News & Media

Category Archives: News & Media

News & Media

George Osborne needs how many jobs to make ends meet?

George ‘Six Jobs’ Osborne

If George Osborne needs six jobs to survive, what hope the rest of us? Clearly, it’s not “the immigrants taking all out jobs” – it’s greedy George! The architect of UK austerity as Chancellor of the Exchequer forced government cuts of 20% or more per department, but he can’t make do on less than a million a year himself. 

George 6-jobs Osborne will now be representing his constituency for £75k, public speaking for probably £80k an hour, earning £650k for a day a week at financial firm Blackrock, editing the Evening Standard 4 days a week for £200k. From someone who managed austerity for the rest of us, clearly, he is struggling to manage.

Yet, he doesn’t need any of the jobs, with an estimated personal fortune of over £4.3 million, as beneficiary of a trust fund with a 15% stake in Osborne & Little, the wallpaper-and-fabrics company co-founded by his father, Sir Peter Osborne.

In George Osborne, “We’re all in this together” is the most hollow hypocritical statement from a Tory yet.

Public Speaking Profile

According to the Washington Speakers Bureau George is:

“A principled leader who… offers a unique perspective on fiscal and monetary policy… George Osborne cut government spending, cut business taxes and reduced regulation…  As a member of Parliament, he has championed the social change and progress that has led to a period of strong economic growth in Britain.”

“Unique”, indeed, with such poor Parliamentary regulation that he is able to take in an MP’s salary whilst moonlighting on 5 other jobs. “Social change”, my arse, upwardly mobile earnings for the already at the top of the tree 1%. “Principled”?

Criticism, Petition & Investigation

Osborne has come under well-deserved fire for allegedly breaking the post-ministerial employment rules of the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) for accepting the position of Editor of the Evening Standard, not to mention the other jobs. 

A petition is fast approaching 200,000 signatures calling for him to “pick a job”.

Conflict of Interest

Westminster is an expensive game and in the past only the wealthy could afford to be MPs. If MPs held jobs perhaps 1 day a week that kept them in touch with the real world, that would be one thing, or as Green Party suggested MP job shares. Holding multiple jobs, however, several of which in finance or the media would whiff of undue influence and conflicts of interest, there is absolutely no justification.

How can he now speak on matters of press regulation in Parliament?

More importantly, what do the public think of this? I was on a TalkRADIO phone in discussion and 85% of responders said that they thought he shouldn’t have a second job let alone a sixth job!

Millionaire jobs George

Whilst the hours and days he is set to offer his various employers would leave little time for even Thatcher’s 4 hours a night sleep, it’s the salaries that do add up. Over a £1 million a year across the jobs quite apart from his substantial private money, trusts and investments income.

“We’re all in this together”

George Osborne used this phrase in 2009 and 2012 saying that austerity would require sacrifices from everyone, speaking of values and intent. He actually said, repeatedly, that the better-off must take their share of the pain. Where are George’s pain and sacrifice, where are his values? What value for money does he offer his constituents and taxpayers? Time to go, again, George Osborne. “You’re fired”.

News & Media

Norwich protests Donald Trump selective Muslim Ban, welcomes Refugees

Donald Trump Muslim Ban Protest in Norwich

Hundreds of people in Norwich turned out to protest President Donald Trump‘s temporary immoral executive order banning Muslims from 7 countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) entering the USA. One arrest was made, and the demonstration was otherwise peaceful with a diverse range of speakers and banners from the humorous to the very serious.

Judge me by what's in my head not on my head
Judge me by what’s in my head not on my head

Perhaps, the best said it simplest, a woman in a headscarf whose placard read “judge me by what is in my head not what is on my head”.

Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion and race.

Nobody is saying that ISIL’s dangerous ideology shouldn’t be countered, or that terrorists should be denied entry, but to blanket ban seven nations, marking them guilty before a trial, based upon nationality and religion alone, particularly when they are not in the top 25 nationalities that have threatened or attacked US citizens is disproportionate and against the founding charters of America that welcome immigrants, and don’t discriminate based upon religion.

Norwich Donald Trump anti-racist Muslim ban protest
Norwich Donald Trump anti-racist Muslim ban protest

Two protests came together for this event, one organised by UEA student Lotty Clare of Movement for Justice, and the other by Julie Bremner of Stand Up To Racism. Other groups including Norwich Stop The War Coalition joined in and over 1,100 people signed to attend on a dark drizzly night in February.

The mood was far from damp, with resounding cries of:

“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here”

If anything, it was the hundreds of comments on the EDP online and Mustard TV posts that made me realise why we do this. The spewing of hate and Britain first, echoing Donald Trump’s election manifesto of America first. I talked afterwards to two Donald Trump and Brexit supporters, teenage girls from City College, they had no problem with elitist, nationalist, selfish, protectionist policies, though our debate soon turned to mental health and we had a good conversation. 

Norfolk Welcomes All Folk
Norfolk Welcomes All Folk

I was interviewed by Robbie West of BBC Look East, Emma Knights of the EDP, and ended up on a Mustard TV live stream. ITV Anglia also reported on the event. Good coverage and continuing to remind me of how great Norwich is, in the main, and after so many political protests and pro-migrant rallies over the last year it shows the strength of feeling in communities, both pro and anti. 

Katy Jon Went speech text

The 7 nation Muslim visa and refugee ban was signed on Holocaust Memorial Day, a day when the Whitehouse chose to #alllivesmatter the victim list by not mentioning Jews and homosexuals at all.

The fear that LGBT people may have their Obama-won state protections removed has also been concerning people, even if that comes to nothing, people are living in fear and anxious times. America’s biggest terror massacre since 9/11 was by an American, albeit the son of an Afghan immigrant – but not on Trump’s ban list, who traveled back and forth to Saudi Arabia – also not on the list, before killing 49 people, mainly Latinos, in the Orlando Pulse club shooting. No connection to the seven nation ban list.

Despite the so-called British exemption, Iranian-born but raised in Italy and doing post-grad veterinary studies at the University of Glasgow, Dr Hamaseh Tayari was denied US-leg travel by the presidential executive order, the extra flights avoiding America cost £2600 however, public response raised more than double that via crowdfunding with the excess going to the Scottish Refugee Council. That is one way we can help. Similar to the folk providing food and funds, and many lawyers offering pro-bono free advice at airports across America. Lawyers are saying that “It’s not lawful to ban immigrants on the basis of nationality” but judges and others unwilling to enforce it are being replaced.

Speaking about the ‘Muslim’ travel block and its effect on the vet student, the University of Glasgow’s principal said:

“The free movement of people, of ideas, of intellect is surely the very hallmark of civilized society.– Professor Anton Muscatelli, Principal of the University of Glasgow

Introvert's Love greater than Hate, Truck Fump!
Introvert’s Love greater than Hate, Truck Fump!

