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Archives for January 2011

Popular Elsewhere

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Clare Spencer | 15:06 UK time, Monday, 31 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The Times' most popular story tells the distilled wisdom of a sex diary researcher. Arianne Cohen says the sex diarists who are happy all have two things in common: they know what their needs are and they feel as if they are on the path to having them met.

One of the Guardian's most popular stories is Charlie Brooker's take on the phone-hacking scandal. "It's like Watergate, but better, because it stars Sienna Miller and Steve Coogan. Excitingly, the bigger the scandal gets, the greater the likelihood that one day we'll get to see them playing themselves in the movie adaptation," he says.

The Telegraph's most read story says Tunisia and Egypt's protests show the weak grip of authoritarian regimes in poor countries that import grain. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard predicts food protests will spread to Asia.

Slate magazine's most read article is headlined "the enema of your enemy is your friend". It's based on news that faecal transplants are being used to cure c difficile infections.

Proving popular with New Scientist readers is a study which disputes previous beliefs that brains measure time by using an internal clock that generates events at a relatively regular rate. Instead, it found busy people feel time passing slower.

Green Room

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Mark Kinver | 14:35 UK time, Monday, 31 January 2011

This edition of Green Room takes a look at the growing row over UK government plans to dispose of land owned by the Forestry Commission, and how a disease has left conservationists fearing for the long-term future of some of the nation's most loved trees.

If you can't go into the woods today...

As the UN Year of Forests prepares for its official launch, the UK government finds itself facing a growing level of opposition to its consultation on disposing of land owned by the Forestry Commission.

Oak shoot (Image: BBC)


The Sunday Telegraph newspaper is leading the media charge with its Save our Forests campaign.

A growing number of high-profile people are lending their names to the call to keep the forests in public ownership.

Broadcaster (Lord) Melvin Bragg, according to the Guardian, has described plans to sell off forests within the Lake District as "political vandalism".

However, it is worth remembering that the UK does not have a forest culture that is deeply engrained in its national history, in comparison with other European nations such as Germany.

The Forestry Commission was established back in 1919, when it was realised that the nation was so dependant on timber imports from forest-rich nations that its industrial might was vulnerable during wartime to shipping blockades.

For decades, from the time the commission planted its first trees on 8 December 1919 in Devon, the dominant view was that the UK tree management policy should follow a "whatever the cost" attitude.

However, the combination of the emergence of alternative materials and net afforestation in Europe saw this argument lose weight.

Instead the commission evolved into a multi-objective organisation as a result of the public's increasing demand for recreation and environmental services such as nature protection. By the end of the 1990s, a greater volume of broadleaved species were being planted than conifers.

This is not the first time that a government has attempted to dispose of commission-owned forests in order to boost the public coffers.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, some forests were sold by the then-Conservative government. However, ministers again faced strong opposition, so plans for further privatisation were ditched in the mid-1990s.

Among the current concerns being voiced by campaigners is that the majority of bidders will be organisations that will want to develop the land.

Trees face uncertain future

Whether or not this will be the case remains to be seen, but it does not appear to be a good time to buy a woodland, either broadleaf or conifer.

There is growing concern about the possible impact of a disease that has now being recorded in all corners of the UK. Sudden oak death, the result of a fungal infection, affects a number of tree species, not just English oaks.

In fact, the Forestry Commission says it has only affected five native oak trees to date, and describe the "sudden oak death" term as a misnomer, preferring to call it ramorum disease.

In 2009, it was found to be affecting Japanese larches in South-West England - these were the first recorded occurences in coniferous species. Since then, cases have been recorded in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Advice from Forest Research - the scientific arm of the Forestry Commission - says Phytophthora ramorum kills many of the trees that it infects, and could have serious impacts on trees, woodland, forest industries and the wider environment.

Conservationists are worried, warning that failure to contain the spread of the disease could have a devastating impact, threatening species that depend on woodland habitats for their survival.

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:46 UK time, Monday, 31 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The Guardian says final interviews to find a successor to Sir Michael Lyons take place today. The two front-runners are widely seen as Lord Patten, former Tory Cabinet minister, and Sir Richard Lambert, former editor of the Financial Times and director of the CBI. The paper says "Patten's Conservative background is not seen as a hindrance by Liberal Democrats and Lord Smith, a Labour peer and former Culture Secretary."

The Daily Mail says the BBC has responded to accusations of ageism by making 63-year-old Julia Somerville the presenter of one its main evening news bulletins. Miss Somerville fronted the late-evening bulletin on Saturday - the first time she has featured on such a prime BBC slot since 1987.

Andrew Pierce says in the Daily Mail the BBC sent "no fewer than 36 staff" to cover the Davos Economic Forum. Sky sent one reporter, and ITV a grand total of three staff. He says the Chancellor George Osborne, the architect of the public spending cuts, was not impressed and was overheard saying: "The BBC has legions of people. Hundreds. They're everywhere."
A BBC spokesman said: "The team has been carefully monitored to ensure value for money and they were reporting for a wide range of BBC outlets on television, radio and online."

Richard Desmond plans to move his Northern & Shell empire, which owns the Daily Star, Sunday Star, Daily Express and Sunday Express, out of London to a new development in Luton reports the Guardian. It will include a £100m printing facility and offices for up to 1,000 editorial staff. Desmond is seeking permission from Luton borough council to develop a site near Luton airport.

The BBC's newspaper review says the anti-government protests on the streets of Egypt continue to enthral the papers.

Daily View: Protests in Egypt

Clare Spencer | 08:18 UK time, Monday, 31 January 2011

People praying in front of tanks in Cairo 30th January 2011

Commentators discuss the significance of Egypt's protests. Associate journalism professor at the American University in Cairo Firas Al-Atraqchi says on al-Jazeera's website that protesters will not be put off by force:
"Listening to the protesters, one gets the feeling that they have not been deterred by the severity of the beatings; rather, their resolve has been hardened. In an unprecedented show of civil disobedience and open revolt, young Egyptians have clearly and forcibly delivered a message that is still resonating in the Middle East and North Africa: Authoritarian rule in the region is over."

In the Telegraph Richard Spencer argues the implications are huge for the West and Israel as the US decides whether it will be able to trust a new regime's foreign policy:

"America faces the same fundamental dilemma that the former power Britain failed to resolve in the decades leading up to the Suez Crisis. Do you trust 80 million Egyptians to determine their own foreign policy, in this most vital of regions? It takes a braver superpower than Britain to say yes."

The executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative Bassma Kodmani predicts in the Financial Times that the post-Mubarak era may mean Egyptians are no longer caught between military rule and the Muslim Brotherhood:

"Leaders in Cairo and Washington worry about Islamists taking over. Yet it seems the Brotherhood was as surprised by the uprising as the government and opposition, while its leadership has been slow to read the new politics of Egypt. They have been reluctant to fall in behind the social movements that have mushroomed across the country, and are now divided over strategy. Their younger members are also frustrated with the movement's ageing leaders - a picture that replicates exactly the structure of the regime they seek to overturn. A weakened, fractured Brotherhood should present no mortal threat to Egypt's future.
"Egyptians now expect the announcement of a democratic transition process that will put an end to their political conundrum of having to put up with military rule to prevent the advent of the Muslim Brothers. They have yet to find out whether the voice of the 'street' is strong enough to prevent the establishment from successfully concocting a managed scenario."

Syndicated columnist Trudy Rubin fears in the Miami Herald among other papers that Egypt's history will prevent democracy:

"The sclerotic regime of Hosni Mubarak insists the only alternative to its misrule is an Islamist takeover. But the Mubarak government has created a self-fulfilling prophecy, leaving no political space for moderate movements to develop. Elections are rigged, and fake charges are cooked up to throw moderate political opponents in jail."

The director of research at Freedom House Arch Puddington disagrees in the Jerusalem Post:

"The fact that countries like El Salvador, South Korea and Romania overcame legacies of repression and poverty to attain democratic governance suggests that it would be a serious mistake to write off prospects for the Arab world. But if their revolutions are to succeed, Arab democrats must prevail over both a powerful legacy of autocracy and those forces aligned with the autocrats - the very people who are hoping for the status quo's survival - as well as religious extremists, who likewise disdain a democratic path."

Links in full

Firas Al-Atraqchi | Al Jazeera | Egyptian youth and new dawn hopes
Richard Spencer | Telegraph | Egypt crisis: Will Barack Obama trust 80 million Egyptians?
Bassma Kodmani | Financial Times | Army will craft a post-Mubarak era
Arch Puddington | Jerusalem Post | The legacy of Arab autocracy
Trudy Rubin | Miami Herald | Who speaks for moderate Arabs?

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:55 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The Telegraph reports the former culture secretary Tessa Jowell has alerted police about an attempt to hack into her mobile phone voicemail as recently as last week. She told BBC News: "I am not making a claim that my phone was unlawfully hacked into... My phone provider said an attempt had been made to access my voicemail and I am now trying to establish the status of that attempt."

The Guardian says the former culture secretary Tessa Jowell has hired lawyers to seek to discover who hacked into her phone on 28 separate occasions in 2006, as the scandal engulfing the News of the World prompts a growing list of public figures to seek legal redress.

Stephen Glover in the Independent questions the role of Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive of News International, who was editor of the NOTW from 2000 until 2003 and then editor of The Sun. He writes: "It is not necessary to prove she had personal knowledge of phone hacking... to conclude that she is not the right person either to sort out this mess or to restore the battered reputation of News International."

A BBC television programme that encouraged 20 dogs to foul a residential street in Lancashire has been criticised by a council leader. Producers of The Street That Cut Everything used the dog mess to try to depict what life could be like if council services were withdrawn. Preston Council's Conservative leader, Ken Hudson, said it was not a good way to spend licence fee-payers' money. The BBC reports Tory MP Stephen Hammond said he would complain to media regulator Ofcom.

The Daily Mail says the BBC was last night accused of 'outrageous scaremongering' about the impact of public spending cuts after commissioning a documentary in which a street has all its council services taken away. The programme is to be peesented by BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

Amazon has announced that in the US it sold more e-books for its Kindle device than it sold paperback books in the last three months of 2010 reports the BBC. But its profit margins were down as it spent money on discounting, acquisitions and building new depots.

The BBC's newspaper review says the unrest in Egypt is widely covered in the papers on what the Independent calls the country's "day of reckoning". After police warned they may be unable to control demonstrations, the Daily Telegraph suggests Egypt "appeared to be on the brink of revolution".

Links in full

Telegraph | Tessa Jowell alerts police to fresh attempt to hack her mobile phone voicemail last week
Guardian | Phone-hacking row escalates as Tessa Jowell speaks out
Independent | How Rupert Murdoch lost control of his own story
BBC | BBC dog mess experiment in Lancashire condemned
Daily Mail | BBC 'council cuts' film farce: Producers bring in 20 dogs to foul street to show what would happen if services were removed
BBC | Amazon Kindle e-book downloads outsell paperbacks
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Thursday's Media Brief

Daily View: Privatising forests

Clare Spencer | 10:29 UK time, Friday, 28 January 2011

Commentators discuss the government's plans to sell off publicly-owned forests.

In the Telegraph Peter Oborne brands the plans as "savage attack on Britain's woodland":

"[T]here is also the sharp-suited side to Cameron: the careerist moderniser who is so removed from ordinary decency that he hires the former News of the World editor Andy Coulson (still today in his Downing Street office!) as his director of communications. This is the same Cameron who authorises a savage attack on Britain's woodland, so much part of our common heritage and (to use the eloquent phrase of Professor David Marquand) our public domain. The Forestry Commission is probably the most enduring and finest legacy of the Conservative/Liberal coalition government which came to grief in 1922. What a shame it would be if another Tory/Liberal Coalition killed it off, 90 years later."

But the Guardian editorial says the proposals are "not as terrifying as some had feared":

"It rejects selling all commission land to the private sector, and proposes that the commission keeps its present role overseeing the country's forests, whoever owns them. There is no plan for a chainsaw massacre of England's ancient oaks. But nor, among its options, is there a proposal for leaving the commission unchanged on the grounds that, however flawed, it does quite a few things well. The government is determined that the state ceases to own and run forests directly - an approach shaped by ideology and financial circumstance before practical understanding."

The Independent editorial says it is a measure of the lack of trust in modern politics that no one seems to believe the Environment Secretary when she says that England's forests will be safe in the hands of private owners:

"A sale would be bad for wildlife and restrict public access to the land, the public feels. The minister, Caroline Spelman, says measures will be put in place to prevent that... In the 1990s, the Conservative government under John Major abandoned a less ambitious sell-off in the face of a public outcry. Perhaps the public mood will change as cuts begin to bite. But for the Government to push this idea now is ill-advised."

Secretary of State for Environment Caroline Spelman defends her decision in the Times. The article is headlined "I can see the wood for the trees":

"We are not simply going to sell off our precious forests to the highest bidder. We are not going to allow England's forests to be bought up, chopped down and built over. This simply is not true. We're in fact uprating existing protections (such as the planning regime and felling licences that must be granted by the Forestry Commission) to secure the future of our woodlands, and enhance them over time. We want to see woodland cover increase - not just in quantity, but in quality too."

The Independent's environment editor Michael McCarthy's analysis explains that selling off even the most commercial forests will be tricky:

"Kielder Forest in Northumberland is a 'commercial' forest, its principal purpose being to produce wood. At 250 square miles, it is England's largest forest and timber producer, providing 25 per cent of our domestic timber, mainly from imported Sitka spruce and Norway spruce, which account for 84 per cent of the forest's trees.
"While Kielder may seem appropriate for commercial categorisation, it will require painstaking management, as it is home to 70 per cent of the UK's endangered red squirrels, driven to extinction in most of southern England, and shelters recovering populations of otters, ospreys and goshawks."

Links in full

Peter Oborne | Telegraph | The Coalition shouldn't throw our woodland on the quango bonfire
Guardian | Forestry Commission: Facing the chop
Independent | Safeguard the wood and the trees
Caroline Spelman | Times | I promise, I can see the wood for the trees
Michael McCarthy | Independent | This green and private land: 637,000 acres of woodland up for sale

Popular Elsewhere

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Clare Spencer | 14:32 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

In the Daily Mail's most read list is a story about a teenager in Leyland who was refused service at McDonalds because he was wearing a tracksuit. Scott Wilson, 16, returned 15 minutes later in a shirt and tie and was immediately served. It was because of the restaurant's zero tolerance policy banning under-18s wearing tracksuits after 7pm to prevent threatening behaviour by "yobs".

Proving popular with readers of the Independent is Julie Burchill's column mulling over the announcement that the sighting of a "fearsome monster" called the chupacabra was a hoax. She says the Fortean Times has named the animal the third most famous mythical beast after Bigfoot and Nessie. She adds "which sounds like an R&B producer duo about to open shop with Tinie Tempah".

The most read Washington Post Story claims the world's Muslim population will grow at double the rate of non-Muslims in the next 20 years. The analysis also predicts Pakistan will overtake Indonesia as the world's most populous Muslim nation.

The New Statesman's most popular story is by an insider at Sky Sports. The anonymous article explains how the channel got into a state where its top presenters felt so comfortable expressing crude, sexist opinions. They say the answer lies in the football department being run by the Malcolm Tucker of the TV industry.

The boss of Blackpool Football club, Ian Holloway, has confirmed he will receive a slice of the transfer fee for Charlie Adam, according to the Sun's most read story. The club has demanded £12m to buy their star player.

Daily View: World Service cuts

Clare Spencer | 12:01 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

BBC's Bush House

Commentators discuss the cuts at the BBC World Service.

The director of global news Peter Horrocks says in the BBC's editors' blog that quality will be maintained despite the cuts:

"In all the changes announced today, the aim has been to protect the WS, its quality and reputation and, where possible, our footprint. "Our choices are based on the needs of our audiences and the limited resources that we now have available."

The Times editorial suggests the cuts may have an adverse effect on diplomacy:

"Having now to find savings of £46 million a year may hurt not only the World Service's audience of 180 million listeners, but also Britain. As a tool of soft power, few marry softness with such power. It received £268 million last year. Pound for pound, it is one of Britain's punchiest brands."

Labour MP Paul Flynn echoes this sentiment in his blog, calling the cuts "mean and stupid":

"These cuts are cheese paring by politicians who cheerfully spend £4 billion a year on the futile Afghan war and £100s of millions on palatial embassies including a generous flow of champagne at their receptions. The World Service greatly serves our mission to spread our principles and values throughout the world."

The Independent editorial argues that the UK may now struggle to be noticed on the world stage:

"The Government claims that no public service can be exempt from the impending spending cuts. And there are undoubtedly inefficiencies in Bush House, the World Service headquarters in London. But the proposed cuts are too severe.
"The World Service helps to nourish democracy and political accountability across the world. Moreover, it produces much high-quality, impartial, and authoritative journalism. It exports British 'soft power' and remains an island of resistance to the global proliferation of celebrity news."

The director general of the BBC Mark Thompson says in the Telegraph that the World Service can survive these cuts:

"Supporters of the international role of the BBC should not despair. Our global TV and online presence is growing, and in many parts of the world the BBC is a more influential and widely heard voice today than at any point in our history. Across the globe, the audiences which will be lost to the BBC because of today's announcements may be made up by new TV and web audiences."

Update 1630: Melanie McDonagh in the Evening Standard says that cuts to some of the language services are "not a catastrophe":

"Granted, in some parts of the world, the World Service lives up to its own billing as a cherished purveyor of disinterested news: in Sri Lanka or Burma, say, it probably really does provide a valuable service and bolsters Britain's so-called 'soft power'.
"But in other parts, it's not actually needed. Government in the Balkans is scarily corrupt but it's not oppressive in a Burmese sense."

Links in full

Peter Horocks | BBC | Painful day for BBC World Service
Times | This is London
Paul Flynn | Read my day
Independent | A hard knock to soft power
Mark Thompson | Telegraph | The World Service can survive these cuts
Melanie McDonagh | Evening Standard | Life can carry on without the BBC World Service


Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:25 UK time, Thursday, 27 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

BSkyB has reported a 26% jump in profits, as it reached 10 million customers. Pre-tax profits rose to £467m in the last six months of 2010, with revenues up 15% to £3.2bn. The BBC reports earlier this week, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he intended to refer a bid by News Corporation for BSkyB to the Competition Commission, but not straight away.

Scotland Yard has reopened its investigation into phone hacking after the News of the World passed on "significant new information" alleged to implicate one of the paper's top executives. The paper has sacked its assistant editor (news), Ian Edmondson. The Guardian says Rupert Murdoch is in London to deal with the phone-hacking scandal and his corporation's bid for complete control of BSkyB.

The BBC has seen documents relating to the interior designer Kelly Hoppen, which suggest that phone-hacking may have been going on at the News of the World as recently as last year. She is the stepmother of the actor Sienna Miller; both are taking action against the paper.

The Daily Telegraph says William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, faced growing criticism from within the Conservative party over the cuts he has imposed on the BBC World Service. The BBC said they would cost the network 650 jobs and 30million listeners.

I analyse the scale of the World Service cuts and their likely impact. Peter Horrocks tells me: "Our lifeline services in countries like Somalia and Burma - where there is no other source of independent information - are being maintained, but there will be parts of the world which will no longer be served by the World Service."

A leading article in the Times on the World Service cuts says
the Foreign Office is "shirking the challenge of finding cost savings in its own backyard".

The Telegraph reports the presenter Richard Keys has resigned from Sky Sports in the wake of the row over sexist comments he made in a series of off-air recordings.

Ant McPartlin and Declan Donnelly have been named the best entertainment presenters at the National Television Awards for the 10th year running, reports the BBC. The Britain's Got Talent hosts thanked voters in a live video message. Bruce Forsyth was presented with the special recognition award. There were prizes for EastEnders, Waterloo Road, The Inbetweeners and the X Factor.

