Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Slaughter of the innocents: us, them and deterrents

So runs today's Daily Express headline. At least the first part.

Let me start by offering my condolences to the family and friends of WPCs Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes. Although I refer to their deaths in this article, it is only on the pretext of discussing the death penalty.

Killed by Dale Cregan in what appears to have been pre-planned attack, discussion has now turned to bringing back the death penalty, presumably for pre-meditated murders, after WPC Bone's father said:

"Bring back hanging. Let policemen shoot people on sight. I am so completely shocked"...
Understandable though such calls are in the immediate emotional aftermath of such a trauma - "he is completely shocked" - headlines, such as that above, are an emotional response on a national level. 

In the video above, NATO express regret after killing Afghan civilians in an air strike just a couple of days ago. So where are the "slaughter of the innocents headlines" in this case? Is it that the lives (and deaths) of non-British, non-white citizens mean less? 

Jean Charles de Menezes.

Mark Duggan

Policeman shooting people on sight is also a "slaughter of the innocents". Nobody called for the death penalty after either of these tragedies. Why?

The state enjoys a monopoly of violence, supposedly legitimised by its creation of laws and by its management of it through institutions and personnel. As a result, it can choose how to administer justice. 

Neither of the officers who shot de Menezes and Duggan have been identified; they have not faced justice because they were acting on behalf of the state. Even that bastion of moral turpitude, The Mail on Sunday, found it difficult to believe that only 2 police marksman had been named in the deaths of 33 members of the public that the police had shot.  

Shrine to Jean Charles de Menezes, Stockwell tube station (c) Caroline Ford
If the state effectively has ultimate power to absolve their personnel of committing crimes that its members of the public would ordinarily face, how can justice ever be applied equally? 

And when we talk about capital punishment, the stakes are even higher. Would the state ever feel inclined to engage in accepting responsibility for its wrongdoings?

When the public talk about capital punishment, as is the case today it is talked of as a deterrent. It is a common-sense approach that infers that the criminal is a rational being who weighs up the risks associated with his/her crime; i.e. is what he/she gets out of committing the crime worth the sanctions he/she might face if caught?

If only everything were that simple. Humans are complex beings at play in a wider world of uncertainty. They are not always rational. If faced with the deterrent of capital punishment, does anyone think that Dale Cregan would have stopped to think about this punishment before taking the lives of the WPCs?

Nor has capital punishment worked in the U.S.A.. The Death Penalty Information Center report that between 1990 and 2010, murder rates in states that have the death penalty remained consistently higher than in states that do not use capital punishment. 

The National Research Council researched a variety of studies that inform U.S. policy and its use of the death penalty. They concluded:

All of the studies on the possible effects of capital punishment on homicide rates suffer from three fundamental flaws... 
1. The studies do not factor in the effects of non-capital punishments that may also be imposed; 
2. The studies use incomplete or implausible models of potential murderers' perceptions of and response to the use of capital punishment; 
3. Estimates of the effect of capital punishment are based on statistical models that make assumptions that are not credible.

Just as with other so-called deterrents (think CCTV), there is no conclusive evidence that capital punishment works; it is also based on research that lacks credibility. 

Capital punishment is just as irrational as Dale Cregan. 

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Wednesday, 8 August 2012

BP, EDF and images of London 2012

Whilst we celebrate the talent and dedication of all the athletes at London 2012, let us not forget that there are major multinational companies profiting from their association with London 2012.

They abuse the human rights of their workers and their customers (Adidas, G4S), they pollute the local environment to the detriment of the physical and economic health of local communities (Rio Tinto, BP), and they choose not to accept responsibility for the crimes that they have committed (Dow). 

Produced by five organisations, London Late, offers a sense of dry realism beyond the corporate bluster. Grab a copy if you can, or download and read from the link above. 
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Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Micro drones and a techriminal justice system

Wormwood Scrubs, Holloway and Strangeways (now Manchester). Here they go. Is it really so strange to think that these institutions may become extinct?

According to The Guardian, The US Defence Advanced Research Project Agency's 'Nano Hummingbird', as seen above, has inspired the MoD's Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) “to stimulate new lines of thought”. DSTL sent out research proposals last year for micro and nano unmanned aircraft systems that “operate inside buildings and within deep urban canyons”.

Whilst the priorities still seem militaristic, almost 5 years ago, The Telegraph reported that insect sized drones had been seen at anti-war protests in Washington and New York. A similar sighting was reported in 2004. 

