April, 2005

Party Election Broadcasts

In the run up to a general election, we’re bombarded with poster and newspaper ads for the various parties. But broadcasting rules prevent parties from buying advertising on radio and television.
And rules over the number of candidates being fielded determine which parties get broadcast – even unpleasant ones like the BNP.
But what has amazed me is the lack of awareness of these rules by the main political parties in regard to radio. They all send their broadcasts to BBC Radios 2 and 4, but all the main parties are entitled to broadcasts on national commercial radio – ie. Classic FM, Virgin Radio and Talksport. The broadcast should go out between 5pm and 9pm in the evening.
To date, only the Labour Party has bothered sending Virgin their broadcasts. The other parties are entitled to them, and the audio must exist because they supply it to the BBC so there’s no additional cost involved in supplying radio, but they either don’t know or haven’t bothered. The latter can’t be the reason since they must want their message heard by a million or more people. So it’s incompetence!

Russian Spam

I seem to be getting a surprising amount of Russian spam in my Gmail account at the moment. And when I say Russian spam, I mean spam that’s actually in Cyrillic text. Very strange.

Shock Horror

The Sun’s backed Blair for this election which is not remotely unexpected. So I was disappointed to hear it given such import on the news this morning.
The Sun only back winners, and in a two horse race, they’re not going 50-1 outsider. What would have happened if The Sun had backed Howard and Blair had won? They’d have looked like losers. So they didn’t.

Bendy Busses

In London, as you may or may not know, they’ve been phasing out the old Routemasters and introducing bendy-busses. You know – the things that take up twice as much space as the old ones, and that don’t let you jump on and off whenever you like.
Anyway, I still don’t quite understand ticketing on these things. In Central London, buses don’t take cash any longer. If you’re an occassional traveller, you should buy your ticket at the machine by the bus-stop. Or you can buy a pre-paid Oyster card. Or you can buy books of tickets in advance which save you a few quid.
But the thing is, the driver is no longer interested in you. We Londoners are used to either the conductor or driver taking an interest in whether or not you have a ticket or cash or a pass. Now, unless you’re handing a pre-paid ticket in, the driver doesn’t want to know. And you can get in via any door.
If you’ve got an Oystercard, you’re supposed to swipe it past one of the readers throughout the bus, but initially there were problems with these – they didn’t know the time, so couldn’t be linked through to the central system.
But if you’re like me, with an old-fashioned paper pass, you don’t show it to the driver, and don’t swipe it against anything. You just get on and sit down, and maybe wait for a ticket inspector.
But if I can do that, what’s to stop everyone else on these busses doing that?

Record Industry Loses Billions To Piracy – Yeah Right

So it seems that the record industry in the UK lost £650m in the last two year due to piracy.
No it didn’t.
The “shortfall” identified by TNS would simply not have been spent at all. I don’t doubt that the music was downloaded but that’s not the same as “losing money”. It’s money that would never have been spent.
Don’t forget, album sales went up in 2004 – up 2.6% from 2003. At the same time, legal downloads are going through the roof (and are now included in the main UK chart), and DVD music (and film) sales are soaring.
So how does that square with all these millions of pounds that have been lost? According to the TNS report £376m was lost last year. Obviously a chunk of that was single sales. But if we convert it into album sales at around £14 each, that’s an additional 27m albums. This would have meant a 19.4% increase in album sales rather than 2.6%.
OK, I’ve played a bit fast and loose with numbers there, attributing all that lost cash to album sales. But the same story applies. It’s the same fallacy you get in the software industry about lost sales of Photoshop or Microsoft Office. Let’s face it, most of the people currently using a piece of software that retails at between £300-500, would not be using it they’d had to pay for it.
So can I make a plea to the media not to blindly repeat trade organisations’ press releases and call it news. Particularly when they include phrases like “much of which would have been invested in new British music” when talking about that “lost” cash. Surely they meant to say “much of which would have further lined the pockets of major international artists” since they’re the people who’re getting downloaded the most.

