Saturday, July 30, 2005

No Sex Please, We're Americans

You've doubtless heard the hullabaloo over the discovery that the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto game has hidden sex scenes. (And now, this being America, the Federal Trade Commission is launching a probe and a woman is suing the makers because she's concerned it might pollute the mind of her young grandson.)

It's worth reminding ourselves that even though GTA is excessively violent, the game was perfectly acceptable to mainstream America (even being sold in Wal-Mart). Remember, this is a game where it's OK to kill cops, hookers, etc. But chuck in a little bit of sex and suddenly there's complete outrage! As Jonah Bloom (executive editor of Advertising Age) points out in The Guardian:
    [U.S.] Politicians are not upset by the explicit violence in the game - you get to shoot policemen and prostitutes throughout - but by its hidden explicit sex scenes, which can be unlocked by means of an internet download.

    Last year's "nipplegate" fallout, when the merest televised glimpse of Janet Jackson's breast during the Superbowl prompted weeks of media condemnation, gave rise to new live broadcast rules. Yet extreme violence remains a broadly accepted mainstay of the entertainment industry.

I noted just last week the possible consequences to its media of America's "new morality" crusade. I'm pretty sure that this is another clear example of the warped state of mind of post-Janet Jackson America. But this time the violence-versus-sex angle (extreme violence OK, regular sex not) becomes highlighted, raising more troubling questions about just what the hell is happening to American culture. But back to the sex: Bloom points out that the family values crusaders were "upset by the so-called 'hot coffee' modification in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, which enables users to have virtual sex with a number of girlfriends; you also get to take them out for coffee, hence the name." Clearly that's too much for the children, though it's apparently still OK to blow away the cops and the hookers.

And what about beyond the immediate confines of the gaming world?
    In US entertainment circles it passes without much comment that the highest rated TV shows, such as the CSI franchise, show blood curdling violence every week, but a recent ad depicting a scantily clad Paris Hilton munching suggestively on a burger was widely condemned. As Senator Rick Santorum - one of the most vocal advocates of conservative family values - said this week when asked about TV's myriad potential offences: "I am more worried about the Victoria's Secret commercials."

(Santorum was quizzed about the Victoria's Secret thing by Jon Stewart earlier this week (here's Salon's War Room take on the interview; and btw, I have only seen CSI a couple of times, but I've found the gruelling depictions of post-trauma blood and gore to be pretty gut-wrenching.)

But here's the kicker - and something that "London Calling" should probably take note of: Grand Theft Auto was designed by a Scot by the name of David Jones, who runs a successful UK software company called Real Time Worlds (formerly DMA Design). (GTA is now sold through Rockstar Games and its parent company, Take Two Interactive). GTA's massive success in the States is unquestionable. It has already racked up "an estimated $600m (£345m) in sales" in the US. (Here's the full story on Wikipedia.) In fact, the videogame industry is one more area of the media where UK firms have had a decided impact on the US market and its culture. Not that you'd notice anything "British" about GTA. It all takes place in a violent, dystopian America - call it Miami, San Andreas, wherever. It's perhaps another good example of the Brits selling back to the States an image (or simulacrum) of American culture - a culture that now seems to be defined by its relentless, extreme, and open violence and where sex was secret and hidden. But at least it was available if you knew where to look. Now the violence remains open, extreme, and uncontrolled - no problem there - but the sex comes with ever heavier regulation, with the clear intention that it should be completely forbidden. Welcome to the latest version of America brought to you by Britain - a version negotiated between the profit-making gamemakers, gamers, and the cultural guardians (both public and private) of America. And why question it? After all, aren't we doing all this for the children?

Friday, July 29, 2005

Lachlan's out, a Brit takes over Nightline

Rupert Murdoch's son Lachlan abruptly resigned today from his father's News Corp. and will return to Australia. Lachlan was deputy chief operating officer and publisher of the New York Post. Speculation is that Rupe's next son, James, who runs BSkyB and is said to be more liberal than the rest of the family, may step up.

Another James, this one James Goldston, has been hired as Nightline's chief executive. Goldston was executive producer of ITV1's "Tonight with Trevor McDonald," and honchoed their coverage of the Anglo-American war on Iraq. Um, he also was responsible for the infamous "Living with Michael Jackson"documentary. Earlier, he produced BBC's "Newsnight."

Seems to be yet another example of US media bringing in a Brit to spice things up, but will he do more than change the accent? I can't see Nightline suddenly becoming more public service oriented. Indeed, with rumors that ABC was considering bringing in that noted investigative journalist Ellen Degeneres to run the show, Nightline may soon be unrecognizable.

BBC web news "under the bonnet"

Cyberjournalist provided a link to this neat page from BBC about how their news web operation works from a technological standpoint.
Some highlights:
  • They get 3 million users a day and 24 million page impressions.
  • Their server farmers are located in London and New York. UK users get sent to London (as they pay the license fee that technically keeps it afloat). International users are sent to the NYC servers, paid for by a British government grant to the the Beeb's World Service.
  • Picture files are kept on yet another server for efficiency.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The UK's Media "Top 100"

MediaGuardian offers up its annual guide to the Top 100 media figures in the UK. (Also broken down by sector).

I've gone through the Top 100 list and pulled out (see below) some of Brits and British-domiciled folks on the list that might be of particular interest to Americans studying UK influence on the States. (I've included informational notes on some of these guys, though some people's inclusion on the list -- like Murdoch, for instance -- needs no further explanation.)

=1. Mark Thompson (BBC director general)
=1. Michael Grade (BBC chairman)
3. Rupert Murdoch
4. Charles Allen (CEO of ITV)
8. Martin Sorrell (chief executive of WPP and thus the UK's most influential advertising man, "in charge of the world's second-largest ad group, worth £7.7bn".)

10. Paul Dacre (editor-in-chief, Associated Newspapers, and "the most powerful newspaper editor in Britain".
11. James Murdoch (Rupe's son and CEO of BSkyB)
12. Peter Fincham (controller of BBC1, described as "one of the 10 people who have shaped television over the last decade").
20. Helen Boaden (director of BBC News)
23. Ashley Highfield (director of new media, BBC, he "oversees not only the corporation's sprawling internet and interactive operations, [but] he is also one of the leading players in changing the way we consume TV and radio.")

25. Paul Abbott ("one of the most critically acclaimed and prolific TV writers of his generation.")
27. Richard Desmond (CEO, Northern & Shell, Express Newspaperss - shouldn't really be on the list, but I thought I'd stick him in since I mentioned him in the previous blog)
28. Les Hinton (executive chairman, News International, famous for described as "Rupert Murdoch's representative on earth"; he "oversees the Sun, the Times, the News of the World and the Sunday Times.")
35. Ivan Fallon (UK chief executive, Independent News & Media, owner of the Independent, UK newspaper widely read by US readers on the web.)
36. Jana Bennett (director of television, BBC, with "overall creative and leadership responsibility for all of the BBC's TV," including "the four domestic television channels, as well the UKTV joint venture channels and international services, BBC America and BBC Prime.")

38. David Bergg (ITV's director of strategy and its scheduler-in-chief, ultimately responsible for programming " the likes of I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here! and Hell's Kitchen.")
42. Roger Parry (UK-born chief executive, Clear Channel International)
49. Paul Fitzsimons (partner and senior director at Apax, a UK venture capital firm heavily involved in financial dealings in the UK, and rumors of "an alliance with US media giant Time Warner in a bid led by Greg Dyke.")
50. Richard Curtis (The "Love Actually" and "Girl in the Cafe" guy, yes that Richard Curtis.)
51. Alan Rusbridger (editor of The Guardian, including the internet arm, Guardian Unlimited, which "continues to grow and win awards and is the UK's second biggest news website outside of the BBC. This year it won best newspaper on the internet at the Webby Awards and was named best daily newspaper on the web at the 2005 Newspaper Awards for the sixth year running.")

