nick Cohen. But what I do know, what should be quite obvious, is that the ACLU’s opinion on the constitutionality of such a prosecution is about as relevant to whether or not it will occur as the price of fish food in Seattle, traffic conditions in Vienna, or Cliff Lee’s WHIP.” [Mark Adomanis, Forbes, 25/06/12]
Confronted with this pretty damning assessment, Guardian journalist and former Wikileaker James Ball responded:
Facts are clearly not sacred when it comes to certain issues and certain people.
Two days later, a funny thing happened. We were provided a perfect case study for comparison. The owner of the London Evening Standard, a free sheet masquerading as a serious paper (where ‘upskirt’ photographs of female celebrities sit alongside reports of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan), announced that former British Prime Minister and co-architect of the Iraq war would take the reigns as editor for the day.
The reaction on the floor of the Evening Standard was much the same:
Prompting a backlash on Twitter, with users supporting the #BinBlair hashtag:
But Lebedev’s adviser, Amol Rajan, who is also a journalist with Independent, was more than happy to defend the decision:
Among the journalist Twitter clique that attacked Assange though, gone was the vitriolic one-up-man-ship, gone were the supportive ‘re-tweets’ and nowhere to be seen were the rash blog posts deriding Blair for his alleged crimes. Channel 4 news’ Alex Thompson was one of the few who took to Twitter to point out the bitter irony of Blair becoming editor of the fourth estate:
But Monbiot found no time to chide the Evening Standard or for that matter his own paper, the Guardian, whose editorial entertained a new era of Blair on the back of his editorial debut:
“John Major likened Blair’s long goodbye to Nellie Melba; the coming comeback must show he is more like Sinatra and Elvis” [Editorial, The Guardain, 29/06/12]
Is this the same Monbiot who challenged us to attempt “a peaceful citizen’s arrest of the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, for crimes against peace“?
The context of Blair’s return to the spotlight is equally if not far more controversial than that of Assange. It is only weeks since Blair was questioned by the Leveson Inquiry, a process instigated in part by the Guardian’s investigation of News International’s phone hacking, about his relationship with Rupert Murdoch.
A position made more interesting when you put it in the context that his father, Alexander Lebedev, admitted the paper was always intended to be a loss making exercise.
“As far as I’m concerned this [buying the Standard] has nothing to do with making money. There are lots of other ways. This is a good way to waste money” [Luke Harding and Mark Sweney, The Guardian, 14/01/09]
And we now we have Tony Blair brought inside the paper as some sort of PR stunt to support his planned re-entry into politics. A return the Guardian then devotes a soft “like him or loathe him” editorial to. And only a handful of the uninhibited journalists who had their go at Assange days earlier voiced concern at a rival newspaper bringing in a man accused of war crimes as editor for a day.
Sat 11 Nov 2005:
“Because the UN is as imperfect as it is indispensable, questions abound about its future. Important in determining this will be who succeeds Kofi Annan as secretary general. He or she will have two main challenges: first, to persuade members to implement reforms of its failing institutions; second, to be an effective crisis manager. Bertie Ahern fits the bill because these challenges play to his leadership strengths and expose none of his weaknesses, writes Dan O’Brien“