We know that the US Defence Department has been funding research projects to create “cyborg moths”. These moths can be controlled remotely via computer chips that were implanted into moth pupae. In 2006, Flight were given exclusive access to CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where they saw a model of a drone that had been on display since 2003 in its museum. 

The UK police have been using drone technology for some time, with the first arrest using a drone reported over 2 years ago. But it is the use of micro drones and what they offer in terms of surveillance that is interesting UK police forces; freedom of information requests have recently been submitted to the police forces of Greater Manchester and West Midlands. It will be worth keeping an eye on their replies to the two requests numbered 3. 

As G4S expand their criminal justice remit from prisons to police stations, it is worth bearing in mind what impact this might have on a future UK criminal justice system. Given their financial and political muscle (and an inability to provide sufficient security staff), it may prove too attractive a proposition not to look at drones as a long-term solution for keeping an eye on suspects. They already use drone technology in Madagascar

Drone fly...or is it? (c) SidPix
If micro drones are to become a norm in the surveillance of suspects, will they also become a norm in the monitoring of detainees? And if the act of guarding a prisoner can be done remotely by a micro drones, then need this take place within what we now see as a prison setting? Will we see an expansion of house arrests and a gradual phasing out of state Victorian prisons, with private homes becoming public detention centres, ? 

Speculation on my part? In the first chapter of 1984, George Orwell wrote,

“In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and dashed away again with a curving flight”. "It was the police patrol, snooping into people's windows..." 

The technology was barely nascent at the time of his words. Right now, the technology is in place. And it will continue to improve. With public sector cuts and a rolling back of the state, the political and economic will is certainly in place. 

But perhaps most importantly for the criminal justice system, we currently associate drones with terrorism. And without wishing to sound all 'Team America', terrorists are bad people – for a wider discussion of terrorism, feel free to start here

If we accept, as we currently do, that those on the receiving end of military drones are criminals, then we are only a step away from assuming anyone in a drone's sight is a criminal. Charged, tried and sentenced by the state and its partners, this is a criminal justice system which presumes guilt over innocence. The technology may well have its benefits, but a techriminal justice system reliant on micro drones is a real concern. 

Good night. Don't let the bed bugs... 
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Monday, 30 July 2012

BP and EDF? London 2012 sustainability partners? How?

This article was published on The Ecologist last week. 

Oil spill in Gulf of Mexico April 29th view (c) NASA Goddard Photo and Video
Unlike other commercial partners, LOCOG was solely responsible for selecting the likes of BP and EDF. Chosen between July 2007 and November 2009, as part of the finalising of the sustainability plan, each of these companies had prior (and present); see BP and the Texas City refinery disaster and EDF appropriating Ecotricity's green Union flag, and so might seem unlikely sustainability bedfellows.

The 2012 Olympics' sustainability plan is based around 5 themes; climate change, waste, biodiversity, inclusion and healthy living. Add in The Olympic and Paralympic Values of respect, excellence, friendship, courage, determination, inspiration and equality, and I would venture this choice of sustainability partners might seem even more unexpected. So I contacted LOCOG for an interview. After lengthy deliberation, they declined this request,  rejected a further invitation to respond to written questions, and instead sent me the following statement: 
“Without the private investment by our sponsors, the staging of the Games simply wouldn’t be possible. Our sustainability strategy and policies were clearly set out before our sponsors signed up and we work with companies to comply with those standards. Some companies have chosen to connect themselves with that element of our programme as a Sustainability Partner”. 
“By working in partnership with all our stakeholders, from NGO’s such as WWF and BioRegional to our commercial sponsors, we are setting new standards and continuously improving our sustainability performance".
Zzzzzzz...oh, thanks LOCOG.

The Commission for a Sustainable London 2012 (CSL) oversee the provision of sustainability for London 2012, yet was not involved in selecting the sustainability partners. In an interview, CSL's Chair, Shaun McCarthy explained, “assurance bodies, by their nature, can not be involved in management decisions. It would be a fundamental conflict of interests”. He added, “our concern is about setting the standards and requirements for delivery of the sustainability standards of the programme, and then the process by which those standards are delivered, and we would comment on those”.

But how can an organisation overseeing sustainability - in this instance CSL - set standards without being involved in the process? And what happens when sustainability partners fail to deliver sustainability? What sanctions might they face?

Shaun McCarthy told me there aren’t really any sanctions, other than CSL being able to “embarrass them publicly” because of the nature of CSL’s work. He admits that since LOCOG is by its nature a temporary organisation, there can not be any kind of sanction around repeat business with companies losing out in future bids. He continued, “the other thing that is difficult is a sponsor that's putting in cash and value in kind, or a sponsor that's just contributing value in kind in terms of brand recognition, well, what do you do, because actually the cash is flowing the other way”.