55. Simon Kelner (editor of The Independent, whose "opinion-led front pages, invariably devoted to a single story and occasionally given over entirely to a series of quotations or statistics, have been almost as much of a break from newspaper tradition as its upmarket-and-yet-tabloid format.")
63. Nicholas Coleridge (managing director of Condé Nast, a magazine "empire" that includes classic titles with widespread distribution in the US, "such as Vanity Fair and Vogue to handbag-sized market-leading glossy Glamour.")
68. Andrew Gowers (editor of the Pearson-owned Financial Times: "Published on 23 presses in four continents, its circulation - roughly split three ways between the UK, continental Europe and the US - is around twice that of 15 years ago.")
82. Simon Shaps (chief executive, Granada, whose international production/syndication arm "is booming and its retro music show Hit Me Baby One More Time proved a rather bigger hit for NBC than it did for ITV.")
83. Andrew Neil (a "bit long in the tooth," but well-known in the US from his days with News Corporation and apprently "Neil has quietly become one of the key faces of BBC political programming.")

Virgin paper for NYC?

The British entrepeneur, Richard Branson, of Virgin fame, may open a free entertainment daily in New York, according to Forbes.

Although it's not clear if the project is actually a go (his US publicist claims she's never heard of the project), it would be part of the company's entertainment sector which includes Virgin Megastores. The publication would challenge Variety, the leading entertainment industry newspaper that has produced a special New York version called Daily Variety Gotham since 1998 (and is said to have an exceptionally high subscription price.)

The move seems to be part of an industry trend to produce free newspapers which the Times of London identifies as one of the fastest growing segements of the print media market. The Times reported this week that a new free newspaper, The London Business Daily, was readying to launch in London. The paper will be led by former execs of Swedish owned Metro International which "publishes 57 daily editions in 81 cities in 18 countries and 17 languages across Europe, North and South America and Asia. Each new Metro title is expected to turn a profit within three years of being launched." The paper is said by the Telegraph to be a threat to the Financial Times, which, as has been pointed out in earlier posts, has opted for a global focus with a strong reliance on the US market.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Isn't Dirty Des OK! with the USA?

In the latest example of British magazine publishing crossing the Atlantic, Richard "Dirty Des" Desmond, well-shady owner of The Express newspapers and the UK celebrity gossip magazine OK!, is set to launch a US version on August 4.

RICHARD DESMONDDesmond (pictured right), you might remember, is notorious for his anti-German outburst last year, when he confronted executives of the Daily Telegraph, which at that time was being considered for purchase by Axel Springer, a German media group, following the departure of Conrad Black from Hollinger International, the Telegraph's owners. (The German group didn't proceed with the bid). Desmond apparently didn't like the idea of the very English Telegraph being owned by the Germans, and let Telegraph CEO Jeremy Deedes know it by branding him a "miserable little piece of shit" and saying "Germans were 'all Nazis,'" before proceeding to do a Basil Fawlty-style Hitler goosestep and instructing Express executives to sing "Deutschland uber Alles" and throw Nazi "Sieg Heil" salutes to the stunned Telegraph executives as they rapidly exited. Apparently, Desmond also "called the Telegraph directors 'fucking cunts' and 'fucking wankers' among other names in an expletive-ridden tirade." A nasty piece of work, this Richard Desmond. And maybe a bit mental.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. Desmond's Northern & Shell group also owns the Daily Express and Sunday Express. But OK! is its flagship and big moneyspinner. Some Americans might remember OK! as the magazine that supposedly paid £1m for pictures of the Catherine Zeta Jones-Michael Douglas wedding a few years ago.

MediaGuardian notes that Northern & Shell "is putting $100m (£58m) behind the release of the new magazine, which it claims is the biggest launch in US magazine history." The piece quotes Stan Myerson, Northern & Shell's joint group managing director, as saying "We have received the most incredible support in the United States, not only from the news trade and advertisers but also from the many celebrities we have approached. . . . All of them tell us they have been awaiting OK! USA, with its unique style and celebrity friendly format, for a very long time. Everybody is looking forward to the launch."

That's just wonderful. Still, it's not what has been hearing. Taking its info from a New York Post article (registration required), the web site notes that OK! USA's first edition might "only have six paid advertisements in its pages." Meanwhile, Desmond has "struggled to secure a printing press large enough to spit out 1.5 million copies for OK!'s debut."
    Finally inking a deal, he's reduced to printing on Monday afternoon, while Us Weekly prints more favorably on Tuesday mornings and People runs on Wednesdays.

A deputy editor of the UK OK!, Sarah Ivens, is moving to New York to take up a consultant editor position with the new magazine. Sounds like she's got her work cut out for her if she's to work some of that UK mag magic.

Where's Robin Cook? (Where's Noam Chomsky?)

ROBIN COOKSome random thoughts:
After last week's (thankfully failed) London bombing attempts, followed by Friday's Police shooting of an innocent Brazilian, it seems that the much-lauded "spirit of the blitz" frame we talked about in previous posts is coming under severe pressure as Londoners start to consider that suicide bombings might become part of the fabric of their lives (Here's The New York Times' perspective, courtesy of Sarah Lyall).

And what of that old chestnut, the war in Iraq: What impact is that having on the Dunkirk spirit? Well, it's not helping. The New York Times last Tuesday quoted "a new opinion survey published in The Guardian" on July 19 that showed that "two-thirds of Britons believed there was a direct link between the bombings on July 7 that claimed 56 lives and Mr. Blair's decision to go to war in Iraq as the main ally of the United States."

And Juan Cole reminded me of someone you never hear much about in the US media coverage of the Iraq War (and Britain's role in it): Robin Cook (above right). Cook used to be the Tony Blair's Foreign Secretary but in a cabinet reshuffle in 2001 he was moved over to Leader of the Commons. He resigned this position in opposition to the impending Iraq invasion in early 2003. Since then Cook (a diminutive yet engaging Scot and a "ginger," i.e. a redhead and redbeard) has consistently, loudly, yet coherently and respectfully eviscerated the British government over its Iraq War policy. (Here's a recent example of his writing from The Guardian). He has gained a good deal of respect in the British media and public sphere for his principled stand.

Juan Cole notes that Cook's successor, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, had by the weekend "backed off his categorical denial that the Iraq war had increased the likelihood of terrorist action against the UK. The assertion was not plausible and cost Straw and PM Tony Blair credibility with the British public." (Although it seems like as of today, Tony Blair is still vigorously holding the line on the "no-linkage" position, according to the BBC.) Cole quotes Cook's "scathing" response to Straw on Sunday, broadcast on the BBC's News 24:
    'Yesterday [Cook] claimed that the invasion of Iraq had "undoubtedly" boosted terrorism around the world. The former foreign secretary also warned that the government would have to acknowledge that link if ministers wanted to bring young British Muslims on side. Intelligence agencies had warned the Prime Minister ahead of the war that the invasion would increase the threat to Britain, Mr Cook said. "The problem is that we have handed al-Qaeda an immense propaganda gift, one that they exploit ruthlessly," he told the BBC News 24 Sunday programme. "There have been more suicide bombings in the two years since we invaded Iraq than in the 20 years before it. Yes, it has happened around the world. "I don't think you can make a simple link between any one event and Iraq, but undoubtedly it has boosted terrorism." While Mr Cook refused to say that the bombings would not have happened if Britain had stayed out of the war, he stressed that the problem of terrorism had worsened.'

But here's the saddest part, as Cole ruefully acknowledges:
    You will never, ever, hear Robin Cook's statements at any length on American television, even though he has been among the more perspicacious observers of the Iraq guerrilla war. He predicted, for instance, that the Fallujah campaign would have no effect in ending it. His invisibility in the US is easily explained: he disrupts the manufactured consensus that Noam Chomsky warns us about.

