Call for Consumer Reponsibility from The Times

May 27, 2009

Under the title of ‘We should boycott the callous Sri Lanka regime’, Jeremy Page writes an opinion piece in The Times, available here.

His introduction highlights the link between consumer and supplier, calling for conscience-led shopping, rejecting the myth that what we buy has no ripple effect whatsoever

The next time you buy some lingerie, a T-shirt or a pair of rubber gloves, you may want to reflect on this: they were probably made in Sri Lanka. And, like it or not, your purchase plays a role in the debate over how to respond to the Sri Lankan Government’s successful but brutal military campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels, which reached its bloody climax this week

It’s good to see the influential sphere of journalism raising awareness of ethical shopping

Advertisements

Martin Bell and the dumbing down of Britain

May 25, 2009

Although in the media quite a bit these days as a case study for the independent MP, Martin Bell is better know as a former BBC war correspondent.

It was upon reflecting on his many years of service that in 1998 he compiled four talks for Radio 4 entitled ‘The Truth is our Currency’, reflecting and adding to his Journalism of Attachment ideology.

In part three he reflects on news and money;

If integrity means nothing to us, and nothing matters but money – or circulation and ratings which are its collateral measurements in print and on television – then int that case news is only what you say it is.  It is whatever sells newspapers or pulls in viewers.  It is the agenda you adopt to defend your prime time slot in the schedule.  If that means foreign news only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or in the end no foreign news at all, then so be it.  Money knows no realities but its own. 

To me this is a nightmare destination.  and because the Americans are perennially the first with the worst, we should know that they have already arrived at it.  In recent years, their principal TV networks, except CNN sometimes, abandoned all claim to report to the people on what happened today in the nation and the world.  Instead their was a new agenda, and its name was O.J. Simpson.  Over two years, more airtime was devoted to the case of this former football player than to all the news from all of the 185 other countries in the world.  The American people are significantly worse informed today than they were twenty years ago.  I have seen the process described as the “dumbing-down of America.”  Shall we, in Britain, be far behind?

Sadly, time devoted to Jade Goody, Susan Boyle, Katie and Peter in recent weeks and months has answered him..


Ronnie Biggs Press Reaction: A Case study to highlight critical consumption of the Media

April 24, 2009

Ronnie Biggs, who turns 80 later this year, is currently being recommended for release from prison. Infamous for his role in the Great Train Robbery of 1963, he escaped prison after only 15 months of his 30 year sentence to Brazil where he gained celebrity status for his bold taunting of the British justice system, including recording a single with the Sex Pistols. He returned to Britain in 2001 where he was subsequently re-arrested and sent back to prison.

Today’s papers presented the same story, told in a different manner, sometimes subtly, sometimes not so.

The Times offers a sympathetic view to Biggs, even allowing the story space within their Editorial comment. It calls for “Mercy” and “Clemency” and twice asserts that the decision to exercise such acts of kindness lie with Jack Straw.
In its article by Richard Ford and Adam Fresco, a hugely sympathetic view is taken, with the onus on justice secretary Straw to cede to compassion. We are told that he hopes to move to a nursing home near his son, that he has suffered strokes which have left him unable to speak, and furthermore he is reduced to pointing and spelling out words with letters of the alphabet. His physical condition is described in that he is fed through a tube and can only walk a few steps unaided. After this factual information presented in a manner to create an image of a helpless creature, we are told that the parole board is expected to release him in time for his 80th birthday. So not only does the innocent reader feel sorry for the physical state of this man, but we are also invited to show sentimentality and a display a sense of occasion.

After such a picture is painted, the scene is set for Ford and Fresco to inform us “The final decision on whether Biggs will spend his last years in freedom rests with Jack Straw”. Look at the language. It places huge pressure on Straw to be populist, and invites the reader to condemn the Justice Secretary should he deny this frail creature his “last years in freedom”.

As a Times devotee, I’m somewhat dismayed by the lack of objective reporting which is contrasted with the Independent’s story (objective mainly due to length) and the BBC’s dull version of events (objective because it prides itself in such).