Carrying a torch (c) comedy_nose
Yet CSL is not completely toothless. When EDF failed to deliver their low carbon torch, CSL made a point of embarrassing them. Their latest report, 'In sight of the finishing line,' notes “The promise of a low-carbon torch was made in 2007 so the excuse of “we ran out of time” is not acceptable”. 

Is it even a genuine excuse? EDF are not shy of duplicity (see above). An independent organisation with clout might have considered EDF's history during the selection process for sustainability partners.

The same report goes on to say “The Commission is disappointed that LOCOG and EDF Energy have failed in this objective as whilst the carbon contribution of this initiative may have been relatively small, the power of the message across the globe would have been highly significant”. 

I would ask why should the power of the message be more significant than the carbon reduction, no matter how small?

Elsewhere, CSL has written “The Commission is disappointed that there will not be the widespread use of real-time energy monitoring and display as this could have supplemented their (EDF's) Games-time sustainability messaging through providing public confidence in the sustainability of the Games”. 

Taken together, these statements appear to me to indicate that real sustainability is less important than the public perception of sustainability.

This matters. BP are responsible for providing the fuel for the fleet of official London 2012 vehicles. The company has been advertising its alleged use of sustainable fuel under the banner “Providing advanced biofuels for London 2012”. But as the UK Tar Sands Network point out, “A closer look at BP's claims here reveals over 99% of the fleet will in fact be using convention fossil fuel. Furthermore, of BP's three advanced biofuel projects, two should really be considered 'first generation' rather than advanced”.

Given the reality of the fuel used, and that first generation biofuels have a bad reputation for driving climate change, BP seem to be greenwashing their sustainability commitment. And CSL and LOCOG appear to be letting them get away with it - no mention is made of BP's predominant use of fossil fuel or first generation fuels in 'In sight of the finishing line'. It will be interesting to see what CSL have to say about this in their next annual report due next month.

To be fair, CSL's position is difficult. They receive 30% of their funding through LOCOG, and so are part funded by the companies they are supposed to be keeping an eye on. The scope for providing independent sustainability assurance is therefore somewhat compromised. Shaun McCarthy says: “I think the IOC does have responsibility to pick up some of these issues that can't be dealt with by a temporary organisation”. This sounds like a reasonable idea, but could also be susceptible to the same financial (corporate) ambitions.

We accept that there is a need for corporate finance in funding the Games, but this should not detract from delivering sustainability. Just how BP and EDF were chosen as sustainability partners remains a mystery. The choice of future sustainability partners should not be considered from a financial angle alone. A company's sustainability history should be paramount when selecting future partners.

A global organisation, endorsed by, but independent of, the IOC, with a remit to oversee sustainability from start to finish, might be the best solution for future sustainable Games.

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Thursday, 21 June 2012

A lesson in education from girl soldiers

Below is a piece I wrote for another forum. It takes in child soldiers, poverty, inequality, the Millennium Development Goals, and how a reconstituted idea of education might tackle such issues.

Nelson Mandela (c) South Africa The Good News

I was never an important person in my family but since I started the training and started working on friends’ hair at home and now making a little money to help my family, everyone now calls me ‘Aunty Mamy’; they listen to me now”.
This is how a 15 year old girl, and former child soldier from Liberia, has put her views on earning a living. For her, and others like her, her identity - and feelings of respect, independence and self-esteem - hinges on her earning power. 

Education helps many children achieve their potential across the world. But for child soldiers, education may serve as a reminder to what has gone on before, defining who they are, “Teachers are very judgemental of us on the basis of what we were involved in” . 

Nelson Mandela stated that “education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world”. Mandela was fighting an ideological war against apartheid and its institutionalised, racist educational system, when he made this statement; it is of its place and time. Rather than seeing education as a linear constant, taught in a top-down fashion, we need to look beyond Mandela's words to understand what education might mean, and for whom.

Nations such as Sierra Leone do not go war because of a lack of education. The Truth and Reconciliation Committee for Sierra Leone found that “it was years of bad governance, endemic corruption and the denial of basic human rights that created the deplorable conditions that made conflict inevitable”. Although this omits other factors, such as the unequal globalised economic playing field in which it was operating, Sierra Leone used to have a strong, well-run educational system.  It was not for want of education that Sierra Leone became one of the poorest countries. 

