Talk about Newsnight

A blog and forum.

Bravery in the face of mental illness

  • Jeremy Paxman
  • 22 Jan 08, 06:29 PM

pax203x100.jpgI know we're supposed not to be partisan, or to pass judgement on those we interview.

But I have to say that of all the many politicians it has been my (occasionally painful) duty to interview over the years, Mr Bondevik comes pretty near the top. ( Watch it here.)

It's so rare to find man talking with such frankness and courage about such a charged and sensitive subject.

For some reason, mental ill-health retains an aura, which seems at times to make it almost impossible to talk about it sensibly. Quite why this should be, when so many of us are going to suffer from depression or other illnesses, I don't know.

Enlightened voters

I suspect it's because we're frightened of it ourselves. How much better it would be if we could all treat it as we treat physical conditions, like 'flu or cancer or a broken arm.

Mr Bondevik's honesty in putting his cards on the table and telling the people of Norway what was going on in his mind and in his life is admirable. But the reaction of Norwegian voters is just as impressive.

They voted him back into office. If I was being glum, I'd say that it would never happen here because the party leader would find himself the victim of lots of headlines about “Voting for a Loony”.

But don't tell me there's any reason we should be less enlightened than the Norwegians.


There are many organisations that provide help to those that suffer from mental illness. The following is a seleciton of some of them.

Stand to Reason
Mental Health

Tuesday, 22 January, 2008

  • Newsnight
  • 22 Jan 08, 05:05 PM

markets203x100.jpgAnother day of turmoil on the markets. The US Federal Reserve tried to pre-empt the opening of the US stock exchange with a whopping 0.75% cut in interest rates. Even so, the Dow Jones dropped sharply within minutes.

Tonight, we'll devote much of the programme to analysing what all this means. Paul Mason will look at the impact on the global economy, and Stephanie Flanders will assess what - if anything - the government and the Bank of England can do to prevent a downturn here. We'll be re-convening Newsnight's own Monetary Policy Committee. Do they think the Bank should follow the Fed with a cut in interest rates next week?

Also - some have said it's the most bad-tempered Presidential debate they've seen. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton may be in the same party, but last night's Democratic debate in South Carolina laid bare the growing ill-feeling between the two candidates. So catty were the exchanges that the third and largely overlooked John Edwards ended up appealing to both candidates to stop squabbling and think about the bigger picture. We'll be speaking to a leading Democrat about whether the tone of the race might damage the party in the long term.

And - the government wants everyone to learn cookery in school. They hope it will mean Britain's kids will eat more healthily. And tomorrow, ministers will unveil their strategy to combat obesity. So we've been back to visit a group of teenagers we first met late last year. They were on a special programme - called MEND - which aims to help them lose weight by bringing the whole family into the process. Lots of them really benefited from the course. Six months on - how are they doing?

Emergency meeting of Newsnight MPC

  • Newsnight
  • 22 Jan 08, 03:07 PM

The US Federal Reserve has cuts interest rates to 3.5% in a desperate bid to stave off a looming recession.

mpc203x152.jpgThe rate cut came after global stocks had tumbled on Monday, posting their worst day since the attacks of 11 September 2001.

So, how bad is it going to get? Are we really facing a recession as some of the apocalyptic headline writers would have us believe or is the UK economy strong enough to see out this latest financial storm?

In an effort to find some definitive answers we decided to call an emergency meeting of the fabled Newsnight Monetary Policy Committee (MPC).

So what would you like to ask our expert panel?

Is it legal to compost your loved ones?

  • Justin Rowlatt -
  • 22 Jan 08, 11:52 AM

I bring grave news: a legal dispute compels me to disturb the remains of Ethical Man.

compost_man.jpgRegular Newsnight viewers and readers of this blog will recall that the corpse of Ethical Man was laid to rest by Britain’s King of Compost, John Cossham, in a specially designed compost bin in his suburban garden in York. We judged composting was the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of a human cadaver.

I’d imagined that that would be the end of the story; the memory of Ethical Man would gradually rot away leaving little more than a rich loam. Unfortunately it was not to be. A legal battle rages over our chosen method of disposal... Ethical Man cannot rest in peace.

The claim is that we gave “false information on law”. It is a serious claim and is the subject of a formal complaint to the BBC.

So what is at issue? Well, before Ethical Man lowered himself into his compost grave I said that the only problem was that “it isn’t actually legal to compost human beings”. We felt that we could side-step this because – and this may surprise some readers – I wasn’t actually composted.

The complaint is that this is not an accurate representation of the law. The complainant, who says he is an expert on the law relating to dying and death, says that “there is no law that I know of which proscribes the composting of bodies”.

He asked me to check the true legal position and issue a correction. I have to admit that I failed to do this. I’ll be honest here - after the demise of Ethical Man I wanted to move on. I didn’t want to let his shadow affect the rest of my working life. I moved on to new journalistic pastures (on the One Show) and forgot about the legal complexities of composting corpses.

justin_203x177.jpgSo is it legal? Well, I’ve spoken to the ultimate authority on this subject, the Ministry of Justice and as so often in law it appears there is no clear answer. The problem seems to be that no-one has actually tested the law to find out if it is legal.

Under the Births and Deaths legislation all deaths must be registered and when they are, the registrar issues a certificate for the body to be buried or cremated. The person responsible for the disposal of the body then has to certify to the registrar that the body has been disposed of by burial or cremation.

So what if someone composted the body instead? If the registrar did not receive a certificate of burial or cremation then they might refer the disposal to a local environmental health officer who would then have to decide whether composting was a suitable method of disposal.

Test case needed

The law on burials is not clear whether it would be. The Ministry of Justice says that all the law says is that the body/coffin should be at least three feet below ground level (or no less than two feet in certain circumstances).

There is no requirement for a coffin (which would slow the composting process) but a body would be expected to be covered so as to avoid an offence to public decency.

The Ministry of Justice adds one final coda. We suggested it might be a good idea to chop the body up into little pieces to ensure a rapid and aerobic compost. The Ministry warns that any attempt to dismember the body would have to comply with the Human Tissue Act 2004 and that dismemberment might in itself be regarded as an offence to public decency.

In short then, what is needed is a test case to clear up the law on this important subject. So please help. If you are considering composting your corpse or that of a loved one do please contact us so we can follow the process.

Prospects for Tuesday, 22 January

  • Newsnight
  • 22 Jan 08, 10:27 AM

Today's programme producer is Liz Gibbons. Here's her early email to the production team - what do you think we should cover?

Hello all,

Markets - "all eyes will be on the Dow when it opens". Neil Breakwell says this is already a cliché. What are the big questions we can ask and who should we be asking them of? As things stand we can devote a big chunk of the programme to it.

The Czech opposition leader is in town - he's a big opponent of the US missile defence system. Good opportunity to look at the issue?

Barack v Hillary - wouldn't mind having a quick look at the debate - did Obama lose it and is he losing it?

We should keep an eye on Gaza and the Palestinian PM visit.

And we have a film marking the anniversary of the Courtauld Institute.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites