DAY 96: Wed 17 June

The Kurds, the Murdoch press, and Contagion – thank goodness for the garden.

A good sleep and a slow emergence. Breakfast of poached eggs on home-made sun-dried tomato bread washed down with a mug of strong tea. 

Watching the news on al Jazeera i was appalled to hear that Turkey has attacked Kurdish units in northern Iraq allegedly with the active support of the Iranians and the tacit consent of the administration in the Kurdish autonomous region. Turkey is not concerned whether they are targeting strongholds of the Kurdish People’s Party (PKK) or the Peshmerga (those willing to face death) who defend the autonomous region. Yet Kurdish units have proved the most effective in combating Daesh (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.

I feel for the Kurds, a distinct ethnic group who have for thousands of years inhabited a region spreading from what is now northern Turkey south into the north of modern day Syria and Iraq and east into northern Iran. They have been given short shrift by western powers. When the Ottoman Empire was disbanded after the first world war, they were recognised to have their own land under the Treaty of Sevres in 1920. But Kemal Ataturk immediately led a Turkish War of Independence, and the Allies quietly forgot the Kurds when they sued for peace and conceded to the current borders of modern day Turkey (Treaty of Lausanne, 1923). 

Any demands for autonomy by Kurds in Turkey have been met with opposition and oppression from the state. Inevitably such persecution has led to guerrilla activity which in turn has led to the outlawing of the PKK as a ‘terrorist group’ by Turkey, the USA and the UK. All such concerns were forgotten when Kurdish fighters proved themselves so effective in he war against Daesh. The Americans were happy to arm them, only to turn the other way, and withdraw its protective presence, when Turkey announced it would move against those who had effectively created a safe corridor to the south of it borders. Hypocrisy is not just a human trait, it is also a death sentence. Instead of being, as they once were, an ethnic majority in a multicultural region, the Kurds are now an ethnic minority in four different countries, with many thousands living in exile elsewhere.

I have worked with Kurdish journalists and was engaged in efforts to develop the media landscape in Iraqi Kurdistan, but political instability in Iraq and the civil war in Syria and a massive influx of refugees have stymied the efforts of the government there to build sustainable social structures and a stable economy. These latest atrocities can only set them back even further, while the world has more important things to do.

I will not say that I wasted the morning, but much of it was spent watching part 2 of Channel 4’s excellent Murder in the Car Park. This extended documentary tells a compelling story of links between the police and both the underworld and the mainstream press. The stench of corruption and collusion almost oozes through the screen. This is what Leveson 2 was supposed to examine, but David Cameron’s cowardly decision not to proceed is yet another example of the problematic relationship between those in power and key elements of the mainstream press, notably those controlled by Rupert Murdoch.

As the co-ordinator of the Special Parliamentary Hearings into Clive Soley’s Freedom and Responsibility of the Press Bill back in 1992 I helped to compile evidence of the damage that unethical behaviour by journalists and editors had done to individuals and families and organisations. It led to the creation of PressWise (now MediaWise) set up by ‘victims of press abuse’ to provide support and advice to those seeking redress for inaccurate, intrusive for otherwise unethical behaviour by media professionals. 

As Director, I have been witness to countless examples of the tragic consequences of improper and unlawful abuses of the power of the press, venal relationships with private investigators and public servants including the police, the ineptitude of the regulators, and the lily-livered responses of many politicians. As someone who believes in the essential value of journalism to sustaining open democracy, I have never favoured statutory controls of the press, but I do believe that unlawful acts in pursuit of a headline and harassment of members of the public for salacious stories is unacceptable, and needs to be curbed. That means a sufficiently independent form of regulation able to name, shame and fine if necessary. 

Our credo at MediaWise is that ‘Press freedom is a responsibility exercised by journalists on behalf of the public.’ As journalists we have both the right to investigate and question but also duties to the public in whose name we carry out our work. We’re not above the law and when we break it, without a strong public interest defence, we must be subject to the same sanctions any other members of the public – otherwise we become part of an elite. The only special right we have is really a duty anyway – and that is to protect sources who supply information in confidence.