Now I have my problems with Noam Chomsky, like many people. But he's a very important contributor to remember (or should be) when we consider the climate of selective suppression and systematic de-emphasis that seems to infuse US media coverage of the Iraq War and the "War on Terrorism." And I need hardly point out that Chomsky himself, a distinguished scholar with a truly international reputation, has been all-but absent (probably completely absent) from US TV news discussions of the war and the "war."

Thursday, July 21, 2005

My Son the Fanatic

OM PURISlate foreign editor (and, I believe, Brit expat) June Thomas points to a film that. she argues, provides clues as to how and why "apparently assimilated, British-born Muslims end up stuffing bombs into their backpacks and murdering dozens of their compatriots in the Tube and on a London double-decker bus". The film she analyzes in her piece is called My Son the Fanatic (BBC Films), written by Hanif Kureish and directed by Udayan Prasad - and, funnily enough, I own a copy.

In this engaging little film from 1997, "the British-born son of Pakistani immigrants morphs from a clothes-obsessed, cricket-playing, music-loving accountancy student into a devout Muslim who rails against the corruption and emptiness of Western society, much to the uncomprehending consternation of his father." The father, Parvez, played by the prolific and excellent Om Puri (above left), is a taxi driver (and thus near the bottom rung of English society) who lives in a seedy, sleazy deindustrialized Northern city ("not unlike the hometowns of the alleged bombers," as Thomas points out). This definitely is not England at its best. But Parvez has hopes of rapid upward mobility for his family. For Parvez, notes Thomas, "immigration to Britain represented a decision to prioritize materialism over spirituality." When his son, Farid, got engaged to a white, middle-upper class English girl, Parvez thought that his family had "made it" in England. But Farid goes on to reject the engagement, arguing "In the end, our cultures … cannot be mixed" and "Some of us are wanting summat more besides muddle. … Belief, purity, belonging to the past. I won't bring up my children in this country."

My Son the Fanatic avoids the simple black-white, good-versus-evil contrasts plugged endlessly by George Bush, and, increasingly, Tony Blair. It
    is too subtle a creation to fall into a simplistic religious-belief-bad/Western-assimilation-good dichotomy. As Parvez says at the end of the film, "There are many ways of being a good man." And Parvez isn't all good. Although he is sensitive and hard-working, he is also selfish and prideful. He takes his wife, Minoo, for granted; he is unfaithful with Bettina, an English prostitute (Rachel Griffiths with a convincing Northern English accent); and he has forced his son to abandon art and music and pushed him into the practical field of accountancy. There is also something admirable in the film's presentation of young Muslims, who refuse to submit to the everyday humiliations that Parvez and his generation are subjected to. After much provocation, Farid tells his father why he broke off his engagement to Madelaine Fingerhut: "Couldn't you see how much Fingerhut hated his daughter being with me, and how repellent he found you?" As one of his contemporaries tells Parvez, the youngsters may be stirring things up at the mosque by constantly arguing with the elders, but at least they're standing up for something. "We never did that."

Perhaps becoming over-eager to find sinister clues to "7/7" in this film, Thomas notes that "Farid leaves home, stalking off with suitcases in hand and an overstuffed backpack on his shoulders. It's an image that is all the more haunting after the events of July 7." Still, Fanatic does offer insights to a community that has been, up till now, all-but closed off to the broader British consciousness.

Like an earlier Kureishi screenplay from the 1980s - the angry anti-Thatcherite Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (dir. Stephen Frears) - My Son the Fanatic convincingly shows the generational struggle between an older generation wishing to assimiliate with "the mother country" and a younger, more radical generation that rejects England and all it stands for. (And of course in this they were not unlike countless white subcultures who rejected the BS of postwar, postcolonial Britain. The worry, though, is that unlike other such youth cultures, some elements of British Islamic youth won't "grow out" of their rebellion.)

The reason I have a copy of the film is that in the fall I'm teaching a freshman seminar on Film in Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. The theme is tensions and interactions between white Anglo and non-white cultures depicted in film, as each of these three countries moves toward a truly postcolonial cultural paradigm (I'm including England as a "postcolonial" country in this context). I'll be showing films such as Once were Warriors (from New Zealand) and Rabbit-Proof Fence (from Australia). As for Britain: Fanatic provides a fascinating contrast with another film about intergenerational Asian-British conflict: Damien O'Donnell's 1999 film East is East (screenplay by Ayub Khan-Din, based on his play). Om Puri also plays a father in this film, also set in a gritty northern English town, though this time it's set in the early 1970s, the family is "mixed" (the mother is white), and all but one of the children have rejected the father's strict adherance to Islam and Pakistani values, wishing instead to identify themselves as white and English instead of as "Pakis".

These films are fascinating to watch side by side, especially as they both feature Puri in similar yet contrasting roles. While East is East is lighter and more fun, and has a patina of optimism (undoubtedly filtered through a nostalgic haze for a period when "community" still meant something in English towns), Fanatic is much darker. It surely provides a more accurate picture of the tensions in British race relations today - at least as they pertain to the Islamic community.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Red Ken and the terrorists

KEN LIVINGSTONEIt's not often you see the chief executive of a foreign city given his own commentary piece in American newspapers, but that's what's happened with London mayor Ken Livingstone. I noticed his piece in yesterday's Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, repeating his stance that Londoners will not be cowed or defeated by terrorist actions (though for some reason I can't now find it on that paper's web site).

The US media aren't quite sure how to handle Livingstone. Surely many in the media would like to frame him as a London version of Rudy Giuliani. Indeed, many of the early reports showed Livingstone condemining the attacks, and standing up stoically to the terrorists. Early Livingstone quotes placed him nicely in this frame. E.g., this from the AP:
    London Mayor Ken Livingstone said the blasts were "mass murder" carried out by terrorists bent on "indiscriminate ... slaughter." ... ""This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty or the powerful ... it was aimed at ordinary working-class Londoners," said Livingstone, in Singapore where he supported London's Olympic bid.

And Livingstone's "You will fail!" speech aimed at the terrorists sounded almost Churchillian, and was widely praised in America (a country that loves all things Churchill).
    In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential.

    They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don’t want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.

The trouble is for the US establishment and MSM, Livingstone is not a Rudy Giuliani. He has a history of political positions well to the left of almost all American mainstream politicians - although that didn't stop him getting elected by the citizens of London (in the teeth of Tony Blair's opposition, no less). I remember when, in the 1980s, Livingstone was roundly villainized by the right-wing press as "Red Ken." This was back when he was leader of the Greater London Council (subsequently abolished by Margaret Thatcher), and he had the temerity to place on the GLC headquarters, directly across the Thames from the House of Commons, a giant sign showing the weekly rise in UK unemployment figures (3,005,437, 3,067,556, 3,145,320, etc.)

"Red Ken" has moderated his opinions somewhat, but he retains a left-wing political philosophy and a raft of positions on international issues, including a tendency to lean toward the Palestinians in the Israel-Palestinian dispute (inevitably, American media define any position along such lines as "radical" or extremist, although to be fair, some of Livingstone's contacts with Palestinian elements linked to terrorism could fairly be criticized.) Anyway, this instantly sets up a tension in the US media, who are not sure how to deal with Livingstone. How do they lionize him as a sturdy bulwark against the terrorists when he takes many political positions that the MSM would normally condemn or marginalize? The New York Times expressed this tension in a piece by Craig Smith back on July 12 ("Usually Volatile Mayor Wins Praise for Low-Key Presence", p. A8):
    Ken Livingstone, London's famously loose-lipped mayor, boards subway to express city's determination not to be cowed by terrorists, but is otherwise keeping remarkably low profile, with nothing of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's take-charge behavior after Sept 11 attacks in New York; photo; one of reasons may be his controversial past overtures to radical Muslim youth and strong pro-Palestinian and pro-immigrant positions; London mayor's office also does not control emergency services as New York's mayor does, and it would not be seemly for Livingstone to upstage Prime Min Tony Blair or Queen Elizabeth.