Meanwhile The Sun seems to tilt to the other side of the argument. In a much shorter article than in The Times, it uses language such as “villain father” and reminds us that Biggs has served [only] “a third of his sentence”. The information on his condition is presented matter-of-factly, not inviting “mercy” or “clemency”

The Daily Mail predictably goes even further, offering two full pages on Biggs (p.10-11), considerably more than the other papers. Twice we are told in Stephen Wright’s (Crime Editor) article that the care received by Biggs if released would be “provided at the taxpayers expense” as well as the question being asked of which authority will have to “pick up the bill for caring for Biggs”. Here we are not presented with a frail old man, but rather an undeserving drain on the public purse.

The opinion piece which goes alongside the article by Geoffrey Wansell is unsubtly titled “He put two fingers up to justice for 36 years. So should he just be freed because he’s a sad, broken old man?” Wansell presents the previously unmentioned view that “There are those who are convinced that Biggs has failed to ‘serve his debt to society’ – not least because he has never demonstrated the slightest remorse for his crime.” Wansell refers to Biggs’ “unrepentant delight” and the paradox of his “fame as a fugitive”. He refers to Biggs as “cocky”, “a convicted criminal”, “a ruthless chancer” and tells us how much he earned from the Robbery – £146,000.

While The Times refers to “Mercy”, Wansell refers to “Compassion” but uses it in such a way as to question whether we should have any compassion on “a conman with little or no compassion for anyone but himself.”

Facts are facts. Yet which facts are chosen and how they are presented affect a story hugely. The Daily Mail emphasises that the Taxpayer will have to foot the bill for Biggs’ healthcare, not mentioning that of course the Taxpayer is already paying for his imprisonment. It glosses over Biggs’ physical condition, mentioning it briefly three quarters way down the article when many readers have stopped reading or skipped straight to the end. Conversely, The Times places great emphasis on the frail condition of Biggs mentioning it near the beginning of the article, and in great detail.

Compare too that The Times tells us that Biggs married in 2002, while Wansell in The Mail informs us that “He abandoned his wife and three sons in Australia when he was close to being captured by the British police in 1969”. Both facts. Both true. Yet both inviting incredibly different conclusions to be drawn.

We are slaves to the information the media decides to inform us of, yet as clever consumers we can read a variety of sources, and question the language being used, the positioning of information and the conclusions that the writer is urging us to draw.


Ryanair – Good or Bad?

March 24, 2009

Spent this past hour booking flights for myself and my father to go to Belgium early June. As ever, using good old Ryanair because I am a slave to their ridiculously low prices. Having sacrificed taking any luggage, travel insurance and deciding to check in online rather than at the airport, I had my flights for a bargain 20 Euros a piece. However, without a VISA Electron card, I faced charges of another 20 euros (10 euros per passenger) for paying with a credit card (it’s the same price as with a debit card, but with the added security).

Ryanair is without doubt the cheapest airline on paper, providing you are willing to forgo your human rights for the length of time it takes to get to your destination. Overpriced snacks on board, as well as all the additional charges they try and lure you into before you can book your flight are only the start of it.

Charging for mobile phones is the latest thing, with threats in place to charge a quid if you want to use the toilet. Chief Executive Michael O’Leary is undoubtedly one of the most successful and despised businessmen in Europe, making £650m a year from all the extra charges. He’s not in a hurry to help either, as this quote illustrates

“We don’t fall all over ourselves if they… say my granny fell ill. What part of no refund don’t you understand? You are not getting a refund so fuck off”

The bottom line is they are cheap, and we are suckers for a bargain. If they work in our favour, great. But if there is a problem, don’t expect any help.

It comes down to that old adage – You get what you pay for. But frankly, I’ll take their cheap flights.  Gladly

Verdict: Good


Fairtrade fortnight

March 4, 2009

It’s been a manic week and a half of late, but now that the fuss is over, I can get back to my little retreat of blogging

We’re in the middle of Fairtrade fortnight now, and today has seen the positive announcement that Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has committed to going Fairtrade. The fact that this is such a prominent chocolate bar, shows their intentions and should do much to promote Fairtrade.