Indeed, America and its innovations and inventions are built on immigrants, not just the last century or so, but even those that first came to America, those pilgrim fathers and conquering Catholic explorers of different faiths to the established indigenous inhabitants. Indeed 7 nations of foreign religious immigrants from the early Norse to the British, Dutch, French, Spanish, German, Irish and even Russians (Kodiak Island) came to America and populated it, and far from peacefully. 

Blocking immigrants now is hypocrisy and against its founding principles. Take the inscription on the Statue of Liberty:

“Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; … Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”

The Quebec mosque attack last weekend that left 6 dead and 8 injured was not by Muslims, but of Muslims. First reports drew attention to the fact that one of those arrested was from Morocco, another fake news story from a pro-Trump reddit said they were Syrian refugees, but not the truth that the sole perpetrator, killer, terrorist, turned out to be a far right, anti-feminist, anti-immigrant and Trump supporting white supremacist inspired by Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen of Front Nacionale of France:

“Friends and those who knew him online said he had extreme political beliefs, but was not known to be violent. Eric Debroise said he called police after the shooting and told them Alexandre Bissonnette is “very right and (an) ultra nationalist white supremacist,” the French-language newspaper Le Journal de Quebec reports. “He really liked Trump and had a permanent discontent with the left.”” 

Will Donald Trump now block Canadians visiting the US, or won’t it matter if the victims are other Muslims and the aggressors other American continent citizens?

11,000 are killed on US soil each year at the hands of US citizens, black and white, Christian and Muslim. More toddlers than terrorists kill Americans. Ban guns not Muslims.

ISIS kills more Muslims than Christians and more people from the seven barred nations than American citizens. How many Americans you ask?

The number of Americans killed by terrorists who’ve entered the US as Refugees? ZERO. No person accepted to the United States as a refugee, Syrian or otherwise, has been implicated in a major fatal terrorist attack since the Refugee Act of 1980. Prior to that only Cuban non-Muslims had.

Even if we include attacks and plots with no fatalities, then just 20 refugees out of 3 and a quarter million have been convicted over 40 years, that’s just 0.0006%, which is statistically zero anyway. An American is 250 times more likely to be killed or murdered by other means than by a foreign-born terrorist.

In a study of country origins of terroristsSaudia Arabia, UAE and Egypt topped the list. Trump’s nations only enter the list at places 25 and lower! 

Pennsylvania Republican representative Charlie Dent said,

“the order appears to have been rushed through without full consideration. You know, there are many, many nuances of immigration policy that can be life or death for many innocent, vulnerable people around the world.”

Even Donald Trump admitted it was a “ban”, announced in his best official and professional sounding statesman-like way on Twitter:

Another US Republican senator and former Presidential candidate, John McCain said:

“Our most important allies in the fight against ISIL are the vast majority of Muslims who reject its apocalyptic ideology of hatred. This executive order sends a signal, intended or not, that America does not want Muslims coming into our country. That is why we fear this executive order may do more to help terrorist recruitment than improve our security.” 

Even Mike Pence the Republican VP denounced it in 2015 when Obama was advised to do something similar but less extreme:

Yes we need to be careful calling this an “all Muslim” ban or saying it came only from Donald Trump, as Obama’s advisors first drew up the list but as amendmends to the pre-existing Visa Waiver Program. The new ban cancels the visa themselves, rather than requiring them.

Theresa the Appeaser
Theresa the Appeaser

Wherever it started, it’s where it ends that worries me. “Theresa The Appeaser” came back from America and Foreign Secretary Boris ‘the joke’ Johnson announced British exceptions to the rules – just like Chamberlain’s futile appeasement attempts in 1938.

“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.” – Winston Churchill

We won't let history repeat itself
We won’t let history repeat itself

I can appreciate the irony of standing under Hitler’s favourite balcony, Norwich City Hall, protesting. We do need to attack the policies not the person, appreciate the complexities of their origins, and not demonise the man, reference mental health and little hands, that plays into the insecure dictator psyche and adds fuel to Trump supporters that we don’t hear their concerns.

Just as with Brexit true communal change can only come about with all parties engaged, remainers and leavers, Democrats and Republicans, Labour, Tory and the rest. We underestimated the fears of leavers and Trump supporters that led to them winning society changing votes that will affect the next 4-5 years or more.

I would commend peaceful and polite protest, therefore, but without passive appeasement. The women’s march saw millions gather because it was peaceful. Better to let Trump visit the UK and then have a protest he can witness the size of feeling at. Unrest and civil disobedience are always a later option.

Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim
Neutrality helps the oppressor never the victim

If anything similar were to ever happen here as some Brexit supporters and Nigel Farage have called for, then I’m with Madeleine Albright (a Czech immigrant to the US and former Secretary of State) and would register as a Muslim to demonstrate solidarity, before they list any other categories of people that need rounding up or banning.

Resist the ban, welcome refugees, and provide practical and legal support where you can, illegal support if it ever comes to it! It’s open mosque day this Sunday – go to one.

I am reminded of another of Churchill’s statements that diplomacy does not mean friendship with another state acting immorally towards its people and demonising groups within it. It reinforces the dangerous moral path Theresa May treads in appearing as Donald Trump’s greatest foreign ally.

“You must have diplomatic and correct relations, but there can never be friendship between the British democracy and the Nazi power, that power which spurns Christian ethics, which cheers its onward course by a barbarous paganism, which vaunts the spirit of aggression and conquest, which derives strength and perverted pleasure from persecution, and uses, as we have seen, with pitiless brutality the threat of murderous force. That power cannot ever be the trusted friend of the British democracy.”

View more photos from the protest here.

Fuck Trump anti-Fascist protestor
Fuck Trump anti-Fascist protestor

 

News & Media

Gun Violence in America endemic, bigger threat to US Safety than ISIL

USA Gun Violence contrasted with UK

US Gun Violence 2015 incidents map
US Gun Violence 2015 incidents map – Gun Violence Archive

Whilst the British police managed to arrest a machete wielding youth in a shopping centre, in the US a domestic disturbance armed only with a bat saw the offender shot dead along with an innocent bystander. Gun violence in America has seen over 13,290 gun-related deaths recorded so far in 2015: 331 in mass shootings, 980 by police (91 unarmed of whom 37 were black), 25% showed signs of mental illness, over 46% were non-white, and 3,371 were teens or children, injured or killed. America has way more to worry about from its own gun culture than international terrorism or ISIL/Islamic State.

The figures for 2015 are up on nearly all counts from 2014 – Police Officer-involved incidents constituted 4,344 of the 52,324 total shootings up 35% from 3,213.

