All entries for March 2007

March 30, 2007

South Park Kills the Queen

The Queen is Dead. Long Live Comedy. British newspapers have reacted in outrage to an episode of South Park, where in an homage to 24, the British Queen is behind a plot to take over the United States government. The plot fails, and she blows her head off with a gun.

The Sun called it the show’s “sickest point yet”. The Daily Mail said it was “its most spectacularly offensive episode yet”.

Chris Doidge said it was “the funniest thing he’d heard in a long, long time”. A spokesman for Chris Doidge added he was still laughing now, even though he should be writing his law coursework.


What if we were in Iranian waters?

I probably won’t make myself popular for saying this… But what if the British sailors were in Iranian waters?

I’ve been troubled by some of the Foreign Office language, which is vague enough to leave room for admitting they were wrong. For instance, we’ve heard about the exact spot where the sailors were captured. But we’ve not been shown the line that they took before that. What if they accidentally went into Iranian waters, then returned to Iraqi waters, and were then captured. Essentially, both the British and the Iranians would be in the wrong. The Britons for having been in Iranian waters, and the Iranians for having gone into Iraqi waters to detain them.

If what we’ve heard is true, the Iranians were in the wrong because they should have shepherded the sailors out of their waters – there is no need for them to have been detained under maritime law.

Compare a British news report with one on an international news website. There is often a subtle difference in language. The British media take MoD statements as fact, while there’s more emphasis on ”...the MoD claim that the sailors were in Iraqi waters…” in international reporting.

My concern is that we’re only hearing half of the story. This is largely because the Iranian regime is disfunctional, secretive and has a lot to hide. But I wonder whether the vacuum of information from the other side means that we’re getting information which isn’t as high-quality as we’re led to believe.

Would our media ever decide something the Iranians said was correct and that something the MoD said was incorrect? It seems very unlikely.

We, understandably, want our sailors back. The MoD, understandably, would never want to admit that they made a mistake in relation to Iran. Foreign relations are too sensitive to give them any ground on such an international stage.

And the Iranians have, for sure, acted wrongly by detaining the fifteen, putting two of them on television, making them read admissions of guilt and denying consular access.

But what if we did cock up? Would we ever find out the truth?


Bloggers want Mugabe out

Writing about web page http://paulburgin.blogspot.com/2007/03/bloggers-against-mugabe.html

An interesting initiative over at a blog I’d not heard of before – an open, signed entry persuading Robert Mugabe to resign. I’m sure some British blogs won’t be able to force him out, but it’ll be worth seeing how popular it becomes. Only a few signatories so far (it’s only just gone online) but already a non-partisan bunch.


Listen up viewer – we don't care about you

Two bits of news out this morning, both of which suggest the TV viewer is low down the list of priorities when it comes to deciding what to put on the box.

Firstly, the FA look set to award the rights to the FA Cup and England home games to ITV and Setanta. This despite the fact that the BBC’s coverage has been credited with making the Cup exciting again after several years of rubbish. Would ITV have to show the lower-league cup ties that the Beeb have loyally provided over the past few years? And if they’re paying so much more (£400m+) will they have any money left to make the coverage half-decent? The deal leaves the BBC with no live football outside of the Euro 2008 and the next World Cup, which with their range of talent must be pretty annoying. Gabby Logan – who moved from ITV recently – must be kicking herself.

Secondly, the BBC are mulling plans to show EastEnders five nights a week. I don’t think they understand why people have stopped watching the show over the years (it used to get around 16m people regularly, now it gets about half that). People stopped watching because it’s too big a commitment. Ask viewers what they really want and they’d probably ask for fewer episodes of higher quality. Even the show’s producers are against it, but the Beeb want to squeeze some more milk from the ratings cow. Laughably they’re undertaking a “feasibility test to assess the impact on the production schedule”, but don’t appear to be researching what the viewer actually wants.

Media 2, Viewer 0.


March 28, 2007

Politics Quiz

The Labour Party has had four leaders between 1990 and 2007. Who were they?


