What Happened to the Presumption of Innocence?

The British media, in its feeding frenzy for anything salacious and scandalous, named a footballer who had been arrested on suspicion of rape:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/footballer-ivan-klasnic-arrested-over-rape-claim-2118972.html

prompting this to The Independent:

Sirs,

So once again, we have splashed all over the media the name of someone accused of rape – a footballer this time. No trial, no verdict, but in the eyes of the media and the public, a reputation in tatters.

What on Earth happened to the presumption of innocence in this country? If he’s found guilty, then fine, go to town on him. But to be condemned by the court of public opinion before a trial even takes place is very wrong, and makes me extremely angry.

There can be no valid reason for allowing the name of anyone accused of a crime to be made public before a trial – ideally not before a verdict. It makes a fair trial hugely more difficult to achieve.

Either name nobody or name all parties, including the accuser. This current way is grossly unfair.

Paul Harper

Charity Money Devalued

The Independent had a leading article asking if the move owards earlier and earlier wearing of poppies to commemorate Remembrance Sunday was devaluing it:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/leading-articles/leading-article-earlier-each-year-2115664.html

Prompting:

Sirs,

I agree totally with your piece questioning whether the extended poppy-wearing season devalues the cause it promotes. But I would go further.

While I support wholeheartedly the work of the Royal British Legion, even if I consider it a form of governmental neglect that their work is necessary, the wearing of poppies, ribbons, wristbands, badges etc. as a result of charitable giving serves only to promote the generosity of the wearer, not the causes they support.

What these icons do is tell the world what a lovely person the giver is. It is a form of self promotion with which I have always even very uncomfortable. There has always been a tradition of discrete charitable giving in this country, and sadly we seem to be moving to a more American model of shouting about it.

That is what devalues the causes. People should give frequently, generously and discretely to charities or not at all.

Paul Harper

It got published:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/letters/letters-poppy-appeal-2123438.html

Heroes and Heroics

The Independent published a piece on the difference between heroics and foolhardiness:

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/features/should-we-bestow-sainthood-on-reckless-adventurers-2112111.html

prompting this:

Sirs,

A fascinating, and mostly accurate piece on heroes in today’s Viewspaper. The one exception being Captain Sullenberger, who landed his plane on the Hudson. While the good captain made a very noteworthy contribution to the exercise, all of the decisions that kept the plane in the air, and which made the landing so smooth were made by the plane’s onboard systems. Had he been flying a Boeing, he would have crashed a lot earlier, over land. The heroics in that situation have to be at least shared with the Airbus software people.

In terms of the definition of “hero”, it really is quite simple. Are you setting out, knowing you may come into harm’s way or worse, for the benefit of others? That’s heroic. If you’re setting out to do your normal job and get stuck doing it, then that’s not. If you set out on some childish adventure surrounded by cameras and admiring sycophants, then that’s not. If you join an army because it’s a better option than unemployment, then it’s not.

Heroes are made in moments of time and changing circumstances, not by cynical design and a desire for self-promotion.

Paul Harper

Outward-Looking Russia

UK media reported, generally with amusement, that a Russian delegate from FIFA had criticised London for alcohol and crime issues, prompting this to the Independent:

Sirs,

I cannot help but giggle at the idea of the Russian FIFA delegate for the bidding for the 2018 World Cup slagging off London for alcohol and crime issues. This from a country that consumes more vodka than drinking water and that is run from the very top by corrupt Mafia gangs and asset thieves!

Could it be that the country has finally developed a sense of humour which has reached the dizzy heights of Germany’s?

Paul Harper

Robert Peston

Robert Peston, the BBC’s economics editor is one of my favourite hate figures. I had enough one afternoon when I read a piece by him and felt I had to reply in the comments:

Is there, PLEASE!, the remotest possibility of you filing a piece totally free of first-person pronouns? There is nobody as bad as you at littering their work with “I”, “me” and the like. It is seriously off-putting when two of the first six words in a report are “I”, and they form an almost impenetrable barrier to taking anything else in the piece seriously. Your desire to be seen as being at the centre of changing events is understandable, but you really need to resist the temptation to give the impression that events actually revolve around you, like some sort of journalistic black hole at the centre of the galaxy.

Which the BBC shortly thereafter removed, sending me the email:

> Dear BBC blog contributor,
>
> Thank you for contributing to a BBC blog. Unfortunately we’ve had to remove your comment below.
>
> Comments on the BBC blogs may be removed if they are considered likely to provoke, attack or offend others, use swear words, or disrupt the message boards. For more information, please visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/moderation.shtml#f
>
> Please note that anyone who seriously or repeatedly breaks the House Rules may have action taken against their account.
>
> Please do not reply to this email. For information on appeals visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/moderation.shtml
>
> Regards,
> BBC Central Communities team

Which I responded with:

Sirs,

I see no valid reason to reject my blog entry. It uses no bad language, it is non-inflammatory and non-provocative. All it is, is critical of Mr Peston’s writing style. Lest Mr Peston be given the erroneous impression that he has an uncritical audience, please could you at least make sure he has seen the post?

Regards,

Paul Harper

I didn’t get a reply…

Uterus Pride

Mary-Ann (“MA”) Seghart wrote a piece in the Independent about the issues around decency in politics:

http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/mary-ann-sieghart/mary-ann-sieghart-a-sprinkling-of-decency-over-politics-2109451.html

prompting this:

Sirs,

What is it about some of your lady columnists that they see unable to present a position on any topic without bringing gender into it? M A Seighart was doing so well in her piece in yesterday’s Viewspaper about the possible return of decency in politics when, at the very last hurdle, she derailed the whole thing by bringing up a gross generalisation about what women think as though they were some sort of Borg hive-mind of automatons.

This managed to turn a fair and balanced piece on politics in general into an implied rant about how badly men behave. While I agree with the central premise that sexism is a bad thing, it is never going to be defeated by being equally sexist.

Stridency and brow-beating are deeply unattractive qualities. Far better to lead, and teach, by example.

Paul Harper

Blogging and Twits

Andrew Marr wrote a piece in the Independent which basically made him seem scared that his prized profession of journalism was under some sort of attack:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/online/marr-hits-out-at-angry-rantings-of-drunk-bloggers-2103981.html

prompting:

Sirs,

Andrew Marr is right that blogging is not to be confused with journalism, but for the wrong reason. The fevered rants from a barely literate minority might cause amusement, but are only considered newsworthy within its own low IQ population. They see themselves as “cyber-warriors” protected by the distance from their target and the anonymity of their logons. As ever there are exceptions -The Huffington Post springs to mind – but they are as easy to find as an eloquent football supporter.

It is the other side of blogging that irritates me. Read almost any ‘celebrity’ Twitter steam and you will find that most of them see it as an extension of the marketing effort for whatever tat they’re peddling this week. Lord (genuflects) Alan Sugar and Stephen Fry are two of the more irritating examples. Every other posting touts some product or other, relying upon an army of mindlessly sycophantic ‘followers’ to pay up and get out.

So no, blogging is not to be confused with journalism. A more apt comparison would be with an out-of-control classroom in a borstal, full of nutters and spivs, where an occasional spray-down from a cold hose does them good. So, well said, Mr. Marr.

Paul Harper

Which they published WITH A CARTOON! :