Tuesday, 2 August 2022

I've written an article on the Good and the Bad of Press Freedom 2022 in the UK for InPublishing magazine.  It includes libel lawyers shamed; legal costs; growing privacy law; Arron Banks vs Carole Cadwalladr; sources protected; the Government's policy of excluding media; Julian Assange and blocks on Freedom of Information. You can read it here.

Friday, 15 July 2022

Mike Lowe RIP: Some of his greatest Grey Cardigan hits and one last blast at the grey-suits

As my tribute to Mike Lowe, I thought I would publish a few of my favourite quotes from his Grey Cardigan column I've featured on my blog over the years.  It's also a chance to give the bean-counters he loathed so much one last kicking.

Grey on local newspapers

"Look at the history of our newspapers and you will find that many of them were founded by local men and funded by local businesses - printers, campaigners, shopkeepers and solicitors. These men did not seek to make a vast fortune from their great adventure...Why can't the big groups sell off their failing titles to people who would actually love and nurture them?"

Grey on cuts in the regional press

"I met a regional daily newspaper manager the other day who seemed mystified at his title’s appalling ABC performance – down to the point at which weekly publication surely beckons.
“I don’t understand it Grey,” he said. “We’re coming out of the slump now, revenue should be picking up, but the sale is killing us. Advertisers are spending again, but they’re spending elsewhere. What’s going on?” I looked at him, thought once, thought twice, and then said nothing. If he can’t see that sacking half your journalists, dropping editions, closing your district offices, abandoning same-day printing, reducing the print run and slashing the marketing budget might possibly have some impact on your sales figures, then I’m not going to explain it to him."

Grey on centralised subbing

"Sadly, we have grown accustomed in recent years to seeing arrogant and uncaring newspaper managements shifting subbing jobs from individual newspapers to centralised production hubs. These faceless fuckwits take no account of the ruined careers and wrecked marriages left behind; their sole concern is the bottom line and the size of their next bonus."

Grey on bloggers

"Since the arrival of blogs everyone is a fucking journalist, and the sheer number of knobheads out there who are happy to churn out their boring, bland opinions just for the supposed glory of seeing their name in lights means that the notion of actually paying for well-written, thought-provoking words is now almost redundant. Why does this matter? Well it means that true creativity is stifled as writers and photographers give up the daily battle to put food on the table and the level of national debate continues to be dumbed down. Mark my words, it won’t be long before someone called @billyblogger24 is writing the leader column in The Times."

Grey reveals his departure from the Daily Beast:

"I’ve been replaced by a child in a suit. I leave with a framed front page, a valedictory drink at The Shivering Whippet, a small pay-off and my head held high. Now I’m in the dangerous waters of the unemployed or, as my previously departed colleagues called it, pursuing a new career as an editorial and PR consultant."

Grey on why the 'grey men in grey suits' forced out Northcliffe's outspoken editors 

"They couldn't handle the boardroom battles, the cult of 'Editorial is King' and the notion that people would fight to the death for what was right for their newspapers, their readers and their staff. So off they had to go."

Grey on the bean-counters

"This is a creative business, dependant for success on imagination, inspiration and risk-taking. Accountancy, with the best will in the world, isn’t. The grey suited bean-counters aren’t a stereotypical myth; they’re the Dementors of the business world, soul-sucking fiends capable of draining away your happiness...Our current crop of bosses might be best buddies of the corporate shareholders (not to mention their own bank managers), but over the past 10 years the dead hand of fiscal prudence certainly hasn’t done our newspapers any favours. We’ve lost thousands of jobs, millions of pounds in revenue and the ‘service’ we provide to our remaining readers is a pitiful shadow of what it used to be and still should be.
Shame on you, the lot of you."

So who was the Grey Cardigan?

Jon Slattery writes: I worked with Mike at the Lincs Echo with a sub who inspired Grey Cardigan. This is a blog post I wrote about the "real Cardigan".  

When I worked at Press Gazette the most common question I was asked was "who is the Grey Cardigan?" What people wanted to know was who wrote the column. I could never tell them that but I do know who the real Grey Cardigan is. I worked with the man who inspired the column, which gives the world view of a down table regional sub-editor, when I was a junior reporter on an evening paper in the Midlands.

