Friday 30 December 2011

My big five news stories of 2011

I've been reading a lot of end of year reviews these last few days, so I thought I should look back at some of the big stories of the year. I've decided to make a list of my top 5 stories.

In no particular order the big stories for me have been the revolutions that have swept through the Arab world this year. 2011 will be seen as an historical year in the Middle East, similar to that of 1989 with the collapse of communist governments all across Eastern Europe.

In Europe we've had the Euro crisis, which removed Prime Ministers in Italy and Greece, and is still threatening to break up the Euro altogether.

In the UK, we saw some of the worst riots in over 25 years. When I think back the event was truly shocking, it felt as if the police and the government had lost control and the mob had taken over.

Sticking with the UK, I've been following the phone hacking story for a few years now, but it really blew up in 2011. When I first heard about the story I could never imagine it would mean the end of the iconic news paper the News of the World.

And finally, it seems ages ago now, there was the huge earthquake and Tsunami in Japan in March. What made this story so big and poignant for me is that Japan is a hugely advanced and sophisticated society that was brought to its knees by this natural disaster. I read somewhere that this was Japan's equivalent of 9/11 - I thought that was a great comparison.

There's my big 5, of course there's so many more I could have mentioned, the death of Osama Bin Laden, The Royal Wedding, the 99% movement, there's been too many great stories.

Let me know your big stories of the year.

The Arab Spring

What's stood out about this year's revolutions in the Arab is that they're not the result of Islamic extremists, the revolutions have been driven by the people who want greater freedoms and democracy.

For me the most iconic and perhaps disturbing image that sums up the revolution was seeing Colonel Gaddafi's bloodied and battered body just before his death. He was the classic type of dictator that you thought would never lose power of Libya.

The Arab spring story has now moved onto Syria, which is now on the verge of civil war. It's hard to see how President Assad can return the country to it's pre 2011 state. The wind of change sweeping through the region can't be pushed back.

The Euro Zone Crisis

If the Euro Zone crisis has taught me anything its this. A lot of the old certainties and beliefs that many of us living in Western Europe have had are perhaps over.

I get the feeling that we all just believed that our economies would keep growing and as nations we would keep getting richer and more prosperous.

We all had stable democratic governments which gave us an advantage over other countries in the world. By uniting together in closer economic and political union would only make Europe richer and stronger.

Well how wrong we were.

Europe faces years of austerity, lack of economic growth, jobs for young people and a decline in living standards for millions. This wasn't how it was meant to be at all.

Europe's political leaders have let their people down. They promised and created growth with unsustainable levels of borrowing, and now the party's over.

We've seen financial markets lose confidence in the ability of leaders in Greece and Italy to impose measures to reduce their country's debts, and now the likes of Berlusconi have now been removed from office. Hardly democracy in action; what about the views of the people?

Many people in Europe and also in the UK are going to feel poorer and when you look at the likes of China, Brazil, and India it feels like Europe is in decline and our economic power won't be the same again.

The London riots

I remember turning on my tv on Monday night back in August and seeing the town of Croydon, South London appear to be on fire. I thought' "What is going on?'

There's a view that says rioting is the way of people who don't have a voice to protest. I do agree with this belief, I just don't accept that there was any political motivation in this year's London riots.

Much of it was pure criminality and people making the most of a 'once in a lifetime opportunity' to rob and cause havoc.

Even though I don't believe the rioters had a specific message to say, the riots have raised a number of issues. We have a whole swath of people in this country who have been marginalized and alienated to the point that they're almost living parallel lives to the rest of us.

Many of the people convicted for rioting offences already had previous criminal convictions, it's likely that most of them have few if no qualifications, and have rarely held down full time jobs.

People like this have nothing to lose and don't believe they have any stake in society, which explains why they're happy to destroy shops and buildings in their own communities.

They're are so many things that need to be done to prevent similar riots taking place again, but I'd like to think that as a country we won't sit back anymore and happily ignore a growing underclass that has no hope or aspiration - then be surprised when start they rioting like they did in August.

