Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘The Guardian’

UK Press Coverage of the EU Referendum

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st September, 2016

eu-referendum-uk-pressBritish newspapers are notoriously partisan, which is a polite way of saying politically biased. But do they actually influence the way people think and vote, or rather do readers gravitate to titles that reflect their own opinions? It has often been argued that the latter is the case, which might suggest that the bias does not really matter, yet when so much of the UK Press argued for Brexit, I couldn’t help wondering if that contributed significantly to the narrow vote to leave the EU. So I was pleased to be able to attend a seminar last night at Europe House, headquarters of the European Commission and European Parliament London representation, to listen to a panel discussing the findings of a report on UK Press coverage of the EU Referendum, published by the Reuters Institute for the study of Journalism in association with PRIME Research. The study, which looked at the Tuesday and Saturday editions of nine leading newspapers, found that 41% of the articles that focused on the referendum were pro-Leave whereas only 27% were pro-Remain. When the readership reach of the different newspapers was factored in, the imbalance was even more marked, as 48% were then identified as pro-Leave and only 22% pro-Remain. The study noted that Europe was not a particularly important issue for voters until 2010 and only became so after it was linked to immigration. The referendum campaign itself coincided with a decline in David Cameron’s popularity and the Remain campaign appeared unable or unwilling to articulate a positive vision for Britain’s EU membership instead focusing on the risks of Brexit. The Leave side then cleverly exploited what it dubbed Project Fear. The Remainers concentrated almost entirely on economic arguments whereas the Leavers gave more weight to matters such as sovereignty and migration. Neither side could claim to have told the unblemished truth, though the most egregious lie was the £350 million a week claim the Leave campaign could be saved by no longer paying in to the EU budget, instead spending the money on the embattled NHS. The Daily Express maintained a barrage of anti-EU migrant stories, though the reach and therefore impact of the Sun, the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph was more significant. The pro-Remain newspapers were essentially the Daily Mirror, the Guardian and the Financial Times, though interestingly polling results later showed that a significant number of Daily Mirror readers voted to Leave, underlining the social/economic class dimension to the vote.

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History Will Be Kinder to Nick Clegg

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th June, 2015

Nick Clegg 6There’s a poignant piece in tomorrow’s Guardian revealing that Nick Clegg seriously contemplated resigning as Leader of the Liberal Democrats following last year’s disastrous European and local election results as he feared he had become a liability. Reportedly he was told by senior colleagues that he had to hang on in there until this May’s equally disastrous General Election, when the number of LibDem MPs was slashed from 56 to just 8. I understand the angst he went through and can only applaud the vivacity with which he bounced back after May 2014. It was true that he had become toxic on the doorstep in many Labour-facing areas, thanks to the tuition fees shambles, but I think that history will be a lot kinder to him than the electorate has been. He was undoubtedly right to take the LibDems into Coalition in 2010 (despite what my dear, late friend Charles Kennedy thought), though a bit less of a bromance with David Cameron in the Rose Garden would have been a good idea. I wonder if Nick really realised just how brutal the Conservatives (including Cameron) can be, as witnessed by their tactics re the AV referendum and the 2015 General Election. Whoever wins the current LibDem leadership election (and as I have said I will be happy to serve under either, as I admire both, though I will give Norman Lamb my first preference) is going to have to rebrand the Party on the basis of its core values. Having known Nick Clegg for many years, I do not doubt his sincerely held belief in those values. But the European elections and the General Election were not really fought on those values, and had some very iffy messaging. I said at the time that I thought the slogan “We’re the Party of IN!” for the Euros was misguided; it should have been “We’re IN it to Fix It!”. Similarly, the bizarre late leitmotif of “neither left nor right” in the General Elections was unlikely to inspire anyone other than someone whose job it is to paint those white lines in the middle of the highway. There is currently a profound review of the General Election taking place, and I hope that as a (new) member of the Party’s Federal Executive I can have some useful input into that. But one thing I am certain is that Nick should not be the token fall-guy. Yes, he was party Leader and had to fall on his sword after 7 May. But he will be seen by historians as a man of decency and of courage.

