Sunday, January 09, 2005

The Booker column

In his column today, Booker leads on: "Tory plan to salvage Britain's fisheries". For once, on the fishing front, he is able to write good news, that the Tories - in the shape of shadow fisheries minister Owen Paterson MP – have at least come up with a paper on the future of Britain's fisheries.

In the past year Paterson has visited all those countries round the Atlantic where, in striking contrast to the unrelieved disaster of the CFP, fisheries are flourishing. In the US, Canada, Iceland, the Faroes, Norway and even the Falklands, he has seen how it is possible to run an effective management regime, based on sound science, that allows fishermen to prosper and fish stocks to grow.

Now, in a detailed consultation document, he sets out for the first time how the practical methods used so successfully elsewhere in the world could be applied to the waters around Britain.

The political implications of such a course, Booker writes, are enormous. But the choice is now clear. If fish stocks and what survives of our fishing industry are to be saved, here is the only policy to offer hope of a way out of that ramshackle, corrupt, unreformable system that has been arguably the EU's greatest single blunder. Let the debate begin, he concludes.

The paper is actually embargoed until tomorrow so we cannot review it yet. However, we will be looking at it in detail on Monday.

Booker’s second story is also piece if good news, in that the Prescott regional assembly machine looks finally to be heading off the rails.

A leaked report for the Association of North-East Councils (Anec) suggests the rug should now be pulled from under the existing, unelected regional assembly as well: by sacking its two most senior officials and disassociating the assembly from Anec, which has been underwriting it to the tune of £850,000 a year.

Thirdly, Booker takes on the BBC over its coverage of the tsunami disaster. Headed "'Don't mention the navy' is the BBC's line", his story rehearsed the litany of complaint familiar to our readers about the BBC’s biased coverage of the relief effort, studiously ignoring what was by far the most effective and dramatic response to Asia's tsunami disaster – the effort put in by the US Navy.

When even Communist China's news agency tells us more about what is really going on than the BBC, we see just how strange the world has become, writes Booker.

One real lesson of this disaster, as of others before, is that all the international aid in the world is worthless unless one has the hardware and organisational know-how to deliver it. That is what the US and Australia have been showing, as the UN and the EU are powerless to do. But because, to the BBC, it is a case of "UN and EU good, US and military bad", the story is suppressed. The BBC's performance has become a national scandal.

I can only add that the Saturday coverage by the BBC was by far the worst so far. It managed to do a round-up of all the disaster areas, without mentioning the US relief effort once, despite a longish piece shot in Banda Aceh which, courtesy of Diplomad, we know has been equipped and is being run by the Americans.

Yet, on the day that the USS Bonhomme Richard started work in earnest, the BBC found time to do a long "puff" on HMS Chatham, showing endless footage of matelots clearing rubble. Nice to see our lads in action, but the US forces deserve at least a mention. Not least, helicopters from the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier group had their biggest aid delivery day, bringing 125,000 pounds of food, water and other supplies to Aceh aboard 15 helicopters.

But this was also the day when, unfortunately, US forces in Iraq accidentally bombed the wrong target in Mosul, killing up to 14 citizens. No reticence here: a gloating BBC could hardly wait to rush in the story, running it as its number two item, pontificating with scarce-concealed glee that this would "reinforce anti-American feeling".

The BBC comes in for some more flak in Booker’s fourth and final story, about how this dire organisation has got the wrong end of the stick on wind turbines. As Booker says, its performance has become a national scandal.

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