Sunday, November 14, 2004

Sunday blues

With our masthead declaring that our purpose is "to discuss issues arising in relation to the UK referendum on the constitutional treaty", we have interpreted our brief pretty widely – ignoring complaints from some Europhile readers that we have been too liberal (as one does).

Yet, despite our obvious interest in the subject, we have resisted the temptation to get embroiled in commenting on the Iraqi War, voluntarily confining ourselves to the margins where EU issues are involved. Even the comment in our previous post on Fallujah was limited to a discussion on the implications of the battle on British and EU defence policy.

Reviewing the newspapers this morning for the Blog, as one does – in order to select and post those stories that are of relevance to the debate – I could not avoid the leaden feeling of how dire they all were. With all the events in the world, it is somehow fitting that the story the media got most excited about was the demise of Mr Boris Johnson MP.

In a fit of the Sunday blues, one almost felt like going back to bed but, instead I did something useful for once, and swept the leaves from the garden.

Returning to the task of reading the papers, I reflected that the coverage of Fallujah, in times gone past when we had grown-up newspapers, would have been written up as a great feat of arms – as indeed it was. But what characterises the reports today is their maudlin, infantile sentimentality, their sheer, rank amateurishness and negativity.

Having spent the best part of the day yesterday reading through battle reports from media and other sources all over the globe, I got no sense of what had transpired from the British press.

While the Sunday Times headline concentrates on the suicide bombers who have escaped, not untypical of the more general coverage is the report in The Observer which focuses on the plight of the civilians, the "private doubts" of (unnamed) "senior military officers in Britain and the US" about the effects of the battle.

This is interspersed with scarce-concealed admiration for the "insurgents" (i.e., head-hacking murderers) who have surprised US troops by their ingenuity. "Aware that their communications can be listened to by the American soldiers, they have used flags to concentrate their attacks." Wow.

No reports, of course, of the ingenuity of US troops using unmanned aircraft (UAVs) equipped with video cameras to detect armed head-hackers on the roofs, with satellite links that enable their co-ordinates to be beamed down to gunners some ten miles away who can then, minutes later, unleash precision ordnance on them, leaving unharmed US troops not yards away.

If dear reader, you now feel that I am breaking the bounds of the "EU Referendum" brief, bear with me because this is not about Fallujah. It is about the infantilisation of the media.

The point, of course – as I so often say – is that if you have a media that is so distorted and so incapable of anything close to objective reporting, whether in what it says or does not say, then we have a serious problem on our hands. Developing that point, if I was in the position of designing a newspaper, to which stories would I give more prominence?

One contender might be one which has – rightly - attracted some attention from the Eurosceptic community today. That is the page two story in The Sunday Times which reports that ministers are considering whether European Union citizens who live in Britain should be allowed to vote in the referendum on the EU constitution.

Many of the 1.3m citizens of other EU countries who have made their homes here are believed to be likely to vote for greater integration, so the story goes, and their inclusion could boost Tony Blair’s “Yes” campaign.

I would, without hesitation, elevate the stories in the Booker column not least because this week he deals with yet another development in the on-going saga of the asbestos "rip-off".

For some considerable time now, Booker has been a lone voice on this issue, and today he reminds us that the bill just for surveying and sampling Britain's social housing stock for asbestos has been estimated at £2 billion, a rediculous impostion, made worse by the EU's insistence in including white asbestos in its legislation, alongside the harmful types.

Then there is his story about the bizarre crisis facing a firm in Oswestry, Shropshire, run by the celebrated Swedish balloonist Per Lindstrand, who has been blocked from selling his own “aerostat” balloons, by a combination of EU law and inept British bureaucracy.

This is followed by a story about how Trading Standards Officers are taking the law into their own hands in their bid to expunge Imperial measurements from English life and then Booker picks up on a story trailed in this Blog about China supporting the EU constitution. Strangely, or perhaps not, this has not been reported anywhere in the mainstream media until now.

However, the story I would have put straight on the front page was in fact tucked away on page 2 of the business section of the Sunday Telegraph. Headed "Talks on naval shipyard merger in hot water".

I doubt whether many people gave this story even a second glance. It has actually been a long-standing saga, as the government has for some time been encouraging defence shipbuilders to merge. But, with the industry on the point of doing a deal, what electrified me was the news of the rumour that the government is insisting that “stakeholders” for the merged company should include Thales, the French defence giant.

One industry executive has said: "The Government have thrown a hand grenade into the discussions. Thales don't even own any shipyards in the UK." But it is much more than that – it is more of the defence integration by stealth agenda, highlighted in one of our earlier postings.

What is terrifying is that the media have failed completely to even notice what is going on, much less report it.

Finally, one thing I thought some of the papers got about right was the Arafat "missing money" story, although I would have given more prominence to the EU's involvement. Here, I did appreciate the story in The Sunday Telegraph, headed "That money belongs to the Palestinians, not to him", and the comment about Christopher Patten the EU commissioner for external affairs, who had resisted scrutiny of EU funding alleged to have been misused by Arafat.

So, that was my Sunday. The leaves are cleared, but the blues remain.

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