Thursday, 22 April 2010

Accredited Media - the JEP

Some blogs (or bloggers) seem to have a very jaundiced view of the accredited media (JEP, Channel Television, BBC Radio Jersey), so I thought I'd add a few thoughts of my own. I don't watch Channel, except the odd extract online, so I cannot really comment with any justification on that outlet of news.

Regarding the Jersey Evening Post, I don't think the idea that they are part of some Island conspiracy really works. They have full length interviews across the political divide - for instance, in recent months, we have seen Philip Ozouf, Alan Maclean, Geoff Southern, Simon Crowcroft.

There is, I think, a degree of distortion in how they report the news, but I don't think that is down to conspiracy, so much as the chasing of eye-catching headlines that sell papers. The headlines are often misleading, and sometimes the background reporting makes a mess of what is actually being said, by oversimplifying matters. I've criticised them on this blog (e.g. burglaries, average wage etc) for precisely that, but not for conspiracy theories. And I am not the only one - two senior Ministers from the Council of Ministers (who I won't name), have replied with emails to me on various subjects on much the same tenor.

I would ask you not to accept blindly all that is written in the J.E.P.

Incidentally, the JEP headline writer has again changed the meaning of what I said to the Scrutiny Panel.

Now if Ministers themselves find fault with the JEP on these grounds, and incidentally, were kind enough to reply and set the record straight in emails to me, then it can hardly be argued that it is an "establishment conspiracy"! I'd put it down to sloppiness. The recently appointed Chief Officer of Health was criticised by what was little more than a cut and paste job from U.K. media, with no consideration of how the one sided reporting would affect the general public's perception.

The degree to which reports can be slanted by headline writing, by over simplifying is considerable. This, I think, is why other bloggers may find - for example - the treatment of Graham Power in the JEP to be one-sided. It isn't really - they cover many news stories in the same way, but we tend to focus on those where we have a vested interest, rather than considering overall coverage.

As far as the political feature writers go, Ben Queree certainly seems to be fairly even handed in his handing out of bouquets and barbed wire, with his wry humour; Fly on the Wall is fun, Peter Body often criticises both the Council of Ministers, and those opposing them (from a businessman's perspective), and Helier Clement, from behind his cloak of anonymity, criticises both establishment and opposition from his shed. Only the leader writer seems to always take the Council of Ministers line, but at least this is written in longer paragraphs; in the old days, it was written in short paragraphs of one sentence, which gave the impression that it was something akin to Holy Writ; all that was missing was the verse numbers. And at least the editor's name (who presumably is the leader writer) is given in the JEP.

If I had a criticism of the feature writers, it would be that they write too much from the point of view of omniscience - they are right, and they know it. Some articles highlighting Island problems without immediate solution would provide a more balanced solution. I remember dear Betty Brooke, who as "Hardbencher" was full of comments about what the States were doing wrong, and yet when she got in, somehow the ability to fix things did not appear nearly so easily to her! Some awareness of the degree to which problems are complex, and not easily sorted out with the wave of a columnists magic wand, would be helpful. Of course politicians too, often want to show they have all the answers, or most of them, so that doesn't help either!

I have had at least one politician (from the Council of Ministers) outline some of the States problems to me (in an email) without saying there is an easy solution (he also said " I am trying to be honest with the public about the realities of the situation although this is not a popular message") and I find that honesty refreshing.

With the JEP, some articles have online comments available, some do not, some letters are accepted of abnormal length (but also often with a contradictory comment that letters must be short!).

To sum up, if I may borrow from G.K. Chesterton, insofar as there are faults with the JEP, they are not faults because of wild conspiracies, but chasing sales:

The old editor used dimly to regard himself as an unofficial public servant for the transmitting of public news. If he suppressed anything, he was supposed to have some special reason for doing so; as that the material was actually libellous or literally indecent. But the modern editor regards himself far too much as a kind of original artist, who can select and suppress facts with the arbitrary ease of a poet or a caricaturist. He "makes up" the paper as man "makes up" a fairy tale, he considers his newspaper solely as a work of art, meant to give pleasure, not to give news... The old idea that he is simply a mode of the expression of the public, an "organ" of opinion, seems to have entirely vanished from his mind. To-day the editor is not only the organ, but the man who plays on the organ. (G.K. Chesterton, All Things Considered)

And let's also be fair - there are lots of other stories apart from the political ones which find their way into the Jersey Evening Post. Life is not all politics - there are good features on Island history, gardening, Island events, what schools are doing, and heroic endeavours, like the three Jerseymen who cycled to Morocco to raise money for charity, or Jersey Live, the Swimmarathon, or the eco-music event. Sometimes those even take the front page.

The JEP does provide a good service to the public in reporting on those too, or putting in requests for help by charities, event organisers or even ordinary individuals.


Rob Kent said...

Without invoking a consipiracy theory, I think you are being too generous to the JEP.

The JEP is part of what Edward Said called 'an ideological community'. It begins its questions from inside a narrow ring of constraints and you wouldn't expect it to be anything but reactionary. It doesn't discover news it finds it.

When Frank Walker et al were fully behind the HdlG inquiry, so was the JEP. When they turned against it and wanted it covered up, the JEP went along for the ride.

Did you see the Andrew Marr interview with Chomsky? You can find it on YouTube.

Andrew Marr grills Chomsky on his theory of the propaganda model of the media and has the following exchange:

Marr: How can you know that I'm self-censoring? How can you know that journalists are...

Chomsky: I don't say you're self-censoring - I'm sure you believe everything you're saying; but what I'm saying is, if you believed something different, you wouldn't be sitting where you're sitting.