Chicago Police Department Officer Incidents

On the day after Christmas, Chicago Police were called to a domestic incident by the father of a 19 year-old black youth armed with a bat and on medication for known mental health issues. Somehow, 7 bullets later, Universtity student home for Christmas, Quintonio LeGrier, and 55 year-old, mother of 5, Bettie Jones were both dead. Such a contrast to British police gun violence where most years see zero fatalities and any unjustifiable exception to this results in public outcry.

Gun Violence in America Archive Toll 2015
Gun Violence in America Archive Toll 2015

Chicago suffers the worst figures of any US city (New York is now 6th), some 240 police shootings between 2010 and 2014, 70 deaths, mostly black men. This is despite new training and measures that have resulted in “Police-involved shootings [being] down by double digit percentages”. New York is surprisingly safe these days and police self-control such that just 41 were shot dead by police in a population 3 times that of Chicago. Still too many though. Phoenix and Philadelphia are proportionately worse with 57 and 54 fatal shootings from populations half the size of Chicago.

Chicago PD alleges nearly all are justified. Despite 410 investigations since 2006, only one was found to be unjustified, though some are still pending. Most reports ends with the trite phrase:

“This investigation found that Officer A’s use of deadly force was in compliance with Chicago Police Department policy.”

A far larger number must surely be seen as disproportionate? Gun versus bat? Armed adult vs teen? White v black? For example, over 90% of those investigated in 2014 were Black and/or Hispanic.

Laquan McDonald Investigation

Chicago Police Department Officer
Chicago Police Officer Badge

Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently removed the city’s police superintendent and head of the Independent Police Review Authority and the CPD remains under review following the year-long belated charge of first-degree murder against Officer Jason Van Dyke for the 16-shot fatal police shooting last October of Laquan McDonald and attempts to prevent the public release of officer-incriminating vehicle dashcam footage.

In a recent series of studies, adults who were shown pictures of children of different races labeled black children as several years older then they actually were. They were considered “less innocent than their white same-age peers” – Education Week

Mass Shootings and Domestic Terrorism

With 2015 nearly over America has seen 329 people killed and four times as many injured – 17% up on 2014’s 281. That’s considerably more than acts of terrorism. Chicago with 1% of the US population also has 3-5% of its mass shooting victims.

Wider Issues of US Gun Violence Prevalence

The bigger issue is how endemic gun ownership and gun crime are to America, that recourse to a weapon for self-defence, arrest, or to settle scores, is the first resort not the last, and that those most affected by disproportionality and/or unreasonable use of force are people of colour. Whilst America claims or has been called upon to “police the world” it should sort out its own back yard first before any attempt to be the “world’s policeman”.

 

News & Media

Syria & Islamic State – To Bomb or Not to Bomb, is that the Question?

Bombing Syria & ISIL Perpetuates Terror

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Thousands continue to protest and take to the streets to oppose bombing Syria, seeing such a move as disastrous and more likely to endanger the lives of Syrian civilians, and further radicalise and foment future terrorism in Europe by Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). Hundreds and thousands of sorties and bombs by over a dozen nations over months and years did not prevent the attacks in Paris last month.

Update: On 2 December the UK Parliament voted to extend the Iraq bombing campaign to Syria but with no ground soldiers commitment or thought to future outcomes, rebuilding, Assad etc. Admittedly Hilary Benn, did give an excellent, almost convincing speech, but too many questions remain unanswered, avenues unexplored… and the UK has already carried out questionable drone strikes killing two British ISIS fighters – predating and without Parliamentary mandate.

Indeed, a majority of the country probably oppose the action according to polls, and Benn was out of touch with the majority of Labour Party supporters who are against action. Polls in the Telegraph had 59% for, in the Independent 59% against. At least there’s no “dodgy dossier” this time, but could we, in ten years time, be facing a similar enquiry into why we went to war, or even why we may still be at war, given that Cameron has suggested this could be lengthy, even many years.

Many see a bombing campaign as the obvious response to the attacks in Paris two weeks ago – precision, of course, because it is not like we want the human and financial expense of “boots on the ground” who can minimise civilian “collateral” losses by checking who they are targeting first. Presidents Hollande and Obama have called for ISIL to be  destroyed. Many echo that reaction. But, it is just that, a reaction, not a strategic response.
Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

War on Terror only increases Terrorism

Others recognise that after 14 years of responding to Middle Eastern turmoil by declaring a “War on Terror” we have actually multiplied rather than diminished terror. The 3,000 killed on 9/11 are now a drop in the ocean compared to the tens and hundreds of thousands who have died in the Middle East or fleeing it.

“The military actions of Western nations recruit more people to the cause than they kill. Every bomb dropped is a recruitment poster for ISIS, a rallying point for the young, vulnerable and alienated. And every bomb dropped on Syrian cities drives yet more people to flee and seek refuge in safer countries.”The Quakers in Britain

Thirteen countries are already bombing Syria, Canada is considering pulling out, the UK of joining in. One more nation will not solve what a dozen have already failed to do.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Bombing Syria and anywhere else, for that matter, only increases tension, radicalises countless more fighters. In barely a decade ISIL has grown from a few hundred to a 100,000 fighters on the back of Western intervention and against more moderate interpretations of Islam. “In the month after the bombing began, 8,000 joined Isis alone.”

“I know Isis fighters. Western bombs falling on Raqqa will fill them with joy” – Jürgen Todenhöfer

Terrorist acts on domestic soil need to be treated as criminal rather than military acts. Declaring them a war only intensifies the pseudo-legitimacy of their cause and identity, making them think that they are now a force to be reckoned with.

“One thing I have learnt is that this western intervention never helps, it only makes matters worse. So much worse. These interventions only pour petrol on the fires of Middle East unrest.” – John Prescott

Bombing Syria – A “failed strategy”

Lt General Mike Flynn was Obama’s senior JSOC intelligence officer and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency until last year. He has described dropping bombs from drones as causing more harm than good and a “failed strategy.”

“What we have is this continued investment in conflict… the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict. Some of that has to be done but I am looking for the other solutions… history will not be kind to the decisions that were made certainly in 2003… We definitely put fuel on a fire… Going into Iraq, definitely… was a strategic mistake.”- Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, former Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

A mistake that the West seems to want to perpetuate, as Einstein may have never said, but Nick O’Brien, Chair of Norwich Stop the War, quoted in a rally on Saturday, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Whilst the origin of this quote in clouded in mystery, another of Einstein’s may be even more apt, namely, that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In other words, bombing the bombers won’t solve anything other than create more bombmakers. Every bomb casualty or innocent victim creates loss and anger among relatives leading to further rationale for joining ISIS.