He did indeed wear a grey cardigan along with a collar and tie and was the deputy chief sub. The reporters thought he was so miserable that when idling away a quiet afternoon by casting the paper's staff as they would to be portrayed in a Hollywood movie we decided he should be played by Peter Cushing. The actor was well known for his appearance in Hammer horror films where he portrayed Baron Frankenstein among other sinister characters.

Our subs, however, always insisted he was one of the wittiest men alive. All I could see was that his idea of fun was torturing the news editor. He got his opportunity to do this on a Saturday when he was acting chief sub.

When the news editor produced his standby page one splash, for example "Terror Dogs Stalk Estate" (ie. someone had phoned up earlier in the week about a couple of stray mutts), the original grey cardigan would spike it. Instead he would lead on some PA story that took his fancy, like a call for foreigners to be banned from using the NHS which was being made at a conference in Blackpool, miles outside our circulation area.

Oh, and his name was Bernard.

  • Press Gazette's tribute to Mike and an extract from a Grey Cardigan column can be read here

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Media Quotes of the Week: From shaming the London libel lawyers who acted for oligarchs to judge backs journalist's right to protect sources

Publisher Arabella Pike in the Sunday Times [£] on how billionaire oligarchs used London's libel lawyers to try and stop investigations into their wealth: 
"The attacks were swiftly identified by various media campaigners as Slapps (strategic litigation against public participation). These are abusive lawsuits designed to manipulate existing legislation to intimidate and outspend journalists, writers, whistle-blowers, activists, NGOs, academics and publishers into silence and/or censorship.This litigation takes many forms, but its common purpose is to remove information from the public domain or prevent its publication altogether...

"You need a spine of titanium to withstand the pressures of litigious billionaires. Stress does awful things to your health, whatever its cause. I think we all suffered sleepless nights, exhaustion and feelings of being stuck in a process that would never end. The letters are crafted to undermine confidence in yourself and your work. The financial costs are huge, but so are the psychological."
  • David Davis MP in the House of Commons in January on the use of Slapp libel actions to stop journalists investigating rich oligarchs and businesses: “This is lawfare—lawfare against British freedom of speech, lawfare against the freedom of the press, and lawfare against justice for our citizens. Lawfare is the misuse of legal systems and principles by extraordinarily rich individuals and organisations to destroy their critics and opponents. In many cases, our reporters face reputational and financial ruin in defending themselves from these malevolent cases; even if they win, the expense and impact are huge. The chilling effect on a free press is extraordinary.”

The Times
[£] in a leader:
"The lawyers who act for Russian oligarchs in attempting to protect their wealth and reputations are not disinterestedly pursuing justice. They are enriching themselves and their firms by defending the powerful against scrutiny. The Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales, has a moral obligation to investigate this scandal...

"Bob Seely, a Conservative MP, named in parliament four English lawyers from prominent firms who he said were working with “Putin’s henchmen”. And two British journalists, Catherine Belton and Tom Burgis, told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee last week that legal firms in London were working to intimidate investigators into dropping stories about Russian oligarchs, who can afford the vast expense of prolonged legal action. Burgis named the firms of Carter-Ruck, Schillings, Mishcon de Reya and Taylor Wessing as among the culprits. He even claimed he had been put under surveillance."

Carole Cadwalladr on Twitter: "Exciting new 14-page legal letter today. The most interesting aspect of it is the contention that as a responsible journalist you should right-to-reply someone *before* posting what an MP says about them. In parliament. Under privilege."

Kelvin MacKenzie on Twitter: "Money grabbing lawyers at @carterruck, @NLawGlobal and Schillings, who have made millions representing oligarchs anxious to stop journos finding out the source of their cash, should be forced by law to send every penny to feed Ukraine. They are s**ts of the highest order."

The Kyiv Independent on Twitter:
 "Ukrainian journalist released from Russian captivity. Oleh Baturin, a journalist from Russian-occupied Kakhovka, Kherson Oblast, went missing on March 12. 'I was beaten, humiliated, threatened. They said they would kill me. They wanted to break me,' said Baturin."

Associated Press video journalist Mstyslav Chernov, on being rescued by Ukraine soldiers from Mariupol after being told by an officer the Russians were hunting the AP journalists who were documenting the siege:
" 'If they catch you, they will get you on camera and they will make you say that everything you filmed is a lie,' he said. 'All your efforts and everything you have done in Mariupol will be in vain'.”