David Gelernter eschews all ambivalence, getting stuck in to Livingstone in an LA Times opinion piece, titled "London's mayor: A terrorist puppet?" (The evidence Gelertner lays out focuses, inevitably, on Livingstone's sympathy with the Palestinian cause).

Perhaps the MSM will make its mind up about Livingstone now that he has comes out and charged that "decades of British and American intervention in the oil-rich Middle East motivated the London bombers" (See BBC report here.). This will probably necessitate a change of heart by the right-wing Weekly Standard, which wrote after Livingstone's "They will fail" speech that "the left-wing mayor of London, an apologist for terrorism in the past, spoke for decent people everywhere when he denounced the attacks and made no attempt to ape his fellow lefties in blaming the United States and British governments for them." And US-based Brit blogger Andrew Sullivan, no leftie he, admired "Livingstone's ability to see how liberal and left-wing Londoners who have helped build an amazingly vibrant, diverse and tolerant city are particularly affronted by these medieval monsters." Sullivan continued: "Maybe this will help build support for a war that is as unavoidable as it is unlosable. I don't mean we won't continue to differ over means and methods and tactics and strategy. We will. That's our strength. But right and left, we are in this together."

Ahem. Maybe not. This will likely take some of the shine off of Livingstone, at least in the eyes of the US media, who have to realize that the prism through which this "war on terrorism" is "fought" is significantly different in the UK. And remember, Livingstone's position is broadly in line with the charge made in a report by the highly respected Royal Institute for International Affairs (and which also got picked up by the US media), that Britain's involvement in the Iraq invasion has increased the terrorist threat to Britain. Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw have both rejected the RIAA report. Still, the whole issue of how Livingstone is framed in the UK and the US shows up once again the different dominant ideological positions staked out in these two countries. We might expect to hear more MSM references not to the "London mayor" but to "Red Ken" - if we hear anything more about him at all.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Reuters' Iraqi project

The Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of the wire service, is funding an Iraqi news website, the New York Times reported this morning. Aswat al-Iraq (Voices of Iraq) is said to be the first independent commercial news service in the country. The reporters were trained in London, Cairo and Amman. The UN kicked in $800,000 to get the project going. There have been several attempts to establish indigenous independent news outlets in Iraq since the war started -- all of which appeared to have failed.

The announcement reminded me of an interesting Observer article that ran in the Guardian Unlimited last month about Niell FitzGerald who runs Reuters. Fitz, it turns out, has been closely involved with the Blairites' Commission on Africa (which in turn is part of the Live 8 campaign). He claims he was briefly a member of the Communist Party during his university days in Dublin but now sees the solution for global poverty such as found in Africa to be capitalism.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Any Intelligent Life down there?

Here's a post I've adapted from mediaville, but which seems pretty appropriate for London Calling. It concerns a piece in Intelligent Life, The Economist’s summer 2005 lifestyles-for-the-global-rich-and-trendy crowd, which has a few harsh words for America’s television, whose vitality and inventiveness has driven media globalization for decades. Now contributor Caitlin Moran argues that this golden goose could be under threat, and the United States' traditional easy global dominance of scripted shows (dramas, sit-coms, etc.) - in place for more than half a century - is possibly coming to an end, the victim of the new conservative ascendancy in America's culture wars. She states: "Over the past year, a schism between America and the rest of the world has begun to open. Triggered by the amusingly inconsequential revelation of Janet Jackson’s nipple . . ., and fueled by America’s historical inhibitions about sex, a rising sense of moral and religious hysteria has swept through American TV."

Moran runs through the various pieces of evidence, many of which we've commented on previously: the $550,000 fine on CBS for showing the Jackson breast; a decision by Fox to “pixelate animated nudity in the cartoon Family Guy;” PBS’s cowardly decision to remove from an imported British docudrama (Dirty War), “scenes of a woman in a shower being decontaminated after a nuclear attack”; and PBS president Pat Mitchell’s decision to pull an episode of Postcards From Buster that featured a lesbian couple. Moran concludes: “For the first time since the 1960s, American television looks in danger of being created in a mode of what isn’t possible, rather than what is.” As a result, what she calls “the seemingly endless expansion of liberalism in the world of [US] television is suddenly going into reverse.” The consequences of this could be that US programming loses its cachet and attractiveness - and market opportunities - in other rich countries, most of which are less inhibited by such puritanical morality. And of course, as London Calling has noted repeatedly, the US has already ceded global dominance in the realm of reality TV/format programming to the UK and other countries - in fact, the US never even gained ascendancy in this genre, and is now effectively in a state of media dependency - to the UK especially.

Moran continues in her piece:
    If [US] broadcasters accept the principle that non-sexual nudity—the actual human body, no less—is in itself obscene, then we are only a step away from homosexual characters being removed from scripts, morally ambiguous characters being censored, and similar edicts on there being subjects that art (even if only television) isn’t allowed to touch anymore.

And though Moran doesn’t explicitly make the next point, I will: It starts with children’s programs. Every conservative agenda item in America is, it seems, promoted by a plea to “consider/protect the children” - this in a society with one of the West’s highest infant mortality rates and where no-one considers, say, giving mothers a proper amount of paid maternal leave (6-12 months) to look after their children when they are most vulnerable! But I digress, if only slightly.

Moran also sees a clear link between this increasing Puritanism and the rising reluctance of US media producers to take on controversial political matters - witness what's happened to news and public affairs programming and the recent rapid rise in sci-fi dramas and “nostalgia dramas,” she notes.

Of course, while American television languishes, European TV powers ahead, tits and ass and all. Moran focuses on two fascinating examples of British cheeky inventiveness, neither of which I'd heard of but both of which would surely be unimaginable in the US mainstream: The Guantanamo Guidebook, produced for Channel 4, in which volunteers (contestants?) "are ‘mildly tortured’ in the manner of Camp X-Ray” (see The Guardian's take here); and Sky One’s Badly Dubbed Porn, “in which ‘classic’ porn movies are redubbed by comedians.” Though I haven't seen these shows, they are likely quite peripheral, though they have both been shown of mainstream channels. But the fact that they were made at all underlines the argument that British and European television is showing a degree of inventiveness and iconoclasm increasingly lacking in the US. And British TV also seems to tackle, much more readily and effectively, other controversial subjects in the political as well as the entertainment realm. Coincidence? I think not. The two seem to go hand in hand. (For the moment America has HBO, but how long can that diamond in the rough survive the turn to conservative morality?)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Guardian's London bombing media coverage

The Guardian sums up the London bombings' media coverage (as of July 11) here. The headline for this piece was "We had 50 images within an hour" and the deck: "Britain watched the story of the London bombings through mobile phone pictures and video clips, while America saw another 9/11. MediaGuardian reflects on a momentous day for journalism." It's a very interesting piece as it gets into the whole issue of real-time bloggers and "citizen journalists" sending in their mobile phone camera stills and video clips to the news organizations. Notes the piece:
    Seasoned news executives talk of a "tipping point", a democratisation of the news process, the true birth of the "citizen reporter". The public assuming control of the newsgathering process to a hitherto unimagined degree.
    . . .