Around this time last year Tate & Lyle announced that they would become the biggest UK company to carry the Fairtrade certificate when it brought all its sugar into line with Fairtrade ideals.

It’s great to see these companies use their large volume of change to make a genuine difference in people’s lives, although it would be great if they didn’t have to wait until Fairtrade fortnight to launch their proposals.


Ethical Shopping

January 2, 2009

Something I feel very strongly about is the issue of Ethical Shopping. Simply, I divide it up into two areas – Fairtrade and Local

Fairtrade
Fairtrade is the only logo on a product that guarantees a fair price for the worker in the developing country. This means that not only by buying Fairtrade products are you guaranteeing a fair price for the worker but it also means that when you buy a product that isn’t Fairtrade, you may be giving money to a company who pay poor wages to workers who do long hours in poor conditions.

Fairtrade gives the coffee bean harvester maybe 4 times the wage of a non-fairtrade worker doing the exact same job. This extra money is then circulated in the local community. So the farmer is able to spend his money supporting his local butcher or crafts person. Fairtrade also take money and set it aside for community funds which are ploughed into schools, training, industrial technologies, sanitation.

How we can help
Buy Fairtrade goods (common ones are coffee, bananas, tea, rice, clothing)
Encourage others to do the same
Ask at the places you shop in if they have a Fairtrade alternative 
– Does your church, university, workplace use fairtrade products? Lobby them

Local
Never underestimate the power of those in education. Around a year ago we were studying the reunification of Germany. We were told that when East and West became one again, those in the East started to buy Western basics, such as Bread, Milk, Eggs. It wasn’t that they were cheaper, or even better, there was just this notion that it would be a luxury good coming from the land of capitalism. This had a huge knock on effect to the East German farmers and producers. Productivity in the region went down, unemployment went up, which was a disaster for an area struggling to cope with the introduction of a free market. So pretty soon the East Germans twigged on. Their buying products from the West was having a negative impact on the East’s economy.
And so I wondered about my own consumer habits. What good am I doing to the Northern Irish economy (let alone the environment) by buying a Broccoli from Spain, when there are plenty of local ones in season? Who exactly benefits when I buy bread from Ayrshire and not from Armagh? An increase in local produce being bought, means more jobs in agriculture, production, retail. It also means more graduate jobs – A successful local business needs people with degrees in marketing, advertising, web design, business. We don’t need to lose all our best graduates to England, if only we would contribute more to our local economy.

Buying local goods, inevitably means buying in local shops. In the past 15 months, I have shopped in Tescos once. I prefer instead to go to local shops, individual traders if possible, though often circumstances mean I end up in smaller supermarkets. Stillsupermarkets perhaps, but with a greater range of local options (e.g. Linwoods, who don’t supply to the mega chains, and Ballyrashane creamery). I like to shop at Glass’s – A stunning fruit and vegetable shop in Bushmills, with a real mouth watering selection. And is it more expensive? Sometimes yes. Sometimes no. Why would a sack of spuds from McCurdy’s at Portbradden cost more to bring down the road than potatoes from the south of England which have had to be transported on a truck and a ferry to get here (losing days of quality on the way)? With local food, you pay for quality, not for distribution costs.

That’s not even going into the sub-ethical business model that the big supermarkets are often accused of (demanding exclusivity, ordering more stock than they need but only paying for what they take, demanding double the order at the same price to allow for a 2 for 1 offer and many many others)
I worry. I worry that if I’m allowed to get old and if I’m still in this country, I won’t have any good local butchers or greengrocers to shop in where I can contribute to my local economy, where I can get personal friendly service, where I can get food that tastes better, where I can buy as much as I need (you try buying for one!).

I feel the Supermarket is stealing our community, and I want it back.

How we can help
– Read the label, find out where it is from and buy local goods and produce where possible
– Try the difference between the ‘freshness‘ on offer at your supermarket than that at a greengrocers
– Try the difference between the ‘taste‘ on offer at your supermarket than that at a butcher’s

 

Further Reading
http://www.100milediet.org/
Blytham, Joanna; Shopped – The shocking truth about British Supermarkets (2004 ed available on Amazon for a penny!)