Chris Mullin speaking outside the Old Bailey after Judge Lucraft ruled he did not have to reveal the sources of his investigation into the Birmingham pub bombings to West Midlands Police:
“The right of a journalist to protect his or her sources is fundamental to a free press in a democracy. My actions in this case were overwhelmingly in the public interest. They led to the release of six innocent men after 17 years in prison, the winding up of the notorious West Midlands Serious Crimes Squad and the quashing of a further 30 or so wrongful convictions. This case also resulted in the setting up a Royal Commission which, among other reforms, led to the setting up of the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the quashing of another 500 or more wrongful convictions. My investigation is also the main reason why the identity of three of the four bombers is known." 

NUJ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet in a statement:  “This judgment is a hopeful beacon at a time when we rely more than ever on dependable news, despite journalists facing mounting legal challenges. Few reporters have been more courageous and dogged than Chris Mullin, nor have they been so spectacularly vindicated. This case threatened press freedom and amounted to another attempt to criminalise the legitimate actions of journalists. In refusing this production order, the judge has recognised the principle that the NUJ will always defend – that protecting sources underpins every journalist’s ability to report."


Thursday, 9 December 2021

Media Quotes of the Year 2021: Riots, Royal rows, jail threats, abuse, Morgan, Murdoch and Neil

It was a year that began with reporters attacked while covering the Capitol riot in Washington and ended with journalists in Afghanistan fearing for their lives after the Taliban takeover. In the UK, there was a royal row over racism, the BBC was rocked by the Martin Bashir-Princess Di interview scandal and new TV channel GB News got off to a shaky start with the departure of Andrew Neil. My Media Quotes of the Year 2021 can be read here on InPublishing magazine.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Media Quotes of the Week: From ITV reporter asks Boris Johnson if everything is okay to Royal Family blasts BBC over Princes and the Press documentary

ITV reporter to the Prime Minister: “In your speech to the CBI, you lost your notes, you lost your place, you went off on a tangent about Peppa Pig. Frankly, is everything okay?"

Andrew Darling in a letter to The Times [£]:
 "Sir, Hugo Rifkind (Comment, Nov 16) is right to suggest that the reason the prime minister turned up at the Cenotaph looking neat and respectable is that he did not have time to scruff himself up beforehand. When I was news editor at Channel Four News in the 1990s one of my tasks was to escort guests from reception via make-up to the studio. I recall the evening when I collected Boris Johnson and took him to make-up, where his face was duly powdered and his hair neatly brushed. Virtually his first action on then setting off to be interviewed by Jon Snow was to run both hands vigorously through his hair until he once again, as Rifkind rightly describes it, resembled someone whose second job is 'being tied to a pole in a field with a turnip for a head'.”

Stewart Purvis on Twitter:
"Nadine Dorries tells @CommonsDCMS Channel 4’s future should be ‘brought into question,particularly when it is in receipt of taxpayers’ money. It is our responsibility to evaluate whether taxpayers are receiving value for money’. Channel 4 receives no taxpayers’ money."

Paul Dacre, in a letter to The Times [£], reveals he will not be reapplying to be the new chair of Ofcom: "To anyone from the private sector, who, God forbid, has convictions, and is thinking of applying for a public appointment, I say the following: the civil service will control (and leak) everything; the process could take a year in which your life will be put on hold; and if you are possessed of an independent mind and are unassociated with the liberal-left, you will have more chance of winning the lottery than getting the job. Me? After my infelicitous dalliance with the Blob, I’m taking up an exciting new job in the private sector that, in a climate that is increasingly hostile to business, struggles to create the wealth to pay for all those senior civil servants working from home so they can spend more time exercising on their Peloton bikes and polishing their political correctness, safe in the knowledge that it is they, not elected politicians, who really run this country."

George Osborne on Twitter: "I admired Dacre’s forceful editorship of the Mail even if I was often on the wrong end of it. Can’t quite understand why he - like others of his ilk - wielded such power, got the government, the PM and the Brexit he wanted, and still thinks the system is stacked against him."

Press Gazette reports: "Former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre is returning to his advisory editor-in-chief position at Mail publisher DMG Media, just three weeks after leaving the same role."

Rory Cellan-Jones on Twitter: "Blimey. As the Chinese saying goes if you sit by the river long enough you’ll see the body of Geordie Greig go floating by. Makes Succession look like The Vicar of Dibley."

Andrew Marr on Twitter:
 "Personal announcement. After 21 years, I have decided to move on from the BBC.l leave behind many happy memories and wonderful colleagues. But from the New Year I am moving to Global to write and present political and cultural shows, and to write for newspapers...I think British politics and public life are going to go through an even more turbulent decade, and as I’ve said, I am keen to get my own voice back."