    Helen Boaden, the BBC's director of news, described it as a "new world" and a "gear change". Minutes after the bombings occurred in London last Thursday, newsrooms around the capital were being deluged with pictures and video clips sent directly from the scene. The long-predicted democratisation of the media had become a reality, as ordinary members of the public turned photographers and reporters.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

God Save the Queen? It must be the All-Star Game

I guess I wasn't too surprised to see Major League Baseball observe a moment of silence for the dead in the London bombings in Detroit last night, just before the All-Star Game started. And an electronic version of the Union Jack was displayed for all to see. But I was rather surprised to hear a band play "God Save the Queen" while everyone was standing. And the concurrent flyover by a stealth bomber was, I suppose, to remind any Brits watching just where their loyalties should lie. USA Today, true to form, describes the scene as part of the best pregame moment, i.e.,: "Flyover by a single B-2 stealth bomber, pretty quiet and very cool. The British anthem God Save the Queen in tribute to the victims of last week's terrorist bombings in London was also a nice touch."

Somehow, seeing and hearing such obvious symbols of the British state present in an American ball park (Detroit's Comerica Park, to be precise) alongside an American space age bomber just seemed odd and out of place. It's like worlds colliding. And tell me how a stealth bomber is supposed to defeat the terrorists?

Oh, and if you didn't know: the AL won . . . again.

"Londonistan" threatens US?

BRITISH MUSLIMSWhile the rightie cable news stations in the States have been having another go at Fisking the British news media, it seems the more refined sections of the US press have found another target in Britain for opprobrium: its people . . . well, those people of Middle East extraction at any rate. In today's Guardian ("Newspapers warn of threat to America from 'Londonistan'"), Gary Younge relays numerous stories in the US press pointing specifically to Britain as a source of a major threat to the USA. He notes:
    Over the past three days, articles on front pages of newspapers across the country, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, San Jose Mercury News, Boston Globe and Wall Street Journal, describe the UK as a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism that threatens global security.

    In articles with headlines such as "For decades London thrived as a busy crossroads for terror" (New York Times) and "Continent's Issues include Geography and Open borders: Bombers travel freely, police cannot" (Wall Street Journal), the American press argue that London is a global hub for Islamic fundamentalism and terrorist cells.

Younge notes of all the pieces: "Although the identities and nationalities of those who committed the terrorist attacks are not yet known, the pieces hinge on the assumption that they are British citizens who have been in the country for a considerable amount of time." By extension, a clear threat is presented to America from Islamic extremists who carry British passports and who can therefore enter the US visa-free, circumventing strict visa controls for many Arabs with Middle East passports.

Younge points out that the pieces mostly draw on US-based terrorist "experts," who "argue that the government's reluctance to enforce stricter surveillance and anti-terror legislation for fear of upsetting Muslims has left the UK and the rest of Europe more vulnerable to terrorism." For example:
    "London is easily the most jihadist hub in western Europe," Roger Cressy, a former White House counterterrorism official, told the Los Angeles Times. "London has been an indoctrination and recruiting centre for many years," Michael Radu, a terrorism expert at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, told the Philadelphia Tribune.

    In the Wall Street Journal, the former head of the State Department's counter-terrorism centre, Larry Johnson, said Britain had been too squeamish about respecting Muslims' rights.

Perhaps if these pieces had queried more experts based in Britain - whose authorities have, after all, been combatting domestic terrorism for more than 30 years - they might have gained a more nuanced perspective. But no, it's easier for the press to frame the issue as those soft Europeans not knocking heads together hard enough, and thus create a new threat for Americans to be scared of - and in the news media world, Americans can never have enough things in their lives to be scared of, it seems. (The US media, btw, have a long tradition of doing this sort of thing, having in recent years hammered Canada and numerous European nations for being "soft on terrorism." It's much easier and safer than criticizing, say, their own government's supremely incompetent record on the issue.)

Younge saves the saddest example of this borderline-racist frame to the last: he quotes from Peter Bergen ("Our Ally, Our Problem"), a fellow of the New America Foundation, who had a rather shocking op-ed piece (which I read with some dismay - here's the original piece) in last Sunday's NY Times. He describes British Muslims as posing "one of the greatest terrorist threats to the United States". Bergen then "questions whether America's safety is compromised by allowing Britons to come to the US without a visa, given 'the reality that Islamic militant groups in Britain ... represent a growing threat to the United States that will continue for many years to come.' So entrenched is the British capital as an outpost of the Muslim diaspora, that London is now commonly referred to as 'Londonistan' - a word used several times in different papers."

As it becomes clear that as the "war on terrorism" allows the US to detain pretty much anyone it wants indefinitely, including even its own citizens (see here for the latest example) perhaps US journalists should look to their own back yard first. Or perhaps this country has to face up to the fact that it can't build ideological or physical walls between "us" and "them" - placing even its closest ally into the "them" camp - because ultimately there is no difference between "us" and "them."

More blitz spin . . . by Bush

President Bush has jumped on the British stiff upper lip/beat the blitz bandwagon. As USA Today notes today ("Britain places blame on Islamic extremists", by Noelle Knox), Bush made his comments on Monday at the FBI Training Academy in Quantico, Va., where he "praised Britons' response to the bombings. 'This week there's great suffering in the city of London. But Londoners are resilient. They have faced brutal enemies before. The city that survived the Nazi blitz will not yield in the face of thugs and assassins.'"

Meanwhile, here's the latest from the UK press's own coverage pushing the "national unity" and spirit of the blitz angles (wrapped around the national commemoration of Sunday's VE/VJ Day anniversary celebrations), as well as BBC's latest take on Londoners' blitz spirit: fact or myth?

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fisking the British Press

Let no good deed go unpunished. As the elite press in the US praises the journalism of the British media for their response to the London attacks, the American tabloid media are on the attack.

FAIR reports that Bill (phone sex) O'Reilly was heard screeching on his show: "The anti-American press both here and in Europe is actually helping the terrorists by diminishing their threat." To make his point even clearer, O'Reilly asked one guest, "Have you read The Guardian lately? I mean, it might be edited by Osama bin Laden. I mean, that's how bad that paper is. . . O'Reilly's guest, Steven Emerson, expanded on that: "In certain respects, BBC almost operates as a foreign registered agent of Hezbollah and some of the other jihadist groups."

According to FAIR, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough also attacked the Live 8 concerts and suggested the performers ought to listen to Blair and Bush. Funny thing that, since the White Man's Burden campaign originated at least in part with Blair. Oh, but let's not let facts get in the way of a good show.

At the Weekly Standard, they toned down a bit to allow that the "prissy" BBC was being a bit more manly by using the word terrorists for the terrorists.

These attacks on the British media are nothing new. Accuracy in Media, a far-right wing media "watchdog," attacked Reuters in 2003 in a press release about coverage of the Jessica Lynch propaganda stunt. A search on their site revealed some other interesting items, including an item accusing the BBC of planting hecklers to embarrass British Conservative politicians.

Of course, right-wing bloggers are the worst at going after the British media, even though they often rely heavily on them for international news.

Good show, British chaps

The International Herald Tribune has also weighed in with a story praising the British media for their coverage of the attacks. I suppose one could say this is of a piece with HDougie's identification of the British stiff upper lip trope in US coverage of the London attacks, but it is also about the broader trend of US media audiences getting a clear comparison of what's being shoveled out by US news media, particularly television, and what media outlets are delivering around the world.

At any rate Eric Pfanner again compared the rational British approach with the sensational US coverage noting that Fox broadcast from "central London with a grainy image quality and a reporter dressed in a flak jacket, giving the appearance of a war zone. " Too bad we can't have a split screen with a normal British reporter in street clothes and the American entertainment specialist ("I'm not a real reporter, but I play one on tee-vee") to illustrate.

Pfanner reported that the British tabs were not so sensible but then when have they ever been? "The Sun, the mass-circulation tabloid daily, was reporting still-unsubstantiated rumors on Friday that the bus explosion had been the work of a suicide bomber."