Phone Hacking/Leveson Inquiry

The phone hacking is one story that refuses to go away. It's been around now for the last few years, but 2011 was the year it really made a break through in the public's conscious.

I keep hearing the opinion that when phone hacking centered around hacking phones of celebrities, people weren't too bothered. They're celebrities it goes with the territory seems to have been the view.

That all changed when it was discovered that the families of murder victims like Milly Dowler were also targeted. When I first heard about that story I immediately thought the press (well the News of the World) had gone too far!

That revelation was even too much for the Murdoch's and the News of the World was closed after 168 years! I admit I always used to read the NoW. For all the good and bad things you can say about the paper, it was a great part of Britain's press and popular culture history.

In the aftermath of the hacking scandal we now have the Leveson inquiry looking into press standards and ethics.

It's still on going, but if you asked me what we've learned so far, it's that there's a nasty, cynical, and bullying aspect to our tabloid press that's become out of control. It's been there for a number of years now, but I don't think it's been put in the spotlight in quite this way.

Despite the behaviour of our tabloid press, I still have a huge passion for journalism and the important role it can play in society. We shouldn't let one specific form of journalism taint the entire profession.

The Japan Earthquake

I traveled to Japan 9 years ago towards the end of 2001, I went to visit my cousin who lives out there.

I found Japan the most interesting and fascinating place I've ever been to. I find that whenever something tragic happens like an earthquake disaster, if it happens somewhere you're familiar with or have knowledge of, the story can have an even greater impact on you.

This is how I felt with Japan's earthquake. Here was one of the world's richest and most advanced countries facing its worst crisis since the Second World War.

Earthquakes are a feature of everyday life in Japan and there are always minor tremors, but nobody was expecting anything like March's quake. If that wasn't bad enough, there was then the Tsunami and the leak at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Despite some of the more critical reports in the Western media, I thought the Japanese handled the crisis remarkably well, and have dealt with disaster in a very Japanese, quiet and dignified manner.

Thursday 22 December 2011

The lonely dictator

Earlier this week I saw this video that was featured in a report about the life of North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il who died this week.

I think the video was featured on Channel 4 news, but it made me laugh - just the thought of the world's most bizarre dictator singing about how lonely it is being head of the secretive state that is North Korea.

When it comes to international relations, North Korea is like the weird strange kid at school who nobody really understands and no one wants to be friends with.

Normally a country like North Korea shouldn't cause the world so much problems, but as a state it's slightly disfunctional, nobody understands why it acts in the way it does. But being a country with nuclear weapons nobody can really mess with it.

Kim Jong Il's third son is meant to be taking over, so we shall see if under his leadership North Korea can start making friends around the world.

Monday 12 December 2011

To veto or not to veto

I'm still struggling to decide whether or not I think David Cameron's decision to use the veto at last week's EU Summit is a good or bad thing for the UK.

I think the main problem is we just don't know at the moment and it could be months even years before we see the true consequences of this decision.

I have to say I'm not comfortable with the thought of the UK being pushed to the margins of European politics. We're now the outsider and we won't be able to take part in major EU debates where decisions will be made that will still have a huge influence on the UK both politically and economically.

Surely it's better to be inside the big tent having some sort of influence rather then looking in from the sidelines?

That's the one thing I'm not happy about, but then another part of me thinks that it's good we're excising our own independence and acting in our own national interest.

I would never describe myself as a Eurosceptic, but I do have doubts about how much economic and political integration you can have before things start to become undemocratic. I'm all for the UK being a major player in Europe but it shouldn't be at the expense of being able to make your own decisions.

Cameron's decision certainly haven't done his standings within the Conservative Party any harm.

Many on the Tory right have been sceptical about everything Cameron has stood for, ever since he become Tory leader, but by using the veto, he's managed to bring this wing of the party onside.

Obviously the main downside to this is that the Tories are in a coalition government and have the small problem of the Lib Dems to think about.

