DAY 13: Thurs 26 Mar

Bulbs, herbs, ponds, discrimination, and applause for the NHS

An odd sort of a day that never really got going. I tried, but telephone calls, WhatsApp messages, text and emails filled up much the morning. Not to mention trying to get my head around ZOOM so we have have can have a family a conference call tomorrow to celebrate grandson No. 2’s seventh birthday.

One call was from a young journalist colleague just checking up on this aged hack. That was very considerate of him but had the unintended consequence of reminding me that I am no longer an ‘up and at’em’ journalist but a sad old sod with limited options. 

Nebvertheless the sun was still shining, and the garden beckoned, as did the chickens – complaining noisily that I had not let them out yet. On my way out the back door I noticed several chocolate bar wrappers in the waste bin and wondered where they could have come from. It is my waste bin, so it can only be my doing.

Keep moving, don’t look back.

Reinforcements required to the potato patch as the chickens have found a way through the netting. A fresh batch of runner beans and French beans also needed to be potted up. Then it was out to the front garden where flower seeds and bulbs needed to find a home. I am not good at this; I find vegetable and fruit more satisfying. I was half hoping for more interruptions as I can never make up my mind where flowers should go.

I got help from my house guest with shifting a hefty tree stump form –  all that remains of what had been a truly magnificent Magnolia tree that one graced the back garden. We installed it as a ‘feature’ beneath a venerable apple tree in the front of the house. The apple tree is all that remains of an orchard first planted when the Upper Fish Pond of Fishponds was filled in almost 200 years ago. My house sits at the top end of the larger of the ‘New Pooles’ created by quarrying in the 17th century. After a little girl drowned in the Lower Fish Pond in 1800, the lady of the manor Elizabeth Somerset, wife of the Duke of Beaufort ordered it filled in. A Unionist Club was built on the site. It is now the Conservative Club – though it tries to hide its true identity by calling itself a Community Club. 

I decorated the stump with some hanging baskets and hopefully freesias and alliums will bring colour and fragrance later the year. All the herbs are doing well – bay, parsley, sage, thyme, and wild garlic – but the pond needs a seeing to. Nothing much can be done for now as the frogs have deposited huge dollops of spawn, under which the shubunkins and goldfish drift sullenly.

Taking a break, on Twitter I find the Mayor of Freetown has taken umbrage at my response to an upbeat message from Bristol’s Mayor about the efforts Yaki Sawyerr has made to prepare for the coronavirus in Sierra Leone. No cases have yet been reported, and I had merely queried whether the year long State of Emergency that has been declared there might be a power grab. Not so, insisted the Mayor – elections are a couple, of years away so why would a power grab be needed? Pardon me, sir.

Checking my emails I notice that I have forgotten to submit my suggestion to the Editors’ Code Committee that Clause 12 on Discrimination needs to be revised. It has long been the MediaWise view that the Clause as it stands would exonerate Julius Streicher’s virulently anti-semitic and anti-Catholic Der Sturmer of discrimination. Currently only individuals identified in an offending story may complain. Yet they are the most vulnerable and least likely to know about how to complain.

Our suggestion is a modest revision to the Clause which would have the effect of acknowledging that prejudicial coverage affects more than any individuals mentioned in a story. It can have severe consequences for members of the specific social group covered by the allegedly discriminatory copy. 

Such stories can also influence the wider public, instilling hostility or misconceptions which harm social cohesions and understanding. Stories which discriminate against, appear to encourage discrimination against, or which promulgate misperceptions or inaccurate information about minority groups have far wider social repercussions than the impact of a story on a specific individual. Consider in particular Gypsies, Roma and Irish Travellers, the trans community, or asylum-seekers and refugees, and religious communities, notably Muslims and Jews, who suffer prejudice within society which is often exacerbated by stories in the press. 

The media industry is notoriously lacking diversity at all levels, which makes it less likely to appreciate the harm that can be done by thoughtless, ignorant or even vindictive stories. Those best placed to understand the impact of problematic copy are those most likely to be affected by it. It should be permissible for genuine representative organisations to raise complaints about such copy.  In our experience over the last 26 years, individual members of minority groups often lack the confidence or wherewithal to take on the power of the press. Stories relating to mental health issues come to mind.

To this end I fired off our proposal this evening, just in time for the deadline on Friday 27 March. We have proposed the words ‘an individual’ at the start of the Clause be moved to the end of the sentence, so that the revised Clause 12.i) would read: ‘The press must avoid prejudicial or pejorative reference to race, colour, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or to any physical or mental illness or disability especially when referring to an individual.’

It make all the difference. We shall see if IPSO or the Code Committee at last see the point.

Earlier we had our first stab at using ZOOM so we can all be together for the birthday boy tomorrow lunchtime, and before that it was a jolly story time with the grandchildren. 

In between it was the great ‘clap out’ for the NHS. One of my sisters, a midwife who retored last month has already offered to go back to work and two others have signed up as volunteers,

Sadly I was alone on my door step. No sign or sound of anyone else – apart from a party carousing out of sight further up the cul-de-sac. Not everyone will have known, of course, and we do have pensioners, students and refugees in the street who may have other preoccupations. However, the videos from family and friends in other parts of the city and country show it was a resounding and deserved success, indicative of the faith and gratitude most of us have towards those who are now risking their lives daily on our behalf.

Mike J

Journalist, trainer, editor; storyteller; amateur historian.

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