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Paxman was right

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Peter Barron | 14:20 UK time, Friday, 4 August 2006

Though it pains me to say it, Jeremy Paxman's new media vision has been proved comprehensively right.

Newsnight logoViewers prefer their TV with pictures. Following the launch just last week of Newsnight's video podcast, our digital digest of the best bits of the week has shot straight to number one in iTunes news podcast chart. Ms Kitcast has been duly dispatched and Ricky Gervais, who has dominated the overall podcast chart for months, sleeps a little less easily as Paxman and co. storm to number 14 in that chart. For those without the technology or a quaint preference for TV without pictures, the traditional podcast is still available at number 30 .

On this week's chart-topping edition there's another chance to see the week's most controversial moment - oddly enough from the comfortable world of designer knitwear. On Monday we asked the fashion designer Bella Freud to take part in a discussion among members of Britain's Jewish diaspora about their reaction to the events in Lebanon. Ms Freud's empassioned denunciation of the Israeli offensive provoked plenty of comment.

"Why on Earth have you got a fashion designer yarbling on about the Lebanon crisis?" wrote Neil Briscoe from Bristol, reflecting the view of many. Good word that, yarbling.

But Penelope Allen of Cornwall disagreed. "What a lovely lady Bella Freud is, if only all people behaved the way she does the world would be a better place." Better dressed too.

Even family members of the production team joined in. Download the podcast to check out the choice language of one - she'd better stay anonymous - who phoned in to berate her relative's booking.

Controversial too, and timely, was John Harris's report (watch here) this week on Cuba's healthcare system to launch our series on the Best Public Services in the World.

Of course, as many of you pointed out, Cuba's communist system has all manner of problems, but the statistics show that Cuba's health record compares very favourably with countries of the first world. Two points leapt out of John's report - Cuba's poverty has taught the country's health professionals that prevention is cheaper than cure, and because of the US embargo most Cubans live on the equivalent of war-time rations. During the Second World War, we Britons weren't obese either.

The aim of the exercise is not to suggest we import Cuban healthcare practices wholesale into Britain, but given the challenging state of our own public services, surely we'd be mad or very arrogant to think there's nothing we can learn from them.

And this is where we'd like your help. Many - probably most - subscribers to this blog and to our podcast are living abroad. Leave a comment and let us know what works where you are in terms of healthcare, education, transport, criminal justice. Or state broadcasting.

Peter Barron is editor of Newsnight


For me [A US born Latin who is Independent], Cuba and the USA have the worst health care system. Having said that, I will start with Cuba.

Cuba: We cannot deny the advances of medicine and preventive medicine in the Communist Island Nation. But it is a system based on aprtheid type medicine. The Foreign Visitors and Government Elite receive great medical care if they pay in dollars and euros. The Cubans themselves may have free medical care but I have heard relatives talk about bringing their own mattresses and pillows to hospitals [the only exception has been family members who belong to the Cuban Govt.].

USA: The US System is a fractured system based on State Govt., Private Insurers, Federal Govt., and Individuals. In the USA, you pay you get care. I will mention some states. Oregon copied its health care model from Cuba and it seemed to go well. When the USA entered into a financial crisis with the Bush Years, Oregon's Health Care System had to make financial readjustments. Tennessee's Health Care System is embroiled ina scandal because the Governor [a Democrat] wanted to cut off Health Care to those who need it the most because everyone: Private Companies, Government, and People were abusing the system. Maine does have a Universal Health Care System and it has worked but only because Maine is receiving its money from taxes and tourist dollars.

For me, the best Health Care System has been in Scandinavia with a Cradle to Grave System. Up to now, there has been no one turned away, there is Medicine. In fact, the King of Norway paid a Nurse's Family so that the Nurses' Daughter could recive a Corneal Implant.

  • 2.
  • At 02:01 AM on 05 Aug 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

I was really pleased that you recognised how significant was your report on the Cuban healthcare system, and that you posted it as a separate file and flagged that here. I was a little less pleased when I found that file was of much reduced quality.

We've heard about that healthcare many times, but one doesn't know how much is propaganda until a reputable reporter brings back vido footage like that. Not that the report was perfect - why, after seeing the very local clinics and the mid-level ones, didn't we see the top level care, in the hospitals? Instead suddenly we had a foreign medical student being interviewed, which was interesting, and related, but was not a substitute for seeing what might be the most challenging level of care for a poor, and boycotted country to deliver. Also we were told nothing of what drugs are available and how they are provided, nor how the whole system is administered. The unannounced health visits to everyone's home once a year seemed something that quite draconian administration would be needed to support, And seemed of quesitionable value, unless it had other, political purposes.

But your report is nevertheless a really important "media of record" piece.

Which brings me to my main point: when Newsnight or some other BBC division does something that really should remain "on record" for reference, as a landmark, or as a resource in social or political debate, and where the BBC owns the copyright, shouldn't it be made either "permanently", or even freely available, at decent quality? Just as press cuttings of papers of record are available? By which I mean at a decent resolution and not in one of the restricted formats to which everyday footage is restricted.

Surely you know that some of your output is of that level? As the printed page rapidly moves out of centre stage, television surely should adopt the access standards that print has provided in our culture and our political life?

  • 3.
  • At 12:24 AM on 06 Aug 2006,
  • Djax wrote:

A question on news-gathering: how do you verify the alleged qualities of the Cuban healthcare system? Who do you talk to that you feel you can trust? Do you trust the govt. statistics? Are the people not hesitant to criticise the authorities?

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