All entries for Thursday 16 November 2006

November 16, 2006

An Alternative Queen's Speech

John McDonnell, the left-wing MP hoping to challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party, has issued an alternative Queen’s Speech, and it’s an interesting mix of the practical and the absurd. Here are some of the most interesting suggestions:

  • Allow non-Britons to work in the Civil Service
  • Faith schools would have to hire people of all faiths
  • Minimum wage would apply to people of all ages
  • Allow councils to invest in new council houses
  • Number of UK homes per person reduced to two
  • Local councils can set their own level of council tax
  • Abolish the Royal Prerogative (the Prime Minister’s ability to declare war)
  • Reduce the voting age to 16
  • Greater devolution to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • Regulation of national newspapers: Only one daily paper per proprietor, and compulsory Readers’ Editors
  • Readers will be permitted to buy stakes in their newspapers
  • Abolition of grammar schools and City Academies
  • Abolition of tuition fees and current student debt
  • Carbon emissions to be cut by 3% every year
  • Subsidies for organic farming
  • Abolition of most anti-terror measures, such as ID Cards and control orders
  • Restore the right to protest outside Parliament
  • Increase international aid budget to 1% of GDP
  • Ban on many weapons being manufactured in the UK
  • Workers’ representatives to be elected to all companies’ boards
  • An extra bank holiday per year
  • Tax on flight tickets and aviation fuel
  • Return railways to public ownership
  • A new freight railway running the length of the country
  • Restore link between pensions and average earnings

I suspect most people will be able to find one or two ideas they agree with. But who would vote for that entire agenda? I applaud Mr McDonnell for his bold attempt to be honest about what he believes in, but I wonder how he will pay for his ideas, and how many of them would actually work.

I wonder whether some of his ideas would have benefited from further advice from outside his very small circle, especially regulation of the newspaper industry, which sounds a lot like restricting freedom of speech.


Al Jazeera's first 24 hours

I wrote a couple of days ago about the launch of al-Jazeera English, the latest addition to the long list of international news channels.

But if its first 24 hours are anything to go by, it’ll soon be headed to the top of that list. Watching it makes you feel like this is what BBC World and CNN should be like. Perhaps half of its journalists are British, many of them having left the Beeb, and so it doesn’t feel like it’s a Qatar-based news channel.

But it does feel very international. Its first stories (after it had reported its own inception) were about Israel, Darfur, Iran, Zimbabwe and Brazil. My only criticism of its very first hour was that it was very scripted, and didn’t make much room for the reported tsunami off the Eastern coast of Japan.

Every time I dip into it, it’s clear they’ve invested in serious, reporter-led journalism which you only see glimpses of in Britain. And one of its greatest assets, which other news organisations should invest in more heavily, is having studios around the world, meaning European stories can be anchored from Europe, and Asian stories anchored from there too. CNN does this to an extent, although it feels like the only reason they do is to avoid paying anyone extra for night shifts.

The only shame about the channel is its accessibility. It’s available on Sky Digital and online, but the online option either lets you watch 15 minutes of poor quality video, or makes you pay for it. Not a good idea for a channel struggling to get into people’s homes.

Having said that, al-Jazeera’s approach is clearly going to leave some of its larger competitors in its wake over the coming months as its unique approach to internationalism leaves others looking too Westernised.


Don't touch that dial!

From BroadcastNow (subscription required)

Ofcom has signalled the end of FM radio with a report suggesting the spectrum could be used to make way for digital radio and mobile TV. The Future of Radio report outlines the changing landscape of radio and says the spectrum occupied by FM radio (VHF Band II) could be used for other things as listeners move to digital platforms.

Hold your horses a second, OFCOM!

As Jack Schofield points out in his TechnologyGuardian column today:

British consumers are being short-changed by the BBC’s support for low-quality audio… Recently I’ve been pointing out that the technology used in the UK for DAB (digital audio broadcasting) is obsolete, that the sound quality is inferior to FM radio and that we should be preparing to move to a new DAB2 standard.

FM generally gives better audio quality than DAB. Yet OFCOM want to get rid of FM before sorting out a decent replacement. Nutters.

