Archive for the ‘humanrights’ Category


A peek behind the curtain

June 28, 2010

Next time anyone criticises Twitter to you, show them this. Print the fucker out. Link

(pic via Tolerance CA, link via BoingBoing)


Prague, 1965

May 11, 2010

Hey, these must be those “interesting times” the Chinese were banging on about! Life sure is hella  interesting at the moment, isn’t it? Hung parliaments and that? The freefall feeling is quite bracing in a way. Who knows what’s coming next? Anything’s possible! Wheeeeee!

The thing is, while most of us are waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the full force of these interesting times to come down and do a bit of major league squishing upside all our heads, a young man named Paul Chambers has already had his passport well and truly stamped by them. Paul is the man who, excited about traveling to Belfast to a girl he had met through Twitter, posted the following Tweet:

“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”

Yesterday, he was found guilty of sending an “indecent, obscene or menacing” message and received a £1000 fine and a criminal record. On top of all this, he lost his job and Crazy Colours (the girl he was originally flying over to meet) said yesterday “Paul was half way through qualifying as an accountant. This conviction means he can’t qualify now. His career is ruined.”

Ever read ‘The Joke’ by Milan Kundera? It’s good! Not my favourite novel by the man, but holy shit, guess what it’s about!  (Forgive me for copying and pasting the Wikipedia synopsis).

Written and set in 1965 Prague, the novel opens with Ludvik Jahn looking back on the joke that changed his life in the early 1950s. In a playful mood, he writes a postcard to a girl in his class during their summer break… “Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!” His colleagues and fellow young-party leaders do not quite see the humor in the sentiment expressed in the postcard. Ludvik finds himself expelled from the party and college and drafted to a part of the Czech military where alleged subversives form work brigades and spend the next few years working in mines.

Jack of Kent is the man to read on why both prosecution and law are bunk in this case, so I won’ t try to add to that. I just wanted to address just the two or three people who I saw yesterday trotting the old “He was stupid to post the joke and deserves what he got” argument around the paddock. And that includes the Judge on the case, Jonathan Bennett, who said he was ‘satisfied’ the message was of a ‘menacing nature in the context of the time we live in’.

What all these people are essentially saying is this:  because this country was made less safe by  the hasty, reckless, duplicitous way in which  Tony Blair took us into war (a war which only yesterday claimed 114 more lives), and because he will never be brought to justice for that, we must live in a state of paranoid readiness, a state of nervous anxiety, a humorless state that cannot tell the difference between a joke and a threat, for the foreseeable future. Because that one, massive crime will go unpunished, we shall all be punished in thousands of interesting ways.

As Robert Harris said, while we stand at airport security with our shoes in our hands, Tony Blair floats unimpeded through another part of the terminal.

As we sit by a ruined Tube station, picking rubble out of our hair, Tony Blair is on his way to a thousand quid a plate dinner in a bulletproof limo.

To those people who put forward the view that Paul is the one at fault here, I’d like to say,  it’s not supposed to be like this. We’re not supposed to be scared of our shadows. We’re not supposed to be torturing people. We’re not supposed to be letting people get away with murder. We’re not supposed to be prosecuting people for offhand jokes.

If you want to follow the case, the #twitterjoketrial is the hashtag du jour. If you want to contribute to Paul’s fine/legal defence, details are here and here. If you want to complain about the case to the CPS, go here. I urge you to get involved in whatever way you can. We need to show these people that we refuse to live by their arbitrary, paranoid laws. We need to remind them that we are living in England, 2010, not Prague 1965.  While we can’t avoid some of the interesting times up ahead, we can at least carry ourselves with some dignity through them.


Three strikes–a present from The Ghost of Christmas Clinton

December 15, 2009

One of the things I find so frustrating about “three strikes and you’re out” is the lack of creativity it displays. A bright idea from the Clinton years that didn’t work for crime and here it is popping up in the digital Britain debate like a middle-aged, overweight boxer trying out for the Olympic team.

In tumultuous times like these, the Government should not be throwing ropes to flailing David Geffens as they sink into the mud. David Geffen thinks that it is vitally important to the future of capitalism that he and his business model be kept alive indefinitely. Why? Because the vast majority of people, including many musicians, still believe that there is no alternative to that business model.

This would obviously be a terrible thing if it were true. But it’s not true.