Key to Graca Machel’s landmark 1996 UN report “The impact of armed conflict on children” was education. It was envisaged as a primary component of the U.N.’s Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration (DDR) programmes in the reconstruction of post-conflict nations. 

Whilst the International Labour Office (ILO) report that many Liberian girl soldiers were happy to go back to school after disarmament and demobilisation, they were ill-prepared for what they encountered at the end of it – a lack of opportunities and jobs (sound familiar?). Consequently, girl soldiers resort to relying on a man to support them,  reinforcing stereotypical patriarchal views of women as dependant on men. 

Older Liberian students (c) USAID
"I was living with my commander [female] after the war. Then I got involved with this exfighter. I wanted to go to disarm but I became pregnant. I wanted to be with him so I didn’t go anymore. Now I’m living with him. I’m not going to school because I’m pregnant". 
Having a child alters girls soldiers' perception of themselves simply because being a mum is socially significant. In a battle between their multiple identities (girl v. soldier v. mum v. member of community etc.), many girls choose motherhood ahead of education because education does not afford them the same sense of self-worth, or equality with others.
"Most of my friends don’t know that I was fighting. I like to keep it that way. People don’t like ex-fighters. After the war I went living with my aunt, only she knows, but for the rest I don’t want them to know. If they know and something bad happens they will point at me, saying I did it". 
Stigmatisation, and a fear of stigmatisation, has been a major problem for DDR programmes. Just 4.2% of girl soldiers accessed DDR packages in Sierra Leone. But why should girls return to education when it offers little economic security and further gender insecurity?

If Western-structured education is failing children in DDR programmes globally, failing children of our former colonies, and yes, even failing our children in the UK, then perhaps we need to consider whether we are delivering the right type of education. 

Michael Wessels, a psychologist and professor at Columbia University says
“We don’t always do a very good job of listening to young people,”...“One of the questions that comes up in regard to girls is: Have we taken adequate time to understand what the girls’ view of reintegration is?”...
...“The goal is to put the power in the hands of girls; to have them go through a process wherein they organize themselves, define what reintegration means to them; ask what’s missing, and then design small actions and steps”...
This perspective places the emphasis on a bottom-up approach, by taking into account how a reintegration programme affects those it is supposed to help. As these girls' experiences are uniquely individual, future DDR programmes should reflect this diversity. In consultation with those running these programmes, girls can then use their own definitions of successful reintegration. 

Given its central role in reintegration, education might benefit from a similar re-think. Let us listen to the children we teach, and find out what they think about their educational systems. Let us understand how their lives outside of the classroom affects their learning, so that a future education takes on board the fact that we are all different. Children can then measure and define their own educational progress, alongside their teachers. 

Education may be the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world. We just have to harness its power, and tailor it so that everyone benefits from it. We can still meet the Millennium Development Goals for poverty and gender inequality, as long we learn from the lessons of girl soldiers.

Friday, 8 June 2012

The honest politician's guide to crime control

(c) Criminonymous
To lead us gently into the weekend, here is another offering from Criminonymous. 

The truth is that almost all adults have, at some time in their lives
Committed criminal acts
And it is those who have not who are abnormal
Almost all the acts which are defined as criminal in our society
Have at some time in some society been tolerated
And even socially approved
The line between legitimate and illegitimate means of acquiring property
Is both arbitrary and difficult to define precisely
There are wide differences between states
In regard to what sexual behaviour is criminal
And considerable variation in the same state
At different historical periods
There is no evidence
That the bulk of criminal behaviour
Is the result of some pathological, mental or somatic condition
Which distinguishes criminals in general
From non-criminals

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Gacaca courts: truth and reconciliation in Rwanda

My Neighbor My Killer: Official Trailer from Gacaca Films on Vimeo.

My Neighbor My Killer documents the use of localised Gacaca courts to deliver (restorative) justice to victims of the Rwandan genocide. In use from 2001 to the present day, the film charts the anger, sadness, fears, truths and untruths of its victims and accused, in the hope of securing a reconciled Rwanda. 
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Thursday, 31 May 2012

Umbro's (ab)use of Paul Gascoigne

Has anyone seen this Umbro advertisement featuring Paul Gascoigne? Published on YouTube, it is called 'Gazza: Pride and Passion from one of the Faces of England'.

From a footballing perspective, I can understand why Umbro selected Gascoigne to launch their campaign. A gifted footballer, who, in my opinion, was the star of Italia '90, Gascoigne is a sporting icon who personified passion and pride in an England shirt.