The BBC's newspaper review says the reopening of the police inquiry into phone hacking at the News of the World features on many front pages. "The next turn of the screw", is the Independent's headline, with the tabloid finally having abandoned its "rogue reporter" claim. The Daily Telegraph says officers are braced for an investigation lasting up to two years, costing millions.

Links in full

BBC | BSkyB reports big jump in profits
Guardian | Met police reopen investigation into phone hacking at News of the World
BBC | Phone hacking probe by Met faces scrutiny
Telegraph | William Hague faces Tory criticism over BBC World Service cuts
BBC | Critics warn of major impact of World Service cuts
Times | This is London
Telegraph | Richard Keys quits Sky Sports over role in sexism scandal
BBC | Ant and Dec scoop 10th National TV Award
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Wednesday's Media Brief

Popular Elsewhere

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Clare Spencer | 15:08 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Proving popular with Telegraph readers is news that China plans to create the largest mega city in the world. Nine cities will be merged to create a metropolis twice the size of Wales with a population of 42 million.

One of the Daily Mail's most read stories declares "it's a cover-up". The article is referring to a photo doctored by Iranian newspapers to raise the neckline of Baroness Ashton's outfit. The EU foreign policy chief was in Turkey leading an international meeting about Iran's nuclear programme.

Robert Fisk argues in the Independent's most read article that the leaked Palestinian files have put the Arab world in a "revolutionary mood". The confidential papers, published by al-Jazeera, document more than 10 years of secret US-brokered Middle East peace talks.

The Economist's most recommended article questions the link between inequality and social ills. It disputes the idea that the bigger the gap between rich and poor, the more likely there will be higher murder rates and lower life expectancy. Instead, the Economist says, policy makers should focus on ways to increase social mobility.

The New Scientist's most read article disagrees with Albert Einstein. It disputes his claim that quantum physics is a "gentle pillow" that lulls good physicists to sleep, instead the magazine calls it a masterpiece which has never been proved wrong and might even tell us where the Universe came from.

Sun readers prefer to catch up on the Sun's Football Player of the Year contenders. The Sun's six suggestions are Carlos Tevez, Samir Nasri, Rafael van der Vaart, Dimitar Berbatov, Charlie Adam, Gareth Bale.

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:39 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The Daily Telegraph says the BBC will today announce "devastating cuts" to the World Service, with at least 600 jobs to be lost and five foreign-language services to close. It says the cuts reflect a 16% cut in the World Service's £272m annual budget over the next three years, imposed by the coalition in last October's comprehensive spending review.

The BBC's Mark Thompson writes in the Telegraph that the cuts will be painful but the World Service can survive.

On Radio 4's Today, the NUJ's Jeremy Dear said the World Service cuts would cause "irreparable damage"

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Andy Gray, the Sky Sports presenter at the centre of a sexism storm following derogatory comments about a female official, has been sacked by the broadcaster in response to "new evidence of unacceptable and offensive behaviour". Sky Sports' managing director Barney Francis, who disciplined Gray and presenter Richard Keys for their comments, said he had "no hesitation" in summarily terminating Gray's contract. The Guardian says Keys is under new pressure over another video clip.

The King's Speech leads the nominations for this year's Academy Awards with 12 nods, including best film and best actor for Colin Firth. He is joined on the Oscars list by supporting actor nominees Helena Bonham Carter and Geoffrey Rush. The BBC reports the Coen brothers' Western remake True Grit has 10 nods while The Social Network and Inception have eight each.

Leading articles in the Independent and the Guardian criticise Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt following his announcement that he is deferring a decision on whether the News Corp bid for BSkyB should be referred to the Competition Commission

The BBC's newspaper review says the papers have plenty of advice for Chancellor George Osborne, as he deals with the unexpected fall in economic growth.

Links in full

Telegraph | BBC World Service to lose 600 jobs
Telegraph | The World Service can survive these cuts
BBC | 'Irreparable damage' to World Service
Guardian | Andy Gray sacked by Sky for 'unacceptable and offensive behaviour'
BBC | The King's Speech leads Oscars field
Guardian | BSkyB: Impossible undertakings
Independent | A move that is not in the public interest
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Tuesday's Media Brief

Daily View: Fall in GDP

Clare Spencer | 10:01 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Closing down sale in Wigan


Commentators predict what will be done about the fall in the UK's GDP.

Simon Jenkins says in the Guardian that there is only one choice for the government now:

"At the bottom of a recession you do not waste money trying to boost investment when there is no demand to sustain it. You go for liquidity. You put cash into circulation. You do not increase VAT, but push prices down, rather than up. Give away pensioner coupons, vouchers and scrappage schemes. Give money to those who will spend it, such as benefit recipients, not those who put it in a drawer, such as banks."

In the Times Anatole Kaletsky questions the government's optimism:

"It hopes that people will be impressed by its determination to cut borrowing and therefore to reduce potential pressures on the public purse - so impressed that consumers will spend more, businesses will create more jobs and entrepreneurs will start new businesses, all based on the confidence that their future taxes will be lower than today. Why has the Government decided to bet the economy on this untested theory?"

In the Independent Sean O'Grady predicts Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne's next move:

"Before long, and certainly well before the Budget scheduled for 23 March, he will have to decide whether to reprise and tweak one of Margaret Thatcher's most famous catchphrases - 'U-turn if you want to, the boy's not for turning' - and carry on regardless. He will, we know, allow what the economists call the 'automatic stabilisers' to work, however, which will soften things a little. In other words, if the economy turns down again, he will allow the deficit to widen as tax revenues fall and spending goes up with unemployment.
"That's because ministers want to deal with the underlying "structural" deficit rather than the "cyclical" one, and that is certainly preferable to another turn of the screws to try to get the borrowing numbers back on track. But it will still be a squeeze, and will carry the risk of failure. Or he can quietly ditch his fiscal austerity plan in the light of changing circumstances and administer a mild stimulant to the economy. Might he even be tempted to postpone tax rises due in April?"

In the Telegraph Jeremy Warner seems more sure that George Osborne will stick to his current deficit-busting policies:

"For Ed Balls, the new shadow Chancellor, the latest figures will be like manna from heaven, though he would be well advised not to take pleasure in economic hardship. Even so, the latest numbers lend support to his view that this is no time to be cutting the deficit. The Government will nevertheless stick to its guns. Mr Osborne is not for turning, and indeed it is a key part of the deficit reduction plan that he doesn't, for the whole point of it is to give the private sector the room and confidence it needs to invest and create jobs."

In the New Statesman David Blanchflower echoes Jeremy Warner's sentiment:

"The coalition government's economic policy is in disarray. George Osborne's only response is that he is not for turning. Ed Balls is going to have a field day."

Links in full

Simon Jenkins | Guardian | Our protection from banks? A pile of ordure called Merlin
Anatole Kaletsky | Times | Osborne bets the farm on an untested theory
Sean O'Grady | Independent | The real pain of the financial crisis is only just beginning
Jeremy Warner | Telegraph | Shock GDP contraction adds grist to deficit deniers
David Blanchflower | New Statesman | Disastrous growth numbers. And that's before the VAT rise

US media react to Obama's State of the Union

Katie Connolly | 04:20 UK time, Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Veteran reporter Howard Fineman did not enjoy all of Obama's speech, but writing in the Huffington Post he at least appreciated the change of tone from recent rancorous debates:

The bottom line is that, for an hour or so, the noise and accusatory tumult of our argumentative culture was totally gone. No one shouted "you lie!" No one said "Nooo!" No one jumped up in an aggressive effort to show up or challenge anyone else. It was as though talk radio did not exist, and both MoveOn and the Tea Party had disappeared.

Former political speech-writer Joshua Greenman concluded in his New York Daily News column that Obama's speech did the job:

Obama was optimistic, as we expect our presidents to be even in troubled times. He was bipartisan, continuing the clear swing to the centre that began after the midterm elections. And he weaved in enough specifics to give Americans hungry for hope something to latch on to - investments in roads, schools and scientific research. These investments may not deliver jobs next week, next month or maybe even next year. But they'll create fresh confidence that the economy is headed in the right direction, which most Americans doubt.

Gerald Seib, writing in the Wall Street Journal, wonders about Obama's decision to hark back to the Cold War space race:

The differences between now and the Sputnik era are significant... The government had ample resources then, and sags under deficits now. Trust in government was high then, but has plummeted since. Perhaps more important, for many Americans the economic future takes a back seat to lingering fears of the economic present. Many of them are likely to judge the president, as well as his Republican counterparts, above all on how many jobs they can create here and now.

The Washington Post's Ezra Klein, who writes a blog about domestic and economic policy, liked the themes of Obama's speech, but bemoaned its lack of detail:

At more than 6,000 words, there was a lot in tonight's State of the Union. The bulk of it was a vision of what American economic policy should be pointed towards in the years to come: A country that has a better educated workforce, a more sophisticated infrastructure, and a more innovative economy than any other. A country where the public sector has an acknowledged and crucial role in supporting the private sector. But vision is there to support policy. And though there were a lot of policy proposals in the speech, there weren't enough specifics to really know where the president is going.

Mark Halperin of Time magazine thought the speech heralded a return to Mr Obama's inspirational, motivational best. He says a culmination of borrowed techniques from his predecessors helped make the speech great:

From Ronald Reagan, upbeat tales of American success stories, showcasing the real-life heroes sitting in the box with the First Lady. From Bill Clinton, rhetorical carrots dangled across the aisle - Obama cheerfully expressed an openness to medical malpractice reform, nuclear power, entitlement and tax reform, and changes in his cherished healthcare law - while drawing lines in the sand on issues where the American people support his positions by 70% plus. And from George W Bush, a confidence that if a president says he what he means and means what he says, he can't go wrong....Rehearsals with one of the Democratic Party's best speech coaches clearly paid off, allowing him to internalize the text and focus on conveying the emotion of the words with grace and spontaneity.

Jonathan Chait of the New Republic thought Mr Obama's transcending themes and ideas were communicated well:

I thought Obama explicated his idea about American unity better than he has in the past. The notion of unity has always sat in tension with the fierce ideological disagreement of American politics, and indeed the latter has served as a rebuke to the former. I thought Obama effectively communicated that the messiness of political debate is a part of what makes America great, to turn that into a source of pride. He simultaneously placed himself both within and above the debate.

Esteemed economist Paul Krugman, who writes for the New York Times, firmly disagrees with Mr Chait's take:

The best thing about the speech was exactly what most of the commentariat is going to condemn: Obama did not surrender to the fiscal austerity now now now types. Overall, however, I have no idea what the vision here was. We care about the future! But we don't want to spend! Meh.

Kevin Williamson, writing for the National Review, was not impressed by the speech. But it would seem that he isn't a fan of the tradition at all:

I hate, hate, hate the State of the Union speech, our republic's annual excursion into the abasing pomp of monarchy. But if you have to transform the president into a New Age totem, I suppose Obama is your guy: He's largely content-free. If he ever figures out that there is more to being president than giving speeches, our nation will truly be in trouble.

At the Atlantic magazine, Garance Franke-Ruta focused on the speech's political strategy, in particular, its use of buzz words:

Tonight is about many things, but one of them, perhaps encouraged by the pressures of the 140-character tweet stream, is KEYWORDS. Ones the White House is emphasizing: innovate, educate, build, reform, responsibility. Ones it is not: climate; gun; abortion(/choice/women's health); Clinton; Bush; Israel; Egypt; England.

Fred Kaplan of Slate says that the American innovation Mr Obama spoke of - the 'Sputnik moment' - nearly always relies, at least in part, on government help:

Toward the end of his speech, President Obama mentioned several entrepreneurs who in recent months have revamped their businesses to solve new crises and meet new demands. They're inspiring case studies. But if the US economy is going to do big things - and Obama said, twice, near the end of his speech, "We do big things" - they often don't get there without a spurt of government funding.

Popular Elsewhere

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Clare Spencer | 14:45 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Proving popular on the Guardian is TV host Oprah Winfrey's revelation that she has a half-sister. Ms Winfrey was nine-years-old and living with her father when her mother gave birth to Patricia and gave her up for adoption. She found out about her sister last year.

The Washington Post's most read story jokes that the way Oprah used her family members to provide content for her show "does not, in case you were thinking, qualify as being 'exploited by the media.' Because it's Oprah."

The Telegraph's most read story says the sponsors of an Oxbridge skiing trip have withdrawn their support following "outrageous behaviour". As part of a competition to win a skiing holiday worth £5,000 the winning team took off their clothes to pose for "erotic" pictures in the snow. The article adds "[s]ome of those posing naked had pasta sauce and chocolate smeared over their bodies, while a crowd of 500 students looked on."

Woman charged over dog hanged for chewing bible says the Independent's most popular world story. The US woman said she hanged her nephew's pit bull from a tree with an electrical cord and burned its body because the dog chewed on her Bible.

Ireland's Independent readers are reading about "sickening" remarks about Michaela McAreavey made by a newspaper photographer. The daughter of Tyrone GAA manager Mickey Harte was found strangled to death when on honeymoon in Mauritius. The photographer Susanne Morrison is reported to have said on Facebook that she was "sick of hearing" about the murder which she said was a case of "karma".

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:53 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has said this morning that he intends to refer News Corporation's bid for BSkyB to the Competition Commission. But he has given News Corp extra time to address concerns he has regarding "potential threats to media plurality" the BBC reports. He said Ofcom recommended referring the merger to the Competition Commission.

Jeremy Hunt has published on the DCMS website the Ofcom report and explains his position.

The BBC is to cut about 200 websites as it reduces spending on its online output by a quarter. BBC Online's budget will be cut by £34m and 360 posts will go over the next two years. I identify some of the sites that will go and ask how far users will notice the changes.

What do the BBC Online cuts mean? The Guardian's Jemima Kiss says "No one will disagree with a coherent editorial strategy and a better technical infrastructure, and that package is pretty convincing. But this ...should have been in place years ago."

The Daily Mirror says TV footie pundits Andy Gray and Richard Keys have had the yellow card - and could end up getting a red. "The patronising pair were carpeted and given a one-match ban by Sky Sports bosses after being caught sniggering off-air about a female match official - and saying women can't understand the offside rule. But now there are calls for them to be axed altogether."

The BBC reports West Ham board member Karren Brady Sky Sports presenters Richard Keys and Andy Gray "made her blood boil". They were recorded making remarks about a female official, and dismissing Brady's views on sexism in the sport. On BBC Radio 5 live, she said: "It never would have occurred to me that they had these views, whether public or private."

The Guardian says the Crown Prosecution Service will adopt a "robust approach" in examining "recent or new substantive allegations" of phone hacking. The director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said he had agreed the approach with the Metropolitan police. The phone-hacking scandal may be extending beyond the Murdoch stable. Paul Marsden, a former Liberal Democrat MP, told the BBC he had begun legal inquiries to find out whether his phone was hacked by the Daily Mirror in 2003.

The BBC's Robert Peston says News International has changed its strategy on the phone-hacking scandal. Executives are engaged in finding out everything they can about who was hacked by the News of the World, and who at News International knew. "Once they have the details, they will offer settlements to those whose privacy may have been invaded - to cut out the need for huge lawyers' fees. Any culpable News International executives will be sacked."

The BBC's newspaper review says the Russian airport bombing is given plenty of coverage in the papers. Under the headline "The Moscow massacre" the Independent prints a dramatic photograph of a man being rescued. The Daily Telegraph says the Russian security services were tipped off a week ago that an attack was planned at one of the capital's airports.

Daily View: Ramifications of phone hacking

Clare Spencer | 09:51 UK time, Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Commentators discuss allegations that phone hacking was not confined to News of the World reporters but widespread among newspapers.

Steve Richards argues in the Independent that politicians have a vested interest in not making a fuss about phone hacking:

"One of the great emblematic images of our age was that of party leaders waiting nervously each evening for the mighty Daily Telegraph to inform them which MPs they would destroy the following morning over expenses, the supposedly powerful in daily thrall to a non-elected editor.
"Now the roles are reversed and a media empire is in trouble. Yet the choreography is unchanged. The elected leaders still pay homage to the non-elected owners. Who can blame them? Even with declining circulations, papers have the power to shape opinion and influence the views of broadcasters."

The Economist's Blighty blog says not every politician agrees that newspapers are that powerful:

"The prime minister has always been more sceptical than the chancellor about the importance of print media, an attitude which probably owes something to his years working for Carlton Communications, which owned a major television station. It was Mr Osborne who assiduously cultivated newspaper editors in opposition, and indeed played the lead role in recruiting Mr Coulson. Mr Cameron, who sometimes struggled to disguise his disdain for Fleet Street, focused on getting his broadcast appearances right. The identity of Mr Coulson's successor will depend in large part on which of these perspectives prevails."

Rachel Sylvester suggests in Times that the real fall out from the story is the effect Andy Coulson had on Tory policy:

"Mr Coulson has been criticised for what went on while he was a tabloid editor. But, from a political point of view, what has been far more damaging than the allegations of phone hacking is the inconsistency of message that he created while working for Mr Cameron. In the view of rightwingers, the News of the World man brought balance to the Conservative operation, putting red-top grit into the 'red Tory' oyster. "But that grit also muddied the water. By persuading the Conservative leader to focus more on crime, immigration and Europe, Mr Coulson undermined the careful rebranding operation on which Mr Cameron had embarked."

Philip Stephens predicts in the Financial Times that more revelations will come out:

"This story, though, has begun to feel different. News International's stance smacks of an overweening sense of invulnerability. Yet the evidence is stacking up against it. Something in the political air says a dam may soon burst. No wonder Mr Murdoch is said to be an angry man."

In his Channel 4 News blog Jon Snow comments on how fast the news cycle is churning out the phone hacking story:

"My own contacts in this matter suggest the practice has indeed been widespread. In the end, as with all things, it will not be the misbehaviour itself that will bring individuals to book, but whether there was a cover up. Heavens, have we even got time to clarify whether there is one?"

Links in full

Steve Richards | Independent | The curious indifference of rival papers and politicians
Philip Stephens | Financial Times | The screws turn on the News of the World
Rachel Sylvester | Times | No more red-top grit to spoil 'red Tory' oyster
Jon Snow | Channel 4 News | Cocoa, Coco, Coulson, Co... why hack are in a spin

Popular Elsewhere

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Clare Spencer | 14:37 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Proving popular in the Times is an article asking why women love to pose naked. Bridget Harrison, who has posed naked herself, says from a pregnant Demi Moore to the pensioners the Calendar Girls, the naked photo shoot has never been more popular. The minority captured "have something to sell", the rest do it because they want to be admired or want to be photographed when they're in a fleeting moment before their body changes.

Toby Harnden explains Piers Morgan's success in the US in the Telegraph's most read article. Described as brash, arrogant, overbearing and insufferably pleased with himself, the article suggests "whereas Brits view Morgan's approach to life as unspeakably vulgar and resent his success, the American response to such a character tends to be: 'Good on him!'

Wired's most read story says the British woman who won $10,000 from Apple hung up on the company's representative because she thought it was a prank call. Apple gave Gail Davis from Orpington the prize for downloading the 10 billionth app from the iTunes store.

New Scientists readers are catching up on the key to finding alien life. It's all about identifying those key chemicals that act as building blocks to form all complex life. The problem is that they may be so alien they won't be noticed.

One of the New York Times' most e-mailed articles documents the princess phenomenon. It says big companies like Disney are getting richer from marketing to four-year-old girls. Identifying a trend in homemade princess outfits and then providing their own version made Disney $4bn in 2009 alone.

