Monday, August 03, 2015

How can we get newspapers to be more truthful?

It is clear to everyone except influential members of the Conservative and Labour parties that Britain's democracy is in a desperate state. Everyone with a functioning brain can see that our electoral system is shot.

But there is more than the electoral system to be fixed.

In 2013 Ipsos Mori did a study on misperception.
Here is a summary:

Issue                           Public Belief (%)                 Reality (%)

Teen pregnancy         16%                                      0.6
Crime                         Rising                                   Falling
JSA spend                  More than pension               15x less than pension
Benefit fraud             24                                          0.7
Foreign aid                Top item in Govt spend       1.1% of Govt spend
Muslim %                  25                                         5
Immigrants %.           31                                         13

Note that the misperception is biased in the direction of the right wing agenda - itself a reflection of the fact that 3 out of 4 newspaper readers is reading a right wing newspaper.

What can we do about this? The first reaction is to despair, since even the mild recommendations of Leveson are rejected by the newspaper industry.

At present, there is no obligation on newspapers to present the truth. This needs to change, and the data presented above give us a handle on the situation. From this kind of work, we could create an Index of Public Perception (IPP). By picking up on the public's understanding of a few key and robust facts, starting with the kind of figures presented above, we can get a handle on what the public is being given. If the Index shows that the public's knowledge is getting more accurate, the media is performing better, and vice versa.

So far so good. Next - how do we get the press to improve the IPP?

In the first place, publication of the IPP will make the public more aware of media distortions. However, the media are unlikely to publish the IPP, especially if it is adverse.

So Government could  bring sanctions proportional to the IPP.
Penalties could be imposed on the industry generally if the IPP is falling. However, this would be unfair to newspapers which were trying to be truthful. Therefore the polling would have to include questions about which newspaper the respondent was taking, and penalties would be allocated on a paper-by-paper basis.  This could be distorted however, as respondents could lie about which paper they took.

Another way would be to look at the actual content of the newsprint, to see how often the true statistic is included in pieces concerning the topic.

Any and all of these proposals will be actively (not to say hysterically) resisted by newspapers, who will characterise any attempt for them to write more truthfully as a Commie style attack on press freedom. There is no avoiding this reaction, this is just how the tabloid editors will play it.  If they do not like the method suggested, let them come up with a better suggestion, because the bottom line is that a functioning democracy requires a truthful press, and democracy is the basis of all our freedoms, including freedom of the press.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

How to resolve the Calais problem?

The shambles in Calais cannot continue.

First, we need to orient ourselves. There is a useful picture presented on the HuffPost here. And in the Mirror here.

Briefly, there are some 60 million displaced people in the world. That's 1% of us. The main causes are war, conflict, oppression, and (increasingly) the inability of the environment to support them. -
In Greece, (which is overwhelmed, given its proximity to a war zone, and its dire financial state) 61% come from Syria and 21% are Afghan.

212,000 refugees entered Europe in 2014.
Of these, Germany took 100,000 and the UK took 20,000 - so the paranoid fantasies of Daily Mail style journalism, ("they're coming here to take advantage of our benefits"), is untrue.

Why the problem in Calais? Because we are not part of the Schengen agreement, so we still have border controls. People wanting to come to the UK - because they have a connection with Britain, or relatives in Britain, or speak English - are held up at the border.

This is a complex situation. The best way to deal with complexity is to look at all the options, then reject the impossible ones, so that we are left with the possibilities.

Option 1
Capture them all and send them back to where they came from.
This is the right wing option. It leaves humanity out of the picture altogether, and will cause suicide, and violent protests from the refugees and also at home.
Not an option.

Option 2
Regularise the situation by creating a formal camp with billets and facilities, where people's applications are processed.
This is possible, but will immediately be dubbed a "Concentration Camp" by critics and journalists.
This name itself is enough to make sure that it is not an option.

Option 3
Just let them all in.
This is the open border option favoured by many Green Party members.  "We are all humans, nations are just social constructs, let them in unconditionally, in the name of humanity".

The problem lies in the term "social construct". There is a firm majority of people in Britain who are dead set against open borders, against immigration per se. Yes, this sentiment is media-generated and unrealistic, but it it nevertheless also real, and given that the vast majority of the media and politicians are against it, it simply ain't going to happen.
Not an option.