“The US… has been bombing Syria for over a year. Since September, France has been involved alongside them, although other members of a coalition put together last year, including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, have effectively withdrawn from bombing. Yet now both Russia and France have experienced severe terrorist attacks. Are we saying they have no connection to the raids? Far from making us safe, as politicians contend, they are likely to make us more vulnerable.”  – Lindsey German, Stop the War

Bombing Syria, as with elsewhere in the Middle East is both a failed and inadequate strategy. Even those prepared to bomb Syria, admit it will not be enough and will require foot soldiers as well, something people are more reticent to commit to.

It is also dangerous and complex with more than two sides. There are factions within factions, militias, rebels, Assad’s forces, vested interests of Russia, Turkey and others, not to mention a dozen other Western allies and limited Middle Eastern nations already involved.

“Politically, it is a grave step. Britain is about to enter a confused battlefield on which Russia, the US, France, Turkey, Iran, assorted Arab states, ethnic foes and rival sects are all fighting for different causes while Syria and Iraq disintegrate.” – The Sunday Times

Anti-War Protests across the UK

London saw the largest no to bombing Syria, anti-war rally, with thousands blocking Whitewall. Dozens of other cities held rallies. BBC and Guardian/Independent journalist Joel Gunter posted this image of at the London protest:

On Sunday another threat to the planet – climate change, saw protests and marches around the world ahead of a climate summit in Paris on Monday. Except in the French capital where such a large gathering had been banned on security fears or pretexts after the Paris attacks. Instead, people donated thousands of empty pairs of shoes to stand where people otherwise would have.

Don’t Bomb Syria Rally in Norwich

Norwich on Saturday saw around 100 people show up on a bitingly cold day to hand out leaflets to the public and hear from half a dozen speakers including local Muslims, Quakers, Labour and Green Party activists. One leafleter spoke to four servicemen who were supportive of the protest. A heckler interrupted by saying “two wrongs don’t make a right”, and then everyone realised that he was actually agreeing with what was being said.

 Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Speakers included Dr Ian Gibson – former Labour MP for Norwich North, Nick O’Brien – Chair of Norwich Stop the War, Lesley Graham – Quaker peace activist, Jan McLachlan – Norwich People’s Assembly, Adrian Holmes – Green Party, Muhammad Ameen Franklin – Muslims of Norwich.

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South issued this statement on the possibility of bombing Syria. He is a former TA soldier who served in Afghanistan, and BBC journalist.

“I understand there are occasions when military force is necessary. Therefore, I will not rule out supporting the use of military force against ISIL. However, the use of such force must not be an end in itself.
If there is one thing the ‘war on terror’ has shown, it is that military force alone is rarely the answer. We’ve been engaged in this ‘war’ for 15 years with with no end in sight. It has cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars, destabilised an entire region and arguably spawned a series of global, jihadist terror networks.”Clive Lewis

A Muslim Voice

Muhammad Ameen Franklin speaking at Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Muhammad Ameen Franklin speaking at Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

The speaker from the Ihsan Mosque in Norwich was warmly received and welcomed to applause. As with nearly 400 mosques and UK Muslim organisations who issued an unequivocal statement in the media on 18 November to “condemn the Paris attacks unreservedly”:

“The barbaric acts of Daesh (or ISIS, as they are sometimes known) have no sanction in the religion of Islam, which forbids terrorism and the targeting of innocents…. The aim of attacks like those inflicted on Paris and other cities across the world is to turn communities against each other. As Muslims, Britons and Europeans, we must stand together to make sure they do not succeed.”

The Norwich mosque also issued a statement on the atrocity in Paris, calling them “brutal murders”, not deaths or killings that might arise in a conventional war.

“we want to make absolutely clear not only our complete abhorrence of the outrages perpetrated in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere by this small group of well-organised and ruthless killers, but that the religion of Islam does not countenance such actions in any way whatsoever. Moreover, not only is their action a crime, but there is prima facie evidence of such serious flaws in their apprehension of Islam as to call into question whether they should even be considered Muslims.”

It isn’t about race, faith, or nation state. Any political, religious or nationalistic ideology can be taken to extremes. Treating other’s lives as collateral in any cause is the inhumanity in any ideology.

“It’s not about Islam, or indeed any religion – each has been there with its own extremisms, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Biblical Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. As John Lennon sang – “Imagine … no religion”. But then there’s the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Polpots, of this world. Roman pagans trying to wipe out Christianity, Communist extremism. It is the extremism they have in common, not faith or race.” – Katy Went, Imagine all the people, living life in peace

Each religion can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith per se.  Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness.

Backlash from Bombing and Terrorism

The important thing, now, is to avoid the backlash. If increased bombing of Syria goes ahead then there will be a backlash in terms of home grown and exported terrorism by those who see Britain’s involvement as Western interference, imperialism, and immorality. The other backlash is that against refugees and asylum seekers, particularly as one of the French terrorists was alleged to have gained access to Europe as a refugee. Thirdly, and an already happening reaction in the US, France, Britain and elsewhere is one that targets existing resident Muslims, those more or less happily already domiciled. Often, a kickback response to the visible presence of a mosque or headscarf, in total stereotyping ignorance of the variety of Islamic opinion and interpretations and indeed, the majority opinion in the UK, as expressed by the Muslim Council of Britain, that “almost all” Muslims “abhor terrorism”, though “even one person harbouring sympathy for the Daesh death cult is one too many”.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015
News & Media

Norfolk People’s Assembly Anti Austerity Protest Rally, 30 May, Norwich UK

NPA Anti-Austerity Protest Rally

Julie Bremner protesting Get The Tories Out at Norwich NPA Rally
Julie Bremner with Socialist Worker protesting Get The Tories Out – Strike, Protest, Occupy at Norwich NPA Rally

Saturday 30 May at midday saw several hundred people “depressed and angry about the election results” gather at the Norwich Haymarket who wanted “a more equal, fairer, kinder system…” standing together to find “a better way”. The growing local Norfolk People’s Assembly saw hundreds of local activists heed the call for a National day of Action from the UK People’s Assembly as a pre-cursor to a larger anti-government rally on 20 June in London. Some 475 joined the Facebook event and around 200-250 showed up at the Norwich Haymarket, nestled between McDonald’s, Top Shop, Next, Starbucks, and Primark. The statue of a pensive  Sir Thomas Browne – the medic and author of “Vulgar Errors”, looked down upon the modern crowd, probably wondering why we hadn’t yet solved 17th century problems of inequality and poverty, more than 3 centuries later.

Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015
Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015

Different interest groups but a common message

Banners for Saving Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk (currently in special measures), the Norfolk People’s Assembly and DPAC Norfolk (Disabled People Against Cuts) were unfurled along with dozens of printed and home made anti-austerity signs held aloft by arms weary after 5 years of Coalition cuts and now faced with another 5 years of threatened welfare budget reductions under the recently elected Conservative Party.