Media Brief

Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 09:56 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The BBC is to reveal details of the cuts to its website it announced last year. The Times says Mark Thompson will announce a new strategy today that will see spending cut from £135 million to £100 million, and 360 of its 1,600 online staff made redundant. It says the BBC will cut celebrity coverage and in-depth financial analysis from its website.

Radio 4 Controller Gwyneth Williams is to launch a new science strand and a weekly interview programme, in place of the Tuesday morning shows On The Ropes, Taking a Stand and The Choice. In the Guardian, she gives her first interview since taking the job - and she also writes about her plans on the Radio 4 blog.

Criticisms of the police handling of the phone-hacking scandal have intensified. The Guardian reports Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem Energy Secretary, accused Scotland Yard of failing to properly investigate the allegations, while it emerged that Gordon Brown has asked police to establish whether he has been a victim.

The Observer says the phone-hacking scandal could spread to more newspapers. Mark Lewis, the lawyer who acted for Gordon Taylor of the Professional Footballers' Association in a damages claim against the NotW, said he was now representing four people who believe they were targeted by other tabloid papers.

The Guardian's architecture writer Jonathan Glancey gives his verdict on the new Broadcasting House. "Although not the truly inspirational building the BBC dreamed of, the new Broadcasting House will probably come to be seen as an imposing yet functional HQ" he says.

The BBC reports Miranda Hart has triumphed at the British Comedy Awards, with three titles, including Best Female Comedy Actress. Her BBC Two sitcom Miranda - which she stars in and writes - won Best New TV Comedy, and she also picked up the People's Choice Award, chosen by viewers.

In extracts from his memoirs in the Daily Mail, Peter Sissons writes about BBC news coverage of the deaths of the Queen Mother and Diana, Princess of Wales. He writes: "The BBC has a policy on everything, yet, when the chips are down, presenters make up editorial policy as they go along." On Saturday, he wrote that "left-wing bias is written into the BBC's DNA."

The BBC's newspaper review says papers have had the weekend to ponder Labour leader Ed Miliband's decision to promote one of his rivals - Ed Balls - to the job of shadow chancellor.

Links in full
Times | Celebrity news cut as BBC shrinks website to meet rivals' complaints
Guardian | Radio 4 chief vows greater 'internationalism'
Guardian | Phone-hacking scandal: Scotland Yard accused over investigations
Guardian | News of the World phone-hacking scandal threatens more newspapers
Guardian | The new BBC Broadcasting House: So what does £1bn buy?
BBC | Miranda Hart crowned queen of British Comedy Awards
Daily Mail | How BBC bosses ordered me to downplay the Queen Mother's death
Daily Mail | Left-wing bias? It's written through the BBC's very DNA, says Peter Sissons
BBC | Newspapers review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Friday's Media Brief

Daily View: Andy Coulson's resignation

Clare Spencer | 09:19 UK time, Monday, 24 January 2011

Andy Coulson


Commentators look at the resignation of former editor of the News of the World Andy Coulson as Downing Street director of communications amid phone hacking accusations.

Jackie Ashley argues in the Guardian that Andy Coulson's resignation should not be the end of the story:

"There should be no closure, no business as usual, no letting up. Because the practice of often illegal surveillance by hacking into phones, using eavesdropping technologies and stealing documents continues. This isn't just about Coulson, or the News of the World, or even News International. Many other newspapers have been doing the same."

Ian Burrell says in the Independent that Andy Coulson's resignation has got the whole of Fleet Street worried:

"News International's dogged insistence, over four years, that its phone-hackery was the work of a rogue reporter (jailed royal editor Clive Goodman) had held a line for other newspaper groups too. But now, first with the suspension of the senior News of the World executive Ian Edmondson and then with the departure of Mr Coulson, it feels as if the levee has been breached...
"What was being written off as an ideologically motivated spat now has the feel of something more significant. And media groups that had previously stood to one side of the issue, claiming it to be of little interest, might now be starting to sweat."

Max Hastings argues that the Financial Times that David Cameron should stop trying to get cosy with News International:

"Conspicuous even-handedness is the only wise course for a prime minister in dealing with media moguls, editors and journalists. He can and should have private contacts; but friendship is impossible because envy is endemic and his interests and theirs are not the same.
"During John Major's embattled leadership, I edited The Daily Telegraph. In a long private conversation at Downing Street, he complained bitterly about his alleged lack of support from the paper. I said: 'Prime minister, I understand how you feel, out there alone in the colosseum fighting wild beasts: you want us to get down there in the ring and help. But even if we wish you well, that's not our job.'
"Politicians govern and the media commentates. It is not the proper business of any newspaper or broadcast organisation either to make or break national leaders."

The political blogger Paul Staines says in Guido Fawkes' blog that the Downing street vacancy has to be filled by someone who understands television, not newspapers:

"It may not matter to the chattering class, but it does influence the voters more than they do. Most voters don't read the Guardian, they don't read the Indy, Times or Telegraph either. They watch television, which is why more people voted for the winner of X-factor than the government...
"Cameron and Clegg are better television performers than Miliband, if they want to exploit that they should hire a director of communications who understands televisual imagery. The media grid planning can be done by Downing Street drones a plenty and Osborne has a good grip on political strategy. Television requires a certain genius. If they want to win over the voters they need a political maestro equivalent to Simon Cowell or Roger Ailes."

The Daily Mail digs up some information on the man they say is bookies favourite to replace Andy Coulson:

"[Former] newspaper boss Ian Birrell, will not need to resort to any black arts to keep an eye on what Ed Miliband is up to. Birrell, whose eclectic circle of friends ranges from the Camerons to Damon Albarn of pop group Blur, lives next door to the Labour leader in the trendy North London suburb of Dartmouth Park."

Links in full

Jackie Ashley | Guardian | The Andy Coulson affair raises the question - who runs Britain?
Ian Burrell | Independent | What was written off as a spat now has the feel of being more significant
Max Hastings | Financial Times | Wanted: lion tamer to reset media relations
Paul Staines | Guido Fawkes' blog | Downing Street Vacancy : Television Image Maker Wanted
Daily Mail | Neighbour who's got Ed in a spin

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 09:11 UK time, Friday, 21 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The BBC still has up to 135 executives paid more than Prime Minister David Cameron, according to the Guardian, despite cutting its senior management wage bill by nearly £10.66m. But it says the BBC's top executives "slashed their expenses bills" by 35% year on year in the three months to September, according to the latest figures released by the Corporation.

However, the Daily Mail says expenses for BBC executives are "running rampant" despite pledges to cut them back. It says latest figures reveal a 7% year-on-year hike in wining and dining.

The Guardian says the culture secretary has agreed that MPs on the Culture Media & Sport committee should interview the government's preferred candidate for the chairmanship of the BBC Trust before they are confirmed in the job. The shadow culture secretary, Ivan Lewis, tells the paper he was delighted Jeremy Hunt had agreed to his proposal but disappointed the MPs would not be able to consider the final two candidates.

Google co-founder Larry Page is to become chief executive of the US internet search giant in April. He will take over from Eric Schmidt, who has been in the job for a decade and will become executive chairman.
Amazon has bought the film rental business Lovefilm. The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones says Lovefilm is one of the most impressive new media businesses to have come out of the UK and asks if this is a good or bad day for the UK tech scene.

There is considerable speculation about the reasons for Alan Johnson's sudden departure as shadow chancellor. He said he resigned for "personal reasons" and the papers have differing claims about his private life and various reports of marital problems. The BBC's newspaper review links to the main stories.

Links in full

Guardian | BBC still pays up to 135 execs more than PM
Daily Mail | BBC bosses are claiming even MORE expenses: Despite head count, hospitality is up
Guardian | MPs to interview candidate for role of BBC Trust chair
BBC | Larry Page to become Google chief executiveBBC | Amazon buys remaining stake in Lovefilm DVD service
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Thursday's Media Brief

Daily View: Ed Balls replaces Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor

Clare Spencer | 08:34 UK time, Friday, 21 January 2011

Alan Johnson and Ed Balls


Commentators discuss the departure of Alan Johnson as shadow chancellor and his replacement, Ed Balls.

In the Wall Street Journal Iain Martin says goodbye to the man he says could have been prime minister:

"[O]ne of the most extraordinary aspects of Johnson's story is that he is one of the very few people to be presented with the stick-on opportunity to become prime minister who decided that he didn't want it. British politics is chock-full of MPs in both major parties who want that job, but circumstances, mistakes, misfortune and sometimes downright muppetry, mean they never even get close to a hint of a chance.
"In contrast, it was Alan Johnson's for the taking. What a thought for a top politician to carry around in his head."

Fraser Nelson says in the Spectator that politicians should ignore new shadow chancellor Ed Balls at their peril:

"Balls, for all his many drawbacks, is the most ferocious attack dog there is. His brilliance (and I hate using that word) at using numbers as weapons far surpassed anything the Tories could manage in Opposition. His policies are reckless: to borrow, and to hell with the consequences. His modus operandi is to launch around-the-clock attacks. He has powerful media contacts, and uses them to full effect. He is the most able fighter in Labour's frontbench, as he proved in the leadership contest. Unloveable, yes, which is why he'd make a bad leader. But if I were Osborne, I know who'd I be praying not to be put up against."

Aditya Chakrabortty says in the Guardian that now Labour can put up a fight against George Osborne:

"Miliband and Johnson often struggled to come up with answers, or even to agree with each other on such crucial issues as whether to continue with the 50p tax on the super-rich or how to fund university education. The result is that for three months Westminster has too often resembled a boxing match with only one fighter in the ring - the red corner has been all but deserted.
"That is likely to change now Balls has taken up the job that he has been pining after since September. A brilliant and creative economist, he also has clear ideas about what a Labour chancellor should do: they are set out forcefully in the speech he gave at Bloomberg during the party's leadership campaign."

Chief of Staff to George Osborne during his time as shadow chancellor and now Conservative MP, Matthew Hancock argues in Conservative Home that Ed Balls was the architect of Britain's economic problems:

"Ed Balls wrote the fiscal rules that brought Britain to the brink of bankruptcy. He was at the Treasury when they loaded PFI off balance sheet, and took a strong position of falling debt in 1997, built up the biggest deficit in the G7 before the crisis, and left Britain with the worst deficit in our peacetime history.
"Second, he wrote the banking regulations that so spectacularly failed. He took away from the Bank of England the power to regulate the banks. Then at the height of the boom he was the City Minister who encouraged the banks to keep on borrowing."

In the Financial Times Patrick Diamond gives his suggestions for Ed Balls' policies:

"Over the past decade Labour acquired a reputation as an ardent spender and redistributor of wealth, but had too little to say about how wealth itself ought to be created. Mr Balls has an opportunity to address this with a new agenda focused on public support for private investment in infrastructure - notably energy and transport, and the digital sector. Labour can also make the case for rebalancing the economy away from financial services and towards high-value industries and services. New measures to stimulate small and medium-sized business development, including tax breaks in return for investment in physical and human capital, should be part of this."

Links in full
Iain Martin | Wall Street Journal | Alan Johnson: The Man Who Could Have Been Prime Minister
Fraser Nelson | Spectator | Renaissance Balls
Aditya Chakrabortty | Guardian | With Ed Balls, Labour can now take the fight to George Osborne
Matthew Hancock | Conservative Home | Ed Balls was the architect of Britain's economic problems
Patrick Diamond | Financial Times | The two Eds must avoid replaying history

Popular Elsewhere

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Clare Spencer | 14:32 UK time, Thursday, 20 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Most read on the Telegraph is news that French President Nicolas Sarkozy was jeered after suggesting the Alsace region was still in Germany. The article goes on to explain Alsace is historically one of the most strategically crucial regions in France and was contested constantly between France and Germany during the 19th and 20th Century.

Sun readers are catching up on the cage fighter Alex Reid's connections to drug smuggling. The paper reveals he was held by police in 2006 and later released without charge after cocaine worth £2m was found on a yacht he part-owned.

Most read on Ireland's Independent is the story of how a collection of funny pictures of cats led to a $30m cash injection. Cast as the internet's "most surreal" success story, the founder of lol cats, Ben Hur, has received the venture capital funding to hire more staff on the project.

The Guardian's most read story says the The King's Speech confirms a route to Oscar nomination. Jonathan Freedland argues a Brit who yearns for a statuette needs to play royal. For Americans, they have to rely on playing someone struggling with a disability or mental illness, a history of abuse and/or a foreign accent or, homosexuality.

American Idol's new season gets a scathing review in Washington Post's most read story. The paper claims new judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez fail to change the show's predictability, which has the "same sob stories" as before.

Proving popular with Time readers is an essay on why China does capitalism better than the US. The argument laid out says the Chinese government, unlike the US, made tough long-term decisions to deal with the financial crisis.

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 09:20 UK time, Thursday, 20 January 2011



I’m the BBC’s media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what’s going on.

Regional television news programmes on BBC One and ITV1 could be abolished once new proposals for local channels are up and running, the culture secretary Jeremy Hunt has said. The Telegraph reports he was laying out his proposals for establishing American-style local news in the UK, with up to 80 towns and cities receiving their own television news as early as 2013.

Can local TV be made to work in the UK? I look at some of the problems that need to be overcome.

The Times reports video websites such as YouTube may be more tightly regulated to ensure that new internet-enabled television services do not expose children to inappropriate content. Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, said that a new Communications Act, which he hopes will be in force by 2015, should legislate for developments that will allow viewers to watch internet videos or television programmes that were originally broadcast after the 9pm watershed.

The Guardian says the former Financial Times editor, Sir Richard Lambert, and Lord Patten have emerged as the favourites to be the new BBC Trust chairman, following reports that Sir Howard Davies has withdrawn from the process. It says Lord Patten has already been interviewed and other interviews will take place next week.

The BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones says a clutch of British newspaper groups have launched paid applications for smartphones and tablet computers - but the jury is out on whether any has found the right recipe at the right price.

The BBC’s newspaper review says the government’s planned changes to the NHS in England are put under the microscope by many of the papers. The Independent says it is an “experiment” and a reckless way to go about reform. The Daily Mirror is firmly opposed, calling the government’s plan “a sick dose of private upheaval”.

Links in full

Telegraph | Local television plan could spell end for regional news on BBC and ITVBBC | Local TV: Will it succeed in the UK ?Times | Law must protect children from indecent internet content on television, says HuntGuardian | Richard Lambert and Lord Patten favourites to be BBC Trust chairmanBBC | News as an appBBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Wednesday’s Media Brief

Read the rest of this entry

Daily View: China's place on the world stage

Clare Spencer | 09:04 UK time, Thursday, 20 January 2011

China's leader Hu Jintao's visit to the US has got commentators talking about China's foreign policy.

The Guardian highlights a unique challenge with diplomacy between China and the US:

"The problem for Barack Obama as he welcomes President Hu Jintao to Washington today is not only that China's decision-making process is opaque. No one knows for sure who says what to whom. It is also that it is, in its own terms, successful. Unlike Russia or India, China can do complex things quickly. It can put airports, dams, high-speed rail links and power stations where it wants, often at huge environmental and social cost, to feed its industrial base. It can get a lot of bang for its yuan."

David Pilling says in the Financial Times that the days of China as a shrinking violet are behind us but predicts the country is unlikely to be a proselytising power:

"Beijing is not blind to the utility of soft power. Dozens of Confucian Institutes around the world are spreading the Chinese language, and its state media has stepped up efforts to spread a "Chinese view" of the world. But at bottom, China's political system and its pragmatic, mixed economy are not ideologically driven. They are a means to an end, the end being the creation of a rich and strong nation."

Economist's Asian View looks in more depth at Confucian Institutes and their offshoot "Confucius Classrooms", over 200 of which are in the US:

"China has been careful not to encourage these language centres to act as overt purveyors of the party's political viewpoints, and little suggests they are doing so. But officials do say that an important goal is to give the world a "correct" understanding of China. An online Confucius Institute, also supported by the Chinese government, includes an article noting the "active" efforts of some unspecified Confucius Institutes in opposing independence for Tibet and Xinjiang, pro-democracy activism and the Falun Gong sect.
"Promoting Confucianism is not part of their remit. Party officials mainly use Confucius as a Father-Christmas-like symbol of avuncular Chineseness rather than as the proponent of a philosophical outlook. (Mao was more concerned with the philosophy, which he rallied the nation to attack as a legacy of the bad old days.)"

In Fortune Nina Easton argues China's economic policy will continue to make a mark on international business:

"China understandably wants to promote its own firms and industries as it emerges as the driver of global economic growth. But its policies protect a class of state-owned and subsidized enterprises that also benefit from preferential bidding, 'junk patents' that reward the first to file rather than the first to invent, and access to foreign technology as the price of doing business there... In the short-run, Beijing's industrial policy means fewer U.S. business opportunities inside China's borders - in the long-run, it could produce favored behemoths poised to compete globally with American firms."

Finally, Steven Hill says in the Guardian that President Obama may be surprised at the potential for political reform in China:

"Most westerners will be surprised to learn that China already holds more elections than any other nation in the world. Under the Organic Law of the Village Committees, all of China's approximately 1 million villages - home to some 600 million voters - hold elections every three years for local village committees."

Links in full

Guardian | US and China: No lectures, just words
David Pilling | Financial Times
Economist | Rectification of statues
Nina Easton | Fortune | In US-China talks, who has the upper hand?
Steven Hill | Guardian | China's tentative steps towards democracy

US media react to Hu Jintao state visit

Matthew Davis | 16:56 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Chinese President Hu Jintao's state visit to the United States has spaked a range of comment in the US media, much of it focused on the potential sources of dispute between the giants. Time Magazine's Austin Ramzy in Beijing notes:

One Chinese saying about the country's ties with the U.S. goes like this: the U.S. and China are too dependent on one another for their relationship to be terribly bad, but they are too different from one another for their relationship to ever be very good.

John Bussey, writing in the Wall Street Journal, says that behind the carefully choreographed formal reception for Mr Hu, there will be much behind-the-scenes tension.

It is almost inevitable that when a country gains economic power it uses that new clout to its advantage. Now it's China's turn. Lately, China has been showing the business world the business end of its economic cudgel.

The writer suggests that "Mr Hu will get an earful about China's industrial practices..." and concludes:

... As china grows ever more confident, US business is girding for new dangers in a market it views with a troubling mix of aspiration and anguish.

The New York Times sees "diplomatic dangers" lurking in the state dinner for the chinese leader and says Mr Obama is "walking into a danger zone of protocol and international diplomacy".

Visits by Chinese leaders have often turned into protocol nightmares. When President Hu visited President George W Bush in 2006, a heckler from the Falun Gong spiritual sect interrupted his White House arrival ceremony - a major embarrassment for Mr Bush that was compounded when the official announcer mistakenly confused the official name of China with that of Taiwan, which China claims as part of its sovereign territory.

The paper continues...

... Mr Obama will take pains not to look overly chummy with the Chinese leader. When President Dmitri Medvedev of Russia visited the White House, Mr Obama took him out to a greasy-spoon lunch at Ray's Hell Burger - a kind of buddy road trip that spoke louder than even the most lavish state dinner about Mr. Obama's warm feelings toward his Russian counterpart. There will be no burger runs with Mr Hu.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post's Jim Kuhnhenn suggests that the private dinner between Mr Obama and Mr Hu on Tuesday night contrasted with the pomp of Wednesday's ceremonies in a way which "illustrated Obama's careful mix of warmth and firmness for the leader of a nation that is at once the largest U.S. competitor and most important potential partner".

In an editorial entitled "Three issues Obama should raise with Hu - but probably won't", the Washington Examiner newspaper says:

.. . Eyes across America are opening to the realities behind China's Great Wall. As leader of the free world's pre-eminent power, Obama should speak softly but firmly - and not let Hu forget that America carries a big stick.