The advances we’ve made because of technology have suddenly given consumers a dizzying, disproportionate amount of power, and everyone’s still trying to find their feet. But my instinct is that the new connectedness of the world means that there are a million new ways to address the new reality, if only we can calm down enough to bring to the matter a bit of creativity and actually set about finding them.

The importance of creativity is the reason politicians are the LAST people on earth who should be anywhere near this debate, and it’s why I’m always amazed to see artists siding with Mandelson on it.

Anyway, I didn’t mean to rant. I just wanted to provide a link to this excellent post on the subject by Dave Allen. It is a very inspiring read, obviously. Don’t forget to sign the petition.

(thanks, @TomDavenport!)


Comment of the year!

November 24, 2009

This is from the comment thread on Boing Boing’s story about Peter Mandelson’s awful broadcast bill.

“I am the very model of a Pirate Finder General
My remit runs from a to z, from animal to mineral
The government has issued me with pow’rs plenipotentiary
To seize you and to pack you off to any penitentiary

I’m perfectly remorseless in pursuit of things piratical
I’m always in the office and I never take sabbaticals
You’d be amazed at all the powers that are vested in this entity
To compromise your systems and reveal your identity.

The doctrine of Fair Use I condemn as quite erroneous
And probably harmful if not actively felonious
And though my own position may in time prove quite ephemeral
For now I am the model of a Pirate Finder General

I’m not above resorting to intrusive tricks and hackery
If I chance to be confronted by a lock to which I lack a key
I recognize no boundaries either moral or international
At times my hate for piracy approaches the irrational

I interpret legal precedents with admirable latitude
For which my true employers never fail to show their gratitude
I’m a salaried employee of a corp’rate aristocracy
In fact, my mere existence makes a nonsense of democracy

I exist to serve the interests of a privileged minority
By whom I have been granted quite extraordinary authority
My jurisdiction ranges from the local to the federal
In short, I am the model of a Pirate Finder General

My attitude to human rights is simply reprehensible
I prosecute whole familes for reasons indefensible
I terminate connections be they wired or ethereal
And consider all objections to be strictly immaterial

Although you may deplore the fact and label it regrettable
I find the rule of law to be entirely forgettable
If it has any virtues, I must confess I’ve never known ’em
For I’ve always held that capital’s the only summum bonum

I’m answerable to no one, I enjoy complete autonomy
In my tireless crusade against foes of the Economy
And though my own position may in time prove quite ephemeral
For now I am the model of a Pirate Finder General”

by Angus McIntyre

Angus, YOU RULE!


Jaw-dropping behaviour from The Daily Mail

April 14, 2009


This is incredible. While we await the response of the PCC to our petition protesting the Express/Dunblane scandal that the press won’t cover (STILL not as important to the broadsheets as Sachsgate, apparently), here’s a piece of mindblowing cynicism from the Daily Mail to take up the slack.

Apparently, the Daily Mail in Ireland and the Daily Mail in the UK are currently running seperate campaigns about the HPV Vaccine. Nothing unusual about that, you might think. It’s an important subject and the Daily Mail has a duty to be concerned.   But, y’see, ha, ha, here’s the thing.

The two editions of the paper are running campaigns both for and against the vaccine. That’s right, in Ireland, the newspaper is very firmly for it, but in the UK, on the other hand…. you get stories such as this.

Over to Martin Robbins…

“Are they insane?! They’re printing scare stores about the dangers of the HPV vaccine in one country, while simultaneously campaigning for its introduction in another. It’s so absurdly cynical that I can’t quite form the words to convey just how shocked I am by this. Even by the piss-poor journalistic standards of the Daily Mail, this takes quite some beating.

What this means is that those of us who believed that the Daily Mail had some editorial, ideological stance against certain vaccines (such as MMR) were in fact wrong. The Daily Mail position on vaccines is whatever sells newspapers – and if those positions are completely self-contradictory, or might cause a bit more cancer in the readership, then who cares, as long as the advertisers are happy?

In many ways, this is worse than being anti-vaccine. Anti-vaccinationists may be cranks, but at least they ultimately care about the people affected. The revelation that the Mail is pushing two contradictory positions on a major public health issue on either side of the Irish Sea, proves once and for all that they don’t give a crap about the impact such stories may have on their readers. It’s a whole new level of sick. It’s crossing the line where misguided becomes truly evil.”