Yet from a human perspective, Umbro's use of Gascoigne is less understandable. Italia '90 also illustrated his personal frailties. His reaction to the booking that meant that he would have missed the World Cup Final is there for all to see (below). Understandable in the circumstances?...Maybe.

Add in Gary Lineker's appreciation of Gascoigne's mental fragility at that moment – Lineker says that Gascoigne had “basically lost the plot” - presumably borne of personal experience, and we have a vulnerable human being.

At the time, Gascoigne was synonymous with being the happy go-lucky, cheeky chappy. He was 'Gazza'. He gurned for the cameras. He wore fake breasts. His public identity was borne out of football, manufactured by the media and loved by the public.

Whilst George Best had to contend with similar issues in the public spotlight, the advent of SkySports and 24/7 media coverage meant that Gascoigne was the first modern-day 'celebrity' footballer. With a lack of people around him to provide him with adequate emotional support, it seems that Gascoigne became addicted to 'Gazzamania'.

We know of Gascoigne's difficulties since. His long-term addictions to drink and drugs and his battles with mental illnesses reveal Gascoigne to be in constant need of something to make his life meaningful and worthwhile.

And the something that went a long way to making Gascoigne's life fulfilled is football. It is football that is his biggest addiction; not just the physical act of playing, but what playing meant for his identity and self-esteem that is equally, if not more, important.

As Euro 2012 approaches, Umbro want as many England football fans to go out and buy their new top. Pride and passion, the epitome of Gascoigne in an England shirt is supposed to attract fans, who themselves identify with those traits, into buying the product.

But the 30-second video above is a manipulated edit of a 5-minute “interview” Gascoigne did with Umbro (see below). In this video, Gascoigne laments what he sees as a lack of pride in some of today's England team.

Hold on Umbro, I thought that this was THE selling-point, yet your 'Face' suggests that some England players lack this quality. If pride is something that Gascoigne had but other current England players do not, then why should we then buy into this idea and buy a new England shirt?

So how are Umbro really marketing the new England top?

The evidence suggests that Umbro are selling us 'Gazza'. The advertisement refers to Gascoigne as 'Gazza'. 'Gazza' models the new Umbro top, tongue out for added cheekiness as per his playing days.

In his 5-minute interview with Umbro, Gascoigne talks of his love of learning to play football as a child in a park. After telling us that he drives by this park occasionally, he says “God, I'm going to start crying”, before continuing briefly, and with more tears welling in his eyes, he feels that he has to apologise.

This is the 'Gazza' of Italia '90 all over again. His love of, and need for, football and what it means to Gascoigne and his identity is so deeply ingrained, that his hurt is palpable.

We, the public are partly responsible for wanting to see the 'Gazza' that we helped create. But we need more of 'Gazza' the footballer, whereas 'Gazza' the identity needs us. Gascoigne tried to kick 'Gazza' a few years ago when reinventing himself as G8, but there is little to suggest that he, or we, really took this on board.

Umbro's use of 'Gazza' is that of a dealer providing a fix for a client's addiction. Their advertisement preys upon this addiction by marketing their product through his fragility and vulnerability. I would urge England fans to buy their tops from other manufacturers until such time as Umbro withdraw their 'Gazza' advertisements.

Additionally, according to Rule 4.4 of the Advertising Codes:

Advertisements must not include material that is likely to condone or encourage behaviour that prejudices health and safety.

In my opinion, this advertisement condones exploitative marketing by encouraging Gascoigne's addiction to football and 'Gazza'. If you feel that Umbro's advertisement exploits Gascoigne, you can complain to the Advertising Standards Agency here.

Regardless of how much Umbro paid Gascoigne, given his well-known history of addiction and mental health issues, Umbro have a responsibility to the man, not a right. In this regard, they have failed.

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Monday, 28 May 2012

Murdoch and NewsCorp support an uncapped immigration policy for the UK

Rupert Murdoch (c) World Economic Forum
.as long as it suits them of course. But still.

Researching emails between Fred Michel and Jeremy Hunt's office for my earlier post, I came across the following correspondence entitled 'Immigration cap - meeting' between Michel and Giles Wilkes, special adviser to business secretary, Vince Cable. On 10th October 2010, Michel wrote to Wilkes:

...”I am writing to see if we could meet up to discuss the reform plans on the immigration cap. As you can imagine, it is a policy area which will have a major impact on News Corporation”.

Wilkes responded sympathetically to this request, given the “major impact this might have on News International”. He added that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) were trying to get views on this matter from businesses across the board, so that they could feed them into government policy.