The US edition of the China Daily sees Mr Hu's visit as "a crucial moment" in relations that will help steer the nations "onto a stable course of cooperation and peaceful competition".

The past year produced many warning signs of potential trouble as debates erupted on both sides about the other's intentions. Many in the US suspect China is trying to steal US jobs by unfair means and to knock the US from its leading position in world affairs. Many in China suspect the US is trying to "contain" China's return to greatness and its regional influence.
Fortunately, leaders in both countries over the past few months have refrained from the temptation to presume the worst about the other. They have worked to develop greater cooperation in the management of the many security, economic, and political issues that naturally arise among such different and globally engaged societies. They have raised their vision above the journalism of the day.

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Clare Spencer | 14:56 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The lavish welcome laid on for the Chinese leader Hu Jintao by the Whitehouse shows the US now perceive China as an equal world power according to the Guardian's most read article. It says China's inferiority in "hard power", for example not invading Iraq, has turned to Beijing's advantage.

The Telegraph's most read story claims millions of people could be taking statins "needlessly". The article goes on to say a review published in the journal the Cochrane Library shows there is little evidence that the cholesterol-lowering drugs protect people who are not already at a high risk of heart disease.

Sun readers prefer to catch up on the love life of The Only Way Is Essex star Mark Wright. The paper calls him a love rat, philanderer, lothario and ladies' man and pictures him talking to various women.

Proving popular with Washington Post's readers is an article "debunking popular myths" of healthcare reform. It says one persistent myth started by Sarah Palin is that secretive government committees nicknamed death panels will be created to make end-of-life decisions about people on Medicare.

New York Times readers are catching up on the latest opinion piece on Amy Chua's book advocating a strict Chinese parenting style. David Brooks thinks, contrary to the book, that sleepovers can be more intellectually demanding that practising the piano.

The New Scientist's most read article reports a breakthrough which may lead to a vaccine for MRSA. New York scientists have identified an antibody which causes MRSA bacteria to explode rather than divide.

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:45 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt will today announce plans for a network of local television services to be launched in cities and towns across the UK. The BBC says the network will be supported by a new national digital channel, with local opt-outs at key times of the day. He will unveil his Action Plan for Local Media at the Oxford Media Convention.

The European Court of Human Rights has ruled that the Daily Mirror's freedom of expression was violated by the legal costs it had to pay when it lost a privacy case brought by Naomi Campbell, reports the BBC. The ECHR ruled that the £1m costs, which were partly lawyers' "success fees", were too much. The Mirror will now discuss compensation with the government.

Apple made record profits and record revenues in the run-up to Christmas as shoppers bought more Macs, iPhones, and iPads than analysts predicted. The BBC reports the company said that in the three months to 25 December, net profit was $6bn (£3.7bn) on revenues of $26.74bn.

Erik Huggers, the BBC's director of future, media and technology, is to leave the corporation at the end of February. The Guardian says he will join computer chip-maker Intel as the corporate vice-president and general manager of its digital home group, based in Silicon Valley in California. The FM and T division will be split into two more distinct divisions with immediate effect.

A private investigator employed by the News of the World made a note of the mobile number, password and pin belonging to the Sky Sports commentator Andy Gray, the high court was told. The Guardian reports that Gray's lawyer Jeremy Reed said notebooks belonging to Glenn Mulcaire, seized in a police raid, showed he had also noted the number the former footballer used to access messages. "The only purpose of calling that number would be to go into voicemails," Reed said.

The BBC's newspapers review highlights the Telegraph story that the coalition is considering changes to the constitution to allow a first-born daughter of Prince William to accede to the throne. The Daily Mail says Buckingham Palace confirmed it would "abide by the government's actions" but "sources" suggest the Queen is "concerned".

Links in full

BBC | Jeremy Hunt to outline plans for 'local TV'
BBC | Mirror wins costs ruling in Naomi Campbell case
BBC | Apple makes record profits of $6bn in last three months
Guardian | Erik Huggers to leave BBC for Intel
Guardian | News of the World investigator had Andy Gray's password, court told
BBC | Newspaper review

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• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Tuesday's Media Brief

Daily View: Inflation and interest rate predictions

Clare Spencer | 10:08 UK time, Wednesday, 19 January 2011

After a rise in prices recorded in the consumer price index, commentators make their suggestion as to what the Bank of England should do about interest rates.

The Guardian's Larry Elliott says the increase in inflation could be a temporary phenomenon:

"Unless retailers are able to pass on increases in costs to their customers and workers are able to secure higher pay deals to compensate for rising prices, the expectation is that inflation will fall back below the government's 2% target in 2012.
"This is still a defensible argument, despite today's figures. There seems little likelihood, with the labour market weak, that unions are going to be able to negotiate pay deals of 4% over the coming months, and unless they do the impact of a rising cost of living will be deflationary rather than inflationary, through its impact on the spending power of consumers. Taxes are rising and public spending is being squeezed, so the Bank will be worried - quite rightly - that putting up interest rates will amount to overkill."

Conservative MP Mark Field predicts in Conservative Home that the Bank of England are unlikely to increase interest rates despite inflation:

"So the story of 2011 as the year unfolds will almost certainly be one of a rapid rise in the cost of living as both global commodity prices and taxation spike upwards. The cost of oil has been highly volatile in recent years, but the 50% rise in price over the past six months may prove more difficult to reverse. The exponential growth in demand from emerging economies (also affecting copper, steel, cotton etc.) may be compounded if political unrest in the Arab world spreads beyond Tunisia. Then there is a global shortage of wheat as a result of failed harvests in eastern Asia, whilst the effect, for example, of the Queensland floods on the price of iron ore, coal and other minerals will only be clear in the months ahead.
"This impact will be compounded if interest (and mortgage) rates were to rise to 'proper' levels. Understandably policymakers are fearful both of stoking up inflationary expectations or choking off early signs of sustainable economic recovery if they raise interest rates."

Tom Clougherty in the Adam Smith institute blog says as a response is that the one thing he is not convinced with is the idea there can be a genuine trade off between inflation and growth:

"In the short term, yes, the price of dealing with inflation might be slower GDP growth, or even contraction. But if the result of prolonged easy money is to stop the economy adjusting, to prevent markets realigning with changed consumer preferences, and to hold off indefinitely the necessary deleveraging, then it's hard to see where real, sustainable growth is going to come from."

Ian King says in the Times that the Bank of England should reserve judgment in interest rates until autumn:

"These inflation figures are awful. Not only is the headline rate higher than the City expected, it is substantially higher. Worse still, the figures take no account of the recent rise in VAT, which could push the headline rate to twice the Bank of England's target... With growth already flagging and public spending cuts looming, an increase [in interest rates] now would threaten the recovery. It would be far more sensible for the Bank to wait until the autumn, when it can more accurately assess how the economy has responded to the Government's fiscal austerity programme."

The Independent asks the Bank of England to hold its nerve and resist from raising interest rates:

"The temptation for Mr King and the Monetary Policy Committee to succumb to the strictures of the hawks and raise rates (in order to demonstrate that they are taking inflation seriously) is going to be difficult to resist over the coming weeks... Rising inflation does mean economic pain. But raising interest rates now would not be a pain-free option. Most borrowers would see their mortgage costs rise instantly. And a surge in unemployment, a house price collapse and general economic dislocation could follow. There will come a time when rates need to rise. But the economy has not reached that point yet. The Monetary Policy Committee needs to back its convictions with courage."

Links in full

Larry Elliot | Guardian | We knew inflation would be bad, but not this bad
Mark Field | Conservative Home | Have the authorities decided that tackling inflation will be too painful?
Tom Clougherty | Adam Smith | Stagflation, anyone?
Ian King | Times | Bank should reserve judgment until autumn
Independent | The Bank of England should hold its nerve

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Clare Spencer | 14:33 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Proving popular with Telegraph readers is news that a cat has been summoned to do jury service, even after his owners told the court he was "unable to speak and understand English". The mix-up appears to have occurred after Sal's owners in Boston included him in the last census.

The Independent's most read world story claims Tunisia's ex-president's wife fled the country with $60m in gold bullion. The article adds that Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali's daughters, along with a pet tiger, arrived in Disneyland, near Paris, to seek asylum.

The Mirror's most recommended story says police in Cheshire are hunting a man suspected of infecting partners with HIV. Anyone who knowingly infects another person with the virus can be charged with GBH.

The Queen is "livid" with Prince William's wedding plans, according to one of the Huffington Post's most popular stories. The article claims that she is displeased with his proposal that the lunch before the ceremony will be a buffet, instead of a sit-down meal for 130 guests.

In honour of Martin Luther King day the Daily Beast ranks the most tolerant states in the US. Coming out on top for low hate crime and gay rights, among other criteria, is Wisconsin. Nevada is ranked number 20.

The Economist's most popular story says China's foreign policy is both dangerous and counter-productive. It argues that the recent additions to the country's armoury, an anti-ship missile and a stealth fighter jet, are likely to alarm neighbours.

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 09:59 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

Justin Webb has revealed in the Radio Times that his father was the newsreader Peter Woods, who became a household name in the 1960s. The Telegraph says after the death of both his parents, Mr Webb decided to reveal the truth when his own children began asking "why didn't daddy have a father".

The King's Speech leads the Bafta film nominations, announced this morning. The BBC reports Tom Hooper's film about King George VI is named in 14 categories, including best film and director. Colin Firth is up for best actor. The Black Swan has 12 nominations.

The Guardian claims News Corporation's defence that phone hacking at the News of the World was the work of a single "rogue reporter" is "on the verge of collapse". It says new evidence has emerged from Glenn Mulcaire, the private detective at the centre of the case.

David Cameron has defended his communications chief Andy Coulson, after the revelations about phone hacking by News of the World journalists while he was editor of the paper. On the Today programme, Mr Cameron said Mr Coulson had resigned as editor when he found out about the "bad things" that had happened, and he did not think he should be punished twice.

Apple boss Steve Jobs has announced that he is to take "medical leave" from the company. He said he would continue as chief executive and be involved in any major decisions. The BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones says Apple's many fans will feel deep sympathy for Mr Jobs when he pleads for privacy - but investors will be demanding more detail when it unveils its latest results on Tuesday.

Ricky Gervais has insisted he was not banned from the Golden Globes "after subjecting a room full of speechless American stars to lewd jibes at last night's ceremony". The Daily Mail says he vanished from the stage in the middle of the awards show, leading to speculation that he had been carpeted. Quentin Letts applauds his "risque attack on self-loving Tinseltown".

The Sun says ITV is set to spark controversy with a new drama about House of Horrors serial killer Fred West. Bosses have hired Dominic West, the British star of cult US cop show The Wire, to play the mass murderer.

Did the BBC Trust really suggest that the digital channels BBC3 and BBC4 may be cut? In my blog for the BBC College of Journalism, I analyse the misreporting of the latest BBC cuts announcements.

The BBC's newspaper review says the government's plans to reform the health service are analysed and dissected by the papers. The FT says only the Chinese army and Indian Railways employ more people than the NHS and the plans are "so big they can be seen from space".

Links in full

Telegraph | BBC's Justin Webb reveals his real father was newsreader Peter Woods
BBC | The King's Speech leads Bafta field
Guardian | NoW phone-hacking scandal: News Corp's 'rogue reporter' defence unravels
BBC | David Cameron says Andy Coulson's doing very good job
BBC | Apple boss Steve Jobs takes 'medical leave'
Daily Mail | Ricky Gervais insists he was NOT gagged at Golden Globes
Sun | Fred West - the movie - starring Dom West
BBC | How the papers over-egged BBC cuts reports
BBC | Newspaper review

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• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Monday's Media Brief

Daily View: NHS reforms

Clare Spencer | 09:04 UK time, Tuesday, 18 January 2011

NHS ward


Commentators discuss NHS reforms outlined by David Cameron on Monday.

Polly Toynbee says in the Guardian that hidden away is a brief clause that appeared without public announcement which will "blow apart the unified NHS as a service and turn it into a purchasing agency":

"Paragraph 5.43 says: 'One new flexibility being introduced in 2011-12 is the opportunity for providers to offer services to commissioners at less than the published mandatory tariff price where both commissioner and provider agree.' It adds optimistically: 'Commissioners will want to be sure that there is no detrimental impact on quality, choice or competition as a result of any such agreement.' This is dynamite. When Cameron confidant Nick Boles MP spoke revealing and unwisely of creative 'chaos' in public services, this is it. The introduction of unfettered price competition leaves all the NHS open to challenge and undercutting from any private company offering temporary loss-leaders. The destabilising effect on financially fragile hospitals will be devastating."

Also in the Guardian, James Gubb argues that competition will be good for the NHS:

"Foundation trust hospitals, the supposed vanguard for public membership of NHS organisations, have in many places become self-serving monopolies.
"This is why competition is needed in the NHS; not on the basis of neoliberal dogma, but because competition, more than any other system, permits the pluralism for new ideas to flourish; new ideas the NHS so badly needs if it is to find a way out of the overarching difficulty it currently faces: getting greater value for every pound of taxpayer funding."

The Telegraph editorial says the reforms are necessary:

"The statistics suggest Mr Cameron is right to say that doing nothing is not an option. During a decade in which health spending has doubled in real terms, NHS productivity has actually fallen by three per cent. Meanwhile, clinical outcomes have deteriorated, with cancer and heart-attack victims more likely to die here than in most other countries in Europe. At the same time, as Stephen Dorrell points out on this page, the squeeze on public spending means that the NHS is being required to achieve the most demanding efficiency savings."

Steve Richards says in the Independent that these reforms show David Cameron's true colours:

"Mr Cameron did not put his proposals to the electorate last May. Instead he promised there would be no more big reorganisations of the NHS, insisting that there had been enough of those. He must have known he was planning the biggest reorganisation in the institution's history, so the lack of candour highlights the degree to which Mr Cameron is committed to his NHS crusade. He was willing to risk being exposed as duplicitous in order to win power and then press ahead."

Rachel Sylvester suggests in the Times that reform may be diluted by the time it is implemented:

"Mr Lansley has agreed to phase in his changes partly to keep them happy. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have been convinced, intellectually, of the case for reform of the NHS, but they are all too aware of the risks. Mr Cameron will be 'watching this like a hawk', an aide said.
"There could be more concessions to come. As one Cabinet minister puts it: 'We can accelerate or brake in light of experience.'"

Links in full

James Gubb | Guardian | Competition is good for the NHS
Polly Toynbee | Guardian | Tory free-market hurricane will blow our NHS apart
Telegraph | A Herculean challenge for Cameron on health
Steve Richards | Independent | A revolution that shows Cameron in his true colours
Rachel Sylvester | Times | Rushed reform can seriously damage health

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Clare Spencer | 14:39 UK time, Monday, 17 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Princes William and Harry were in Princess Diana's funeral cortege to protect Charles from being lynched, says the Daily Mail's most read story. The claim is in Alastair Campbell's diaries, published this week.

Sun readers prefer to catch up on the paper's most recent speculation about why glamour model Katie Price and cage fighter Alex Reid split up. The paper claims pictures of Katie's son Junior in a wrestling gym with Alex Reid were the last straw as she was trying to withdraw her children from the public gaze.

Most read in the Guardian is Simon Jenkin's column about what the Arizona shootings uncover concerning free speech. He argues the paradox is that democracy can't have free speech without controls.

Also on the subject of free speech, Melanie Phillips' article in the Spectator has risen to the top of its most read list. She argues that, like news of grooming gangs, news of honour killings has been suppressed in the media because of fear of appearing racist.

A defense of psychoanalysis is proving popular on More Intelligent Life. Criticised as reducing everything to sex, it's therapeutic rival, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has gained ground. However, the article argues that unlike CBT, psychoanalysis provides the one thing a depressed person needs: a meaningful relationship.

Most read on Slate is a tirade against people who put two spaces after a full stop. The most famous recent culprit is Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Farhad Manjoo argues that typographers decided years ago that one, not two, spaces should follow a full stop but a hangover from the deficiencies of the typewriter is to answer for the variation.

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 09:54 UK time, Monday, 17 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

Colin Firth has been named Best Actor for The King's Speech at the Golden Globe awards. The Telegraph says Natalie Portman triumphed for her role in Black Swan and The Social Network picked up four awards.

Paul Gascoigne, the former England footballer, is to become the latest celebrity to sue the News of the World, alleging that he was a victim of the phone-hacking scandal that has rocked Rupert Murdoch's media empire. The Guardian reports his solicitor, Gerald Shamash, confirmed today that proceedings would be issued within days.

Four years after the phone-hacking scandal at the News of the World saw the newspaper's former royal correspondent, Clive Goodman, jailed, the story refuses to die. The Observer says each week another celebrity launches a legal action against the paper. It has established that at least six people have issued proceedings, with potentially scores more in the pipeline.

Peter Bazalgette says in the Telegraph some of Britain's finest creative artists are harnessing digital technology to cook up new ways of enjoying opera. Next month, Sky is broadcasting the first ever live 3D opera, a relay of ENO's new production of Donizetti's blood-curdling Lucrezia Borgia. The show's director, Mike Figgis of Leaving Las Vegas fame, will also be producing a film behind the scenes.

Watch out, Humphrys and Paxo, says Adam Sherwin in the Guardian. David Mitchell has announced his arrival in the pantheon of political inquisitors with a swipe at the "rottweiler" school of interviewing. Every Thursday from this week, the Peep Show star will grill a leading politician live in front of a studio audience during 10 O'Clock Live, a new Channel 4 topical comedy show.

The Daily Mirror says the BBC has asked more of its top stars to take a hefty pay cut - with salaries being slashed by up to a third. Presenters including Bruce Forsyth, Graham Norton and Gary Lineker could all be affected by the cutbacks. A Beeb source said: "They are all in negotiations and know cuts are coming whether they like it or not."

The BBC's newspaper review highlights a warning in the Guardian that NHS trusts in England are adopting a "dangerous path" by limiting routine operations in order to save costs. The Financial Times reveals that the new commissioner of the City of London Police wants to form an alliance with banks to combat fraud.

Links in full

Telegraph | Colin Firth wins Best Actor as The Social Network takes four awards
News of the World | Phone hacking: now Paul Gascoigne is ready to sue
Guardian | Four years on, phone-hacking scandal is still growing
Telegraph | English opera delivered to you live and in 3D
Guardian | David Mitchell to rival Paxman and grill politicians on new show
Mirror | Nick Knowles says he has taken a huge pay cut as the BBC slashes wages
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Friday's Media Brief

Daily View: What next for Tunisia?

Clare Spencer | 09:32 UK time, Monday, 17 January 2011

Protesters walk through tear gas during clashes with riot police in downtown of the capital Tunis January 14, 2011.

Commentators speculate about what is next for Tunisia after street riots led to their government being overthrown.

Anne Applebaum warns in the Washington Post that Tunisia's street riots might not install a democracy:

"Street demonstrations can unexpectedly bring extremists into power, as they did in Iran in 1979. They can create unrealistic expectations and then unravel, as did the Orange Revolution that began in Ukraine in 2004. And they can end badly, with reactionary violence, like the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square.
"By contrast, the most successful transitions to democracy are often undramatic. Consider Spain, after the death of Franco; Chile, after the resignation of Pinochet; Poland, which negotiated its way out of communism; all of these democratic transitions dragged on, created few spectacular photographs - and ultimately led to stable political systems."