Option 4
Process applications to identify those who have a Right of Asylum in accordance with Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution".

The UK can use its office already on French soil to collect data on those who are running from persecution. At the same time, we can obtain the histories of those who may not necessarily be persecuted, but who would face persecution and or death if they were returned.

This is an option, especially if combined with Option 5.

Option 5
Address the causes of migration.

The Government is talking about a clampdown on the gangsters who profit from the trafficking of immigrants. This is difficult but not impossible.

Addressing the root causes of migration means long term action in the UN, addressing these factors:

  1. Dictators, through the Global Human Rights Index
  2. Wars over separatism
  3. Islamic extremism
  4. Climate change (since it will cause wars and ecological collapse)
  5. Sustainable economic development (to reduce the gap between rich and poor in countries and between countries)
  6. Population growth (since it is impossible to expand forever into a finite space)
The solutions in the links above are not the end of the debate, but they are the beginning.

So there are sensible, practical humane things we can do to address the situation in Calais, and in solving the Calais problem we will be making the world a much better place.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Dictators - the main cause of war in 2015

There has been a slight shift in the causes of current wars.

Last time I looked, in August 2015, separatism (one regional group wishing to be an autonomous state) was the cause of 50% of then-current wars. Before that, in 2008, separatism was a major cause in  30%, 

Now, July '15, separatism has slipped back to 30% again.

These figures could be disputed by experts and scholars. All wars are complex, and motivations and causal factors of all kinds are mixed into every war and conflict. Nevertheless, we can discern major factors in each situation.

Of the 13 wars  happening in 2015 that have death rates above 1,000 last year, dictators (either currently in power or recently removed) is a major cause in 8, and religion is operative in 5.

So about 60% of current wars have dictators involved in their causation in one way or another.

Here they are:

  1. Iraq (Saddam gave Bush/Blair their excuse to invade)
  2. Syria (dictator in place, resisting overthrow)
  3. Israel-Palestine (dictatorial attitudes by elected Governments)
  4. Somalia (more than 20 years after dictator was overthrown)
  5. Libya
  6. Yemen (post dictatorship)
  7. Sinai (post dictator)
  8. Central African Republic 
The thing with dictators is that they can hold a territory in a kind of unity through repression, but inevitably, after a generation or two, revolution or civil war takes place. Resentment in people who are not part of the ruling class or ruling tribe or clan builds up and finally explodes into demonstrations and then conflict. After the overthrow of the dictator and his group, there tends to be conflict from settling of scores, and conflict between groups who had been kept at peace through repressive means. 

We learn two things from this situation: first, the UN needs to put in place measures to discourage the formation of dictatorships, and second, we need ways and means of persuading dictators to make the journey back to democracy.

The Green Party - and also the Global Greens -  have adopted an instrument that will help achieve the first goal. It is called the Global Index of Human Rights.  It is fiendishly simple. The human rights performance of every state in the world is measured and the results are published annually by the UN. This creates a continuous, gentle pressure on all states to improve their record, and the very worst performing states, and those who are moving down the league table can be offered advice and help to change direction, backed by targeted sanctions if they are uncooperative.

In the case of specific established dictators who are overtly harming their populations, a tariff of measures can be used to persuade them to change. Search "Appendix 1" on the Global Index page.

So there is a non-violent way to prevent and treat dictatorships.

Some politically interested individuals are so traumatised by past foreign policy failures, for instance in the Iraq war, they simply argue that every country should be left to itself to determine its own way. This new laissez-faire attitude is not Green. We cannot sit back and allow oppression, political imprisonment, torture, killings, migration and eventually civil war to take place as if it is nothing to do with us. The world is one world. The Green way has always been to "think globally". Laissez-faire is not an option for us.

Humanity and the need for global political harmony require that we become involved in positive, non-violent ways to contain dictators in order to prevent war.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Zoological Questions

Does a truffle hound go snuffle
When it's looking out for truffles?
Would a wombat bat a Womble if it met one?

These are the kind of questions
a zoologist could answer
But it's really really difficult to get one.

  1. Richard Lawson