Andrew Rawnsley presents the third programme in a new series of the live, studio-based debate programmes which take the form of newspaper leader conferences.
He is joined by five prominent journalists, who write leading articles or editorials for their newspapers, representing the press in the nations of the UK and across the English regions as well as the leading national newspapers.
Three subjects in the news will be decided upon and discussed. Two of these reflect current events at home and abroad - and prompt lively and provocative discussion. The third subject is in a lighter vein.
Contributions from listeners are also encouraged throughout the programme and particularly at the start for the component they shape most: that final leader which is heard towards the end of the programme.
Following the discussion of each of the three subjects, Andrew invites one of his guests to draw up on air the "leader" for that subject setting out its main points. This important component of the programme helps ensure that resolution of the debate is achieved for listeners and that the full range of views expressed is reflected.
The leaders are posted online at the Radio 4 website following the programme.
Producer Simon Coates.
Google and “the right to be forgotten”; India’s democracy; and the legacy of Stephen Sutton.
In the third edition of the latest series of Leader Conference, Andrew Rawnsley was joined by Mary Riddell of the Daily Telegraph; Paddy Smyth of the Irish Times; Mary Ann Sieghart; Aditya Chakrabortty of the Guardian; and David Williamson of the Western Mail.
We debated: Google and “the right to be forgotten”; India’s democracy; and the legacy of Stephen Sutton.
A right that’s wrong
The decision by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg this week that EU citizens could demand that the Google search engine delete links to embarrassing personal information online is a ruling with profound implications for freedom of speech.
The judges of the ECJ had to determine whether an individual’s wish to leave behind unpleasant personal history trumped the public’s right to know. These are not absolute rights; they have to be balanced against each other. But the way in which the judges ruled concerns us. They decided that a newspaper can lawfully publish information about an individual’s tax problems, but Google is not entitled to provide links to it if the individual objects. Unlike the newspaper, Google is not fulfilling journalistic purposes but processing data which, the court ruled, could endanger the right to privacy, simply as a result of Google’s vast distributional power.
The lack of precision in the court’s ruling is troubling. We have several concerns about its likely effects. First, the rich and powerful could varnish their past online in a way that might not be open to the less well-off. Secondly, even if Google deletes links, the troublesome information could remain on individual websites and be stored on others. Thirdly, Google may have to create extensive new procedures to handle deletion requests. Who will pay? Fourthly, the decision does not apply to jurisdictions outside the EU, potentially resulting in different standards of knowledge in the US and Europe. This elevates privacy too high and is not in the public interest. We prefer a simpler, less bureaucratic and onerous regime: social networks which accumulate private information should be required to notify users annually of the information held on them and asked if they object to its retention.
Finally, the so-called “right to be forgotten” – which was cited in this case – is not a right but a claim. We worry about its misuse. It could threaten freedom of speech and of the press, especially where information is true. Privacy should not extend as far as rewriting history.
Modi under the microscope
To democrats India remains a shining beacon as it prepares to declare later this week the results of its general election. Set against the apathy which besets British democracy, a turnout of more than 550 million people – 66% of the electorate – over the six-week cycle of voting is humbling. But truly to stand tallest among Asian nations, India’s new rulers will need to honour the people’s faith in democracy.
Exit polls forecast a humiliating defeat for the ruling coalition led by the Congress party. If so, we shall not mourn their losses. In recent times it has behaved less like a democratic party and more like a syndicate seeking and dispensing favours. Corruption and nepotism are endemic. Economic growth has slowed dramatically.
It seems likely that the Hindu nationalist BJP, now led by Narendra Modi, will return to power on a wave of revulsion against Congress. But to be a truly national leader, Mr Modi needs to reform himself, notably on human rights. We recall that in 2002, more than a thousand people, mostly Muslims, were killed in religious riots in the state of Gujarat shortly after Mr Modi became its chief minister. He did little to stop those disturbances and spoke callously about the loss of life. For all the recent polishing up of his image as a consensual figure, we remain sceptical and want to see true leadership.
India’s economy also requires his attention. Freer trade and more open markets can help boost growth and improve lives across the country. The stock market has already risen sharply, anticipating a BJP win. But a more business-friendly environment should not mean rewards for the BJP’s commercial backers. To match China’s growth rates, India needs economically bolder, less stridently nationalist and more inclusive policies from Delhi and from Mr Modi than the BJP has espoused in the past.
So much so young
Stephen Sutton, the Staffordshire teenager who valiantly fought bowel cancer for four years and encouraged more than £3 million in donations to the Teenage Cancer Trust, captured the public imagination. Individual effort, enriched with collective support – harnessing the power for good which social media can offer – can be transformative. But his story has lessons too for the way in which the media presents the lives of those with life-limiting illnesses. Following his diagnosis, Stephen showed what he believed: that life lived as an adventure confers joy and meaning not only on the person directly affected but on countless others by unlocking the power of human generosity. His legacy is simple, poignant and a lesson to us all.