Sholto Byrnes argues in the New Statesman that Saudi Arabia should be thanked for accepting Tunisia's ousted president:

"So far from rushing to criticise the country so many love to hate, Saudi Arabia may deserve Tunisia's thanks for helping its former dictator to decide on instant exile. At least 50 people have died in the riots and unrest so far. If Ben Ali had stayed to fight to maintain his rule for as long as he could, there would undoubtedly have been a far more bitter and bloody end. The price of saving who knows how many lives may be letting an old tyrant off scot-free. No other country would provide him that get out card. Perhaps we should be grateful that Saudi Arabia did."

Mona Eltahawy says in the Guardian that what has happened in Tunisia is the first real revolution in the Arab world and as such is a time worth celebrating:

"If every Arab leader has watched Tunisia in fear, then every Arab citizen has watched in hope because it was neither Islamists - long used by our leaders to scare many into acquiescence - nor foreign troops that toppled the dictator: it was ordinary and very fed up people.
"Tunisians must remember that during these days of chaos. We're hearing reports that neighbourhood watch committees have sprung up to protect against looting and violence, which many blame on Ben Ali's loyalists."

Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut Rami Khouri predicts in the Financial Times the consequences for the rest of the Arab world:

"Leaders will take pre-emptive economic measures, announcing public-sector salary increases, job-creation programmes or commodity price reductions, in a bid to ward off demonstrations. Meanwhile, social issues, such as health insurance, pension schemes and subsidised housing will rise to the fore of public debate in poorer countries, as will corruption and its ravages on the state.
"Meanwhile, the region's traditionally embattled civil society activists will mobilise to challenge their governments more aggressively. Some will hold street demonstrations. There will also be new efforts to use the courts and enfeebled parliamentary systems to challenge abuses of power. In particular we are likely to see a frontal assault on election systems in some countries, with democracy activists demanding an end to gerrymandering districts and more credible representation of the citizenry in parliaments that now have little credibility."

On Al Jazeera Mark LeVine from the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University in Sweden says the US government should not sit on the fence about Tunisia:

"While the United States and the international community should not directly intervene unless the military begins killing or arresting large numbers of people, there are a number of steps Obama could take immediately to ensure that this nascent democratic moment takes root and spreads across the region.
"First, the President should not merely urge free and fair elections. He must publicly declare that the United States will not recognise, nor continue security or economic relations, with any government that is not democratically elected through international monitored elections. At the same time, he must freeze any assets of Tunisia's now ex-leadership and hold them until they can be reclaimed by the Tunisian people."

Links in full
Anne Applebaum | Washington Post | Tunisia's Jasmine Revolution might not install a democracy
Sholto Byrnes | New Statesman | Exile, sweet exile
Mona Eltahawy | Guardian | Tunisia: the first Arab revolution
Rami Khouri | Financial Times | Tunisia heralds a long battle for reform
Mark LeVine | Al Jazeera | Tunisia: How the US got it wrong

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Clare Spencer | 14:28 UK time, Friday, 14 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The Guardian's most read story says there have been calls for the controversial US TV Host Glenn Beck's show to be axed from Fox News. Ten thousand sign petition against the show amid accusations that he has whipped up hatred in the wake of the Arizona shooting.

Readers of the Independent are interested in what the experience of writer Johann Hari's grandmother tells us about care homes. Before her death she experienced neglect such as being forced to walk after her legs had broken. The article suggests this is not an unusual story and things are going to get worse when Care Quality Commission's inspections of care homes inspections will be cut.

Proving popular on the Telegraph site is a story that we may be closer to resurrecting the woolly mammoth that died out 5,000 years ago. Previous efforts had failed because cells had been too badly damaged by extreme cold. A successful attempt at cloning a mouse after it had been frozen for 16 years has renewed hopes.

At the top of the Times' most popular list is Caitlin Moran's predictions for David and Victoria Beckham's baby. She suggests Flecked, Querulous and Cumberband.

Sun readers prefer to catch up on speculation about Katie Price and Alex Reid's marriage breakdown. The article suggests it followed pictures emerging of Katie Price spending time with boxer Amir Khan.

Boston Globe readers are finding out about a cure for test anxiety. Research suggests spending 10 minutes before an exam writing about thoughts and feelings can free up brainpower previously occupied by testing worries

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:50 UK time, Friday, 14 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The Guardian says BBC Director General Mark Thompson told staff he was raising the target for cuts at the corporation from 16% to 20% over four years. The BBC had already announced it would have to cut 16% of its budget to meet the cost of additional responsibilities handed to it in the licence fee settlement in October, including funding the World Service.

The Financial Times adds Mark Thompson also announced the formation of a £400m fund for spending on special projects identified over the next few years.

The Daily Telegraph says Mark Thompson has put himself on a collision course with staff and unions at the corporation.

The Independent reports the Press Complaints Commission is investigating the undercover stings carried out by reporters from the Daily Telegraph at the surgeries of Liberal Democrat MPs. The Business Secretary Vince Cable was recorded telling two female Telegraph journalists that he was "at war" with Rupert Murdoch. The president of the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron, claimed these were 'fishing expeditions.' The Telegraph says they were in the public interest.

Robert Peston, the BBC's business editor, says he is "as sure as I can be" that Ofcom has made an unambiguous recommendation that NewsCorp's plan to acquire all of British Sky Broadcasting should be referred to the Competition Commission. He asks why the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt hasn't simply published the report and announced an inquiry. Ofcom and the Department would not comment.

The BBC's newspaper review says Labour's victory in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election fills many of the later editions of the papers. The Independent calls it an "emphatic victory" for Labour, while the Guardian says the result is a blow to the Lib Dems and a boost for Ed Miliband.

Links in full

Guardian | BBC seeks extra £400m in savings
Financial Times | BBC chief asks for staff help
Telegraph | BBC faces hundreds of job losses as cuts bite
Independent | Lib Dems ask PCC to investigate undercover stings
BBC | BSkyB News Corp bid: Ofcom calls for Competition review
BBC | Newspapers review

• Read my updates on Twitter

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• Read Thursday's Media Brief

Daily View: Labour's by-election victory

Clare Spencer | 09:53 UK time, Friday, 14 January 2011

Labour's Debbie Abrahams


Commentators discuss Labour's win in the Oldham East Saddleworth by-election

Mike Smithson at the blog Political Betting analyses where the voters switched from and to:

"Broadly about two thirds of the Tory losses went to the yellows. That's a lot but it's not everything. As can be seen as well the Tories losses were partly off-set by small gains from the other two main parties.
"The bulk of the Lib Dem losses went to Labour but not, by any means all. And the yellows benefited by a small group of Labour general election voters switching."

Neil O'Brien says in the Telegraph Nick Clegg shouldn't worry about the defeat:

"Clegg-ism is still a work in progress. Time, though, is on his side. He has four years to make and win these arguments. And he understands how bad policies equal bad politics in the long run. Tuition fees hurt Clegg last year and Ed Miliband's opportunist approach may hurt him at the next election. As the Tories discovered after 1997, short-term policies are great for tomorrow's papers, but can destroy your credibility over a parliament. If Clegg takes care to remember he is running a marathon, not a sprint, then the third party may prove its worth."

Martin Kettle speculates in the Guardian that the loss may actually bolster the Lib Dems' position in the coalition:

"[I]t is rather more probable that the larger party will offer further policy concessions. It will do this in the hope of bolstering its partner's popular support without at the same time eating into that of its larger partner or provoking an unmanageable backlash in its own ranks. This is precisely the context of the current UK arguments on control orders and bankers' bonuses."

In the Spectator Peter Hoskin looks into the Tories' 14% drop in votes:

"[T]his is unlikely to placate those who suspected the party was actively pushing down its vote in Oldham, in deference to the Lib Dems."

Samira Shackle concludes in the New Statesman that the result sends a warning to the coalition:

"We must be wary of drawing too many conclusions from a single by-election. Over-all, it is very positive for Labour. Not only are there signs of a swing towards them, but a spotlight has been cast on the difficulties that will face the two coalition parties come the general election."

Atul Hatwal says in Labour Uncut that victory has bought the Labour leadership time and suggests how they should use it:

"The space created by winning Oldham East and Saddleworth should be used to neutralise the deficit as an issue and move the debate onto new ground. Much of the current Labour leadership were senior advisers in the 1990s. They were part of an opposition machine that minced the Tories. They saw first hand what worked.
"Success was based on two simple rules:
"First, the opposition sticks to the government's spending plans. Period.
"The logic behind this rule was that back then we were suffering from a lack of credibility. We were in opposition because voters had already made a deliberate choice to reject us."

Links in full

Mike Smithson | Politcal Betting | Is it wrong to assume that all Tory losses went to the LDs?
Neil O'Brien | Telegraph | Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election: Clegg-ism may be a work in progress, but time is on his side
Martin Kettle | Guardian | The Lib Dems will gain strength through weakness
Peter Hoskin | Spectator | Comfortable win for Labour in Oldham East & Saddleworth
Samira Shackle | New Statesman | What does the Oldham result mean for the coalition?
Atul Hatwal | Labour Uncut | Oldham win lifts Labour out of relegation zone

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Clare Spencer | 13:50 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The Guardian's most read article claims to have identified a second undercover police officer living a second life as an environmental activist. The Guardian protects her identity but said she lived in Leeds for four years and played a central role in planning a demonstration to shut down Drax power station in North Yorkshire.

Daily Mail readers are catching up on speculation about Kate Middleton's smile. The paper speculates that before the engagement photos the future Princess Catherine had braces applied from behind the teeth to make them invisible.

Sun readers prefer to read about details of Charlotte Church's holiday.The singer was pictured in the Caribbean with her new partner Jonathan Powell.

The Los Angeles Times most e-mailed story is of two ranchers who shot escaped zebras and then asked a taxidermist to make them into a rug.

The Daily Beast says there are down points to being attractive. This comes after dating website OK Cupid said its less attractive users are more popular.

Proving popular with Wall Street Journal readers is the story of a mansion built in Albuquerque's "skid row". Built in the middle of an industrial area and completed in 2008, the $3.4m home was thought by locals at first to be a scientology building but is actually home to antique dealer Gertrude Zachary.

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:34 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The Guardian says the BBC Trust chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, has warned that the BBC's digital TV services may have to be cut back, as it seeks to make at least £300m of savings in the wake of last year's licence fee settlement. In an open letter to Mark Thompson, Sir Michael said efficiency savings would not be enough to meet the funding gap alone and "hard choices about content and services" would be required. Today the BBC director general addresses staff about the impending cuts.

The Independent says the appointment of the next chairman of the BBC Trust could see short-listed candidates taking part in "an X Factor-style popularity contest" before a panel of MPs. The two front-runners are Lord Patten, former Tory party chairman, and Sir Howard Davies, director of the London School of Economics. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has been urged to allow the Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee to summon the final two candidates to demonstrate their credentials.

Following Miriam O'Reilly's tribunal victory, Selina Scott says in the Telegraph it will take "a seismic change" to alter the culture of the Corporation. She says "Listen to Lorraine Heggessey, the former Controller of BBC One... Her view on Newsnight and on radio was that her successor, Jay Hunt, had every right to recast a show 'on a whim'".

Stephen Glover says in the Daily Mail it is "a rich irony" that the Corporation should have been accused by an industrial tribunal of 'social engineering': "The BBC likes to present itself as the most progressive organisation in the world, a trenchant opponent of sexism, racism, ageism and every other kind of -ism you can think of."

The BBC's newspaper review says graphic images and tales from the flood-stricken Australian city of Brisbane fill many of the papers. The Independent shows aerial shots of hundreds of homes submerged by flood water in "the city that drowned".

Links in full
Guardian | BBC Trust chair: we may cut back digital channels
Independent | You've seen X Factor - now get ready for BBC Chairman Factor
Telegraph | Selina Scott: I know the ageist ways of the BBC
Daily Mail | A BBC obsessed with diversity and feminist pieties is gloriously hoist with its own petard
BBC | Newspapers review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Wednesday's Media Brief

Daily View: Blood libel

Clare Spencer | 09:46 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

Sarah Palin


Commentators analyse Sarah Palin's accusation of of 'blood libel' against her.

Read her full speech on her Facebook page

In the Telegraph Damian Thompson says Sarah Palin's use of the term "blood libel" raises two possibilities:


"1. She's so ignorant that she doesn't know that 'blood libel' refers to the myth that Jews drink the blood of sacrificed children.
2. She does know what it means, and blurted it out anyway."

Peter Beaumont says in the Guardian that Sarah Palin's misappropriation of a phrase from the history of anti-Semitism should make her unelectable:

"More awful still, perhaps, is the context in which Palin has adopted the language: to recast herself as the victim in defending herself from claims that her language and behaviour may have helped create the context for the attempted murder of a congresswoman who, in fact, is Jewish.
"Now, it is almost irrelevant whether Palin's language contributed to the shootings, or whether even her campaign's drawing of a crosshairs on Giffords' district was even known to the gunman. Because in defending herself Palin has more than compounded the sense that she is unsuitable for high office. It is almost impossible to find an explanation for this use of "blood libel" that casts Palin in anything but the most damning light."

Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz defends Sarah Palin, saying the term has far wider uses currently:

"There is nothing improper and certainly nothing anti-Semitic in Sarah Palin using the term to characterize what she reasonably believes are false accusations that her words or images may have caused a mentally disturbed individual to kill and maim. The fact that two of the victims are Jewish is utterly irrelevant to the propriety of using this widely used term."

In National Review Jim Geraghty asks for perspective:

"In the grand scheme of things, the idea that Palin used a phrase associated with one particular, egregious and historically recurring false accusation to rebut a modern false accusation seems like little reason for outrage. For perspective on what really is worth outrage, the services for 9-year-old victim Christina Taylor Green are tomorrow."

In the LA Times Doyle McManus also argues that the intended meaning was not related to Judaism but inappropriate all the same:

"By 'blood libel,' Palin was referring, of course, to the charge that her own rhetoric had somehow increased the likelihood that a mentally disturbed young man would shoot people. And on the substance, she was right: There's no evidence that her words - or anyone else's - contributed to Saturday's tragedy.
"But her statement also confirmed something that should disqualify the former Alaska governor from ever seeking higher office: She has no sense of proportion."

In the Atlantic Jeffrey Goldberg suggests that Sarah Palin's use of the term is a good thing for Jews:

"Sarah Palin is such an important political and cultural figure that her use of the term 'blood libel' should introduce this very important historical phenomenon to a wide audience, and the ensuing discussion - about how Fox News is not actually Mendel Beilis - will serve to enlighten and inform."

Links in full

Damian Thompson | Telegraph | Sarah Palin accuses her critics of 'blood libel'.
Peter Beaumont | Guardian | Sarah Palin's 'blood libel' blunder
Big Government | Alan Dershowitz Defends Sarah Palin's Use of Term 'Blood Libel'
Jim Geraghty | National Review | More Common Than You Might Think
Doyle McManus | LA Times | Palin comes out swinging, and misses
Jeffrey Goldberg | Atlantic | Why Sarah Palin's Use of 'Blood Libel' Is a Great Thing

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Clare Spencer | 15:13 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Wall Street Journal readers are looking at Amy Chua's account of why Chinese mothers bring up high-achieving children. It's all about being strict:

"[E]ven when Western parents think they're being strict, they usually don't come close to being Chinese mothers. For example, my Western friends who consider themselves strict make their children practice their instruments 30 minutes every day. An hour at most. For a Chinese mother, the first hour is the easy part. It's hours two and three that get tough."

Daily Mail readers continue to follow the police efforts to find Jo Yeates' killer. The paper reports saliva of the killer has been found on her body.

Proving popular with readers of Wired is a call from the magazine's Ryan Singel for others to copy Twitter's protection of its users. The micro-blogging service contested a court order demanding that they turn over information about people connected to WikiLeaks. Singel asks PayPal, Amazon, Visa, Mastercard, Bank of America and the US government to follow Twitter's lead.

The most read article on the Smithsonian Magazine says wild boar are taking over Texas. Able to live in almost any terrain, there are thought to be two million to six million of the animals "wreaking havoc" across the US. Half are in Texas, where they do some $400 million (£256 million) in damages annually. Texas allows hunters to kill wild hogs all year round without limits or capture them alive to take to slaughterhouses to be processed and sold to restaurants as exotic meat.

Prospect readers are catching up on a cautionary tale about cross-culture marriages. Foreign correspondent Janine di Giovanni says globalisation has made binational marriage more the norm but created an industry in handling international divorces.

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:15 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

Campaigners have welcomed a tribunal's finding that the BBC discriminated against TV presenter Miriam O'Reilly on the grounds of her age. The BBC reports Michelle Mitchell, director at Age UK, said the ruling sent out a "powerful signal" against age discrimination. The BBC has apologised to O'Reilly, 53, who was dropped from the rural affairs show Countryfile when it moved to a primetime slot.

The Daily Mail says the BBC was last night accused of 'social engineering' for sacking a female presenter because she was too old. The paper goes on to say that in a landmark ruling, a tribunal declared that senior executives were obsessed with 'ethnic diversity', 'rejuvenation' and attracting younger viewers when they decided to axe Miriam O'Reilly.

The Telegraph says Miriam O'Reilly is set to work for the BBC again. The article says the amount of compensation to be awarded will be decided at another hearing but speculates at a figure of around £100,000, including lost earnings and an amount for injury to feelings, is likely to be awarded.

The Guardian reports Richard Desmond's newspapers and magazines have been excluded from the system of press self-regulation. It follows the refusal of Desmond's company, Northern & Shell, to pay the fees to the body responsible for funding the Press Complaints Commission, known as PressBof. The titles include the Daily Express, Sunday Express, Daily Star, Star on Sunday and OK! magazine.

BBC2 suffered the biggest drop in audience share of any of the five main channels in 2010 reports the Guardian. All suffered a fall in all-day audience share for the fifth year running as the popularity of multichannel television continued to grow. BBC2's share fell from 7.5% in 2009 to 6.9% in 2010. BBC1 fared best, its share falling 0.1% to 20.8% from 20.9% in 2009.

The BBC's newspaper review says Miriam O'Reilly's victory in her age discrimination case against the BBC makes many front pages. The Daily Mail hails her as the "woman who beat age bias at BBC". The Independent says the employment tribunal's ruling gives hope to older presenters and in the Guardian broadcaster Sheena McDonald celebrates her as an age champion.

Links in full

BBC | Campaigners applaud Miriam O'Reilly's tribunal win
Daily Mail | The woman who beat age bias at BBC
Telegraph | Miriam O'Reilly set to return to BBC after winning tribunal case
Guardian | Desmond's papers excluded from system of press self-regulation
Guardian | BBC2 suffered biggest drop in audience share in 2010
BBC | Newspapers review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Tuesday's Media Brief

Daily View: Age discrimination

Clare Spencer | 09:33 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011


Commentators discuss a tribunal's finding that the BBC discriminated against TV presenter Miriam O'Reilly on the grounds of her age.

The Independent's editorial argues that ability has nothing to do with age:

"The principle is not complicated. Decisions about staffing, which managements are perfectly entitled to take, should be made based solely on the ability of individuals to do the job in question. Age discrimination, whether in broadcasting or any other workplace, is simply past it."

Neil Midgley says in the Telegraph that for better or worse, the TV industry makes its living by providing "titillation to jaded punters":

"Fortunately for lecherous old dogs like me, the tribunal's outpourings do not constitute binding law. But they will certainly have an impact on how the BBC and other TV companies - not to mention other image-conscious employers, such as clothing stores and holiday companies - choose their staff... When people are being chosen for jobs presenting the telly programmes I watch, I'm going to have to watch them in 47" HD for hours at a time. What is so wrong in wanting them to be easy on the eye?"