People are already suggesting the future of the coalition is at risk, but it was only a matter of time before something in Europe highlighted the differences between the two parties, so this isn't really a surprise.

I suppose after last week's historic decision, it's a case of lets see and wait until we find out whether Cameron was right or wrong.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Euro 2012 Draw: England will do well to get out of the group

Call me cynical if you want, but England's draw in Friday's Euro 2012 draw is far from easy. Remember this is England we're talking about.

Admittedly it could have been a lot worse, we've avoided playing the likes of Spain and Holland in the group stages, but a group containing Sweden, France, and Ukraine could still cause England lots of problems.

On paper we should get out of the group, but lets look back at last year's World Cup in South Africa. We couldn't even top a group featuring the football 'heavyweights' of Algeria, Slovenia and the USA!

Group D in next year's Euro's is much tougher than that. When have we ever beaten France in a competitive match? I can't remember.

We all know we never beat Sweden, despite last month's friendly result. That will end in a draw as it always does. And finally there's the co-hosts Ukraine. The weakest team in the group but with home support you can't take anything for granted.

Even if England get out of the group, we're probably looking at a potential quarter final with either Spain or Italy. Ideally you'd prefer to play Italy, but again it would require England to knock out one of the games major powers which we simply never do!

I really enjoy football's European Championships. The standard's better than the World Cup. There's no messing about - you get heavyweight clashes straight away. Holland/Germany, Spain/Italy I can't wait. It's ridiculous that Uefa has decided to increase the number of teams to 24 for 2016, thereby increasing the level of mediocrity.

England getting out the group will be acceptable followed by a respectable defeat in the Quarter finals.

My advice to England fans is don't be fooled again, we know we're not good enough. A few entertaining games and a honorable defeat will be enough for me.

Saturday 3 December 2011

The Leveson Inquiry

In the last few weeks I've been following closely the Leveson Inquiry that's taking place looking into press standards and ethics.

We've seen a number of celebrities, members of the public and journalists give evidence, lifting the lid on some of the unsavory ways the tabloid press operates - as well as how it intrudes into the private lives of celebrities and members of the public.

Some mornings I've been in a newsagents and I've looked at the front pages of the national newspapers to see what they're covering - very few have featured the inquiry on their front pages.

Leveson Inquiry? What Leveson Inquiry? lets just bury our heads in the sand and pretend none of this is really happening. The Press make me laugh some days.

Well it is happening and the image of the tabloids and journalism in general couldn't get any lower.

What the inquiry has revealed is an element of tabloid journalism that's out of control. A bullying, intimidating nasty form of journalism that uses tactics more familiar with those used by the secret police in the old Communist Eastern bloc countries in the Cold War.

I think the inquiry has helped shift public perception a little. When it came to the rich and famous, there was an opinion that celebs shouldn't complain too much about press intrusion as they regularly court the media and the press when it suits them.

That's a fair point, but what the inquiry along with the phone hacking scandal has shown is that both celebrities and ordinary members of the public have experienced press intrusion that simply isn't acceptable, warranted or even in the public interest.

Yet despite the terrible image journalism currently has, I still feel a huge sense of passion for journalism and the important role a free press can play in a democratic society.

It's important to remember, tabloid journalism doesn't define the entire profession of journalism. To me it's almost a separate branch of journalism which needs to get its house in order following this inquiry.

Maybe I'm being overly optimistic in thinking that people will separate tabloid journalism from other forms of journalism but they should.

As for independent press regulation, I'm naturally against it but the tabloids have acted so irresponsibly they've given the impression that they can't regulate themselves.

The Press Complaints Commission is charged with enforcing the code of practice for the press, and in theory this should work - the only problem is that it just isn't enforced strongly enough.

It's hard to say whether the Leveson inquiry will make any difference to the culture of tabloid journalism, I hope it does but at the moment I don't see what actions can be taken to curb some of the more unsavory actions of the press.