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richardcameronwilson AT yahoo dot co dot UK

Utter humiliation: Old media meets new media, old media wins…

with 10 comments

Utter humiliation: Bloggers beware…

See also: “Your Freedom” – Hit, Miss or Maybe?, and Memo to John O’ Farrell

I was on BBC Newsnight on Thursday, talking about this and this, though you probably would not have guessed it from the way the issue was presented.

The programme ‘hook’ was the launch of a new UK government website, “Your Freedom”, through which members of the public are invited to nominate laws that need to be scrapped in order to reverse the erosion of civil liberties that took place under the last government. The discussion was broadly in line with most BBC coverage of anything to do with “people from the internet”, and I am ashamed and embarrassed to have been associated with it. Given the BBC’s track record, I really should have seen this coming…

I’d been contacted by a Newsnight researcher who’d seen my blog post suggesting we bin the vaguely-defined crime of “aiding and abetting misconduct in public office”, which has been used in some disturbing court cases against people who receive information from government whistleblowers.

The format was as follows:  Five people who’d each submitted an idea to “Your Freedom” got to speak for about 25 seconds about a law they’d nominated, and the reason they felt it should be scrapped.

Then there was a much longer discussion between the presenter and two ‘experts’ – a guy named Andy Williamson from something called the Hansard Society, and a writer called John O’ Farrell. Although Newsnight chose not to disclose this, O’ Farrell had been actively involved with the government which did so much to attack civil liberties, and whose authoritarian laws the public is now being invited to review.

The last thing I did for TV about the online media (a piece for Al Jazeera on Trafigura/Carter Ruck) had been quite a positive experience, which was partly why I agreed to do this one. The Al Jazeera feature is still online here, and it makes for an interesting comparison with the BBC’s loud-and-proud “old media” approach.

O’ Farrell and the Hansard guy (along with the presenter Gavin Esler) seemed to be competing with each other to flaunt their contempt for the public in general, and the online world in particular. According to O’ Farrell, the five ‘bad law’ examples that had just been featured were nothing more than “single issue obsessions”. According to Williamson, most of the ideas the public had submitted to the new website were “utterly stupid” or from “single issue fanatics”. All the while, the five token faces of Joe Public adorned the wall behind them.

The overarching message seemed to be that the very idea of asking ordinary people to participate in an online policy discussion was completely absurd, and we really ought to leave the thinktankery to people like Andy Williamson and John O’ Farrell.

The Hansard Society modestly purports to be “universally recognised as the independent and non-partisan authority on Parliament and democracy”. I beg to differ (and these guys don’t seem too impressed either).

The Newsnight discussion might at least have been enlightening if O’ Farrell had been bumped, and the guy from Hansard put up against someone who actually understood the relationship between democracy and the web, such as the people behind the excellent website,

As things stood, it was like watching a gruesome TV re-enactment of Radio 4’s “The Moral Maze”, with my own face superimposed in the background the whole time. Utter humiliation…

*UPDATE* – The Hansard Society’s corporate donor list makes for interesting reading. Turns out that this “authority on Parliament and democracy” is bankrolled by MBDA, a subsidiary of the arms manufacturer BAE, whose relationship with British democracy is, let’s say, somewhat questionable

Other donors include the Rio Tinto mining group, who are notorious for their alleged complicity in serious human rights abuses around the world, the lobbying firm Ellwood and Atfield, and, perhaps inevitably, BP.Yet again, the BBC gifts air-time to a corporate front-group without any disclosure of its affiliations…

10 Responses

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  1. Was always going to be difficult on an away leg against a partisan crowd. Particularly one that fails to understand the world in which we live, or that seems to have difficulty comprehending that the fact that someone may care about a single issue doesn’t actually make them wrong.

    It doesn’t make them right, either, but dismissing someone for being passionate about something is almost impressively moronic.

    Well done anyway. Keep it up!


    July 2, 2010 at 9:06 pm

  2. Yep, I saw it. I’m not surprised you feel you were stitched up. It could have been worse though; at least you weren’t the ignorant twit spouting twoddle on national television.


    July 2, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    • Cheers – I was a dick for agreeing to it. Weird how I get treated so completely differently when I’m on TV as a “blogger” rather than an “author”…

      Richard Wilson

      July 2, 2010 at 9:28 pm

  3. Hi Richard,

    Did You get Fooled Again?

    From what you say the 2 TV wallies made a fool of themselves but ….. I wouldn’t have wanted to have my face plastered on the screen while 2 people – even wallies – criticised me unjustly.

    There’s a lesson there …. Don’t Get Fooled Again.

    Take care



    July 2, 2010 at 9:48 pm

  4. […] as it happens, the picture is a bit more complicated than some of the media coverage (not least the recent BBC Newsnight piece in which I featured as a token “Joe Public”) would […]

  5. After reading your post about Sally Murrer I question, yet again, the professionalism of some BBC journalists.


    July 5, 2010 at 12:08 pm

  6. I wouldn’t be too sure that old media won.


    July 5, 2010 at 9:59 pm

  7. thanks for good article i liked

    çorum haber

    July 19, 2010 at 11:59 pm

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