In the Times Libby Purves follows on from Neil Midgley to back the decisions of TV bosses to be free to choose their presenters:

"Of course it's stupid to drop people just because they're old: but what the BBC should have said is that editors have a right to drop presenters for any reason at all, just as a theatre director rejects an actor who doesn't fit the vision, or a Times editor is free to throw me out on my ear. TV in particular is showbiz. Personally, I would rather watch a lively, quick-witted and well-informed woman whether she is 27 or 70 than a decorative airhead of 25; but if your target audience is a bit dim and lecherous, it is your right as an editor to feed them cheesecake."

Sheena McDonald says in the Guardian that she isn't hopeful that this case will lead to a fairer Britain for over 50s in the context of the rising popularity of short-term contracts:

"As a freelance broadcaster, I have been accustomed over the decades to enjoying time-limited periods of work, and acted accordingly - always keeping as many plates spinning as possible, in the knowledge that none will go on for ever. I foresee the growth of fixed-term contracts, particularly given the current volatility of the ever-expanding broadcasting world. The idea that employees will now feel better protected may be sound, but the era of the employee may itself be time-limited."

In the Wall Street Journal Iain Martin detects a trend in ageism not just in TV but also politics:

"Despite Britain aging (with life expectancy for those born in 2009 estimated by the ONS to be 88.7 for men and and 92.3 for women), political leaders are getting younger (as, I notice as I get older, are policemen). This, the political bit, must have something to do with wanting to look good on television and the shorter apprenticeships that MPs are these days expected to serve before they reach the top. Ed Miliband is 41 and Nick Clegg has just turned 44. Cameron was 43 when he became prime minister, Brown was 53, Blair 43 (then the youngest PM since Lord Liverpool), Major 47, Thatcher 53, Callaghan 64, Heath 53, Wilson 48, Sir Alex Douglas-Home 60, Harold Macmillan 62, Eden 57, Attlee 62 and Churchill 66.
"A reversal of that trend in line with demographic changes looks overdue. As more Britons live longer and work on well into their late 60s, and 70s in some cases, is it likely that they will want to be governed by younger and younger leaders? I doubt it. If political parties want to reconnect, as they are forever saying they do, they could in future do worse than opt for leaders who are in their late 50s or older. Vote Miriam O'Reilly."

Links in full

Independent | Ability has nothing to do with age
Neil Midgley | Telegraph | Prepare for lots of old, ugly people on the telly
Sheena McDonald | Guardian | Britain is no country for old folk
Times | Dropped for your age? What do you expect in showbiz?
Iain Martin | Wall Street Journal | Cult of Youth Doesn't Make Sense in Aging Britain

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Clare Spencer | 14:40 UK time, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The Independent's most read article says a Polish cleaner's book has simultaneously taken the German top seller list by storm and dispelled the myth of the clean and orderly German. The article explains that the "Polnische Putze" (Polish charlady) has become almost a standard requirement in wealthier German households since the collapse of Communism.

The Telegraph reports that the Royal Navy's Falkland Islands protection ship has been turned away from docking in Rio de Janeiro. This is taken as an indication that Brazil's new government could back Argentine claims to the islands.

News of the last text Jo Yeates' sent before she died is the Daily Mail's most read story. The murdered landscape architect asked a friend if he fancied a drink and he saw the text an hour later by which time it was too late, according to the article.

The New York Times' most e-mailed story asks if law school is a losing game. The US may be known as the country of lawyers but according to the article, although they may be qualified an increasing number finish their course in debt.

Time's most read article promises we may be one step closer to finding a second Earth. This follows Nasa's announcement that they have found the smallest planet yet outside our solar system. The question is whether it is small enough and temperate enough to be hospitable to life.

Proving popular on Salon is an article questioning the US work ethic. The article states that the reason Americans have fewer holidays isn't because of the Protestant work ethic adopted by the Pilgrims. Instead it dates back as recently as the 1990s when there were no government checks on excessive work.

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:04 UK time, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

Ex-Formula One boss Max Mosley will go to the European court today in a bid to reform celebrity privacy laws, the BBC reports. He will make a case for "prior notification", which would compel the UK press to go to public figures at the heart of a story before running it. A victory could mean the end for "kiss and tell" stories but critics say it could also damage serious journalism. In 2008, Mr Mosley won a famous victory against the News of the World over an article about his sex life.

On Radio 4's Today programme Max Mosley denied that the move would curb investigative journalism, such as the Daily Telegraph's expose of MPs' expenses.

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The Guardian says News Corporation is gearing up for "confidential discussions" with Jeremy Hunt's government department this week about its bid to take full control of BSkyB. Objectors to the deal - including Guardian Media Group, Trinity Mirror, BT, Channel 4, and the publishers of the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph - have complained that News Corp is being given unfair inside access to the Department of Culture Media and Sport.

Roy Greenslade says in the Guardian media commentators are split over Rupert Murdoch's bid for full ownership of BSkyB. He cites Stephen Glover who has written in the Independent in favour of the takeover, criticising a Henry Porter article in the Observer. In a letter to the Financial Times, Lords Fowler, Puttnam and others say the takeover would undermine UK media plurality.

The BBC's newspaper review says City bonuses preoccupy many of the papers. The Guardian says it is "game, set and match" to the City. The Daily Telegraph says "Cameron admits defeat over bonuses" and according to the Daily Mail, Downing Street appears to have run up the white flag.

Links in full

BBC | Max Mosley seeks reform of celebrity privacy laws
BBC | Mosley: Press freedom 'vital'
Guardian | News Corp to hold 'confidential talks' with government on BSkyB bid
Guardian | Media commentators split over Murdoch's BSkyB move
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Monday's Media Brief

Daily View: Bankers' bonuses

Clare Spencer | 09:41 UK time, Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Commentators discuss bankers' bonuses as members of the Commons Treasury Select Committee prepare to discuss pay with Britain's best-paid banker Bob Diamond, Barclays' chief executive.

The Times editorial explains the argument that, contrary to premiership footballers, bankers are not worth the superstar pay:

"Many people working in the financial services industry are of very high calibre. They have an impressive intellectual grasp, show entrepreneurial flair and often combine a facility with numbers with a creativity that an artist can admire. The fact that these skills are impressive does not, however, make them rare. Or at least, they are nowhere near as rare as the skills of the superstar football player. One of the main drivers of top football wages - that the skill being purchased is incredibly hard to find - does not apply to bankers."

David Prosser says in the Independent that banks can't afford big bonuses:

"By the end of 2012, UK banks must find as much as £800bn to replace borrowings due to mature, mostly from support mechanisms such as the special liquidity scheme that the Bank introduced at the height of the financial crisis. As yet there is no clarity on how that will be achieved, and a number of banks continue to lobby privately for an extension of emergency support beyond the end of 2012.
"In that context, the prospect of British banks paying bonuses totalling £5bn or more looks difficult to defend as a sound business practice. Mr Diamond and company may worry about their stars heading elsewhere if they aren't paid top dollar, but they should be more concerned about how they are going to roll over debt arrangements in the next 18 months."

Cambridge economics professor Ha-Joon Chang says in the Guardian that getting rid of bankers could be good:

"Of course, if pay restraints and higher taxes continue, some bankers will move abroad and weaken the British banking industry. But that may not necessarily be a bad thing. I would not go as far as Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve board and the current chairman of the economic recovery advisory board, in declaring that the only socially useful financial innovation in the last few decades has been the ATM. But it is true that during this period the banks in London have been engaged in activities that are socially unproductive or even harmful, as revealed by the 2008 financial crisis. Losing some of these activities may not be a bad thing."

The Guardian editorial suggests politicians need to keep bankers in line in order to keep the voters happy:

"The people will lack the full facts, but will nonetheless know enough to feel fury. Politicians must keep sight of other objectives, such as encouraging lending and the value of nationalised assets, so fixing the problem is not a simple thing to do. But done it must be. If a blind eye is turned to the blind rage, the politicians will pay a price."

The Financial Times editorial says how much bankers get paid isn't a matter for politicians:

"There is no doubting the public's frustration with the bankers. But there is a danger of the debate becoming bogged down in sterile exchanges. The outrage will not be quenched by constant, largely synthetic calls for bonuses to be forgone or legislation to curb pay. There is a risk that it will simply be magnified.
"Such intervention is neither warranted nor sustainable. David Cameron is right to say that the government must not micromanage the banks. Parliament should not - unless absolutely necessary - intervene in private contracts."

The Daily Mail editorial finds an alternative source to politicians to apply pressure on banks:

"If shareholders can see the grotesque sums being paid to a handful of fat cats, perhaps they will exert sufficient pressure on the banks to affect a much-needed change in culture."

Links in full

Times | The Lampard Question
David Prosser | Independent | Bumper bonuses aren't compatible with better balance sheets
Ha-Joon Chang | Guardian | The benefits of curbing bankers' bonuses
Guardian | Bankers' bonuses: Blind eye to blind rage
Financial Times | The long road to bonus restraint
Daily Mail | Ministers mustn't let bankers off the hook

Popular Elsewhere

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Clare Spencer | 14:46 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The Times' readers are interested in the claim by the mother of a student demonstrator that her son deserved to be punished. Tania Garwood said her son, sixth former Edward Woollard, did a terrible thing when he threw a fire extinguisher off the roof of the Conservative Party headquarters.

Most read on the Daily Mail's website is news of baby Oliver Denning dying in a bath after being left for a few minutes. An inquest was told his mother returned from cleaning a changing mat to discover her 11-month-old son submerged in eight inches of water.

The Telegraph's Ambrose Evans-Pritchard warns that self-congratulation by the US authorities that they have this time avoided a repeat of the 1930s recession is premature. He takes his hint from large growth in US high-end stores compared to discount stores.

Proving popular on the New Statesman's website is Paul Mason's imagined interview with Karl Marx about the credit crunch. The story goes, if Marx was alive today, he would say the cause of the crisis was that the Chinese save too much and spend too little so the solution would be Chinese revolution.

The New Scientist reports on the new weapon to deter pirates such as those off the coast of Somalia. A laser will let people know they have been spotted. The magazine says it won't necessarily stop them from stopping.

CNN Readers are interested in Douglas Rushkoff's prediction that it is the beginning of the end for Facebook. His theory is that Facebook has gone as far as it is possible to go in creating an illusion that it is too big to fail.

Media reaction: Motivation behind Giffords shooting

Clare Spencer | 11:58 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011

Photographs of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords are set amid flowers and candles outside the University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona


Commentators react to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords especially concerning the preceding political debate.

Alexander Cockburn argues in the First Post that the incident could have been predicted:

"In the relentless escalation in violent political rhetoric across the past couple of years, it's been a pretty safe bet that sooner or later someone on the right would try to shoot a Democrat, the preferred target being President Barack Obama. But Obama doesn't sit in a parking lot outside a Safeway supermarket in Tucson, Arizona, minus bodyguards, chatting to all and sundry."

E.J. Dionne Jr. says in the Washington Post that it is the responsibility of parties to control their followers:

"Liberals were rightly pressed in the 1960s to condemn violence on the left. Now, conservative leaders must take on their fringe when it uses language that intimates threats of bloodshed. That means more than just highly general statements praising civility."

Bernie Goldberg says in AOL News that opinion columnists should stop playing connect-the-dots to work out what influenced the gunman:

"The terrible tragedy in Arizona should not be one more tiresome liberal vs. conservative debate. But that's what some liberals have turned it into. Without a shred of evidence that the gunman was influenced by Palin, Beck, O'Reilly, Limbaugh or the tea partiers, the opportunists on the Left are fretting about the vitriol in our national conversation allegedly brought on by these supposed right-wing villains.
"But what the conservative-bashers are really doing is simply taking a page out of the Rahm Emanuel playbook. They're not going to let this crisis, or any other, go to waste."

The Washington Post editorial highlights flaws in the argument that the shooting was due to the language of political debate:

"It is as noxious to associate Saturday's shooting with conservative campaign rhetoric, even that which is over the top, as it would be to claim that violence is the doing of those who labelled Tea Partyers un-American (as Democratic leaders did during the health-care debate) or of those who accuse senators of being unpatriotic (as a liberal newspaper columnist recently did). If a lunatic attacks a businessman, are we to blame Obama for vilifying the Chamber of Commerce? Was the attack on an Arkansas recruiting station the fault of antiwar liberal Democrats? Of course not. The impulse to blame political opponents for tragedy and to convert human misery into a political weapon - both of which were played out on Twitter and the Internet by liberals as diverse as Paul Krugman, Jane Fonda and the Daily Kos crowd - is deeply regrettable. But it has unfortunately become par for the course."

Gail Collins asks in the New York Times to use this shooting as a reason to discuss gun ownership:

"[T]he amazing thing about the reaction to the Giffords shooting is that virtually all the discussion about how to prevent a recurrence has been focusing on improving the tone of our political discourse. That would certainly be great. But you do not hear much about the fact that Jared Loughner came to Giffords's sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it... [W]e should be able to find a way to accommodate the strong desire in many parts of the country for easy access to firearms with sane regulation of the kinds of weapons that make it easiest for crazy people to create mass slaughter."

Links in full

Gail Collins | New York Times | A Right to Bear Glocks?
E.J. Dionne Jr. | Washington Post | Gabby Giffords, a tragic prophet
Bernie Goldberg | AOL News | The Rush to Blame the Right for Giffords' Shooting
Alexander Cockburn | First Post | Republican chickens come home to roost in Tucson
Washington Post | Right turn

Daily View: Jack Straw's comments on abuse

Clare Spencer | 10:45 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011

Jack Straw


Commentators dissect former Home Secretary Jack Straw's suggestion that some men of Pakistani origin see white girls as an easy target for sexual abuse. The Blackburn Labour MP spoke out after two Asian men who abused girls in Derby were given indeterminate jail terms. His use of the phrase "easy meat" prompted particular controversy.

Yasmin Alibhai Brown says in the Independent that Jack Straw was right to "ask hard questions about Asian men":

"Let's ask questions we never ask, to find out more than we ever try to. Do these men have any idea of normal, pleasurable, healthy sex between a man and a woman? Are they maddened by their own frustration and fear of females? I am not impugning those Asian or Pakistani men who love women, but those who are too messed up to understand what that means; maybe those whose key choices, including their lifelong partners, have all been made by families operating as firms. And again, is this the most appalling pay-back for white racism?...
"Shouting down Jack Straw, busying ourselves with warnings about feeding the BNP, are displacement activities that will do nothing to stop Asian groomers, who, from childhood have developed distorted ideas about themselves, society, females, vice and virtue."

Anna Chen says in her blog Madam Miaow Jack Straw's comments reflect an age-old slur:

"I believe this was also the chief fantasy of the Ku Klux Klan when they lynched black men in the Deep South during the days of Jim Crow...
"Rather than deal with the breakdown of our society as the rich suck up all the remaining wealth, and having an honest look at how the resulting stresses affect human relations, we demonise an entire race group. Is Straw seriously saying that these men would never have targeted non-white girls? That white men don't traffic and abuse women?"

In the Daily Express Leo McKinstry argues that denying an ethnic link in sex gangs is down to a "dogma of political correctness":

"In this twisted ideological world, it would seem that the hypersensitivities of an ethnic minority are more keenly protected than the rights of abused girls. The greatest crime is not the sexual brutality itself but daring to mention the ethnicity of the predators.
"It is fascinating to contrast this institutionalised eagerness to dissemble and deny with the almost celebratory glee that drove the coverage of the child abuse scandal in the Catholic church.

"It was absolutely right that a fierce light was shone on this culture of exploitation, which inflicted such suffering on the innocent and was the very antithesis of the Christian doctrine of compassion, yet the media and the political elite have shamefully failed to adopt the same vigorous approach towards Asian sex gangs."

Melanie Phillips says in the Daily Mail that this is not a race issue as Jack Straw suggests, but instead a religion issue:

"Indeed, one of the many red herrings in this debate is that - if cultural characteristics are discussed at all -the gangs tend to be described as 'Asian'. But this is to besmirch Sikhs, Hindus, Chinese and other Asians. For these particular gang members are overwhelmingly Muslim men. And the common characteristic is not ethnicity, but religion.
"For these gang members select their victims from communities which they believe to be 'unbelievers' - non-Muslims whom they view with disdain and hostility. You can see that this is not a racial but a religious animosity from the fact that, while the vast majority of the girls who are targeted are white, the victims include Sikhs and Hindus, too."

Barbara Ellen asks in the Guardian if this uncovers some inverted racial stereotyping of white girls:

"Even if Asian men tend to view white girls as easier meat, then where have they learned all this? Not only on the streets where they live, but also in the images surrounding them. There's endless coverage of drunken 'ladettes' out on the lash, young girls being sick into gutters, lying in streets, smoking, getting pregnant, looking gormless, telling people with research clipboards that "all they wanna be is famous, innit'.
"In the vast majority of cases, the girls featured are white. Not because only white girls spend a period of their youth making mistakes, living and learning, but presumably because it is less tricky to use pictures of white girls. Images of young black girls making mistakes, living and learning, could so easily look a bit racist."

Minette Marrin says in the Sunday Times that little perhaps can be done about cultural differences but argues for "slaughtering the following sacred cows":

"First, the curious western belief that it's better to have double standards and injustice than to criticise another culture. Second, the insistence of western women that they have an incontrovertible right to dress like hypersexualised jailbait, regardless of its effects. Third, the insistence of some cultures on their right to arranged marriages across continents, regardless of their antisocial consequences here. And finally, the assumption of multiculturalism that all cultures, in all their manifestations, have a right to equal respect."

Links in full

Yasmin Alibhai Brown | Independent | Jack Straw is right to ask hard questions about Asian men
Anna Chen | Madam Miaow | Jack Straw's sex fantasy about dark men and white girls
Leo McKinstry | Daily Express | Denying an ethnic link in sex gangs is blinkered
Melanie Phillips | Daily Mail | While Muslim sexual predators have been jailed, it is white Britain's hypocritical values that are to blame
Barbara Ellen | Guardian | Too many of us treat young white women as trash
Minette Marrin | Sunday Times | We're allowing white girls to become 'easy meat'

Media Brief

Post categories:

Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:13 UK time, Monday, 10 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

Digital radio switchover could stall for a decade unless the BBC commits funding for transmitters, according to a commercial radio boss. In an interview in Media Guardian, Paul Keenan, who oversees the Kiss and Magic stations, joins other commercial radio executives in demanding that the BBC decide its funding levels for the local network of digital radio transmitters.

The Mail on Sunday says dozens of celebrities, including actress Liz Hurley and singer Lily Allen, face possible court action over claims that they are endorsing luxury items on their internet blogs and Tweets without declaring that they have been paid by the companies concerned. The crackdown has been ordered by the Office of Fair Trading, which can take offenders to court.

The Guardian says the phone-hacking scandal threatening to engulf the News of the World will intensify this week when the Metropolitan police hands over previously undisclosed documents. It says Scotland Yard has until Wednesday to comply with a court order obliging it to provide lawyers for the sports agent Skylet Andrew with material relating to the hacking of his phone.

David Miliband is considering a role in television. The Observer says the Labour leadership candidate, who lost out to his brother by the narrowest of margins last September, has approached the BBC with programme ideas. "It is unclear whether Miliband wants to front one-off documentaries or a series, but it is thought all his proposals would involve him taking a starring role on screen."

BBC director general Mark Thompson tells Andrew Pierce and Amanda Platell of the Daily Mail that EastEnders was "absolutely not" suggesting that the behaviour shown in its cot-death storyline was typical of a mother who has lost a child through Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. They write: "In his first interview with the Daily Mail, Thompson is keen to highlight what he says has been a transformation in Saturday night programmes, but also concedes that the BBC has been damaged by the ageism furore and other very avoidable blunders."