As Ben Goldacre, author of ‘Bad Science’ put it, “looks like the reasoning is to attack any government healthcare decision by pretending it’s dangerous.”

Thanks again, unaccountable press!

(Props to all on Twitter who helped with this post.)


Why they want to make it a crime to take photographs of the police

April 8, 2009

Justin McKeating found this interesting picture of a police medic at work: “Now, I’ve never had any medical training so can someone more knowledgeable please tell me what the above procedure is called and what it’s used for in a medical capacity?” Link to post. (Link to Amjamjazz’z original photo)

(Thanks to @loveandgarbage for the tip. Justin is @chickyog )

Of course, everyone’s talking about this. Another thing they would have preferred you hadn’t seen.  I guess if I was a policeman, I too would like some privacy when I’m walking down the road with a stick.)


Apology noted. Now what?

March 24, 2009

Well, for whatever reason, the Express apologised for the Dunblane story on Sunday. Here’s the link. Take a moment to read it.

This is certainly an apology, and it was advertised on the front page, which is enough like the first demand on our petition to get by. For that reason, we’re shutting it down on Saturday and handing it in next week. Matt Nida, who drafted the petition, will deliver it to Express Group Newspapers, the PCC and Downing Street so as to show the strength of feeling that this story has induced in over 10,000 people in a single week.

So, if you feel strongly about this issue and you haven’t already signed the petition, you’ve only got a few days left in which to do so.

However, before that date, we felt it important to leave a few questions hanging in the air. Over to Matt Nida:

“I think the apology is inadequate. It dodges the issue of what was wrong with the original article, fails to provide a satisfactory explanation for how this piece happened, holds nobody to account for its publication and offers no reassurance that this won’t happen again.

It opens with a deeply saccharine mission statement:

It is 81 years since the first edition of this great newspaper rolled off the presses in Glasgow. Over that time, we have established a reputation for crusading journalism built on the twin cornerstones of honesty and integrity. Scottish Sunday Express readers expect us to shine a light on the wrongs in our society, to expose the crooks, highlight the hypocrites and to give everyone the odd chuckle with the extraordinary stories that ordinary Scots so often have to tell.

Even if these are the principles that guide the newspaper’s editorial process, it’s hard to see how anyone could have presumed that the Dunblane article fulfilled any one of these criteria. The Dunblane survivors have done nothing wrong, nor are they crooks or hypocrites. And the piece certainly wasn’t funny.

Additionally, the Bebo/Facebook postings would not have come to light had Paula Murray not been actively looking for them – further evidence that her intention was to muck-rake on a group of people previously sheltered from press scrutiny, rather than bring to light a “wrong in our society”.

It is also hugely important to us that the Scottish Sunday Express reflects the feelings of the people of Scotland.

This masks the issue, suggesting that the problem with the article was that it misjudged what people wanted to read. That the paper mis-read its readers’ feelings is immaterial; it flat-out contravened at least two points of the PCC code and used the intrusion on private individuals as the basis for an entirely self-constructed story. It is an open and shut case, yet the SSE is attempting to paint it in shades of grey.

It is our belief that nobody was misquoted.

A transparent attempt to rescue Paula Murray’s journalistic integrity. Who does this refer to? If it’s MSP Elizabeth Smith, she claimed that her words had been taken out of context, not misquoted – a crucial difference. If it’s the survivors themselves, then the accuracy is irrelevant – they were selectively quoted to support a spurious moral argument.

The Scottish Sunday Express is a big newspaper, with a long and illustrious history. We are also big enough to say we are truly sorry.

In many ways, this sums up the problems with the apology – it’s an attempt to recast this as a one-off piece of poor judgement by a cosy cottage-industry rather than a cynical piece of manufactured outrage that has backfired badly. The following questions remain:

– The article was written and filed by Paula Murray. It would presumably have then been passed through at least one sub-editor, before being signed off by editor Derek Lambie, who deemed it appropriate for the front page. Are we supposed to believe that all of these people innocently made the same mistake? It suggests a wholesale institutional failure of the editorial process that needs urgent correction.

– Neither does it indicate what action has been taken to prevent this happening again. Will it be adhering more closely to the PCC code in future? If the paper won’t acknowledge its contravention of the code and publicly bind itself to its principles, then this voluntary agreement has been rendered worthless.