Stop the war against the poor
Stop the war against the poor

Diverse people representing numerous special interest bodies such as Save the NHS or the Hewett School, students, unemployed, disabled groups, political parties, affiliations and none, all called in unison for an end to the cuts and austerity.

A lone young female heckler raised a sober voice saying that “you people on benefits already get too much”. Perhaps, influenced by the hardline Right wing and Ukip rhetoric in the East of England during the recent election campaign.

Passionate Political Speeches

If the personal is political then that rang true of speakers from across the board, less because it was about them, more because of the passion with which they spoke for and on behalf of others but from the depths of personal experience of austerity and cuts to their sectors or own lives.

Green Party spokesperson at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket
Political speeches at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket

Speakers from the rally organisers, included Jan McLachlan, representatives of the Green Party, and Mark Harrison of the disability charity Equal Lives who drew attention to the ongoing access issues at the Duke Street work capability assessments centre.

Recently elected local Labour MP for Norwich South – Clive Lewis, suggested that even illegal direct action may be necessary to oppose immoral laws and Government inaction. Lewis spoke in an impassioned way that would probably shame the current batch of Labour leadership hopefuls and their copycat “aspirations of hard working families” soundbites.

Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action
Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action

Media & Press Coverage

Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally
Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally

Norwich Evening News reported very briefly on the rally but unfortunately made the demonstration sound like it was organised by Clive Lewis, which was not the case. Great publicity for the Labour MP, whose support and speech were appreciated, however poor journalism and social media tweeting by the EDP‘s Evening News arm, neglecting to mention many speakers and making it sound like the excellent Norfolk People’s Assembly organisers joined Mr Lewis, rather than the other way around. Political fairness also dictates that other parties such as the Norwich Green Party were also represented there. After contacting Archant I was assured that they would pass on “corrections you’ve pointed out to the reporter who wrote the story who will amend as appropriate”. Four days later, finally, an amendment to the online news story: “The rally, organised by the Norfolk People’s Assembly, was attended by Unison members, and pupils and parents from the Hewett School.” But still no response to the original and even more inaccurate tweet:

If Monday is a slow news day, then posting about Saturday’s event, also on the EDP site, has led to 44+ comments, the most commented on article today (58 now).

More photographic coverage on Demotix.

Earnest about Education too

Education was well represented by Ian Anderson a spokesperson for the We’re backing Hewett campaign, UEA staff, and Postgraduate Education officer UEA Students Union Liam McCafferty.

Liam, depressingly depicted a dystopian future where people would not be able to afford higher education.

Nick O'Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally
Nick O’Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally

Local deputy head teacher, NUT Campaigns Coordinator, Norwich Pride Chair and social activist, Nick O’Brien mentioned the reportedly over 27,000 children in Norfolk now living in poverty, at increased risk of poor health and educational achievement, whilst more than half a dozen children of protesting parents were happy, beyond most young kids’ attention spans, to hold up placards drawing attention to the plight of people of all ages and abilities under the current cuts.

NPA Press Release

Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say "No Cuts"
Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say “No Cuts”

Norwich Radical writer and NPA Press Secretary, Jack Brindelli, issued this statement for the press:

We at the People’s Assembly are steadfastly opposed to the Tories vicious plans for Britain, and the implications they will have for the people of Norfolk. On David Cameron’s watch as Prime Minister, the country has become bitterly divided along the lines of wealth inequality. His government’s cuts have shamefully targeted society’s most vulnerable – from the disabled, to the unemployed, to the unborn.

Whilst the Conservatives have been selling off the NHS through the backdoor, Britain’s infant mortality rate has risen to become the highest in Western Europe. Since 2010, the Black Triangle campaign estimates more than 80 suicides have been directly linked to cuts to social security – as those who need help most have been driven to desperate decisions by the Tories’ savage austerity measures. Over the duration of the last Parliament, the government have also butchered our legal rights by cutting legal aid – and are currently poised to axe the Human Rights Act, which currently protects ordinary citizens of all races from torture and persecution.

Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for "No Cuts"
Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for “No Cuts”

They have dismantled the comprehensive education system with their failed Free Schools and Academies scheme, turning schools like Hewett into profit-driven production lines, and they have tripled tuition fees – essentially ending the chances of a generation to learn beyond a GCSE level.

Kids who can't vote yet say "Get the Tories Out"
Kids who can’t vote yet say “Get the Tories Out”

We have a clear choice for the next 5 years then. If we want to live in a world without an NHS, without universal education, without opportunity, without hope, then we need only sit back and wait for 2020’s election to at best deliver us cuts from a different party. If however, we are intent on not only protecting the ideas of freedom, opportunity and the right to live with dignity, but also determined to literally save hundreds of lives, and to provide our children with a future worth living, then we must stand together now. Over the coming months, across the country from Glasgow to Newcastle, to Liverpool to London, the People’s Assembly plans to take action to stop David Cameron’s gang of market-extremists in their tracks, and build a better alternative. For us, the fightback starts here, in Norwich.

More photos of the Norfolk People’s Assembly Norwich rally here.

UK Uncut Anti-Austerity Rally in London

Human Rights Act protest
Human Rights Act protest

London saw two rallies on Saturday, one against the proposed replacement of the Human Rights Act by an expected to be watered down British Bill of Rights, and another called for by UK Uncut which saw 4,700 join the Facebook event. Less than that, as is usual with online events, turned up, but the hundreds that did protested peacefully and painted in situ a large 20m banner: “12bn more cuts. £120bn tax dodged – Austerity is a lie“, which they subsequently hung over the side of the bridge opposite Parliament. Although paint bombs were let off and direct action was called for, no arrests were made. Beth Cunningham told reporters:

“Direct action is what works. It sends a loud and clear message that people aren’t happy. And it’s part of acknowledging that our current political resources aren’t enough. People don’t have enough resources in the current political system to make their voices heard and that’s why we resort to direct action.”

 

News & Media

Let them Eat Cake unless it’s a Gay Cake as Christian Bakery refuses to bake Bert and Ernie Equal Marriage Cake for Belfast’s QueerSpace

Marriage in Northern Ireland is still “defined as being a union between one man and one woman” says NI Christian bakery company that refused to bake a “gay” Bert and Ernie queer cake and is taking “a stand” according to a trending BBC story.

[UPDATE: Bakery loses appeal against conviction for discrimination based upon the grounds of sexuality]

Queerspace logoIt seems that the cake request came from a volunteer LGBT activist from Belfast’s QueerSpace, as the cake design was to include their logo. QueerSpace is a “volunteer-led collective which has been serving the LGBT community of Belfast and Northern Ireland since 1998. It does this by raising LGBT visibility, supporting LGBT community activities and facilitating communication.”