Radio 3 has teamed up with academics at Goldsmiths College in London for a nationwide experiment to work out what makes us musical - personality or practice. The ''How Musical Are You?'' test is being launched to tie in with Radio 3's 12-day celebration of the music of Mozart in which the airwaves will be devoted to the composer, as the Telegraph reports.

The BBC's newspaper review says the shootings in Arizona continue to dominate the UK news agenda. Many papers speculate about whether the nature of the US political system was partly to blame.

Links in full

Guardian | Radio executive urges BBC to commit digital switchover funds
Daily Mail | Stop Tweeting - or we will take you to court! Watchdog's crackdown on celebrities who plug products on Twitter
Guardian | Fresh phone-hacking document to increase pressure on News of the World
Guardian | Radio executive urges BBC to commit digital switchover funds
Daily Mail | I know that our viewers are angry. We'll listen - and learn: BBC boss Mark Thompson on the Eastenders story
Telegraph | How musical are you?
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Friday's Media Brief

See Also: Media spotlight turns to vitriol in politics

Matthew Davis | 14:11 UK time, Sunday, 9 January 2011

The shooting of US congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 11 others - six of whom have died - has turned the spotlight on the volatile, febrile state of American politics.
Carl Hulse and Kate Zernike write in the New York Times:

Not since the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 has an event generated as much attention as to whether extremism, anti-government sentiment and even simple political passion at both ends of the ideological spectrum have created a climate promoting violence. The fallout seemed to hold the potential to upend the effort by Republicans to keep their agenda front and centre in the new Congress and to alter the political narrative in other ways.

Politico, a journalistic organisation focused on US politics, spoke to lawmakers about their responses to the political environment. Jake Sherman and Jonathan Allen write:

The shooting of Rep Gabrielle Giffords at a congressional event on Saturday in Arizona has forced political leaders to confront a pair of chilling realities: The line between politics and violence has become less clear, and their need to be accessible to their constituents carries physical risks. "The struggle members have is maintaining that balance of openness and accessibility with that real concern that there's a freak out there that will do the unthinkable," Rep Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), whose office sits next to Giffords,' told Politico. Indeed, while lawmakers have been increasingly concerned in recent years that virulent rhetoric would escalate into violence, many of them have struggled to calibrate a response that neither ignores the problem nor encourages it.

Amid the coverage of the shootings there has been some focus on how the former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a conservative Republican, placed Ms Giffords on a list of politicians she wanted to remove from office in November's mid-term polls; illustrating this with the crosshairs of a gun sight over her district. Toby Harnden, US editor of Britain's Daily Telegraph, is critical of what he describes as an "unseemly rush to blame" conservative Republicans.

Plenty more will emerge in the coming days about Loughner's motivations and those of any accomplice. It seems certain that the attempted assassination was politically motivated but in exactly what way is, at this stage, very murky. This is a time for sombre reflection and a calming (rather than an escalation) of rhetoric. Sadly, however, some see it as another opportunity to score political points and vilify those they hate.

Politico's Ben Smith also considers the killer's motivation:

The obsession with the gold standard and the hostility to the federal government resonate with the far right, the burned American flag with the left, but the discussion of mind control and grammar sound more like mental illness than politics.

Meanwhile, Arizona Republic columnist Linda Valdez, warns against a rush to assign blame:

To the world, what happened Saturday is referred to as a "killing spree in Arizona." For Tucson, it is a very personal pain. Gabby is the kind of hometown girl you can be proud of for all the good, old-fashioned reasons. She's poised, intelligent, well-spoken. And tough...

The debate over the consequences of ugly rhetoric began long before the victims fell Saturday. It requires winners and losers. As Tucson processes the very personal pain of what happened to Gabrielle Giffords and others on a beautiful sunny Saturday, the state and the nation have a model of behaviour that does not require blame. Republicans and Democrats - political friends and foes - came together to express compassion after Saturday's tragedy. If those involved could hold that level of civility, we'd all be better off.

See Also: US media on Giffords shooting

Host | 23:27 UK time, Saturday, 8 January 2011

Commentators in the US media have been quick to react to the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Tucson, Arizona.

Writing for Salon, Rebecca Traister says:

Of course, the human losses of today's attacks in Arizona are immeasurably greater than any political or social toll. But it would be irresponsible to fail to note that a young, highly educated, ambitious Jewish woman like Gabrielle Giffords, despite her centrism, represents much that is revolutionary and hopeful about the changing face of American politics, as well as about the new and varied paths and possibilities available to women. She is the kind of politician this nation could barely have imagined existing just a decade or two ago. And so, when I have been asked about which women are not yet national stars but have the peculiar, groundbreaking alchemy it might take to someday become the nation's first female president, again and again my answer has included the same name: Gabrielle Giffords.

Howard Fineman, writing for the Huffington Post, warns that voters are likely to lose access to politicians as a result of the attack:

The shooting of Rep Gabrielle Giffords is a watershed event in many ways, some of which we cannot yet know, but one of the clearest and simplest is this: Congress and its members are about to be permanently quarantined, physically isolated, from the people it and they represent.

Erick Erikson, on the Red State blog, writes:

The truth is there is evil in this world. Evil exists where God does not and as we drive God further and further away, evil creeps in more and more. Today was not a random act of violence. It was a profound evil. Let's not pretend it wasn't. Let's not pretend evil does not exist.

Paul Krugman, writing in his New York Times blog, considers the potential political ramifications:

We don't have proof yet that this was political, but the odds are that it was. She's been the target of violence before. And for those wondering why a Blue Dog Democrat, the kind Republicans might be able to work with, might be a target, the answer is that she's a Democrat who survived what was otherwise a GOP sweep in Arizona, precisely because the Republicans nominated a Tea Party activist. (Her father says that "the whole Tea Party" was her enemy.) And yes, she was on Sarah Palin's infamous "crosshairs" list.

Just yesterday, Ezra Klein remarked that opposition to health reform was getting scary. Actually, it's been scary for quite a while, in a way that already reminded many of us of the climate that preceded the Oklahoma City bombing.

You know that Republicans will yell about the evils of partisanship whenever anyone tries to make a connection between the rhetoric of Beck, Limbaugh, etc and the violence I fear we're going to see in the months and years ahead. But violent acts are what happen when you create a climate of hate. And it's long past time for the GOP's leaders to take a stand against the hate-mongers.

Writing in the National Journal, Matthew Cooper notes that a grim first has been recorded:

The shooting of Giffords - a mother (her husband had children by a previous marriage), a young woman of 40, the wife of an astronaut and the in-law of another who is currently in space - is horrible by any measure. It is the first time a female elected federal officeholder has been shot.

It's a reminder that female politicians are no more protected than female cops or firefighters, soldiers or corrections officers. And yet the first time we hear about a mother killed in the line of duty or a female POW, it curdles the stomach, not because of paternalism but because it marks a new barrier of decency that's been broken.

Ashes to Ashes: Australian media review

Adrian Dalingwater | 13:37 UK time, Friday, 7 January 2011

Acting Australian captain Michael Clarke

It has often been said that the last time an England cricket team claimed the Ashes with a series victory in Australia - way back in late 1986 - the Australian media relegated the story and instead focused on other sports in which Australians were prevailing.

This time round, no such acts of denial are obvious in the online editions of Australia's newspapers.

Mindful of the devastating floods currently afflicting Queensland, the papers avoid using the word "disaster" to describe the Test team's comprehensive defeat at the hands of the old enemy, but "humiliation", "stunning" and the more neutral "memorable" are among the words employed by headline writers reflecting on a result that has struck a hammer blow to the country's sense of sporting superiority. Writing in the Australian, Malcolm Conn says the home side's batting was "dismal", adding:

"The eventual gulf between the sides is highlighted by the fact that for the first time Australia lost three Tests in a series by an innings."

In Sydney's Herald-Sun - which promotes its Ashes coverage under the heading "Awful Aussies" - Will Swanton reports that legendary former Test captain Steve Waugh will be invited to participate in Cricket Australia's post-mortem  into the Ashes debacle. He goes on to accuse the upper echelons of Australian cricket of being in denial, and says the position of chairman of selectors Andrew Hilditch is "untenable".

Peter Roebuck in the Sydney Morning Herald says the gulf between the two sides has been laid bare over five Test matches. In a piece published shortly before England mopped up the last pockets of Australian resistance at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday morning, he does not hold back:

"Despair has descended upon Australian cricket. Embarrassment has become an acquaintance. Humiliation has introduced itself. Calamity has piled upon calamity."

Roebuck goes on to contrast the two teams' approaches:

"During the series Australia perforce changed captain and openers, tried an all-pace attack and fielded more spinners than the government and still looked inept. Its demon bowler turned out to be a dud, its mystery spinners lacked mystique and spin. Running between the wickets became a hazardous operation. The bats consisted of edges. Meanwhile, the Poms reigned supreme... Throughout England resembled a boa constrictor, a reptile that wraps itself around its foe and crushes it until its eyeballs pop out. Seldom has ruthlessness been as attractively and painfully delivered."

In Melbourne's The Age, Will Brodie says Australia needs to swallow some "bitter medicine" and rebuild the Test match team with young players:

"Without a core of well-performed elder statesmen to shield these greenhorns, there will be some more collapses with the bat, and floggings in the field. There will be some disappointing losses. But unless Australia takes the short-term pain to blood several youngsters with the right techniques and temperaments, it will be consigned to a sustained period of mediocrity."

By contrast, Andrew Webster in Sydney's Herald-Sun urges the retention of veteran captain Ricky Ponting and instead focuses his ire on the administrators of Australian cricket, whom he accuses of seeking to avoid blame for this defeat:

"The Australian public is seething at this Ashes humiliation and Cricket Australia should realise that playing a dead-bat will only inflame the discontent."

On the captaincy front, Webster says there is simply no alternative to Ponting:

"Yes, he has become the first Australian captain in 120 years to lose three Ashes series... Yet the simple fact is no individual in Australian cricket right now has the experience or strength of character like the skipper."

Sydney's Daily Telegraph is scathing, promoting its coverage of the Ashes finale with the headline "Aussie BBQ: Cooked in our own backyard" and going on to report that in a poll, its readers have declared the current team the worst to lose an Ashes series on home soil.

However, at the time of writing the most read item on the newspaper's website was a column written ahead of the five matches by Will Swanton under the headline "10 reasons Poms WON'T win" which, in the light of subsequent events, makes for hilarious reading - if you are an England cricket fan, that is.

Media Brief

Post categories:

Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:55 UK time, Friday, 7 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

The Guardian says the BBC will cut short a controversial cot death story in EastEnders that looks set to become its most complained-about plotline to date. More than 6,000 complaints have been made about episodes in which Ronnie Branning, played by actor Samantha Womack, lost her baby James and swapped him for Kat and Alfie Moon's newborn son, Tommy. Campaigning website Mumsnet described it as cynical and ill-informed.

The Daily Mail says EastEnders star Samantha Womack showed the strain over her exit from the soap as she arrived at her north London home last night. It says: "The BBC is engulfed in a fierce row over ethical standards over its decision to screen the harrowing plot. As complaints about the show reached more than 6,000, it was sensationally claimed that its screenwriters are in revolt over the storyline."

Amid the row over the EastEnders cot-death storyline, Andrew Billen argues in The Times that soap actors should take a stand against extreme plots.

The Guardian says the Metropolitan police faces calls for an independent review of its investigation into the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, following the suspension of assistant editor Ian Edmondson. The former home secretary Alan Johnson has called for an independent inquiry and Ed Balls branded the affair as increasingly "murky".

Peter Oborne says in the Daily Telegraph the suspension of Ian Edmondson adds to the pressure on Andy Coulson, the former editor of the News of the World, and on David Cameron, who hired him as his director of communications. He writes: "Supposing that these allegations are true - and it is only fair to stress that they are far from proven - then matters now look very bleak for Coulson. The situation is grim for the Prime Minister. It was he who personally hired the former News of the World journalist, and in the knowledge of the circumstances in which he had left the paper."

The BBC reports Toy Story 3 was the top-grossing film at the box office in the UK and Ireland in 2010 taking £73.8m, according to figures released by Screen International.

The BBC's newspaper review says most papers celebrate what the Guardian describes as "England's finest hour" - the 3-1 victory in the Ashes series which was sealed in the early hours of the morning.

Links in full

Guardian | EastEnders to shorten cot death plot as complaints pass 6,000
Daily Mail | Womack shows strain after being verbally attacked
Times | Cot death, EastEnders and the last taboo
Guardian | Fresh calls to reopen News of the World phone-hacking inquiry
Peter Oborne | Telegraph | David Cameron is a pretty straight sort of guy - but now he has to prove it
BBC | Toy Story 3 tops 2010 box office
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Thursday's Media Brief

Daily View: Control orders

Clare Spencer | 09:31 UK time, Friday, 7 January 2011

Armed police officer outside the Houses of Parliament


Nick Clegg is expected to use a speech today to underline the government's intention to replace the current control orders system, which puts terrorist suspects who have not been charged under a virtual house arrest. Commentators explain their likes and dislikes of control orders.

In the Telegraph Benedict Brogan defends Nick Clegg who he predicts will climb down from wanting to scrap control orders:

"The moment Nick Clegg became Deputy Prime Minister, the political certainties he nursed about civil liberties collided with the information that came with his new job. He became one of those who knows what we don't. And since then he has grappled with the difficulty of reconciling his opposition to control orders with the grubby reality of national security... It is worth recalling what Mr Clegg knows. Or rather, the bits we know that he knows about control orders. He and Mr Cameron, as well as Lords Carlile and Macdonald and the Home Secretary, know all of it, whereas we - the media - know only snippets. And some of what we know we are not allowed to report for legal reasons."

Douglas Murray argues in the Spectator that scrapping control orders would show that politicians aren't serious about security:

"[I]t will be the clearest possible evidence that the coalition government, like the Labour government before it, remains unwilling to deal with the problem which made control orders necessary in the first place: the fact that this country has been systematically failed by its legal, political and immigration systems. Once, foreign nationals who posed a threat could be deported. The European Convention on Human Rights has put a stop to that."

Director of pressure group Liberty Shami Chakrabarti expresses surprise in the Times that former Home Secretary Michael Howard is defending control orders:

"Contrary to much of this week's chatter, far from being a bleeding-heart Lib Dem foible, the original and most dramatic opposition to the control orders legislation in 2005 came from none other than Lord Howard's Conservative Party.
'We believe in the rule of law,' he told the assembled television cameras, flanked by David Davis, his Shadow Home Secretary, before keeping parliamentary colleagues in both Houses up for many days and nights to oppose such an unBritish scheme. A precursor to the rows over 90 and 42-days' detention, it was one of the more titanic battles of modern political history."

Conservative MP Dominic Raab argues in the Guardian that control orders are ineffective and spells out what he would do instead:

"All sides of the coalition should relish tackling this head on. First, by using prosecution as a tactical weapon to proactively disrupt and deter terrorist networks - the way the US and others have done aggressively since 9/11. Second, by lifting the ban on intercept evidence (we are virtually alone in the world in retaining it) and expanding plea-bargaining. Having worked in The Hague on international war crimes and liaised with US and Australian officials on counter-terrorism, I have seen how they use these tools as part of a wider strategy to imprison, co-opt and deter members of 'joint criminal enterprises' - starting with the minnows and leading to the bigger fish. It works."

The Economist says the political fight that had erupted around control orders is not worth it:

"[S]ome of the harshest features have been worn down by the courts. A judgment by the European Court of Human Rights in 2009, backed up by the House of Lords, limited permissible restrictions and insisted the suspect be given sufficient access to the "gist" of the allegations against him to instruct counsel. The number of control orders in force has fallen from 20 in March 2009 to just eight. Of those, according to some who have seen the relevant evidence, only between three and five apply to suspects considered a 'hard-core' terrorist threat. Given that the security services keep hundreds of people under surveillance, the importance of control orders is arguably more symbolic than real."

Links in full

Benedict Brogan | Telegraph | Nick Clegg's agonies over control orders show how far he has come
Douglas Murray | Spectator | Jihad against justice
Shami Chakrabarti | Times | This injustice over control orders must stop
Dominic Raab | Guardian | Control orders are a sideshow

Economist | Last orders?

Popular Elsewhere

Post categories:

Clare Spencer | 15:17 UK time, Thursday, 6 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The Daily Mail's most read story is about Simone Back who warned her 1,082 Facebook friends before she killed herself, to no response. The article says that after the depressed charity worker posted a message that read "Took all my pills be dead soon so bye bye every one".

The Wall Street Journal's readers are taking a look at the first clear pictures of what appears to be a Chinese stealth fighter jet prototype. Speculation is rife about the validity of the pictures ahead of the US defence secretaries visit to the country.

New Scientist readers are reliving Nasa's fifth moon mission thanks to some newly released transcripts of the astronauts' conversations. The ill-fated mission includes the famous line "Houston, we've had a problem..."

Sun readers prefer to catch up on Cheryl Cole's love life. New pictures appear to show her cuddling up to her dancer Derek Hough.

Readers of More Intelligent Life are reading up on the verbing - or the conversion of nouns to verbs. Trending and friending are two popular new verbs. Others are more niche, like politicians' use of "to doughnut" which means to sit in a ring around a colleague making a parliamentary announcement, so that it is not clear to television viewers that the chamber is practically deserted.

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:54 UK time, Thursday, 6 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

A senior News of the World executive has been suspended by the paper following a "serious allegation" that he was involved with phone hacking when the paper was edited by Andy Coulson, now the prime minister's director of communications. The paper confirmed that Ian Edmondson, the title's assistant editor (news), was "suspended from active duties" before Christmas. The Guardian reports that the court documents appear to link him with the interception of messages from Sienna Miller's phone in 2005. Coulson has always denied knowledge of any wrongdoing at the paper.

The BBC's Jon Manel says he has seen court papers relating to her case which refer to the notebooks of a private investigator who was jailed in 2007 for hacking into phone messages of royal staff.

The BBC reports Avon and Somerset Police have complained to the media regulator Ofcom about ITV's coverage of the Jo Yeates murder investigation. ITV News said it stood by its story and accused the police of trying to censor it. The force has now overturned a press conference ban on ITV journalists, but warned it will adopt "similar tactics" if the media hampers its investigation.

The Guardian reports ITV News has been allowed back into press conferences about the murder of Joanna Yeates, after Avon & Somerset police lifted a ban on the broadcaster. David Mannion, the editor-in-chief of ITV News, told Radio 4's Media Show the ban was "irresponsible" and had developed into "an issue about the freedom of the press".

Sir David Attenborough told the New Statesman that the BBC has "strayed from the straight and narrow" and its "sails need to be trimmed". The veteran natural history film-maker told the New Statesman the Corporation had become inefficient and needed to be "refocused". But he warned against removing the licence fee and said the corporation remained "crucially important" to British society.

Sky Atlantic, BSkyB's new channel showcasing US programming including HBO output, will launch on 1 February. The Guardian says highlights in the first month include Martin Scorsese's Boardwalk Empire and David Simon's Treme. Shameless creator Paul Abbott's new six-part drama, Hit and Miss, will also debut on Sky Atlantic later this year.

The BBC reports music sales in the UK have fallen for the sixth consecutive year, according to the British record industry's trade association. The BPI has blamed illegal downloading for the drop in sales, and again called for "meaningful action" to tackle the issue. The music and books retailer HMV has announced plans to close 60 UK stores in the next 12 months.