Bill Browder on Twitter:
 "The 2021 winner of the Magnitsky Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalist is Catherine Belton. She has exposed the crimes of the Putin regime in ways that nobody has ever done before. She’s now paid a very dear price in their retaliation with multiple abusive libel suits."

Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace and Clarence House in a joint-statement on BBC2 documentary The Princes and the Press, as reported by the Mail:
 "A free, responsible and open Press is of vital importance to a healthy democracy. However, too often overblown and unfounded claims from unnamed sources are presented as facts and it is disappointing when anyone, including the BBC, gives them credibility."
  • David Aaronovitch on Twitter: "Just watched the first part of BBC2’s Royals and the press series. I am struck by how much time, money and intelligent people’s effort is spent on earnest discussion of what is, when all is said and done, fatuous, gossipy nonsense."


Thursday, 18 November 2021

Media Quotes of the Week: From terrorist attack coverage shows why local journalism matters to no return to the pre-Covid full-time newsroom

David Higgerson on Twitter:
"When we talk about how "Journalism Matters" in the future, I hope we bang the drum for @LiveEchoNews and their coverage of the terrorist incident at the Women's Hospital yesterday. A beacon of accurate, reliable, information, making it clear what the team did know, and what... they were seeking answers too. Told readers how they were getting information, and ensured 'boots on the ground' late into the night. Well done - local journalism at its absolute best."

The Spectator's
Steerpike column on Geordie Greig leaving the Daily Mail and Ted Verity being made editor of both the Mail and Mail on Sunday
"Verity was a key lieutenant to Paul Dacre during the latter's long editorship of the Mail. His ascent into the Daily Mail hotseat will be seen as a final victory for Dacre's allies in the ten-year war against Greig and his backers, which began when the Old Etonian was editing the Mail on Sunday. As one hack remarked to Mr S: 'Dacre always gets his man'."

Sean Ingle in the Guardian on its former football correspondent David Lacey, who has died aged 83:
 "The Azteca in Mexico City was his favourite stadium. It was here he saw the favourite game of his career, Italy’s 4-3 victory in the 1970 World Cup semi-final, and England crash out of the 1986 World Cup to Argentina. He began his report of the latter match with a classic Laceyism, telling his readers: 'The sorcery, not to mention the sauce of Diego Maradona, ended England’s World Cup hopes last night'.”

Reach Midlands political editor Jonathan Walker, quoted by HoldtheFrontPage, after six northern dailies united to run the same front page urging Boris Johnson to keep his promise on rail improvements: “Hard to understand how the Government got itself into this mess. Also, there’s no point briefing national papers about a massive boost for the North if you haven’t thought about how regional papers in the North will report your policy'."

political editor Harry Cole on Twitter: "
PM tells pool clip in response to sleaze questions: 'I just want to salute you and the media for keeping going on this.' Well it is rich pickings..."

Piers Morgan
on Twitter: "
Amusing to hear @OliverDowden tell Nick Robinson on Radio 4 that Britain is not corrupt because ministers are subjected to tough broadcast interviews. Mr Dowden boycotted
@GMB for 8 months along with Boris & the entire cabinet - to avoid tough broadcast interviews."

Marina Hyde in the Guardian:
"What a mania for sympathetic placemen this government does have. Surely there should be some kind of body charged with overseeing “new broom” appointments such as Dacre’s? Call it the Office of Coming Under New Tutelage (Ofcunt). But listen – I love the idea of a fresh face, and Paul, 73, seems the ideal candidate. This is the movie Sunset Boulevard could have been, if only Billy Wilder had had the balls: one in which Norma Desmond is called back into the studio and cast in Roman Holiday instead of Audrey Hepburn. So much more jolly than Paul mouldering away in his mansion and shooting a writer (probably me, after this article)."

The Good Law Project in a statement: "The reason why Ofcom must remain independent of Government is the same reason the media must remain independent of Government: neither can do their job if they are in the Government’s pocket. We’re asking the Secretary of State to explain why the competition for Chair is being rerun and why Mr Dacre is being allowed to reapply. We want proper answers from the Government. If we don’t get them, we expect to take legal action."