QueerSpace Belfast Support Gay Marriage cakeThe cake was designed for their event to promote the International Day Against Homophobia as can be seen in the alternatively sourced cake that features prominently in several Facebook photos.

IDAHO(T) Day

The International Day Against Homophobia is celebrated each year on 17 May to combat homophobia and transphobia.

Sesame Street

Sesame Street Bert and Ernie LoveDescribed by Channel 4 News as “Sesame Street’s most sexually ambiguous couple”, Bert and Ernie have long been considered possibly, if not probably, gay.

The official Sesame Workshop position is that they are just “good friends”. In a 1993 statement they issued, it said:

“Bert and Ernie, who’ve been on Sesame Street for 25 years, do not portray a gay couple, and there are no plans for them to do so in the future. They are puppets, not humans.”

CEO Gary Knell in Sesame Street: A Celebration – 40 Years of Life on the Street, was a little more vague, hinting at sexual ambiguity as well as their sexual inability:

“They are not gay, they are not straight, they are puppets. They don’t exist below the waist.”

Sesame Street Bert and Ernie FriendsIn a 2011 statement it was reiterated that they “do not have a sexual orientation”.

This didn’t stop some Christians complaining that they represented a gay couple. Reverend Joseph Chambers on his radio show, in 1994, said:

“Bert and Ernie are two grown men sharing a house and a bedroom. They share clothes, eat and cook together and have blatantly effeminate characteristics. In one show Bert teaches Ernie how to sew. In another they tend plants together. If this isn’t meant to represent a homosexual union, I can’t imagine what it’s supposed to represent.”

Eric Jacobson, in a 2011 interview for Vanity Fair, said that Bert and Ernie were more “The Odd Couple” than a gay couple, if anything they emulated the close friendship of Jim Henson and Frank Oz.

All these assertions and denials, it makes one wonder, because we all know what hides behind denial, lol! 😉

Ashers Baking Company

Ashers Baking Company and its Christian founders and directors have taken their stand based upon their religious beliefs against a customer’s request to bake a pro-equal marriage cake. Whether the gay rights activist’s order was a test and if the bakery’s Christian views were well known beforehand is not clear. What is clear, is the law. Refusal of goods or services based upon someone’s actual or perceived sexuality is an offence. The Equality Commission wrote to the bakery saying that they had discriminated against the customer on the grounds of his sexual orientation and that they had seven days to recompense and “remedy [their] illegal discrimination” or end up in court.

According to a YouTube statement the company was named after Asher, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, recorded as having “gifted bakers” in it. It runs itself on what it perceives to be Biblical guidelines, not opening on Sundays either.

General Manager, Daniel McArthur, said of the customer order that:

“The directors and myself looked at it and considered it and thought that this order was at odds with our beliefs. It certainly was at odds with what the Bible teaches, and on the following Monday we rang the customer to let him know that we couldn’t take his order.”

It was not the first time the bakery had declined orders, McArthur, said they had also refused to bake cakes containing “pornographic images and offensive vile language”. They made no direct link between gay marriage and pornography but by offering up no other examples their statement makes a less than subtle and unfortunate, if not downright offensive, connection between the morality of pornography and homosexuality to some Christians.

Rev Andy Marshall, a Church of England priest, has written a fabulous piece pointing out Ashers’ biblical failings according to Leviticus and the New Testament. I mean what is a non-bearded man doing selling pork sausage rolls and then condemning dubious Levitical laws allegedly condemning homosexuality? Not to mention not representing the love and acceptance that Jesus showed towards ‘outsiders’, the oppressed and minorities. I can imagine Jesus being more likely to storm angrily into the bakery and upset their dough wielding a “whip of cords“.

Whilst Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK not to have passed a same-sex marriage law, this particular incident depends entirely on existing legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Northern Ireland and Devolved Equality -The Equality Commission

Unlike Wales and Scotland, anti-discrimination legislation is devolved in Northern Ireland has devolved anti-discrimination legislation, what this means is that whilst Wales and Scotland fully comply with the Equality Act (2010), Northern Ireland implements it incompletely, in its own way. The Northern Ireland Assembly, rather than the Westminster Parliament, is responsible for equalities law. Sections 73, 74 and 75 of the Northern Ireland Act (1998) established the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and placed public sector bodies under an equivalent though not entirely identical to British Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED). Notably, pregnancy and gender identity/reassignement are not explicitly protected characteristics.

The Equality Commission for Northern Ireland has responsibility for enacting and enforcing the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2003 and the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (NI) 2006 acts. It is the latter regulations , which came into force in 2007, which make it unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of, among other things, “goods, facilities or services”.

Equality Commission NI Logo

Whilst some religious organisations in Northern Ireland are exempt from the regulations, a bakery is a business, Christian-run or not, and as such must comply.

A Defence of Religions and Political Freedoms?

The Christian Institute, which is mounting their defence, disagrees and their director, Colin Hart said:

“All the McArthurs want is to run their bakery according to their Christian beliefs. There won’t be many situations where they need to turn down an order but this is obviously one of them. No one should be forced to use their creative skills to promote a cause which goes against their consciences.”

In an interview with the Daily Telegraph the initial story of which made front page news, Hart described this in apocalyptic terms:

“[It’s] a sign of things to come exactly as we predicted…. Now this nonsense, more usually associated with the public sector, is being applied to the private sector … This means millions of ordinary people who do not agree with gay marriage, face intimidation and the real threat of legal action from the forces of political correctness if they, out of conscience, decline to provide good or services to campaign groups they do not agree with or support. It establishes a dangerous precedent about the power of the state over an individual, or business to force them to go against their deeply held beliefs.”

Their defence will be based upon arguing that an equal marriage cake is a political campaign and that it is not discrimination to refuse to endorse a political position.

The issue has now made it to the UK Parliament with Prime Minister’s Question time (PMQs) raising the issue and David Cameron, knowing little about it, being challenged to defend religious freedom.

Burwell v Hobby Lobby Case

The case has some similarity with the recent SCOTUS (US Supreme Court) judgement on Burwell v Hobby Lobby in which despite a federal mandate to provide employee health coverage, Hobby Lobby’s owners, David and Barbara Green, refused to comply as they felt that 4 out of 20 of the health insurance registered contraceptive drugs were morning-after and week-after life terminating abortion pills, based upon their view of life beginning at conception. SCOTUS upheld their refusal by 5-4 and ruled in their favour with “important implications for over 50 pending lawsuits brought by non-profit religious organizations … also challenging the mandate”.

[An earlier version of this article first appeared here]

Image Credits

QueerSpace Belfast Support Gay Marriage public facebook photo
Equality Commission NI logo

 

News & Media

Facebook error, Sorry, something went wrong – Life without Facebook

Facebook website goes down

Without warning Facebook terror has struck, well Facebook error at least, and with thousands taking to Twitter to inform us of what we already knew, but at least it confirmed it was global and not a purge of ailurophile account holders – that’s cat lovers to you and me.

