As a society, we are so used to the idea that freedom of speech is a fundamental right that we tend to forget that it is also fundamental to a well-run society that some jobs are reserved to people who voluntarily surrender their right to speak on specific topics. Well-known examples include judges, civil servants and, er, BBC football presenters. As a result, the UK’s news agenda was recently dominated by a contest in which both sides turned in a poor performance.
The political question
They say you get the politicians you deserve. But that adage originates with Thomas Jefferson who was unaware of the modern-day television interview. Increasingly, political interviewers ask questions in a form designed to put the interviewee in an embarrassing position, rather than to elicit information that might help the audience. Take this example put to Rishi Sunak …
A right royal time of transition
At the end of a seventy-year reign, few people have anything but praise for the late Queen. It wasn’t always so. But now is not the time to remember the occasional lapses in concentration that brought criticism. Overall, she played a blinder.
Some would say the accession of the new King has gone without a hitch. But has it?
Eurovision sends a lesson to tennis
Compare the Eurovision audience’s delight at the banning of Russia with the behaviour of the two tennis bodies, ATP (men) and WTA (women). Both organisations currently adorn their websites with ribbons in the colours of Ukraine, but they have chosen to take action against Wimbledon for excluding Russian and Belarusian players from this year’s tournament.
Enemies of the Press?
The Daily Mail is at it again. In 2016, they famously labelled three Court of Appeal judges as “Enemies of the People” for ruling that an important decision had to be referred to Parliament. Today, they accuse three (different) Appeal judges of unleashing “a dark day for truth and free expression” by undermining “the right to rigorously test in court the evidence in any given case” – a right which “has, over the centuries, become one of the cornerstones of a civilised society.”
Is Covid-19 making us irrational?
I don’t want to start a panic, but I do wonder whether Covid is making people less able to think properly. I’m not talking about those poor individuals who have actually had the disease. I’m talking about (almost) everyone.
Should social media be allowed to ban users?
Earlier this month, Facebook’s Oversight Board upheld the decision to ban someone from its site. The “someone” in question happened to be Donald Trump, but that has no bearing on this article. I want to examine the debate that rages over the principle of social media sites being able to ban anyone at all from their platforms.
Yes, but who was the wee donkey?
In Hollywood, there is a story-writing guru, Robert McKee. After listening to one of his talks, many years ago, I gained the abiding impression that the most powerful story endings are those that you didn’t see coming and yet, with hindsight, the narrative had been building to that all along. One of McKee’s favourite examples – and mine – is Casablanca.
BBC’s Line of Duty cried out for an ending of such proportions. After all, this latest series had been deemed important enough to feature in news broadcasts. (And not just the BBC News. If you haven’t seen the final episode yet, stay away from today’s newsstands: several of the papers have a prime plot point plastered all over their front pages.)
But the writer, Jed Mercurio, seemed to have long ago abandoned any attempt at such a climax.Read more
Should social media regulation be aiming at a different goal?
This weekend, the professional football community in the UK will boycott social media. The “gesture”, initiated by the anti-racism charity, Kick It Out, and others, is a call to “those with power [within social media] … to do more and to act faster … to make their platforms a hostile environment for trolls”. At the time of writing, British rugby and British cricket has announced that they will join the boycott.
I wish them all luck. Something is needed to deliver major change.
A good place to start might be improved clarity around the nature of social media and the responsibility its providers take for the words and images that appear on their forums. At the moment, much of the thinking is confused and confusing.Read more
Trump was a riot – and I mean that literally
Donald Trump’s second impeachment trial is underway. His lawyers argue that, when he told supporters to “fight like hell”, he was only speaking figuratively. His lawyers are wrong.Read more