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


Is Protesting Fashionable or Functional?

May 16, 2009

I’ve blogged a few times on protesting, mostly with regards to students

Suzy Dean, a 23 year old wrote an interesting column in The Times on Thursday, complaining that “Demonstrators today seem more interested in mouthing platitudes than marshalling the case to advance real causes.  The article (which can be found here), raises some good points and highlights just how ‘fashionable’ it is to protest, and actually how little can come of it.  She succinctly articulates,

“I’m just here to raise awareness,” was another common response from demonstrators. Actually “raising awareness” is now a standard part of demo discourse: from the Put People First coalition to Stop the War marches, protesters gather to make the public “aware” of a cause. No one seems to think beyond awareness, or believe that convincing the public to join your cause counts for much.

If we are unable to articulate what we’re demonstrating for, the act rather than the aim of protesting takes centre stage.

The differentiation raising awareness and raising support has probably become very cloudyd it’s a fairly easy trap to get caught up in.  I mean, apart from being angry at bankers, who actually knows what many of the protestors at the G20 were protesting at?  And that’s undoubtedly been the most famous protest this year

Adrian Lovett, Director of Campaigns and Communications with Save the Children wrote a reply in the letters section yesterday.  As it’s reasonably short, I’ll copy it fully underneath.

Sir, The Make Poverty History white band I still wear every day is a little less white than it was and I wish it could be described as “demo chic”.  Rather than a fashion statement, it is a simple statement that the avoidable death of a child every three seconds is unacceptable — and a reminder to me that the small actions of human beings can change this reality.

Suzy Dean is right to say that campaigns need to go beyond raising awareness alone. But when a quarter of a million people marched in Edinburgh at the peak of the Make Poverty History campaign and called on world leaders to act, they did, with a promised $50 billion aid increase. That campaign went beyond awareness to action and there are children alive and in school today as a result.

Many people joined organisations at the peaceful Put People First march to urge the G20 to keep those promises in the face of a global recession. My guess is most of them came not to strike a pose, but to make a point.

Adrian Lovett, Director of Campaigns and Communications, Save the Children

God of Justice or Justification?

May 2, 2009

In my previous post I quoted from an article in today’s Times, which stated

evangelical missions sometimes spend more time trying to convert poor people than trying to help them.

It’s speaking of missionaries in Africa, yet the same applies to Christians here.  There is a Christian culture of helping someone’s ‘spiritual’ needs first before meeting their ‘non-spiritual’ needs such as their hunger, their lack of job, their need for comfort.


Gordon McDade (Ballynahinch Baptist) argues that there is no distinction between the sacred and the secular, and that God is not just concerned with issues of justification, but also issues of justice.

A column in Wednesday’s Times by the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, reveals a side of Christianity that is concerned with the needs of the poor, the vulnerable, the oppressed.   He writes

The treatment of refugees is about the obligation – which civilisations much older than ours have known in their bones – to care for the stranger in need. What’s the point of “human rights” becoming a mantra for every special-interest fad if we ignore the most basic human rights of deeply vulnerable people?

In Isaiah 58 God sets out what he thinks righteousness is

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
       only a day for a man to humble himself?
       Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
       and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
       Is that what you call a fast,
       a day acceptable to the LORD ?

 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
       to loose the chains of injustice
       and untie the cords of the yoke,
       to set the oppressed free
       and break every yoke?

  Is it not to share your food with the hungry
       and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
       when you see the naked, to clothe him,
       and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

See also Tony Campolo – The Fast that God Requires (one page)

R we getn thikker?

April 27, 2009

Eugh…even my own title repulses me

I’m glad to see the media are providing coverage on the ever-decreasing value of language, vocabulary, spelling, grammar.
In today’s Indy (and BT) Robert Fisk writes an opinion piece lambasting society’s reluctance to read books, and the knock on effects this has on grammar
Meanwhile in The Times, a leading report by Alexandra Frean on the shrinking range of language in children (especially amongst disadvantaged children) coins the phrase ‘word poverty’, and makes an interesting observation – “If a child hits or pushes another child, it is usually because they don’t have the language of conflict resolution.”
Other pieces worth looking at are the appalling comments made here by a ‘leading academic’ calling for spelling within English language to be re-drafted along phonetic lines.
Another interesting report can be found here, at First Things, A self-titled journal of Religion, Culture and Public life which makes the point that the Internet has not increased our learning, but rather increased our social network at the expense of our social skills. I found this particularly true: “The genuine significance of the Web to a seventeen-year-old mind is not the universe of knowledge brought to their fingertips, but an instrument of non-stop peer contact”
Below is my favourite mis-spelling, taken at London protests against Israeli strikes in Gaza

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.