– Finally, this is a public apology – but to the readers. SSE’s readership may well have been offended by the article, but a far greater wrong was done to the individuals named in the article. The paper claims to have apologised privately (and note the “where possible” caveat – given that the whole basis of the article was Murray’s access to their social networking profiles, the paper will definitely have some form of contact details for each and every one of the people named), but if the piece was “undeniably inappropriate”, don’t its victims at least deserve an apology as public and prominent as the humiliation meted out to them in the first place?”

Back to me. I don’t have much to add to that, except to say that this is not an isolated case of some crazy hacks, or even a crazy paper, getting out of control. This is simply an extreme example of the state that journalism in the UK has found itself in. In the comments section on my original post, some have expressed concern at the prospect of press regulation, arguing that it’s a slippery slope that ultimately leads to State censorship,  but we would argue that the system of self-regulation as it stands has led to a press that does not take its responsibilities seriously and as a result can not be trusted to pursue the stories that need to be pursued. It’s a different slippery slope, and the Express story marked the point at which the press were sitting at the bottom of it.

Think about it…what have the press done for us lately? Have they been diligently scrutinizing the emergence and workings of the surveillance state? Or have they been pursuing Madeline McCann’s parents for some crazy reason? Did it clear up the confusion about the MMR vaccine, or did it add to the panic?  In other words, what exactly are we protecting by not asking for a better system of regulation?

There are plenty of good, responsible journalists out there who are looking at the Express saga with the same resigned disgust that most of us felt when we first came upon the story. They need to be part of this conversation too. If not, the conversation will be held elsewhere, out of their earshot and beyond their influence. That won’t be good for journalism, and it won’t be good for society. But whether they turn up or not, the conversation will happen. It has to.

Anyway, as I was saying, four more days if you’d like to sign the petition. Here’s the link again.

(Thanks to Elena for giving this the once-over)


Thank you, mysterious stranger!

March 21, 2009

Someone with the internetty name of Idea15 wrote a brilliant comment on my original post about the Dunblane/Express saga.

“This campaign has to succeed. If not, the road ahead for these kids just got a lot darker. The Sunday Express has served notice that the downmarket stalker press considers them fair game for the rest of their lives. Whatever successes they enjoy will be trumped up as being down to their hardy survivor spirit, and whatever failures they endure will be chalked up to the psychological damage of the shooting. Their sadnesses will be exploited as “heartbreak for tragic Dunblane victim”. You can just see the headlines now, and for decades to come. If the media gets the message right here right now that these kids are not fair game for lifelong exploitation because they happened to be in one room for one hour aged five, they can continue to live normal lives. Who knows, some of the papers might even have to go dig up real stories, not manufacture the problem.”

Exactly. You would imagine that we wouldn’t have to remind the press of such an obvious point, but apparently, we do. So if you haven’t already, please think about signing the petition to call the Express to account. (8,749 signatories at last count!)


The Express wins the race to the bottom

March 18, 2009

The Dunblane Massacre was an atrocity almost beyond imagining. A man named Thomas Hamilton walked into a school in a small Scottish town in March 1996, and shot dead sixteen children and one teacher. It was not what we’ve since come to think of as a ‘normal’ school shooting as it was a primary school, and all the children were between five and six years of age. We were filming an episode of ‘Father Ted’ that week, and on the night of the recording, no-one, the audience or the cast, felt terribly inclined to have a good time; difficult to throw your head back and laugh when all you could think about were those kids, their parents, the town…but most of all, those kids, those kids, those poor kids…

All those useless thoughts, sent to torture the unwary after a tragedy such as this one, we knew them well. If only someone had sensed how dangerous he was…if only handguns had been banned a year before it happened, rather than a year after… In the days and weeks that followed, we were all  endlessly replaying  the same fantasy of somehow managing to stop Hamilton before he got to the school gates.  But there was nothing we could do, of course, except respect the memory of the kids who died, and thank dumb, blind chance for the survival of the others.
That basic human reaction, that powerful urge to protect those children, has always been something I presumed was shared by most other human beings. But a lady named Paula Murray has disabused me of that particular whimsy.