Interestingly, Pfanner connects government regulation to the differences in the US and British coverage: "Some of the caution of the British television news services is explained by stricter content regulations than U.S. news organizations face. Broadcasters are required to adhere to guidelines on fairness, balance and privacy rights, for example." Thank goodness the "free" market in the US keeps our media "fair and balanced", making those Old Europe media rules obsolete here.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Live 8 gets do-over on VH1/MTV

While Britain has already moved tragically on from the fun and optimism of last weekend's Live 8 and the winning Olympic bid to the horror of the London terrorist bombings, VH1 and MTV have decided they need a do-over on Live 8. "Having been hammered for its chopped-up coverage of last week's Live 8 concerts," the Viacom-owned channels "will air 10 hours of commercial-free footage from Live 8 on Saturday (July 9) - essentially admitting that they made a mistake with live coverage the first time around." As one report has it, "The networks have been roundly criticized this week for frequently cutting away from the stage in the middle of a song and larding the broadcast with backstage bits and talky segments about Live 8's stated purpose to raise awareness of global poverty."

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Spirit of the blitz lives on?

BUSH AND BLAIR AT GLENEAGLESAs London recovers from the Underground/bus bombings, the US media coverage has begun to pick up references to the so-called "spirit of the blitz" in London (the Blitz being the German bombing of British cities in WW II). References have been made regularly on cable news, PBS's "News Hour," on NPR, and the national press. And numerous news organizations have noted that this was the deadliest attack on the people of London since WW II. And with pronouncements by Blair and the Queen, who toured a London hospital to meet the wounded, the Blitz is emerging again as a historical exemplar and frame for interpreting this event on both sides of the Atlantic.

The New York Times, in its second-day reporting (Alan Cowell, "First Details of Bombs Emerge; Toll Reaches 49"), notes that "many people sought to invoke the memory of Britain's bulldog wartime spirit, when Londoners grew accustomed to German bombing and confronted it with gritty humor. 'If London could survive the Blitz, it can survive four miserable events like this,' said Mr. Blair. He spoke of 'this wonderful great diverse city' and called London and Britain 'one united community against atrocity.'" And one AP report quoted by Juan Cole really ramps up the war imagery. Cole introduces the piece in obvious WWII/Blitz terms, by writing "London began digging out on Friday". He then quotes the following passage, talking about the Friday after the bombing:
    Much of London was eerily quiet. Bombed stations were shrouded in security curtains, and refrigerated trucks waited outside to carry away bodies. Bouquets of fresh flowers and cards scribbled with thoughts for the victims of London's worst attack since World War II piled up outside the stations near the bombed lines. "Yesterday, we fled this great city, but today we are walking back into an even stronger, greater city," said one card near St. Pancras Church, near where a bomb shredded the bus. "The people who did this should know they have failed. They have picked the wrong city to pick on. London will go on."

Yes, it's 1940 all over again. Or maybe 1941. Of course, part of this is driven by the fact that London - and Britain - is getting set to celebrate the end of WW II 60 years ago. But then WW II retains a much deeper resonance - and immediacy - in Britain than in the United States. One major reason for this is that, unlike any US cities, London and other UK cities suffered continuous heavy bombing raids that killed tens of thousand of people. This has left a very deep impression on the national psyche. And it's a clear historical parallel that still resonates in London to this day. When the 9/11 attacks happened in New York, there was no such obvious historical analogy for New Yorkers (and the US media) to attach themselves to - so one had to be created out of whole cloth. In London the Blitz provides a ready-made mediated "myth" and frame for Londoners to attach themselves to.

US audiences seem to instinctively to be able to empathize with the spirit of Londoners - perhaps more so than, say, with Madrid after its Al Qaeda train bombings last year. Why is this? It could just be that, as Tom Friedman put it, the London bombings "are profoundly disturbing" because, in some ways, "a bombing in our mother country and closest ally, England, is almost like a bombing in our own country." But there's more to it than that.

Another AP report, republished in the New York Times on July 8, perhaps provides a clue as to why this is. The article, "Bombs Likely Won't Leave Emotional Scars" suggests that London's experience with trauma of this type will help them shake off this incident all the more easily. It quotes James Thompson, a lecturer in psychology at University College in London, who argues that The Tube is a terrifying target for so many Londoners. He says: '''This is hard for us because so many of us are tube users. But whether it will be for us what Sept. 11 was for America, I would doubt, because we have so much more experience with this sort of stuff.'' Another trauma specialist quoted in this article
    agreed that previous experience is a crucial factor in determining how well a population fares psychologically after a tragedy. While the United States had never considered itself vulnerable at home until Sept. 11, 2001, London has had a long experience with attacks -- from the Nazi blitz during World War II to the Irish Republican Army.

    What also will help Londoners recover more quickly is that there is no sense of surprise over why attackers may have struck, Thompson added.
    ''In the Sept. 11 incident, there was a colossal sense of bafflement over 'What have we done to deserve this?' I don't think in England anyone is saying: 'Why do they hate us?''' Thompson said, noting Britons have long been aware throughout history that their foreign policy is unpopular with some. Also critical to psychological recovery is the meaning that individuals, or the society, give to the attacks, the experts said.

All this mythical British stoicism and ability-to-cope-in-a-crisis is ready-made for American audiences because of a historical and ready-made UK-US parallel that still works in this country: Edwin R. Murrow's reporting from London during the Blitz. Murrow was successful in transmitting to his American audiences the "myth" of London's and Britain's heroic and stoic resistance against the Blitz (aided by a very effective British propaganda campaign aimed at breaking down US neutrality). And the heroic stoicism was perhaps the key ingredient here. It's something that Americans can easily attach themselves to - especially given New York's own newly created post-9/11 "myth" of heroic stoicism.

Addendum: Slate's "international papers" section provides a useful overview of British press coverage of the bombings.

Friday, July 08, 2005

More attack coverage

The Guardian is reporting large increases in website traffic, particularly from the United States. BBC was the most visited.

Some numbers: In the UK, the BBC was first in number of news page impressions (page visits), followed by Sky News (3rd place) , the Guardian (5th), the Sun (8th) followed by CNN.

The Guardian Unlimited had 1.3 million visitors with more than 1/2 million coming from the US.

A number of stories in the US and UK are commenting on citizen journalism contributions to the coverage. The Guardian quotes a BBC representative,

"Within minutes of the first blast we had received images from the public and we had 50 images within an hour. Now there are thousands. We had a gallery of still photographs from the public online, and they were incredibly powerful.

"People are very media-savvy. We saw the use of what we call 'user-generated material' in the tsunami and at the floods in Boscastle. But as people get used to creating picture and video on their phones in normal life, they increasingly think of sending it to us when major incidents occur."

And Ms Boaden believes the increasing interaction between the public and broadcasters is changing media for the better. "It shows there is a terrific level of trust between the audience and us, creating a more intimate relationship than in the past. It shows a new closeness forming between BBC news and the public. We are into a new world now and each big story that happens confirms that."

It would appear that the BBC's online strategies, previously discussed here, combined with a sense of public trust, are paying off, allowing them to run an enormous global media outlet yet still be connected to grass-roots citizens.

Covering the attacks

Both the Baltimore Sun and the LA Times weighed in today with pieces comparing British coverage of their own terrorism attack with the American version. Both conclude: The BBC did journalism at its best: calm, reasoned and collected. The Americans were sensational.

The Sun's David Zurawik wrote the best piece noting that "While the American news channels and commercial networks that aired in Britain yesterday were filled with images of carnage and talk of confusion in the wake of bombings in London, the government-supported BBC, the most-watched news outlet in the United Kingdom in times of crisis, offered viewers an oasis of relative calm."

Zurawik talked to Greg Nielsen, director of the BBC World Archive at Concordia University in Montreal, who explained that "There's a certain attitude and quite different history from commercial broadcasters both in America and Britain that results in higher standards - a keen sense of duty in time of crisis."

He even quotes a psychiatrist who says the US coverage of attacks causes needless anxiety and the BBC, operating more professionally, did not.

