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."