Linklog entries in January 2015

Friday, 30 January 2015

Alan Milburn’s conflict of interest in the NHS debate 

Last night Newsnight led with the story that former Blairite Labour ministers had criticised Andy Burnham and the current Labour party for their pledge to revoke the Health and Social Care Act and restore the NHS as the preferred provider – reversing the tide on the increasing marketisation and fragmentation of the NHS.

Allegra Stratton’s package reported that a steady stream of Burnham’s predecessors have denounced him. In particular, Stratton reported that “Alan Milburn warned that Labour risked sticking to its comfort zone and being a pale imitation of the 1992 election campaign”.

Yet, Newsnight failed to inform its audience that Alan Milburn has direct financial interests in the private healthcare industry. As the article argues, journalists should report such relevant information about conflicts of interest. Not to do so is a dereliction of duty and the BBC ought to do better. Stratton should be interrogating such critiques, not parroting them verbatim.

John Harris has also written a Guardian column on this theme highlighting “the spectacle of former ministers urging the breaking-up and selling-off of public services while filling their boots”.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Does Ed Miliband have a cameo in the new Shaun the Sheep film? 

New Statesman’s Media Mole’s beady eye has spotted that a plasticine waiter in the trailer for the new Shaun the Sheep movie bears a remarkable resemblance to Ed Miliband. Have Aardman Animations deliberately created this cameo for Ed in homage to pundits constantly comparing Ed to Wallace from Wallace and Gromit?

Take a look at the still images to judge for yourself.

Syriza’s finance minister Yanis Varoufakis blogs 

Yanis Varoufakis is Greek’s new finance minister, swept to power with the historic victory of Syriza. Varoufakis is an academic who has worked in universities in Britain, Australia and Greece. He has long blogged about his political and economic ideas and yesterday he posted that he didn’t see why becoming Finance Minister should stop this habit. He wrote:

For hope to be revived we must all strive to change the ways of a dismal past. Maintaining an open line with the outside world may be a small step in that direction.

Varoufaskis is an accidental politician, and describes himself as taking power reluctantly. When Paul Mason asked him on Channel 4 News how he felt about suddenly coming to the brink of power after being on the outskirts for so long, Varoufakis answered:

Scary. One word: scary. But on the other hand, even in universities, I always believed that any colleague who wanted to be head of department or dean should be disqualified immediately, because you should only be doing this reluctantly as public service. So we are reluctant candidates for power.

Politics just got a lot more interesting.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Evan Davis grills George Osborne 

Watch this Evan Davis interview with George Osborne if you missed it on Newsnight last night.

Davis is on great form, exposing Osborne’s evasions and pointing out the clear priorities of a Chancellor who has already outlined specific tax cuts, but who won’t say where he will make huge public spending cuts. Davis highlights the Conservative’s radical ideological project of shrinking the state.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

BBC and ITV bid for seven-way debates 

Finally, the BBC and ITV have agreed to reflect the diversity of modern politics in the leaders’ debates. They’ve woken up to the fact that if they’re going to invite one minor political party to join the debates (UKIP) then they had better invite the others.

Happily, the planned inclusion of the Green, SNP and Plaid Cymru leaders means that three women – Natalie Bennett, Nicola Sturgeon and Leanne Wood – will be joining the four men.

A victory for democracy and for women.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

The complicated ethics of Serial 

Like millions of people worldwide, I listened to the Serial podcast. I was troubled by elements of it and this article by Jessica Goldstein for Think Progress methodically and brilliantly addresses a number of ethical reservations with the format.

That said, I was captivated by it as a piece of story-telling journalism. Non-journalists probably found it most compelling for its novel glimpse into the anatomy of an investigation. The process of investigating a story is the most interesting and rewarding part of being a journalist. Journalists found it compelling to hear how another reporter attacked a story and tried to uncover the truth. Unfortunately that novelty factor will wear thin. You only need one vehicle to open up that insight into all the attendant dilemmas of journalism: How do you get to the truth? What is factually verifiable? What evidence is recoverable? Who can you trust? How do you assess the motivations and trustworthiness of your interviewees? How do you account for the malleability of memory?

Still, Serial fulfilled that role and attracted a huge audience by doing so.

I had no problem with Sarah Koenig’s personal style of reportage. It acknowledges the truth that journalists are human beings. She was open about her investigation, her dead–ends, her doubts, and her involvement in the story whilst trying to discover the truth of who killed Hae Min Lee.

I was also interested to read Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s exclusive interview with key witness Jay for The Intercept – though it annoyed me that The Intercept published it in three parts. And the New York Observer revealed that Vargas-Cooper got the interview because Jay’s lawyer was frustrated with his client’s depiction in Serial and Jay had decided it was time to tell his side of the story. The podcast may have finished, but the story will run and run and maybe, eventually, the truth will out.