The dystopic vision of life for over 1.25 billion people without Facebook is over, as after 30 minutes down Facebook was back. For 30 minutes this morning around 9am GMT in the UK, as everyone logged onto their computers at work – and checked their Facebook accounts first, the site crashed rendering just a 2013 error page saying “Sorry, something went wrong – We’re working on getting this fixed as soon as we can.”

Facebook down error The irony of having to use rival Twitter to announce a Facebook error meltdown, which included the mobile platform too, was tracked in tens of thousands of tweets and trending hashtags #facebookdown as well as “facebook error”, and then after ‘THE EVENT’, via #WhenFacebookWasDown and #facebookup. A TEOTWAWKI moment if ever there wasn’t (“The end of the world as we know it”).

There was no sign of an immediate crash in the share price after its near 2% rise the day before, just a drop of 1.9%  in trading later that day when the NYSE/NASDAQ opened. Longer term, advertisers and shareholders may reflect on the downtime of something that in barely over 10 years people have come to regard as universally available and as synonymous with life’s daily essentials as having a phone, electricity or the Internet.

For many, instead of the morning login to check cute cats, messages and memes, it was a case of having to read a paper, talk to your partner or work colleague, or go for a walk and enjoy nature, even do some work.

For a productivity increase to really happen, Twitter and Pinterest would also have to go down.

Funny how we forget the simple things and it takes the denial of service of some technology to realise we survived half our lives or more without it. Indeed, Facebook has only been around a decade, and thus February 2004, the birth of Facebook, was year zero, I was born 37 BF (Before Facebook), today is 10 AF (Anno Facebook).

All the Sci-Fi films of the past predicted androids, utopias, flying cars – none of which have fully happened, and none foresaw how endemic and pervasive a social media platform might become and how technology would be part and parcel of being social. Star Trek communicator “badges” never had the option for “Klingons on the starboard bow” – Share this on Facebook.

I remember, as a kid, a television show called Why Don’t You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go Out and Do Something Less Boring Instead?” The 1973 TV show actually ran until 1995 with Russell T Davies of Doctor Who fame being at one point a producer and director of it. Again, the irony, as a television programme self-referenced turning itself off so that we would go and play outside during the school holidays rather than be glued to the gogglebox. The BBC itself said “If the programme had actually succeeded of course then it wouldn’t have had an audience.”

According to analytics by the Guardian, users didn’t just switch off and do something off social media, instead they simply switched channels from Facebook to Twitter. Some, “Apparently, … even went to Google+.”

News sites seemed relatively unaware at first, papers that publish throughout the day like London’s Metro were quick to publish after the site was restored but with little response from Facebook yet other than this:

“Earlier this morning, we experienced an issue that prevented people from posting to Facebook for a brief period of time. We resolved the issue quickly, and we are now back to 100%. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused… This doesn’t happen often, but when it does we make sure we learn from the experience so we can make Facebook that much more reliable.”

Back in 2010 when the site was down for 2.5 hours Facebook issued an apology or rather an unintelligible engineering explanation for it. The Independent reported that people were  complaining about having to spend time with their offspring or go on to Pinterest for inspirational quotes. They quote the movie about the founding of Facebook, ‘The Social Network’, where Mark Zuckerberg proudly said “Facebook would never go down.”

The dilemma is that for many business models Facebook has become one of the leading referrers for business traffic, alongside Google, Pinterest etc. So 30 minutes downtime is 30 minutes lost business, losing millions worldwide. “Publishers” in particular “saw referral traffic from Facebook fall off a cliff as the outage hit”, the Guardian reported.

Taking advantage

The Metro was also quick to jump on the ever pervasive lists bandwagon with “Five ways we used the crash to our advantage“, it won’t be long before the blogs have “Ten things to do when you can’t get on Facebook”. The Nestlé KitKat Philippines ‏Twitter account @kitkat_ph was quick to take advantage “Looks like #Facebook is having a BREAK right now. Have a BREAK, too! :)”.

Tech tip

You can always check whether sites are down for everyone or just you on isitdownrightnow.com and downrightnow.com.

 

News & Media

World Press Freedom Day – Journalism is essential to political accountability and personal liberty

May 3 is the twentieth World Press Freedom Day, a day to be celebrated, whether you like the media you read or not. Doing their job and trying to write free of political pressure or censorship has meant 200 journalists are currently imprisoned worldwide in countries like Azerbaijan, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Iran, Palestine, Russia, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

Freedom of the press means several things. Firstly it should be free of government influence, free to criticise in-power politicians, free to champion the causes of out-of-power ones and those who may have become political prisoners. As the recently deceased Tony Benn MP once said of democracy and those in power: “To whom are you accountable? How can we get rid of you?” – surely one of the tools of challenging politicians is a free Press which should go hand-in-hand with democracy. Tony Benn power democracy quote 2005 No journalism will ever be completely free of personal or political influence, therefore to be truly free, we need journalism of all flavours, passions and persuasions. From long established broadsheet papers like The London and New York Times, The Telegraph, Washington Post and Guardian, to Internet HuffPost, Wikileaks and even tabloid or so-called “gutter press” papers, and combative Radio 4 Today Programme and interrogative Paxman Newsnights – they are all necessary. If we believe in freedom of speech/writing then we cannot seek to control that based upon personal preference for a different style of news or belief on what constitutes news.

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” – Thomas Jefferson

Journalists should equally be free to write without editorial or media-owner pressure to toe a particular line. Any piece that bears their name should carry their opinion and theirs alone. They should even have input and a veto on headlines, which are so often written by others after their piece has been edited and approved. This is a part of journalistic transparency which we should be able to see in every article or story. Either in tandem with this, or in addition, there should be rules preventing monopoly and/or government ownership of the Press.

A sad but now inherent part of newspaper history was the so-called “Yellow Journalism” of the 1890s as William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer II of Pullitzer Prize fame battled it out for readership, lowering the tone and truth of reporting in the process of pursuing profits over accuracy. We would now call much of this “Tabloid Press” now, though the shape and size of a paper need have no bearing on its quality of content. The “Yellow Press” has, however, still been responsible for bringing people and politicians to account, even if it can also be blamed for causing offence, ‘outing’ people – whether their sexuality, gender or infidelity, it has been cited in cases that have led to suicide – so I am not saying that the media is perfect, just that it is necessary in an open, if not for, an open society.