I don’t know how many times I have presented evidence to parliamentary inquiries and select committees in the hope that they might take some action about the unacceptable face of British journalism in defence of the rights of the citizenry. (Try this for instance, from back in 2003 http://www.mediawise.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Stop-the-Rot-pdf.pdf After more than a quarter of a century beating my head against a brick wall, I have all but given up. I still handle the odd complaint and spend a quarter of my pension storing our files and reseach library (anybody out there willing to take the books and videos off my hands?)

[I just ran up stairs and changed into a tracksuit and managed to put both my socks on while standing. Does that count as exercise? (I am in agony now because I forgot about the pulled muscle in my side.) Oh, and how many times am I supposed to clean my bedroom during lockdown? I have a sneaky feeling that once is not enough.]

Fresh from the garden today – basil, black kale, coriander, fennel, kohl rabi, spinach, swiss chard and the first cucumber and gooseberries of the season. One minute there is thunder, then rain, then sunshine. So I am back inside.

The insults to the public come thick and fast from this government. Johnson now wants to paint his airplane red, white and blue at a cost to the public purse of some £900,000. We are used to him splashing the cash on pointless gesture – remember the millions wasted on the garden bridge? And then, all of a sudden we learn that the smart phone app that is supposed to provide Britain with a world-beating track and trace system will not be ready until the end of the year! It was supposed to be rolled out nationwide to keep everyone safe once glitches had been sorted after trials on the Isle of Wight. It was supposed to accompany the gradual lifting of the lockdown. The lifting of lockdown has gone ahead and this app, once considered to be crucial, is now merely the cherry on top of cake, and if we are lucky it might have to be a Christmas cake.   

Meanwhile Culture Secretary and Tory twit Oliver Dowden cannot resist having a pop at teachers’ unions and the leader of the Labour Party for not enthusiastically supporting the return of children to school. Not a very collegiate way to proceed. Parents and teachers have genuine concerns about the safety of filling the limited and largely enclosed spaces of school with children who have not been with their mates for a long time.

Now the storm has really broken, the skies have closed in and the garden and the pond are soaking up the rain. Lightning and thunder add an electric atmosphere. I watched Part 3 of Murder in the Car Park once the storm prevented me from working in the garden. Gripping stuff, though plenty oo unanswered questions. I wonder how the protagonists feel about its broadcast. My viewing was interrupted by a Facetime call from grandchildren 3 and 4, always a welcome treat for them for me, if not for them, before they go to bed. 

Later I caught myself watching Contagion. I have no idea why, and I am not convinced I shall finish it (I did), but it certainly was incredibly prescient. I understand is one of the most watched movies of the year. Some people are gluttons for punishment, including me it would seem. Now I need some ice cream (it is very muggy) and something light hearted before I head for bed.

And suddenly there is a yelp from the kitchen. My house guest has spied water running across the the floor from behind the cooker. We shift it to mind that a frying pan has lipped down and knocked the valve on an old mains pipe which must once have been for a sink or washing machine. Water is pouring out. A mere touch of the valve and it squirts almost to the ceiling. Good mains pressure obviously. It takes a long while adjusting the valve to stop the flow. Since I am in lockdown I shall have to work out how best to get a cap for the pipe. Getting in a plumber could prove VERY expensive. Let’s hope the kitchen isn’t flooded in the morning. Goodnight!

2 Comments

  1. I enjoyed reading this, Mike. Injustice is a death penalty and I have experienced this all my life… Hope the plumbing is sorted out! I just had a plumber fixing my bathroom that I have not been able to use for several days:-( Take care and keep safe. xx

  2. Gosh, what a lot of information in his one. It has taken a while for my head to take it all in. Very interesting background information about the Kurds. I have heard so many good things about their culture over the decades – their commitment to democracy, the position of women as equals etc. there are a number of Kurdish refugees here in the North East, some of whom are good friends (the women), great, strong, warm people.
    Great news about all the veg. I have had a try growing veg in pots during the lock down with mixed success (mostly failure). But there is chard, the courgettes are doing fine and peppers inside in the bedroom and an aubergine plant are fine.
    Perhaps the Tories will get rid of BJ by Christmas – what would have to happen for there to be another election?

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