The BBC's newspaper review looks at the papers' coverage of Jo Yeates's death. "Was Jo strangled with her own sock?" asks the headline in the Daily Mail. The Daily Telegraph says police are still "keeping an open mind" as they hunt Joanna Yeates's killer. The Independent calls the search for the garment "the latest in a series of ostensibly insignificant clues". BBC newspapers review

Links in full

Guardian | News of the World suspends assistant editor over phone-hacking claims
BBC | News of the World suspends news editor
BBC | Police complain over ITV coverage of Yeates inquiry
Guardian | Police lift ITV ban in Joanna Yeates case
New Statesman | NS Profile with David Attenborough
Guardian | Sky Atlantic to launch next month with Scorsese drama
BBC | UK music sales decline for sixth consecutive year
BBC | Newspaper review

• Read my updates on Twitter

• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read Wednesday's Media Brief

Daily View: Blame for Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Clare Spencer | 09:55 UK time, Thursday, 6 January 2011

Fire boat response crews battle the blazing remnants of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon 21 April 2010


Commentators discuss the implications of a US report which concluded that BP cost-cutting is to blame for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Stephen Power and Ben Casselman at the Wall Street Journal say the finger of blame returns to BP:

"The report is likely to turn attention back to BP after several months in which the oil giant sought to turn the spotlight on its contractors."

In The Times David Wighton says the report is unlikely to prove a critical obstacle to BP's efforts to rebuild and minimise the costs of the disaster:

"The final report states that "whether purposeful or not" many of the decisions taken by BP, Halliburton and Transocean that increased risks did save time and therefore money. The conclusions will form an important part of the legal actions being pursued against BP, including that by the US Government. But they do not directly determine whether BP will be found guilty of gross negligence, which would increase the fines faced by the company by billions of dollars."

Bryan Walsh says in Time's Ecocentric blog the focus is now on how the spill affects US politics:

"With a Republican-controlled House looking to free business from regulation - including the oil and gas industry - that reformation will only get harder. But the commission report should remind us - just in case we've forgotten - that those changes may be a matter of life or death."

In Mother Jones Kate Sheppard starts with "Dear BP: You're busted. Yours, the Oil Spill Commission" but anticipates this is not the end for blaming BP:

"The big takeaway from the chapter: '[T]he accident of April 20 was avoidable.' There will surely be much more to take away next week, when the commission releases the full final report - and policymakers suss out what the conclusions mean for the future of deepwater drilling."

At the same time, the Commons Energy and Climate Committee produced a report recommending a continuation of North Sea oil exploration. David Prosser says in the Independent their decision is money orientated:

"The Energy and Climate Change Committee's announcement today that a moratorium on deep-water drilling off the coast of the UK should not be imposed does not imply there is no risk of the sort of disaster seen in the Gulf of Mexico last summer. Whatever your views about the safety record of oil and gas explorers, that risk can never be entirely discounted. No, this is a decision based on a head-headed economic view: that such is the demand for oil and the cost of switching to less risky alternative sources of energy, deepwater drilling needs to continue."

Links in full

Stephen Power, Ben Casselman | Wall Street Journal | White House Probe Blames BP, Industry in Gulf Blast
David Wighton | Times | A shadow cast over entire industry
Bryan Walsh | Time | The Gulf Oil Spill Was Avoidable
Kate Sheppard | Mother Jones | BP Disaster was "Avoidable"
David Prosser | Independent | Britain cannot afford to turn its back on deepwater drilling

Popular Elsewhere

Post categories:

Clare Spencer | 14:33 UK time, Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

The Guardian's most viewed article says 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings have been found dead in Louisiana, a few days after up to 5,000 blackbirds fell to earth in neighbouring Arkansas. The Guardian says the mystery has left officials scratching their heads and jumpy members of the public joking (nervously) about the end of the world.

The Times' most read article is about what it calls a "conspiracy of silence" about gang-led on-street grooming of young girls [subscription required]. The paper says police have so far refused to accept that there is a racial element in the sexual abuse of girls in northern towns despite 53 out of the 56 men prosecuted for rape, child abduction, indecent assault and sex with a child after picking girls up on the street were Asian.

The Daily Mail's most read article reveals that Jo Yeates' killer may have known she was going to be spending the weekend alone. The article says detectives are now trying to identify exactly who knew of her plans.

Telegraph readers catch up on the latest action from the Ashes. On day three England's cricket team lead Australia by 208 runs.

Sun readers are interested in an apparent bust-up between Manchester City team mates Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure. The Sun says the brawl ended up on the ground as Toure "slapped on a headlock that any WWE wrestler would have been proud of".

The Daily Beast's readers look at the site's ranking of 2010's popular diets. The baby food diet, the junk food diet were both beaten into first place by volumetrics - where you drink lots of water in everything you eat.

Media Brief

Post categories:

Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:30 UK time, Wednesday, 5 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

Around 3,400 viewers have complained to the BBC about an EastEnders storyline involving cot death and a baby swap, reports the BBC and the Mirror. Ronnie Branning, played by Samantha Womack, swapped her deceased baby for the new born son of Jessie Wallace's character, Kat Moon. Complainants have called it "insensitive", "irresponsible" and "desperate". The BBC said: "We appreciate this is a challenging storyline and have taken care to ensure viewers were aware of the content in advance of transmission. We also provided action line numbers at the end of each show, offering advice and support to those affected by the issues."

The London station Capital FM is now being broadcast across the country at certain times of the day - but can it really appeal to the whole of Britain? The Independent says its backers think so - and they're ready to take on Radio 1.

Jemima Kiss says in the Guardian Facebook might be forced by US regulators to take the social networking company public as new investors pile in. It follows this week's $500m (£320m) round of investment led by Goldman Sachs, which valued Facebook at $50bn - "as big as Tesco".

The BBC's newspaper review shows the rise in VAT leaves the leader writers divided - for the Times it is unappealing but necessary to restore the public finances. But the Guardian describes the increase as a political choice dressed up as economic necessity.

Links in full

BBC | EastEnders cot death complaints top 3,400
Mirror | EastEnders baby death and kidnap plot sees BBC flooded with complaints
Independent | Capital: National treasure?
Guardian | SEC may force Facebook flotation
BBC | Newspaper review

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• Read Tuesday's Media Brief

Daily View: VAT rate rise

Clare Spencer | 10:23 UK time, Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Shoppers in the Fairhill shopping complex in Ballymena, Co. Antrim, on the first day of the VAT increase from 17.5% to 20%.


Commentators discuss the VAT rate increase.

The Guardian leader argues that the VAT rise hits the poorest hardest:

"The chancellor claims that this week's rise is relatively fair. Fairness is a slippery term; but if a fiscal measure hits the vulnerable more than the well-off, it is clear that such a change is regressive. The IFS has calculated that the rise will cost the poorest 10th of society over 2% of their income, while taking less than 1% from the richest 10th. If that sounds unprogressive to you then you are in good company: both Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg described VAT as regressive before the election. Mr Osborne wants to portray his regressive tax measures and spending cuts as a matter of necessity."

Alice Thomson suggests in the Times [subscription required] that the calculations on how much the extra VAT will affect families doesn't take into account the possibility that families may decide to change their spending habits:

"Essentials such as food, children's clothing and books are VAT zero-rated, so they won't be included. We could just shop less and work out what we need. It's not about buying up the services of some declutter life coach or emulating Gandhi and throwing out your favourite possessions, just realising that you don't require another pair of jeans and remembering that shopping is not meant to be a hobby and mall-walking should not count as exercise."

In the Daily Mail Alex Brummer thinks that the accusation that the rise in VAT will bring the economy to a halt should be taken with a huge pinch of salt:

"[T]the good news is that the rise is being made in the face of a resurgent British economy that is better able to absorb it now than would have been the case 12 months ago... Moreover, against rising VAT must be placed the realisation that anyone with a mortgage is benefiting from historically low interest rates. This has produced a large boost to the budgets of the majority of households which far outweighs tax rises."

Simon Jenkins says in the Guardian that the VAT rise uncovers a political truth - that it is easier to raise £13bn from the poor:

"The truth is that Osborne and Cameron have proved too vulnerable to big-spending lobbyists of both right and left, and that is why VAT must pay the price. They were too scared of the unions to imitate Ireland and elsewhere with a flat-rate cut in public sector pay. Like the unions, they prefer redundancies. This is despite public-sector pay rising by 3.6% in Labour's last year, while private pay fell by 1.9%.
"Ministers were likewise putty in the hands of railway contractors, wind turbine makers, computer salesmen and those latter-day terrorists of the security industry, which howls death and destruction at the merest whisper of a cut. They were even scared by the London museum lobby. The Stratford Olympics site should become a theme park of aircraft carriers, high-speed trains, NHS computers and Helmand blast walls, memorials to Britain's multibillion-pound prestige spree at the start of the 21st century."

The Independent's Mark Steel believes the VAT rise shows a decline in the standard of politicians' lies:

"[W]orst of all is now it's been established that it doesn't matter at all what a party says at the election, as it's a matter of honour to do the opposite as soon as you're elected. So all that debating is a pointless exercise in which nothing can be achieved, so it might as well be treated like the last day at a school and Dimbleby should say, 'With me tonight are the three party leaders, who have all been allowed to bring in games.'"

James Forsyth predicts in the Spectator that the VAT rise may not be damaging to the coalition:

"If the new VAT rise just becomes a fact of life then the coalition will pay a low political price for the rise. Indeed, if the VAT rise ends up helping provide money for an income tax cut later in the parliament then the coalition could actually benefit from it."

Links in full

Guardian | VAT at 20%: A very deliberate choice
Alice Thomson | Times | How to avoid the hated VAT rise: don't shop
Alex Brummer | Daily Mail | Britain is in a much better condition than expected
Simon Jenkins | Guardian | Save the economy? No, VAT's pandering to the powerful
Mark Steel | Independent | VAT: can't they lie any better than this?
James Forsyth | Spectator | The VAT argument bubbles along

Popular Elsewhere

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Clare Spencer | 14:51 UK time, Tuesday, 4 January 2011

A look at the stories ranking highly on various news sites.

Telegraph readers are finding out about the Royal Family's most popular video on You Tube - the Queen's 1957 Christmas Day broadcast.

Proving popular with Daily Mail readers is the latest report that police have "hinted" that they believe Jo Yeates' killer may have had an accomplice, according to the paper.

Guardian readers are reliving the latest Ashes news on their cricket live text page. England trail by 113 runs but have seven wickets left after day two at Sydney

Sun readers prefer to know more about the wardrobe malfunctions of the cast of the "living soap" The Only Way is Essex.

The Economist's most recommended article is an essay on why PHDs are a waste of time and money. The article quips that you know you are a graduate student, when your you have a favourite flavour of instant noodle.

In response to Yoko Ono's revelation that John Lennon used to criticise her tea-making skills, Christopher Hitchens gives his tips for the perfect cuppa in Slate.

Daily View: VAT rate rise

Clare Spencer | 10:50 UK time, Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Man walking infront of a Sports Direct store in Liverpool advertising no VAT increase in their store


Commentators discuss today's increase in VAT from 17.5% to 20%.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne defended the decision on the Today programme:

"I think a higher income tax or higher national insurance... would have a greater impact on work incentives, on the competitiveness of the British economy, they would potentially cost more jobs. I think the measures we're taking will increase employment because they will install a confidence that Britain is on top of its deficit."

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In the Guardian Philippe Legrain describes his alternative ideas to the VAT rise:

"Instead of raising VAT and national insurance this year, the government could introduce taxes on carbon and financial transactions next year. And it should levy a tax on land values. Since all the land in Britain is worth some £5 trillion, an annual levy of 1% could raise £50bn a year - without depressing economic activity, because land is in fixed supply: central London can't be spirited away to a tax haven.
"As well as preventing property bubbles (and busts), a land tax would be fair. A mere 160,000 people (mostly hereditary landowners) own more than two-thirds of Britain - and the value of that land increases not through their own striving, but through that of others."

Political blogger Paul Staines in Guido Fawkes' blog adds another alternative to increasing VAT:

"There are many ways the government could have avoided hiking VAT and stuck to their pre-election plans. They could have cut spending a further 2% rather than the mere 3.3% they are planning to shave off spending. The best solution to unfunded over-spending is to reduce spending, not raise taxes."

George Eaton argues in the New Statesman that neither the Tories nor Lib Dems are justified in breaking their promises not to increase VAT:

"Both parties have since attempted to justify the VAT rise on the basis that 'things were even worse than we thought'. But this claim does not bear scrutiny. The Lib Dems and the Tories were fully aware of the size of the budget deficit and, just ten days after the coalition was formed, the deficit was revised downwards from £163.4bn to £156bn, having previously stood at £178bn. The VAT rise was a political choice, not an economic necessity."

The Telegraph editorial says Ed Miliband's attack on VAT rise is "hard to stomach":

"Any doubts that the Labour leader is a shameless political opportunist were laid to rest with his claim that this is 'the wrong tax, at the wrong time'. Yet we know, not least from Lord Mandelson's memoirs, that the Cabinet of which Mr Miliband was a member wanted to increase VAT - not once, but twice, in November 2009 and March last year - only to have the move vetoed by the then prime minister. Was that the right tax at the right time? Perhaps the Labour leader will tell us."

Links in full

BBC Today | Osborne: VAT rise 'a tough but necessary step'
Philippe Legrain | Guardian | There is an alternative to the VAT rise
Paul Staines | Guido Fawkes' blog | How to Avoid the VAT Hike
George Eaton | New Statesman | How the Tories and the Lib Dems broke their VAT promises
Telegraph | Ed Miliband's VAT attack is hard to stomach

Media Brief

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Torin Douglas Torin Douglas | 10:25 UK time, Tuesday, 4 January 2011

I'm the BBC's media correspondent and this is my brief selection of what's going on.

Facebook has reportedly raised funds from Goldman Sachs and a Russian investor in a deal valuing the social networking site at $50bn (£32.3bn). The BBC reports that a Facebook spokesman would not comment on the reports in The New York Times and the Financial Times.

The BBC admitted last night that it had been a "tough decision" to kill off long-running Archers character Nigel Pargetter from the 60-year-old radio soap. The Independent reports that many Archers fans are not happy - either that Nigel has been killed off, or that the much-hyped storyline would really "shake Ambridge to the core" as the programme's editor had predicted.

The Telegraph reports Vanessa Whitburn, the Archers' editor, appeared to give the plot twist away on Monday's Today programme by suggesting Nigel had died after falling from a roof in the series' 60th anniversary episode on Sunday.

Graham Seed, who has played Nigel Pargetter for 30 years, said on Radio 4's Today that he was grieving his exit.

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The Guardian's Peter Preston says the attorney general's concern at reporting of the Joanna Yeates murder case emphasises how laws on contempt of court are falling into contempt.

Conservative MP Rory Stewart says in the Guardian that Cumbria is finding a way to bring superfast broadband to rural communities:

"In Great Asby, one volunteer discovered there was already fibre, paid for by the taxpayer, for the school. The school let him splice off the fibre to a cabinet that he calls a 'parish pump'.... Local farmers have agreed to lay the fibre, at a fraction of the commercial cost. This is not just impressive technology, it's astonishing community action. And it suggests a model for rural Britain."

Jeremy Hunt is considering Ofcom's report on whether News Corp's BSkyB bid should be referred to the Competition Commission. The Guardian says he is expected to accept the report, which has not been made public but is thought to recommend a further enquiry. Mr Hunt is expected to announce his decision in mid-January.

The BBC's newspaper review shows the papers are mulling over the VAT rise. The Telegraph says retail experts are warning that many businesses will use the 2.5% VAT rise to mask a bigger increase in their prices. The Daily Mail says many stores will not adjust their price tags straight away, but will add on the extra tax when shoppers come to pay, leading to rows at the checkout.

Links in full

BBC | Facebook investment 'values firm at $50bn'
Independent | Fans not happy with 'Archers' birthday drama
Telegraph | Editor of The Archers accidentally gives away key plot
BBC | Archers actor 'grieving' over exit
Guardian | Joanna Yeates murder case puts media coverage in the spotlight
Guardian | How Cumbria's village halls are pioneering a hi-tech revolution
Guardian | Cautious Hunt set to reject approach from Murdoch
BBC | Newspaper review

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• Read my archive of media stories on Delicious

• Read My last Media Brief

Daily View: Consequences of the by-election

Clare Spencer | 00:12 UK time, Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Ed Miliband, leader of Britain


Commentators speculate about what the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election means for the three main political parties.

Mary Riddell says in the Telegraph that the by-election, which marks Ed Miliband's first test as leader of the Labour party, has already shown him to be brave:

"Nick Clegg would be humiliated if the Lib Dems, narrowly defeated last time, are pushed into third place by the Tories. Mr Cameron would also be appalled by such an outcome. The biggest test, however, is for the Labour leader, who has branded the contest a referendum on the Coalition.
"This challenge may be the first sign that Mr Miliband is braver than his critics suppose. Gordon Brown, little talked of now, casts both a short and a long shadow over his protégé and successor. Mr Brown, risk averse to the point of phobia, ran a government in which projects such as constitutional reform were tested as rigorously as space shuttles yet never implemented. To succeed against a radical government, Mr Miliband must banish that culture of timidity."

Also in the Telegraph, Fraser Nelson says the by-election spells danger for the Lib Dems:

"The by-election is dangerous for the Lib Dems because it asks two horribly awkward questions: if you support Cameron's Government, why vote Lib Dem? And if you oppose it, why vote Lib Dem? The Prime Minister is doing his best to supply answers - for instance, by asking Simon Hughes to promote the various Lib Dem victories in the tuition fees debate. So, having spent a few months presenting a united front, a pre-election hunt has started for harmless dividing lines.
"The reason these are hard to find is because, remarkably, the two parties have been on the same side of the major battles."

Mike Smithson from the blog Political Betting dispels rumours that the Tories want to lose the by-election to keep the coalition together:

"Tory activists have been contacting me to say that they have been asked to go to Oldham and it's clear that a late attempt is bring made to get the blues back into the game.
"What will be critical is whether the polling shows that the blues are in a better position to beat Labour than their coalition partners, the Lib Dems. The experience of previous by-election battles is that the party perceived to be third place gets squeezed in the final days."

A contributing editor of Labour Uncut Dan Hodges says in the Guardian that traditionally, by-elections are used by the electorate as a protest or a wake-up call. The problem in Oldham East and Saddleworth is that everyone appears to be trying to wake up everyone else.

"If the Lib Dem vote does flat-line, it will raise further questions over Clegg's tattered leadership. A good performance for the Tories, particularly if they were to run Labour a close second, would, paradoxically, herald a furious response from Tory backbenchers angered that the niceties of coalition politics had robbed them of a red-blooded byelection triumph. Similarly, anything other than a comfortable victory for Miliband, at a time when the streets are burning, VAT is soaring and the cuts are biting, would lead to further muttering about his own leadership, and his courtship of the Lib Dems in particular."

Labour MP Tessa Jowell suggests in the Independent that one way of identifying with the electorate, class, is no longer relevant - something politicians are yet to get used to:

"Money obviously matters, but in so many aspects of our lives our way of life is converging. We buy our furniture at Ikea, travel with Ryanair and watch X Factor at the weekend, and increasingly we rely on grandparents for childcare.
"This 21st-century version of the progressive centre is comprised of people who do not simply vote out of economic interest, but according to their judgement of who offers them the best chance of building a better life. This new pragmatism has taken political parties beyond the ideological or tribal loyalty that they relied on to build majorities in the past. So our politics has to find a way to talk about people in the way that they see themselves, which is increasingly not defined by the job that they do but the life that they lead."

Links in full

Mary Riddell | Telegraph | Don't bet on Ed Miliband being the high-flier who crashes to earth
Fraser Nelson | Telegraph | Only a merger with the Tories will save most Liberal Democrat MPs
Mike Smithson | Political Betting | Let the battle commence in Old & Sad
Dan Hodges | Guardian | Oldham byelection may give all three main parties a kick
Tessa Jowell | Independent | To win back power we must stick to the centre ground

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