We've Been Framed

Cardiff is probably one of the best-regarded places to study journalism in the UK. Even Johnny Foreigner comes over to study here. We call him McFad. Yet the evidence below suggests this reputation may not be entirely deserved…


Is Blair about to rewrite his foreign policy legacy?

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/frontpage/story/0,,2044281,00.html

From today’s Guardian:

Tony Blair is pushing the United Nations to declare a no-fly zone over Darfur, enforced if necessary by the bombing of Sudanese military airfields used for raids on the province, the Guardian has learned. The controversial initiative comes as a classified report by a UN panel of experts alleges Sudan has violated UN resolutions by moving arms into Darfur, conducting overflights and disguising its military planes as UN humanitarian aircraft.

Iraq undid all of the good work Tony Blair had done in foreign relations before 2001, notably in Kosovo. Cynics will say his embryonic plans for Darfur are nothing more than an attempt to change people’s perception of him, but they should be ignored.

The West should have gone in much earlier, but hopefully the ‘classified report’ will prove not to be another dodgy dossier. If it’s correct, a no-fly zone should be a minimum requirement for the UN, and if they won’t agree to it, then Britain alone. This isn’t Iraq all over again.


March 26, 2007

Don't work with children or animals… or politicians.

Phew… They say you shouldn’t work with kids or animals in television, but I’d recommend avoiding politicians too. It’s not that they run around uncontrollably or piss on the studio floor, but they’re a bit of a chain around your neck. What would have been a fairly flexible deadline is suddenly made precise by having a few demanding egos in the room.

We’ve been recording a Question Time programme with participants from Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems and Plaid, and things started going badly when the Labour person pulled out about six hours before filming. Three hours of phoning later and we had a stand-in.

We were running predictably late, and started filming at the last possible moment. One candidate was having a nervous relationship with their wrist-watch. As soon as we were done with filming the main take, they got up, even though we needed them to sit and film a couple of inserts. Nope, not gonna happen, it seems. Politician has somewhere else to be.

Later it turned out that they could just about hear our talkback system, meaning anything I was saying in the gallery was getting through to them. Er… right. That’s the presenter’s prompts? The questions being read in advance? The lines of attack? And presumably it included the derogatory comments from the gallery as well then?

Live telly. Pain. In. The. Arse.


March 25, 2007

No no no no no no no no no… I mean Yes?

Jim Trott from the Vicar of Dibley The sky is green. The sky is green. The sky is green. No matter how many times you say it, it still won’t be true.

But still, newspapers continue to say David Miliband should – perhaps will – run against Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership. But it still won’t happen.

Today’s Observer reckons Tony Blair wants Miliband to run. That in itself seems a bit unlikely, but even if it’s true, the story ignores one crucial thing about Miliband.

He’s a bit clever.

No serious challenger with their head screwed on would actually run against Gordon. His “Gord Giveth, Gord Taketh Away” budget is evidence that he can just about get away with anything. Only a major slip-up would change that.

Miliband would, I reckon, make a better job of PM than Gordon. But he’s not ready for it, Gordon’s going to win anyway, and if you look hard enough, he doesn’t even look like he wants it.

When Miliband says no, he doesn’t mean yes.


March 24, 2007

And the No Shit, Sherlock award goes to…

Writing about web page http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/6484299.stm

Children who blame themselves for their parents’ relationship difficulties are more likely to have academic problems, Cardiff University research has found. Psychologists involved will now survey 3,500 parents, children and teachers in Wales to discover why pupils whose parents argue under-perform in school.


March 23, 2007

Cameron tries to win over the Welsh


Doidge Meets Cameron

David Cameron’s fishing for votes in Wales. His Conservatives have eleven seats in the Assembly, and are hoping for a big increase in May. But he might have to do better than his flying visit today, where he didn’t announce any policies for Wales and didn’t hang around long either.

He told me Plaid Cymru stood for nothing, and that his Conservatives could protect the Welsh identity better. Perhaps a contentious claim.