“Freedom of the Press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose” – George Orwell

Whilst writing should, in principle, be free of ‘hate’ speech, libel and slander, it must, however, be free to express opinion and should only incur sanctions when breaking human rights, equality and defamation laws. A right to disagree and be disagreed with is paramount to press freedom and journalistic integrity. That said, opinion pieces should have a right to reply and/or comment with moderators being sure to only police hate speech, insult and injury, and not rights to express personal, political or religious beliefs. Noam Chomsky said that “If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all”, it is freedom for all or it is censorship. “You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. You must defend all of it or be against all of it.”, as Scott Howard Phillips said, albeit concerning the US 2nd Amendment and right to bear arms. In John Stuart Mill’s 1859 book, On Liberty, he wrote much that holds as true today, if not more so, as 150 years ago:

“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”

“We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still.”

“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

In the Danish political drama, Borgen (Season 2 Episode 2), the female PM, Birgitte Nyborg, is encouraged by her faithful friend and gruff colleague Bent Sejrø that a clever politician gathers around themselves people who may disagree with you. Not just as part of the episode’s Sun Tzu “Keep your friends close but your enemies closer” theme but in order to create better policy. Only surrounding yourself with people who agree with you will not save you from mistakes.

World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day was declared at the end of 1993 by the UN General Assembly. It is commemorated on 3 May, the anniversary of the 1991 Declaration of Windhoek (Namibia) to promote “Independent and Pluralistic Media”. Among other principles Windhoek declared that:

  1. Consistent with article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development.
  2. By an independent press, we mean a press independent from governmental, political or economic control or from control of materials and infrastructure essential for the production and dissemination of newspapers, magazines and periodicals.
  3. By a pluralistic press, we mean the end of monopolies of any kind and the existence of the greatest possible number of newspapers, magazines and periodicals reflecting the widest possible range of opinion within the community.

Back in 1946, the UN had declared “freedom of information” to be a “fundamental human right”. Press Freedom Day, therefore, seeks to:

  • Celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom;
  • Assess the state of press freedom throughout the world;
  • Defend the media from attacks on their independence;
  • Pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize

On 2 May an independent panel of media professionals declared Turkish journalist Ahmet Şik the 2014 UNESCO Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize winner. An investigative reporter and exposer of human rights abuses and corruption, Şik was injured whilst covering the Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul last summer.

Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom Award

On 1 May Al Jazeera English Egypt producer Mohamed Fahmy, who is currently under arrest and detention, was awarded the Canadian Press Freedom Award for a “Canadian journalist who has made an outstanding contribution to the right to freedom of expression in the face of inordinate persecution.” Fahmy had previously worked for the BBC and CNN, and wrote an account, Egyptian Freedom Story, of the Arab Spring of 2011. Fahmy has donated the $2000 prize money to the family of another journalist, Mayada Ashraf, who died whilst covering political demonstrations in Egypt last month.

Al Jazeera Journalists detained in Egypt

Journalism is not a Crime, Amnesty International #FreeAJStaffAmong the hundreds of journalists gagged, detained, or killed, worldwide, are two other Al Jazeera English staff – former BBC journalist, Australian Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed, held in detention by Egypt for “broadcasting false news” – for “false”, whatever your opinion, read “disapproved”. In the prison where they are being held pen and paper are banned yet the power of journalistic truth and persuasion won Fahmy access to them and he was able to smuggle out a letter this week:

“I hereby appeal to the global advocates of press freedom not to hold Egypt, the country of my birth responsible for our wrongful detention. Only certain individuals in the system who lack the understanding of the fundamentals of journalism are to be held accountable. One way to reverse this misunderstanding is to start with the man next to you, and in my case that would be the illiterate prison guard convinced that by broadcasting protests in Egypt to the Western world simply makes me a traitor. His more educated disgruntled boss who has prevented me from having a pen and paper in my cell has become more lenient by time when I continuously highlighted certain values of journalism like transparency and the importance of having a watchdog to question the government that pays his salary and evaluates his performance. The metamorphosis has begun and the fact that this letter has been released from prison and published is in itself a victory to be celebrated and hopefully not the last.”

Another Al Jazeera journalist, Arabic correspondent Abdullah Elshamy, has been imprisoned without trial since last August and has now been on hunger strike for weeks and lost nearly 35kg and not received medical attention. [Update: Elshamy was released on 17 June after 10 months in prison without charge or conviction.]

Fahmy described this as a blatant “breach of human rights” and added in his letter:

“I see no better occasion than today to remind the world about the plight of these men and that there are dozens of respected, local Egyptian reporters and citizen journalists who are suffering in prison awaiting trial, they are simply prisoners of conscience.”

(See and hear the letter read out in an Al Jazeera English video) The Egyptian judge at the 3 May bail hearing wished the 3 detained Al Jazeera journalists a happy Press Freedom Day then refused bail with no sense of irony at all. At the hearing Peter Greste said for the benefit of other reporters present: “You can’t have a free society without a free press. In Egypt today you know that you can’t provide balance as long as you can end up in prison like us.”

[Update: Sadly, the 3 reporters – Peter Greste, Mohammed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, were handed down guilty verdicts on 23 June for 7 years for spreading “false news” and supporting the banned Muslim Brotherhood, charges they continue to deny and say they were only carrying out their duties as journalists and reporters. Nine other defendants tried in absentia, including three foreign journalists, received 10-year sentences, two have been acquitted. Of the twenty defendants in total nearly half are Al-Jazeera journalists. #AJTrial]

[Latest: Fahmy and Mohamed are among 100 prisoners to be released and/or pardoned today as part of Islam’s Eid al-Adha holiday and Egypt’s attempt to re-legitimise its Western standing]

Censorship

Early 20th century Ukrainian-Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov – he was born in Kiev, but moved to Moscow – managed to simultaneously both offend and please Joseph Stalin and have books and plays not only banned but also protected by him! He superbly put that a journalist without freedom is like a fish without water:

“To struggle against censorship, whatever its nature, and whatever the power under which it exists, is my duty as a writer, as are calls for freedom of the press. I am a passionate supporter of that freedom, and I consider that if any writer were to imagine that he could prove he didn’t need that freedom, then he would be like a fish affirming in public that it didn’t need water.”Mikhail Bulgakov, Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov A Life in Letters and Diaries

Voltaire

If Press freedom is like water for journalists, just as the air all of us breathe, it is not something that can be restricted. The right to free expression and opinion is a universal human right. I’ll end with the infamous non-quote by Voltaire:

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

This was actually said by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall, The Friends of Voltaire, 1906. What he did say in a 1770 letter, was:

“I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write.”

Many have given their own lives in order to report the news or their views, whether professional or “citizen journalists”, but Press freedom means supporting the freedom to express even the views we may detest or disapprove of. Press Freedom Day means reminding the powers that be that the “world will be watching” their treatment of journalists and freedom of speech.

This article was first published on Bubblews and subsequently a version was published on my Google blogger/blogspot account.