Archive for May, 2007

Football? Beer? Sex? Nope, a UK constitution

May 25, 2007

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The title may help non-traditional audiences to find their ways to this fine article on UK constitutional reform written by Neal Ascherson. For the many talkingaboutarevolution regulars, both of you, please excuse the puerile foolishness.

The article is part of openDemocracy’s launch of a conversation about Britain’s destiny, which sounds stuffily grand but which certainly interests me.

Ascherson mentions how difficult it will be for any real progress to be made towards anything approaching a real constitution for the UK or parts thereof, despite what our new Dear-Leader-in-waiting Gordon Brown might say. Silly headlines like the one above probably don’t help much.

This was the nub of my response:

My appreciation of this article is more for the clarity of its information and historical context than for the quality of its conclusions. I share more sympathy with the brief postings of jdoucette5522 and douglas jones than with the author’s views. We’re talking re-arranging the roof terrace furniture on a very tall building here – our systems of power themselves are at fault, as are the economic environments in which they operate.

All of our democracies are miles away from anything approaching true popular rule, which would require much more transparency, accountability, and, let’s face it, time invested by ordinary people to make the systems work. That time is unlikely to be forthcoming unless there is the promise of some satisfaction through influence. Hmmm.

In the meantime, the most satisfying alternative is to explore local systems of exchange and politics rooted outside the mainstream.

You can join the debate here.

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Reut…eurgh

May 4, 2007

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Well, well, my former employer Reuters is showing a jaunty garter to its Canadian information-provision rival Thomson Corporation. How are the mighty fallen, or bought rather.

There is no better time to see what price gives for the Reuters claim to “independence, impartiality, integrity and freedom from bias”, one of the more preposterous lines in media land when seen from the perspective of a majority of the world’s people.

I swallowed this line somewhat uncritically during the early part of my 11 years there before realising that the demands of Reuters’s core clients for timely business and uncritical market intelligence would win out every time over any fluffy journalism ideals that you might care to mention.

One small example. I have verbatim shorthand notes of a conversation I had with a senior Reuters editor in 2004 about my proposal to morph the world trade correspondent post in Geneva into one giving a broader, deeper take on globalisation in all its bitterly contested glory. I was told nice idea, fat chance, by someone whom I actually rather liked. That person said the Reuters editorial budget for the year could stretch to the creation of a half-post for additional foreign exchange market reporting in Tokyo.

That same budget did stretch, albeit a couple of years later, to the creation of an online news bureau correspondent in Second Life, the rather absurd online game. Thankfully, that was after I had leapt on the chance of voluntary redundancy, though the verb “to leap” may not be strong enough.

There are some great journalists at Reuters, in print, video and pictures, and some great former ones who got killed in pursuit of their work. They are, or were, far better journalists than I could ever hope to be. Their organisation, however, is not the unblemished force for good that it likes to project as its image. It fails miserably to bring the independence, impartiality, integrity and freedom from bias that is needed to throw clear light on the world’s problems. That, in the very least, would demand unrelenting analysis and criticism of the issues presented by global capitalism and the holders of capital, most of whom are Reuters clients past or present. It can claim to do a better job than many other media organisations but that’s hardly difficult.

I will not join the mourning party if Reuters falls to the Canadians, reserving my journalistic condolences instead for The New Standard, which closed last Friday. Brian Dominick, one of the five members of the TNS collective, talks here about the reasons for their demise on Pacifica Radio’s uprising programme.