In checking out news online yesterday, I also found that BBC appeared to have stripped its main UK news page yesterday so that it would download faster -- similar to what CNN did during the 911 attacks. And what was striking was that the casualty figures stayed the same for much of the day, no sensational over-predictions given -- something Zurawik noted on television coverage as well. Another digitial journalism development was explored by the WSJ among others in their nice summary of the impact of citizen journalism including the BBC and the Guardian's incorporation into their coverage.

In a less well researched article, the LA Times gives a similar thumbs up to the BBC: "The tone of BBC coverage could be described, finally, as adult. I didn't hear the word "exclusive," for example, even as they broadcast an interview with an injured passenger just released from the hospital. To watch the BBC handle this crisis was to sense a network not nearly so paranoid as its American counterparts that the viewer might be about to switch the channel, surfing for better video."

This is not simply a matter of style or audience numbers in the end. The way the media cover such disasters helps shape citizen attitudes and ultimately their responses to politicians dealing with the aftermath.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Make Poverty History : Tony's Road Show

Media critic Danny Schechter raises the issue of Tony Blair using the Make Poverty History campaign as a pop culture cover for his policies in his post about Live 8 and the demos in Scotland: "Have the rock stars been seduced by Tony Blair, who is desperate to recast an image battered by his association with Bush and the bloodshed in Basra? Have they been deceived by politicians used to making pledges that they don't honor while thinking they have persuaded the politicians to new levels of caring and commitment? Geldof was part of an Africa commission chaired by Blair which calls for change, but in a free market, pro-private sector direction."

He notes that the Stop the War coalition was not allowed to march with the Make Poverty History group or to speak at their rally. (Earlier reports said Geldof forbid any Live 8 acts from criticizing politicians. Was that before or after Bill Gates was feted on stage?) Schechter writes this is "inviting suspicion that the Blairites were stage-managing the protests from the shadows. (The British government actually funded some of the organizing undertaken by Oxfam, which now has former staffers advising Blair's people while ex-government functionaries work with the charity.) Tony Blair's chancellor Gordon Brown supported the protests. Was there a deal between the popsters and the politicians that we don't know about?"

Meanwhile, George Monibot writing in the Guardian is convinced it's all a sham meant to help the corporations, and points readers to The Daily Mail which ran photos of Geldof and Gordon Brown joining the so-called protest. And indeed, Monibot asks, what are the Blairites protesting, themselves?

Also, IndyMedia Scotland is reporting protesters scaled a crane and hung a banner against "Brownwash" referring to the Brown and the Blairites' takeover of the MPH campaign.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

FinTimes #1

Editor and Publisher is reporting a new survey of business, government, academic and journalist types shows the Financial Times is ranked as the world's best newspaper, Wall Street Journal is #2 (must not have read the editorial pages). NYT fell to 6th what with having to apologize for their war reporting and other scandals. Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung snagged third and Japan's Asahi Shimbun and Italy's Corriere della Sera cracked the top 10 for the first time.

Blair and Media Strategies

I've just been skimming some work by UK prof Margaret Scammell who notes in a chapter of The Blair Effect that Blair's administration has been "landmark" in terms of its mastery of communication strategies, using daytime TV, women's magazines, regional and ethnic presses, and the tabloids to get his message out. So, I suppose it's no wonder that he should be appearing on MTV to flog the Make Poverty History campaign. At least some of the coverage I've been reading frames this as Noble Tony Blair fighting for the world's poor against that retrograde cowboy Bush. But heh, weren't they bosum buddies a few weeks ago?

Also, Scammell has written about the export of British formats, in a different edited volume, Developments in British Politics (no.6 I believe), that the Blair admin (and earlier John Major's) has been encouraging the export of British programming and suggesting that the industry "re-think programming to better fit overseas schedules and tastes" with BBC as the "spearhead of the export drive." Scammell asks, as has been done often here on London Calling, whether the Beeb can maintain its public services ethos and still be a global brand?

I guess a big picture question is: To what extent are many of the trends we try to chart on this blog -- British TV formats thriving over here, liberal Americans turning to elite media in the UK for a broader perspective, and now the whole "Girl in Cafe"/Live 8/G-8 media campaign -- how much of this can be attributed to the actions and policies of Blair and New Labour?

Along these conspiracy theory lines, would British media have followed the war as closely if the UK hadn't been in it and thus would not have appeared as a steady info source for Americans? Would BBC have intentionally set itself apart from US media? Remember this: Greg Dyke, the former BBC Director General, is a Labour guy, Blair's guy, who got appointed with some controversy. Anyway, he came to the US and criticized our television outlets for appalingly uncritical war coverage. He was right, of course, and I'm not suggesting he didn't believe it -- yet that also helped remind American audiences of why they might turn to BBC for a different view.

Brit format TV rules the global airwaves

I found this interesting stat in, all of places, Foreign Policy magazine. In a piece called "Britannia Rules the Airwaves" (July/August 2005, p. 19, paid registration required), FP cites figures from Screen Digest indicating that the UK has, by some margin, become the world's biggest exporter of format TV - bigger even than the US. Format TV, btw, is the entertainment industry's term for "reality" and formula-based shows that can be franchised in local forms to markets across the world. We've talked about this before (e.g., Who's getting dumbed down? and Format programming: UK rules - in fact this piece might be quoting the same stats that Doctor Media noted back in April from Screen Digest, including an informative downloadable PDF file, so consider this a reinforcement of that post). Anyway, FP notes that format TV exports are a $3 billion global business, and the UK gets the biggest chunck of this new pie - "more than 30 percent", according to Screen Digest. The magazine quotes figures for the top five exporters of format TV in 2004 (in hours) as follows:
  • Britain, 3,795 hours
  • Netherlands, 2,569 hours
  • USA, 2,236 hours
  • Australia, 718 hours
  • Sweden, 558 hours

The prominence of the Netherlands is largely due to Endemol, the Dutch-based producer of "Big Brother." But, according to the April 12 Screen Digest news release (linked to by Doctor Media), Britain's prime place has been cemented by companies such as Celador Productions ("Who Wants to be a Millionaire"), and the BBC ("The Weakest Link"). (Curiously, the April release makes no mention of the recent success of Granada International.)

The FP piece notes that, to date, Who Wants to be a Millionaire "has been sold to 106 countries, and Pop Idol can be found in places as far flung as Iceland, Kazakhstan, and Lebanon." Interestingly, "the top four importers of this Brit-dominated genre are all continental European countries" (in order, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain). The piece doesn't say anything specific about British exports to the United States, though the fact that Britain's total exports are some 70 percent higher than the US's is telling.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Christian righties push US aid agenda?

The July 2 edition of The Economist has an interesting take on US-UK positions on aid to Africa. The magazine's Lexington column ("Right On", p. 34, paid registration required) suggests that, whereas British moves toward alleviating suffering are largely associated with the secular left (in concert - at least for the moment - with a center-left government), in America it’s the bible-thumping conservatives who are pushing the issue. Or, as Lexington puts it:
    If the European campaign for aid for Africa is dominated by bleeding-heart liberals, poring over the Guardian and L’Humanite, the American campaign is dominated by Bible-believing Christians . . . In Europe, the campaign to help Africa is fronted by a foul-mouthed Irish rock star. In America, you are more likely to run into Sam Brownback, a fiercely conservative senator from Kansas, who has sponsored legislation condemning Sudanese slavery, or Chuck Colson, a born-again Nixon operative who served time for Watergate and wants American Christians to recover the heritage of William Wilberforce.

The article is clear that these pressures are coming not from liberal mainline Protestant churches, but from the more radical, evangelist right. And it notes the implications on American foreign policy of having these evangelical Protestant churches pull the Republican Party to the “left” on international issues. It also notes that “In the perennial battle between Kissingerian realists and neoconservative idealists in Washington, they help tip the balance towards idealism.”