On 12th October, Wilkes told Michel that he could not meet him later that week, but that he was interested in finding out News Internationals thoughts on an immigration cap. Michel responds:

...”I will send you our first thoughts and hope we can be helpful on this debate. We are looking at it from a mobility viewpoint but also ability to hire talents for a global company etc. We also have some relevant expertise in-house on this”.

Correspondence between the pair is rejoined on 21st October, when Michel gave Wilkes a heads-up of the speech that Rupert Murdoch was giving on global mobility at the inaugaral Margaret Thatcher lecture later that night. And then it all went a little off piste, after Wilkes asked Michel, “Out of interest, are his editors in the audience as a rule”? “Cheeky!”, retorted Michel.

Cheeky (c) Johan Larsson
Wilkes apologised, stating that he had no intention of being cheeky, and explained:

But as I am sure you are aware, there is a strong anti-immigration feeling in the UK, and this is seen in some quarters as coming from the popular press. It would be interesting if the same sentiments that RM is expressing in the speech were to be amplified in your highly respected newspapers”.

Fair point, Mr Wilkes. In his speech, Murdoch states:

In short, Britain needs companies robust enough to compete in this global market – whether in finance or pharmaceuticals, transport or telecommunications, retail or entertainment. And we need to attract the brightest talent, regardless of background and ethnicity.

In other words, Britain should be a magnet for the best students and best workers from around the world”.

Was it reported in Murdoch's media? Nothing appears online, so it would appear that Murdoch and NewsCorp preferred to keep this quiet in the UK. Strange. Or is it?

Over the last couple of years, the Murdochs have expanded their operations in India. NewsCorp operate through Star India Pvt Ltd, and they own stakes in a number of other industries in India, including the Tata Group and Harper Collins. For the Murdochs, India represents the future, and the future looks promising.

Coincidentally, Indian citizens need visas to work and study in the UK. Will NewsCorp be sponsoring student applications from their commercial partners to oil the wheels of commerce? Are NewsCorp already thinking ahead in terms of their future workforce – will they insource their future employees? Pure speculation on my part, but NewsCorp is a business that plans ahead strategically when it comes to expansion.

The government is already struggling to curb abuse of student visas. It would seem quite disingenuous then for the UK government to consider what might be best for the likes of NewsCorp.

But there again, who really holds the power when it comes to shaping public opinion and policy? It will be interesting to see what steps the government takes towards meeting their commitment of reducing net immigration.

One last thing. Feel free to circulate this piece more widely so that NewsCorp subscribers (including readers of The Sun, Times etc.) and shareholders are aware of NewsCorp's liberal immigration stance. 

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Leveson Inquiry: Jeremy Hunt's impartiality and NewsCorp's BSkyB bid

Jeremy Hunt (c) Surian Soosay
Following Adam Smith's and Fred Michel's statements at the Leveson Inquiry on Thursday and Friday, media speculation has focused on the impartiality of the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt - I will do my best not to do a Naughtie.

Prior to his quasi-judicial appointment on 22nd December 2010, the media, including the BBCrefer to a memo that Hunt sent to the Prime Minister, David Cameron on 19 November 2010. Hunt was concerned that the UK media “would suffer for years” if the BSKyB deal failed to go through.

Yetthe media have missed other equally telling comments from this memo:

James Murdoch is pretty furious at Vince's referral to Ofcom. He doesn't think that he will get a fair hearing from Ofcom. I am privately concerned about this because NewsCorp are very litigious and we couldend up in the wrong place in terms of media policy”.

Just why would Murdoch not think that he will get a fair hearing from Ofcom? Evidence suggests that he did, and that the deal would have gone through. That Hunt was “privately concerned” about this referral suggests that he shared Murdoch's disquiet. Impartial?

Interestingly, the above is an edited version of an earlier round-up which argues NewsCorp's case as follows:

Those people who are arguing that the Murdochs will have too much influence are in my view confusing the revenues Sky gets (around £8 bn) which are much higher than – say – the BBC's £4 bn with the influence Sky has editorially which is much less because a) most of the channels watched on Sky belong to other people over which it exerts no editorial control; and b) where it does (e.g. Sky news), it has less than 5% market share and is bound by strict rules over political impartiality. (stress as per original draft)

Whilst Hunt decided to omit this information from his final memo, it alerts us to the information that he/his office had to hand. Evidence for the BSkyB bid.

Evidence which came directly from Fred Michel. On 7thOctober 2010, texts between Michel and Hunt reveal that Hunt was happy to receive NewsCorp's briefing on plurality from Michel, which he then emailed to AdamSmith, then Hunt's special adviser.