The same goes for Chris Bright, Rob Shipley and the rest of the crew: if they thought differently, they wouldn't be in their jobs.

It doesn't imply a conspiracy, unless by that you mean a group of people who don't want to put their livelihoods at risk by speaking truth to power (no pun intended).

TonyTheProf said...

I think Chomsky is on very weak grounds there; he could be self-censoring etc from his left-wing ideological background - see my post on "bulverism" for the weaknesses of this approach.

I still think it can be understood in terms of following big grabby headlines - when Lenny Harper made press statements, that was a blig splash; when Mick Gradwell did, that was a big slash. They trounced poor John Day on the basis of the Court case with big headlines; then exonerated him with Verita with not the slightest hint of inconsistency.

As regards Frank Walker, yes, there is probably enough of a legacy to ensure that they are unlikely to be as critical of him as one time boss; the Guernsey press is far more forthright in speaking out regarding all its leaders, and has been more critical of Frank Walker than Jersey.

But then just look at the lobby journalists in the UK, and there is not such a great difference there either. They often take what is handed to them, which is lazy reporting.

Rob Kent said...

There has never been a 'Golden Age' of newspapers as far as truthfulness and objectivity is concerned. But there have been patches where one period or newspaper or even journalist is more reliable than others.

Chesterton was writing in a different period - the one of the great press barons like Hearst and Beaverbrook. We are in a completely different ballpark now, where newspapers are run purely for profit by grocers.

The JEP is an okay provincial, local newspaper. Unfortunately, it is itself a victim of the Jersey political system and culture.

Let's imagine for a moment that there was a young Jane Pilger working there who said to her editor, "Stuart Syvret, despite his vitriol and invective, actually seems to be on to something here. He has published a lot of evidence that shows that the police were investigating several senior people in relation to child abuse and its cover up. There also seem to be links between Ted Paisnel and HdlG, HdlG, Geoff Le Marquand and the Green Room at the Opera House during a certain period, and in more recent times, it does look like Ogley and Walker engineered the dismissal of several people in order to make the whole thing go away. This is a potentially a massive story and I would like to take a month out to go and dig up what I can on it."

Assuming she was allowed to go and do that, Chris Bright's phone would be red-hot with local big-wigs putting pressure on him to stop it.

For commercial, political, and societal reasons, it's just not going to happen. As you point out, for commercial reasons, it might happen if there were two newspapers vying for headlines instead of one.

Or several blogs and one newspaper. Problem is, blogs are not in it commercially.

Rob Kent said...

Re "They often take what is handed to them, which is lazy reporting."

Yes, you are right. That is at the heart of the problem and is why I mostly refuse to buy newspapers these days.

Because of the commercial pressures, and a concatenation of other historical factors, newspapers pick up stories, barely verify them, and publish them without performing enough investigation to provide a counter-balance.

To me, that is not journalism, it's gossip-mongering.

The inside story of how this works and how it came about is in Nick Davies' "Flat Earth News".

Tony said...

Even the great John Pilger would find it hard to get a TV spot, since Margaret Thatcher emasculated (and bankrupted) the TV stations with her auctions. Another glorious triumph of hers! Along with privatisated rail (leading to substandard maintainance), privatised water (leading to poor pipe repair and leaks), etc. She was a disaster!

There was a time when Panorama was a serious TV programme (occasionally there is still the odd glimmer), Pilger was producing ground breaking documentaries, Duncan (someone?) was producing his Secret Society lid-off programmes, Roger Cook was exposing scams, and World in Action was one of the unmissable highlights. Remember "Death on the Rock"?

Sadly, the money men have largely taken over there too! And with newspapers, the Murdoch empire increases its tentacles, unless taken by the Barclay brothers, or run by Dirty Desmond. We still have Press Barons (even if they aren't as great). Still there is Private Eye still exposing scandals!

If you think things were different when GKC was writing, see the Purple Wig:

Mr Nutt put down the manuscript and called out with unusual sharpness: "Miss Barlow, please take down a letter to Mr Finn."

DEAR FINN,--You must be mad; we can't touch this. I wanted vampires and the bad old days and aristocracy hand-in-hand with superstition. They like that But you must know the Exmoors would never forgive this. And what would our people say then, I should like to know! Why, Sir Simon is one of Exmoor's greatest pals; and it would ruin that cousin of the Eyres that's standing for us at Bradford. Besides, old Soap-Suds was sick enough at not getting his peerage last year; he'd sack me by wire if I lost him it with such lunacy as this. And what about Duffey? He's doing us some rattling articles on "The Heel of the Norman." And how can he write about Normans if the man's only a solicitor? Do be reasonable.--Yours, E. NUTT.

As Miss Barlow rattled away cheerfully, he crumpled up the copy and tossed it into the waste-paper basket; but not before he had, automatically and by force of habit, altered the word "God" to the word "circumstances."

Rob Kent said...

Yes, you know where you stand with John Pilger. Like Auden replied when asked why a 'man of the left' took the Daily Telegraph: "I can see the ideology in it because it's not my own."

By coincidence:

TonyTheProf said...

Nick - one Senior Minister was ILM, but I had permission to quite him; the full piece is elsewhere - look for the exclusive from ILM on the blog.

As for the other one, you might know, but I couldn't possibly comment.

TonyTheProf said...

As we are on the subject of newspapers, here's Yes Minister - the classic breakdown of demographics!

Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers:

The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country;
The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country;
The Times is read by the people who actually do run the country;
The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country;
The Financial Times is read by people who own the country;
The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country;
And The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.