And he’ll have to work better on his stage management. In an attempt to look eco-friendly, his shadow cabinet followed him in minibuses. Not entirely becoming for Theresa May and her sparkly shoes. And with one bus completely empty, plus two others only half full, you have to wonder whether their environmental concerns are genuine or half-hearted. Mr Cameron himself got out and walked so we couldn’t see what gas-guzzler he’d arrived in.

The whistle-stop tour included a meeting with Conservative Assembly members and a brief – and not entirely natural – chat with children from a local primary school. He’ll be pleased to know they approved, even if his new hairstyle got a less enthusiastic reception.


March 22, 2007

Gordon Brown's Budget. And some cheese.

Gordon and Cheese

A 2p TAX CUT!!! And the scrapping of the lower rate of income tax to cancel it out.

A BETTER DEAL FOR BUSINESSES!!! And an increase in corporation tax for small businesses.

AN INCREASE IN CHILD TAX CREDITS!!! And a change in the threshold so that you’ll get less.

A TAX CUTTING BUDGET!!! And firm promises that taxes will actually go up in future years.

CASH BORROWING IS DOWN!!! Except for last year, but I won’t mention that.

THE LOWEST INCOME TAX RATES IN DECADES!!! And the highest stealth taxes ever, to make up for it.

A BUDGET THAT LOOKS TO THE FUTURE!!! Ah… yes, he got that bit right. Half of the measures he introduced won’t actually start until next April. Howzat for the next Chancellor, eh?


Warnings before the smoking ban

It’s nearly a year since smoking was banned in Scottish pubs, and warnings from the landlords should be listened to south of the border.

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association said pubs had suffered “collateral damage” from the smoking ban, and had been forgotten in the wrangling between tobacco companies and the Executive.

Drink sales had fallen 11% and food sales – expected to rise by some – had also fallen, by 3%. Only around 530 pubs responded to the survey by the SLTA, but the lack of help made available to small businesses rings true with the situation in Wales and England, where smoking will be banned in April and July respectively.

In Wales, small businesses have been screaming for help, but the only visible signs have been leaflets informing landlords and business owners of their duties once the ban comes in. The Scottish experience seems to suggest that local councils haven’t been sympathetic to planning applications for outside amenities for smokers.

Some good news comes from the survey though. Services which help people quit smoking had seen a big increase in the number of calls from the public, suggesting the ban might trigger some people to quit.


An Embarrassment of Riches

The Riches

Take a troubled family of Irish travellers, kill two innocent rich people, and you’ve got a TV show that looks like being the intelligent Desperate Housewives, but with more endearing characters and greater potential for plot development.

The Riches is a new show on the U.S. network FX, and stars Minnie Driver and Eddie Izzard – who also acts as Exec Producer and writer on the show. The two Brits may not seem the obvious choice for their roles – nor indeed the perfect on-screen couple – but from the evidence of the pilot, they really work.

The story begins with Izzard and three children travelling to pick up Driver, mum of the ‘household’, from prison, where she’s been doing two years for crimes yet to be revealed. Inside she’s picked up some atrocious braided hair and a nasty drug habit. And they’ve been running the family business, which might be described as “back-pocket cash repository retrieval”.

They travel back to their community where the self-appointed ‘leader’ of the clan wants Izzard’s daughter to marry his son and Izzard to be his bitch. It’s a neat way of forcing the family out of the community and out onto the road. Izzard steals the community’s cash and a chase – of sorts – ensues. This results in a car accident that has far-reaching consequences for the family, who for reasons that become obvious near the end of the episode, become The Riches.

Izzard is, thankfully, brilliant, and the show feels very much his own. His contribution to the writing of the show helps, as he inserts dollops of the comic insanity present in his stand-up shows. Driver, too, is a far more mature actress than the annoying, stiff Brit she was in Good Will Hunting.

I forced two of my housemates to watch the first episode with me, and after their initial reluctance they were won over by its “unpredictability” and “convincing performances”. Izzard’s accent slips occasionally, although from a Brit’s perspective this doesn’t bother me very much.

There’s real potential for this to be a great TV show. I hope the series can live up to its witty and warm pilot.


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