Reporting The Ricin Case

Last week Kamel Bourgass was jailed for 17 years for plotting to spread ricin on the streets of London. He’d been earlier convicted of the murder of a policeman, Detective Constable Stephen Oake, during a raid to a arrest him back in 2003.
The trial had taken place in camera, and so it was only on last Wednesday, when he’d been convicted that reporting restrictions were lifted. Why exactly were reporting restrictions placed on the trial? It wasn’t in case Al Qaeda caught wind of what was happening, it’s because Bourgass had already been convicted of the murder that took place while he was being arrested. If that had been reported, then it would have prejudiced the following case(s).
He was convicted of attempting to spread ricin, including “smearing it on car door handles in the Holloway Road area of north London”.
Fair enough. A pretty nasty terror attack averted.
Last Wednesday evening, the BBC reported the case in detail on the main ten o’clock bulletin, and pretty much repeated the same Mark Easton report on Newsnight, although covering it in slightly more depth this time. A version of this report can be found here, along with a link to the video.
It all made quite a scare story. Indeed it seems to have been a long term Al Qaeda plan if everything was to be believed.
David Blunkett, then Home Secretary said: “It is absolutely certain that al-Qaeda were planning and preparing for co-ordinated attacks. We were very close indeed to disaster. We were actually much calmer and much more reassuring to the public than we felt ourselves.”
But is it all as straightforward as it seems?
Why were four co-defendents of Bourgass acquitted? Lack of evidence seems to be the reason.
And is ricin a good poison for a terrorist to use? The BBC’s own site suggests that it’s very easy to make but is actually quite hard to ingest needing to either be injected into the bloodstream, put in an aerosol spray at close quarters or put into food or water. (Incidentally, it’s really not hard to find out how to make ricin if you want to do something so stupid)
So is there really evidence to suggest such a largescale plot as was reported?
Following this case, we next get the Met Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair pushing for ID cards following the case. This comes at a time in an election campaign where only the Labour Party have got ID cards in their manifesto. Not really a time, then, for cards to be talked about by an “independent” person. Here’s a link to his interview on Breakfast With Frost.
But what I don’t understand is that surely we’re being peddled a myth about Al Qaeda and what the true limits of what it’s really capable of. I mean, I saw the Adam Curtis documentary series, The Power of Nightmares that pretty much refuted much of the accepted wisdom of the power and influence of Osama Bin Ladin.
Indeed Adam Curtis spoke after receiving an award for The Power of Nightmares at the Broadcasting Guild Awards on Friday.
“The extrapolation from the very tiny bit of evidence that was reported in court to the reports we did on the Six O’Clock News and other bulletins was not in any way justified,” he said.
“As someone who had been in the court room and watched the trial collapse, I could not understand how you could take that very limited evidence and extrapolate from that a story of a threat as ghastly as September 11.
“In the post-Hutton era I think that raises very serious questions. I could not understand how the facts could be used to stand up such an interpretation and frightening portrayal. I was baffled and astonished.”
As a coda to this, last night were the BAFTA television awards, and The Power of Nightmares won the factual series award. What we saw on television was Curtis and a couple of others come up onto the stage, say exactly two words, “Thank you,” and then get off. It seems that what we saw was severely edited (the awards were once again not live).
Today’s Media Guardian reports that his speech criticising media coverage of this very case, was cut by the BBC:

Mr Curtis, a senior producer in the BBC’s news and current affairs department, said reports of an “al-Qaida plot to poison Britain” that could have consequences “equal or greater to 9/11” were “massively exaggerated or a complete fantasy”.

But apparently it was nothing to do with politics! A BBC spokesperson “denied it was politically motivated, and said it was one of a number of edits made to the awards because of timing.”
Oh. Right.
(Incidentally, I thought the overall coverage of the BAFTAs was poor. The direction was shoddy, with cutaways to celebrities in the crowd who were often the only ones *not* laughing at the jokes – nothing like a sour Alistair MacGowan. And then major categories, including, disgracefully, the Richard Dimbleby award to Jon Snow, were chopped down into an “earlier this evening” segment. They did find time for the “Best Soap Opera” award. And finally, many of the factual categories didn’t get the clips package before they were awarded, so we had the sight of host, Graham Norton, rushing over to the lectern after the thank yous had been made, to let us know we were going to see a clip of the winner at least. It all came over very poorly on screen.)
See also here and here . Finally this is definitely worth a read.


Sky News actually have an inset live video feed of the chimney at the Vatican out of which white or black smoke will appear, depending on whether or not a new Pope’s been chosen. Are they going to keep this up for possibly as long as the next few weeks?


The comments and letters pages of trade magazine Broadcast have been bristling with columns and letters mainly expressing disbelief that the BBC have not commissioned a second series of Outlaws from World Productions.
World are rather bitter about this.
You know, a cynical person might think that there was some sort of organised campaign happening.
Now I haven’t seen this series, although I do think it suffered from the BBC Three to BBC 2 transition that means that the first publicity bite of the cherry sees it doomed to get smallish audience figures. The second set of publicity can’t be as great when it reaches BBC 2, so that damages your audience possibilities as well.
But if this as a good a drama series as everyone’s making out, then shouldn’t Channel 4 be snapping at World Production’s heals to grab the series?