This article surprise and intrigued me. The American campaign "dominated" by the Christian right? Really? Why haven't I heard about this? What I find interesting about this perspective is that it’s pretty rare in the American MSM. As far as I'd been aware, the prism through which the American end of this effort has been viewed in the media is that of another effort pushed by the bleeding-heart, leftie-conscientious celebrity elite (Madonna, Susan Sarandon-Tim Robbins, Brad Pitt et al). The idea that the real power behind the American effort comes from the right, not the left, comes a bit out-of-left-field to me (although I was also shocked to see rightie Pat Robertson appearing with all these other lefties in a VH-1/MTV ad/trailer on the fight against African poverty - and then I read that Pat Robertson and George Clooney had gone on ABC's "Nightline" together back in late June, to encourage Americans to get involved). Am I missing something here? Or is this possibly a new example of the US media's secular orientation blinding them (and me!) to how the Christian right really works in the United States? Right now, I don't know.

More response to Live 8

Some impressions of Live 8: It made a splash in Britain after all, where the whole "Make Poverty History" campaign had, from the beginning, much greater resonance than in the US. NEWSPAPER FRONT PAGES
The BBC seemed to think the London concert itself went very well, and prompted a rapturous response by the UK press (see also here for crowd feedback, and the London acts rated, both courtesy of the BBC). The BBC also pointed out some of the many events surrounding Live 8, from Sail 8 to the Unicef-sponsored C8 children's summit in Dunblane, Scotland. Meanwhile, the Independent noted it was "A Beautiful Day: Great music, massive crowds". The article asked, "Was anyone listening?" - and then went on to suggest quite a lot of people actually were: It claimed that "Half the world tuned in yesterday [July 2] to watch the biggest musical event in history, featuring 170 acts in 10 countries. A million people were said to be in the crowds in London, Paris, Philadelphia and elsewhere. And as Sir Paul McCartney started to sing in Hyde Park, the drums and bass of his backing band U2 must have shaken the most important windows in the world." I'm not sure how accurate the Independent is with its audience estimate. The LA Times on Sunday put the estimated audience for the concerts - "broadcast live on TV, radio and over the Internet in 140 countries" - at 1 billion. But the Hollywood Reporter quotes Bob Geldof as putting the "combined television audience" at "some 3 billion viewers".

BOB GELDOF, BIRHAN WOLDUBob Geldof (seen at left with Ethiopian famine survivor Birhan Woldu, who was roundly exploited by Madonna in her appearance at London) has in fact already declared Live 8 a success - although concert attendance in Tokyo and Rome was "disappointing". It seems that TV ratings were also lower there than in the UK, France, and Canada. (While the Canadian concert only attracted 35,000, the Hollywood Reporter noted, "Canada's 18-hour contribution to Live 8, organized by veteran concert promoter Michael Cohl, drew 10.5 million viewers, or one in three Canadians, host broadcaster CTV Inc. said Monday."). The BBC attracted between 6.6 and 9.6 million to their Saturday concert coverage, which translated to a very respectable average 42 share. While the Hollywood Reporter was focusing on lackluster US audience ratings (see below), "the rest of the world was glued to their television sets to watch the concerts."

But was anyone listening in the United States? Live TV coverage of Live 8 was limited to Viacom-owned MTV/VH-1, and XM satellite radio (in contrast to the morning-till-night coverage on BBC 1 and BBC 2 in the UK). US network ABC replayed concert highlights at 8-10 p.m. Saturday, but the ratings were disappointing. The Hollywood Reporter notes that, in spite of "featuring performances from such heavy hitters as Paul McCartney, U2, the Who and Coldplay," the special averaged only 2.9 million, which translates to "barely a 1.1 rating/5 share in the adults 18-49 demographic, according to preliminary estimates from Nielsen Media Research." On the plus side, though, Internet provider AOL carried live online coverage of the concerts and this appraently "drew a larger crowd than ABC's primetime highlights special."

As for the US mainstream press: The New York Times included this overview of the day's proceedings, as well as reviews of the London and Philadelphia shows. The Washington Post gave more prominence to Philadelphia than the Times did. The Philadelphia Inquirer seemed quite happy to wrap that city's Live 8 event into a very successful July 4 holiday weekend for Philly - even if the real meaning of the concert might have gotten lost in all the fun. An Inquirer editorial noted, "If Live 8 did nothing else over the July 4th weekend, it showed a global audience that America's birthplace can accommodate current events as well as it can revel in its history." But what about the impact on Americans, or even the concertgoers? Not so sure there. The editorial asks itself:
    Did the estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people who jammed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Saturday learn much about the conditions that help perpetuate extreme poverty in Africa? No, though most of the audience probably heard more about that continent during the six-hour concert than ever before.

The LA Times gave greater prominence to the political element of the concerts, noting that "Musicians and celebrity speakers urged audiences to pressure President Bush, British Prime Minister Tony Blair and leaders of other wealthy nations to take swift action when they meet for the annual Group of 8 summit Wednesday near Edinburgh, Scotland." It also reminded us (unlike the NYT) that "About 220,000 people gathered [in Edinburgh] Saturday for a rally timed to coincide with the summit and the concerts."

Elsewhere, MSM coverage on broadcast and cable news was fairly cursory, as far as I could tell - after all this was July 4 weekend, when America turns even more introspective than usual. NPR had a couple of 3-minute pieces linking the concerts and the Edinburgh protests marches on Weekend Edition Saturday and Sunday. But now that there are reports of some clashes between police and marchers, CNN seems to be quite happy pushing that aspect up the news agenda.

Now that the focus in the States is moving, albeit grudgingly, away from domestic issues and to the G8 summit itself, we'll see how it plays out from here.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Live 8: Saving the World is "Easy Peasy"?

Lots of stuff going on with Live 8.

Technorati has recruited 50 bloggers to cover the concerts. They also have set it up so Treo Smartphones can receive the blog posts too. I realize this is pure promotion for the phones, but cool use of technology! As of right now more than 10,000 blogs have mentioned Live 8 in their posts. Their stated goal is to get millions.

Some of the NGOs involved in the campaign have bloggers too. I believe this is a fairly new phenomenon for those groups. I checked out a couple earlier this week and found them to be, well pretty lame. For example, OXFAM has a blog called Generation Why with posts such as:

"One more blog! We loved Tom Vek's performance on the Other Stage on Friday so much, we managed to bag ourselves some copies of his new album 'We Have Sound' to giveaway to you lucky people. All you have to do is answer an easy-peasy question to be in with a chance. "

Then again, I'm not 13 years old.

A cover story in the LA Times Calendar section this morning asks: Will Live8 really matter? The more important question from London Calling's perspective is: Has any world leader prior to this ever so strongly been connected into the global entertainment complex to promote a foreign policy goal?

Yesterday, a story in the LAT A section (that's news, not entertainment) paired a story about Bush's promises of more aid for Africa (yeah, I'll make a Bush-style pledge of $50 million myself -- since in BushWorld one doesn't have to actually deliver) with another story about Tony Blair appearing on MTV to talk about poverty and climate change. Blair is also set to talk with Christiane Amanpour on CNN about "The Girl in the Cafe" and the same issues. Unless this has already happened. I can't find it listed anywhere. Maybe it's only for non-US audiences?

I've been skimming what appears to be an interesting article from the UK alternative publication, Red Pepper, which gives a much more critical view of OXFAM and its "failing" Africa polices. Quoting from the New Statesman (I can't access this online) it notes the "‘revolving door’ relationship with UK government officials and policies, accusing it of allowing Blair and Brown to co-opt MPH [Make Poverty History] as a front for New Labour’s own questionable anti-poverty drive."

The article argues that the agenda of the MPH is actually fairly radical but has been co-opted by Blair with the complicity of OXFAM, using the same keywords to mean very different things.