The Three Amigos/Parties to Unite over BSkyB Bid Call (c) Surian Soosay
Returning from the weekend, Smith emailed Michel with Hunt's view of the arguments for the BskyB takeover, "Jeremy's response to this - “persuasive”. Impartial?

Counsel to the Inquiry, Robert Jay QC, put this to Smith:

...”But aren't these pretty clear indicators of what Mr Hunt's view was, at least on the materials which were being provided as to the quality of the bid, and its desirability”?

To which, Smith replied:

Well, I think it chimes with what he said about he didn't think there was a particular problem, but he wouldn't second guess the regulators. I don't think that is any different meaning”.

Let us remember at this point that Hunt and his department had nothing to do with this particular decision. This still lay with then business secretary, Vince Cable, who was later removed for declaring war on Murdoch.

Why were Hunt, and his office, even in receipt of these particular NewsCorp briefings, let alone reading and commenting on it? Leveson queried Smith on this issue:

What has this got to do with you? I mean, I'm just intrigued to know why you should be involved in this material. This was being dealt with by another department. I can't believe you didn't have more than enough to do. So what has this to do with you”?

Smith replied:

Well, it was a big issue in the media sector and I think Mr Michel had offered to send something through to me and I would always receive anything that anybody wanted to send through to me”.

For Leveson, who failed to follow this up any further, Hunt, and his office, just wanted to know where people stood. Yet this completely neglects the amount of work, as Leveson mentions, that Hunt and his team were putting in to a bid that had nothing to do with them.Especially at a time when Hunt would have been busy reorganising his department following the comprehensive spending review. Is Smith's explanation credibile?

On 16thNovember 2010, Michel texted Hunt, Thanks for the call with James today. Greatly appreciated. Will work with Adam to make sure we can send you helpful arguments”...

Helpful arguments? For whom? About what?

The helpful arguments are relating to the BSkyB bid, aren't they”,asked Robert Jay QC of Fred Michel, who responded, “I don't know. I can't remember.”

Son of a Murdoch (c) Surian Soosay
Anything else it might have been for? Unlikely, given that we know that just a couple of days later Hunt was telling Cameron that Murdoch was furious about Cable referring the bid to Ofcom.

Neither Leveson nor Jay questioned Smith about these “helpful arguments”, despite (Adam) Smith's name appearing in the text. Why not?

What went on before Hunt was appointed quasi-judge and jury illustrates an unhealthily close relationship with NewsCorp. More investigative questioning may have revealed further details, but it may be that Hunt will face more searching questions on Thursday.

Just as importantly, let us not forget that it was Cameron who appointed Hunt. His choices of personnel and champions, from AndyCoulson to EmmaHarrison, have been ill-advised.

Cameron knew that Hunt held meetings with NewsCorp in the U.S. in August 2009. Speculation has mounted that talks of the BSkyB bid first emerged during this trip, but Hunt claims that no such discussions took place“to the best of his recognition” - is that a bit of legalese? Either way, within a week of this visit, The Sun (one of Murdoch's newspapers) had declared its support for Cameron for the 2010 election.

Cameron also knew from Hunt's memo to him of 19th November that he was worried about the prospect of a failed BSkyBbid. Just what questions did Cameron ask of Hunt and his connections, and contact, with NewsCorp before appointing him?

In fact, was it even in Cameron's interests to ask?

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Monday, 14 May 2012

Overburdened (once every forty years)

Salmonella (c) NIAID

The following article  was published on openDemocracy by Steve Tombs and David Whyte under a creative commons licence.
Tacked on at the end of the very first paragraph of yesterday’s Queen’s Speech  was a government promise to "limit state inspection of businesses.” 
Innocuous as it sounds, this phrase contains a promise that profoundly threatens the health and wellbeing of all of us. And yet it passed by virtually unreported, under the radar of all of the major news bulletins.  