Paula is the journalist who thought it was well past time that the survivors of the Dunblane massacre were given a tabloid punching. To that end, she befriended a group of them on Facebook and collated their photographs and comments (UPDATE: she didn’t actually befriend them, she just took advantage of their lack of awareness of privacy settings. Still reprehensible, of course). Clearly aware of the legal guidelines in place to protect those under eighteen against invasion of privacy (and the specific instructions that the Press Complaints Commission issued regarding the Dunblane children), she waited until they hit eighteen. Then she wrote this.

The story continued inside under the headline “SICK MESSAGES SHAME MEMORY OF CLASSMATES”, referring to the normal, teenagery stuff they were saying to each other on their profiles. (I should say thank you to those on Twitter who helped me black out the names and photographs of the kids). As others have pointed out, the gist of the story is that these kids are showing disrespect to their dead classmates by… being alive.

Here’s an example of Paula’s scoop: “For instance, (name deleted), who was hit by a single bullet and watched in horror as his classmates died, makes rude gestures in pictures he posted on his Bebo site, and boasts of drunken nights out.”

Rude gestures. Boasting. Drunkenness.

Now, I’m coming late to this one… complaints to the PCC have been made by two of the victims of the article, the piece has been pulled from the Express website… so we should probably forget about it, right?

I don’t know. I think the line that has been crossed here is different to all the other lines the press routinely cross.

The press likes us to believe they’re a properly regulated body, but they’re anything but. First of all, The PCC seems to be a completely toothless organisation by design. It is made up of representatives of the major publishers, who are obviously not inclined to be too hard on themselves. Also, unlike Ofcom and the Advertising Standards Authority, who have easy-to-use complaint forms on their websites, the PCC don’t even accept third party complaints – in other words, unless you are the person named in a printed article, they’re not interested in hearing your opinion. So when faced with an affront to our humanity (which is what I believe this Express story is), there is no official channel for us to register our anger. That’s right – if you are offended by something on TV, Radio or in an advert, you can complain; if you’re offended by something in the print press…well, you’re just going to have to walk it off, because literally no-one wants to know.

So, I think it is up to us to take a stand for those kids who had their privacy so ruthlessly invaded. Paula Murray set out to do a hit job on those kids– character assassination (of the most pathetic, intelligence-insulting kind) was the aim, and the weapons were a Facebook account and an editor with a moral centre as atrophied as her own. If there is a line beyond that one that the press can cross, I think we should make it harder for them to do so.

So! What can we do? Here are a few suggestions:

1) Stand up and be counted. Matt Nida has started an online petition which you can find here. When he’s got a decent number of names, he’ll be submitting it to the editor responsible for the story, the publishers and managing directors of Express Group Newspapers, the PCC, Downing Street and all media outlets who may be able to help shame the Express Group into action by making public the strength of national feeling about this.

2) Email your personal complaint to the Editorial Director of the Express Group about the conduct of Paula Murray and Scottish Sunday Express, Derek Lambie, who was responsible for placing the piece on the front cover. The Editorial Director is Paul Ashford, and this is his secretary’s email address, so please try to avoid being abusive to her – it’s not her fault! – and preface your email by asking Jo to pass your letter on to Mr Ashford.

3) Write to Express Group publisher Richard Desmond. He keeps his email address well hidden, but you can write to him by snail mail at: Richard Desmond, Northern and Shell building, 10 Lower Thames Street, London EC3R 6EN

4) Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads suggested targeting the advertisers, which seems like a marvellous idea. I’ve written a template letter here. Tim’s blog has a full list of advertisers, but here are a few selected contact details to get you started – and it may be more effective if we all write to the same companies.

(UPDATE: Enough people have expressed discomfort with this idea to make me rethink it. The concensus seems to be that  too many innocent people stand to suffer with this avenue of complaint, and it would be better to concentrate on direct complaints and the petition.)

7) If you have a Facebook account and would like to vent with likeminded folks, here’s a group set up to protest the story.

Again, thanks to everyone on Twitter who helped me write this post by providing links and hosting the original story after it was taken down. Sorry if the post goes on a bit…as they say, I didn’t have time to write a shorter piece.

Thanks for listening.


More innovations in The War on Drugs

January 30, 2009

How’s this for Homeland Security? DEA guys at an airport in Detroit stop David Peat, a poker player who paid for his airline ticket with cash. They let him go, then chased him down again and confiscated all his money and his Rolex. Why? Just because! Link to Reason article.
Here’s Peat’s account at the 2+2 forums.