As Schofield rightly says, the British radio industry needs to make the painful decision to jettison DAB and bring in a better version, using modern compression techniques. Only when that’s bedded in should they start thinking about getting rid of the FM dial, rather than trying to flog as much spectrum as they can to the highest bidder (as is happening with Digital TV).


She's mine! No, she's mine!!!

Connie Fisher (c) PA

This is Connie Fisher, the winner of How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria and now the lead in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Sound of Music.

But where is she from?

  • BBC Wales calls her “Pembrokeshire’s Connie”.
  • The Wilts and Glos Standard claim her to be from the Cotswolds.
  • According to Wikipedia she was born in Belfast.
  • She spent part of her childhood in Dorset.
  • And she now lives in London!

So would any other local newspapers, TV or radio programmes like to claim her as theirs? If so, please form an orderly queue at the Stage Door…


Appearances can be deceiving

Firefighters at the Madina Mosque in Cardiff, (c) BBCWhile editing a news programme yesterday, I got myself into a journalistic quandary. Police had said that they were looking for a man of “middle eastern appearance” in connection with an arson attack at Wales’s biggest mosque which happens to be about 500 yards from my home in Cardiff.

But what – or who – is someone of “middle eastern appearance”?

The likelihood is that the police already knew the man they were after, and probably knew also that he was Iranian. But as someone pointed out, don’t many southern Italians look a little “middle eastern”?

Where does the Mid-East start and end? It would be utterly wrong to describe people from the Mid-East as Arab or Muslim, so perhaps “middle eastern appearance” is a good, relatively inoffensive catch-all?

But the answer is that it’s just lazy. Lazy on the part of the police, and lazy on the part of us for not asking difficult questions about a statement from them which did little other than show up how little we know about non-white people.

What I’d like to know from anyone reading the blog is: are there any catch-all descriptions of groups of people which are suitable?


*BBC embracing the world wide web

The BBC has been online for over nine years, but only now is it about to join the World Wide Web.

Pete Clifton, head of BBC News InteractiveYou might think I sound slightly mad, but this is basically the point that the head of BBC News Interactive Pete Clifton made today when he spoke to students in Cardiff.

You see, while the Beeb’s news website – imho the best website in existence – has very much been part of the internet, Mr Clifton and his team are hoping to reconnect the site with the ‘web’ through aggregation, wikis, APIs and better use of blogging, vodcasts ( such as the superb STORYFix ) and video.

What does this mean?

It means you’ll be able to use BBC content on your own blog or your website, whether that’s a text story, video (embedded onto your page like a YouTube video), graphic or interactive guide. It means you’ll find more BBC content on places like iTunes and the like. And it means on the BBC website you’ll find far more links to other websites, in recognition of the fact that other people can do many things better.

One example of this is the BBC’s Country Profiles – such as this one – which will continue to have some static information provided by the BBC, but will increasingly have content from further afield, such as a list of the latest stories from Argentina created by other news providers, as well as the latest news in video from the country. What’s most exciting is that this model is likely to be used elsewhere on bbc.co.uk, and we saw some very impressive examples.

Other interesting parts of the talk were about how far the Beeb’s blogging might go (not very, says Pete), and his views on the BBC iPlayer, due out next April (not very useful for BBC News).

But as an aspiring journalist, the best part of the talk was on how people should apply for a job. Pete Clifton’s mantra was:

If they can’t spell they can f**k off basically.

Good point, well made.


The time, sponsored by Accurist…

We’ll find out tomorrow who the next voice of the Speaking Clock will be. Obviously I considered auditioning, but I don’t think sitting in a booth 24-hours-a-day, reading the time, is a) going to fit in with my busy schedule or b) a suitable expression of my enormous talent as a diverse voiceover artiste.

(ha ha ha)

Apparently 18,400 entered the competition to be the new voice of Accurist the talking clock. As someone with a very dull, middle English accent, I’m sure they’ll give it to a Geordie, Scouse, Welsh or Scot. But if they are desperate, I’m sure I could do a few shifts at weekends. If they buy me a car…


More Tim Minchin

My sister tells me this Tim Minchin video is even funnier than the one below, so in my endless search to make him famous and single-handedly sell-out his upcoming British tour, here’s another one…


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