We have come to expect – and take for granted - the guarantee that our workplaces, our environment and safety of our food comply to a minimum standard of protection.  And yet, this is not how business representatives or the government see it.  Since the election of the Coalition, we have been subjected to a constant barrage of mythology about those protections being a “burden” on business. Recall that Cameron’s New Years priorities for 2012 were the Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee, and to “kill off the health and safety culture for good” - to rid British business of an “albatross”  that was “costing them billions of pounds a year”.  
Yesterday’s promise to limit inspections is the latest stage in the Coalition’s promised major shake up of business inspection, following Nick Clegg’s longstanding promise  to question if regulators are still necessary.  All of the apocryphal stories of ‘elf and safety goan mad’ (many of them originating in a mixture of government and Daily Mail populism rather than fact) have had the drip drip effect of creating an illusion that we are “over-regulated”.
Yet when it comes to the most fundamental protections of our health and our lives, the figures simply don’t stack up. Indeed, the figures are so stark that they make us question both the integrity and the sanity of the Coalition.  
Take the main sources of regulatory protection from business activities: workplace health and safety, environmental protection and food safety.  In the past ten years, inspections by the Environment Agency have fallen by 60%. In the Health and Safety Executive annual inspections of businesses by its biggest section have declined by more than 2/3rds.  The average business can now expect a visit less than once every forty years.  
In the same period, food safety inspections by local authorities have fallen by 31%.
he effect on the way that the worst offending businesses are punished for risking our lives has been equally dramatic.  Prosecutions in the Environment Agency have fallen 27% since their peak in 2005; in the past decade years, prosecutions for health and safety offences have halved and prosecutions for food safety and food standards violations have fallen by 33%.
n comparison to other OECD countries, our workplace safety record continues to race to the bottom.  When the Coalition took power, Britain was 20th out of 30 OECD countries rated for safe workplaces, and we are continuing to slip down this league table.

This is hardly a picture of an over-regulated business sector.  It is yet another measure of the Coalition’s ability to look like a rabbit caught in the headlights of this recession.  As part of a craven to business, knee-jerk, attempt to deregulate us out of recession, this proposal threatens irreversible damage to a quickly deteriorating safety net of social protection.
Steve Tombs is Professor of Sociology, Liverpool John Moores University; David Whyte is Reader in Sociology, University of Liverpool.  They are authors of Regulatory Surrender (Institute of Employment Rights  , 2010) 
(c) Steve Tombs & David Whyte

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Rochdale child sex gang and attributing blame

In need of affection and attention? (c) Stew Dean
The Telegraph columnist Allison Pearson wrote the following introduction for her article entitled, 'Asian sex gang: young girls betrayed by our fear of racism':
Nine white men are found guilty of grooming young Asian girls, aged between 13 and 15, whom they picked up on the streets of London. The girls were lured with free fish and chips before being raped or pimped as prostitutes. One Asian girl from a children's home was used for sex by 20 men in one night. Police insist the crimes were not "racially motivated". 
Imagine if that story were true. Would you really believe that race was not a hateful factor in those crimes?...
Yes, I would Allison.

My first thoughts were that this is another case of the powerful seeking to control the vulnerable.

In their more balanced article, 'Child sex grooming, the Asian question, The Independent, have posited that it may be a cultural issue but that the evidence suggesting as much is inconclusive. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre acknowledges this.

Might we otherwise perceive this as being males using their power to control and abuse females? 

Recent evidence suggests that 10% of women have been raped and 35% have been sexually assaulted. Yet females rarely take their attacker to court because of our extremely low conviction rates. Just look at the recent Ched Evans rape case and the abuse that the victim suffered following his guilty verdict. These are symptomatic of the inequalities that women face in the name of security and protection.

Do the crimes committed in Rochdale not reflect these inequalities? Might it be a gender issue rather than a race issue? 

Or might it be the way that we 'treat' our children?

Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley from the Jill Dando Institute of Security and Crime Science at University College London suggest that affection, attention and excitement are often enough for girls to succumb to their future abusers. Is this what they lack from parents and society at large?

The mainstream media regularly demonise our children as criminals in waiting. On the street, mainly. Which is where the girls in this case were groomed. But why are they on the street?

Over 18s, no hoodies (c) C Ford
UNICEF UK have studied children's happiness in the UK. They found that children miss the love of parents, who, as well as working the longest hours in Europe may also be working more than one job to provide for their children. They also concluded that there are too few leisure facilities available for children. Affection, attention and excitement.

UNICEF UK has called on the UK government to address these problems. I have not read, seen, or heard anything that might suggest that these issues have been resolved. 

What happened to these girls was abhorrent. It may well be a cultural problem, but if we truly want to protect our girls in the future, we should not jump to rash conclusions without a full consideration of other factors. 

Whilst paedophilia is defined differently, in that paedophiles groom pre-pubescent children, the victims are the same; children. On the street or online, grooming is grooming. 

We do not attribute paedophile rings with being white and European. We look beyond such a simplification. We should so in this case. 

Because then we might see that these girls were not solely betrayed by our fear of racism, but also because of a range of other factors.