Conor Matchett in The Scotsman: "Members of the public should be given the right to take over local newspapers at risk of closure and the Scottish Government should set up a new institute dedicated to supporting public interest journalism, a report has said. The recommendations, which also include the Scottish Government investing at least a quarter of its annual advertising budget in the press, come as part of a report published  by the Public Interest Journalism Working Group...The report’s central recommendation calls for the creation of an independent Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute which would administer grant funding and donations for public interest journalism projects and publications, while being self-funded after initial backing by the Scottish Government."

 Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Asia program coordinator, in a statement: “The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the release of American journalist Danny Fenster from prison in Myanmar, where he has been unjustly held for nearly six months. Myanmar authorities should follow this gesture with the immediate release of the dozens of other journalists held in prison merely for doing their job of reporting the news.”

Reuters Institute report Changing Newsrooms 2021 states: "The return to the office is underway but with COVID-19 lingering in a number of countries, progress remains uneven and uncertain. Many will find newsrooms very different places to the ones they left. For some, the office has disappeared completely. This report, which is based on a survey of 132 senior industry leaders from 42 countries as well as a series of in-depth interviews, makes clear that ‘hybrid working’ will soon be the norm for the vast majority of journalists in many news organisations – with some people in the office and others working remotely – and that the industry is still struggling with attracting talent and addressing lack of diversity."

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Media Quotes of the Week: Sleaze-busting scoops shame Government to Prince Harry says support honest journalists not 'pirates with press cards'

Dominic Ponsford on Press Gazette: "As Boris Johnson’s government, and Parliament itself, are engulfed in yet more sleaze scandals it is worth noting how many entries in this year’s British Journalism Awards involved exposing allegations of corruption and incompetence...No fewer than four of the eight nominations for the prestigious Scoop of the Year prize this year focused on allegations of UK government corruption, sleaze and incompetence. They were:

Alan Rusbridger on Twitter: 
"Great reporting by @thesundaytimes & @openDemocracy shows beyond doubt that the going rate for a peerage - ie to make laws for the rest of us - is £3m. Is Johnson really going to press on and handpick who regulates our media as well? Looks like it. Sleazy does it."

David Yelland on Twitter:
 "It was the Daily Mail wot did it for Paterson, not the PM...Geordie Greig take a bow, Daily Mail’s six pages on Owen Paterson corruption scandal is superb, two spreads, two columns, a leader; skewers Whittingdale too, a man who attacks BBC to please press backers."

Adam Boulton, who is leaving Sky News after 33 years, on the rise of opinion-led news in television, 
in The Times [£]“I have no reason to think that’s the direction we [at Sky] want to go. However, it irritates me. To me the hard work, where we expend blood and tears — and there really is blood sometimes: Mick Deane [the cameraman and journalist] was killed [in Egypt in 2015] — is news-gathering in the field. It’s much easier to sit in the studio, let other people gather the news and then bloviate about it.”

BBC News reports: "A report by the Survivors Against Terror group suggested new rules for journalists reporting attacks. They include an agreement not to contact the bereaved and seriously injured directly for at least the first 48 hours after an incident. It is also suggested that the use of pictures of those killed or injured without permission stops and journalists gathering outside victims' homes is prohibited."

Matthew Parris in The Times [£]: "
In politics and journalism, friendship is more corrupting than money."

Jamie Nimmo in the Sunday Times [£]:
"A decision to privatise Channel 4 is facing delays after the new culture secretary Nadine Dorries was overwhelmed by opposition to a sale of The Great British Bake Off broadcaster. Dorries was due to respond this month to submissions made in relation to plans to offload Channel 4, which is state-owned but self-funded through advertising. However, after a flood of opposition, her response is now not expected until next month or January, delaying any sale. The government is understood to have received 60,000 submissions."

Elaine McCarthyin a letter to the Observer: "As a long-term resident of Harlow, I think a big barrier to cohesion in this sprawling town (“Revealed: the towns at risk from far-right extremism”, News) is the absence of a proper local newspaper, the sort of newspaper that includes obituaries, club news and civil announcements. The online offering of local news lacks the opportunity of lucky finds. So if a resident in one part of the town has no knowledge of the happenings in another, apathy, it seems, is all too easy."

Prince Harry in a virtual discussion on “The Internet Lie Machine” organised by Wired magazine:
“I really feel we have to invest in and support professional, honest journalists who respect and uphold the values of journalism, not the pirates with press cards who have hijacked the most powerful industry in the world. I would love to see a movement to expose the unethical, the immoral and dishonest amongst them.”