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Why Assange Lost My Support

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 18th August, 2012

The British government, in common with most of its other European and North American counterparts, disapproved of Wikileaks, as they saw the phenomenon as undermining the way the world goes about its diplomatic business. As a journalist, I took a contrary view and thought that this enforced openness taught ordinary people a lot about how states do their business, officially and unofficially. I applauded the Guardian’s publication of Wikileaks material and the way that Editor Alan Rusbridger handled the whole affair. So for a while I was quite positive about Julian Assange, though I never saw him as a knight in shining white armour. But the allegations against him of sexual asault in Sweden concerned me, as did his resistance to extradition to help with investigations there. There is no reason to think Sweden would accede to a further extradition request, this time from the United States, relating to Wikileaks, if the matter concerned could lead to a potential death sentence under US law, though his most strident supporters claim the opposite. Anyway, I thought it was brave and rather noble of a group of wealthy or influential friends and supporters of his to put up bail for him so he could live in relative comfort as a houseguest at a country house rather than in jail while the wheels of the British law ground. But when he jumped bail and fled to the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, thereby dumping his friends and supporters in the shit and leaving them heavily out of pocket, I lost patience with him. Now he and his claque — including Ecuador’s President — are championing him as some sort of martyr for free speech, which he is not; his application for asylum was frankly absurd and he has become a self-publicist, playing to the gallery. There is a martyr in this whole business, however, and that is Bradley Manning, the poor young soldier who leaked a lot of the Wikileaks stuff while he was serving in Iraq. He has been languishing in a US prison, for much of the time in solitary confinement, yet his plight is largely ignored. That is where our sympathies should lie and our campaigning continue — for Manning’s release or at least civilised detention conditions for him.

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Toasting Mark Frankland

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 28th May, 2012

The loggia at the Chelsea Arts Club was heated by the beating sun and the chatter of predominantly Observer hacks, past and present, at a celebratory lunch today to remember the life. work and personality of Mark Frankland, the man who played the role of Honorary Elder Brother in my life. Sue Arnold — for long one of my favourite columnists — had arranged the venue and Robert Chesshyre compered the speeches, but it was Mark’s humanity, even beyond death, that galvanised such a good turout. Former Observer Editor Donald Trelford, who flew over from his home in Mallorca specially for the event, gave a witty but chivalrous account of Mark’s time with the paper (as well as with MI6), notably remembered for his spells in Vietnam and the Soviet Union. Neal Ascherson gave insights into Marks central and eastern European links and David Hindmarsh recounted intriguingly how a very young Mark had helped smuggle a young Pole out of his Communist homeland at the height of the Cold War. Bob Chesshyre then suggested that following the example of Quaker gatherings, other people present might feel moved to stand up and say a few words. Several did, including Martin Woollacott, formerly of the Guardian, an organ that was held in bad odour by many on the Observer for a while after the two’s merger. I said nothing, as I felt I had expressed what I wanted about my own relationship with Mark in the Guardian several weeks ago. Though he hated fuss and large gatherings, I think secretly he would have been rather pleased to know that he had been remembered, not a some vainglorious memorial service at St Brides or elsewhere, but a rather boozy, rather nice lunch of former colleagues at the Chelsea Arts Club.

Link: www.fobs.info

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Hacking Away at the Truth

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 2nd March, 2012

As Alan Rusbridger, Editor of the Guardian, declared in Oxford this evening, 2011 was an extraordinary year for his newspaper. It published huge extracts from the Wikileaks files, exposing elements of US Foreign Policy that astonished even longstanding hard-bitten hacks like myself. And later the true extent of illicit practices carried out by journalists from the News of the World and other parts of the Murdoch media empire became clear. That story is still rumbling on, as Lord Leveson chairs an Inquiry that has been hearing great quantities of testimony from witnesses about the level of corruption in the relationship between some of the media and the Police, as well as the widespread nature of phone-hacking. Delivering the 2012 Philip Geddes lecture — named after a young graduate from my alma mater St Edmund Hall, who became a journalist and was blown up by an IRA bomb in Harrods — Alan Rusbridger said that maybe as many as 5,800 people had had their phones hacked. Some of the more famous ones have, of course, extracted large sums in damages from News International. But it was probably the revelation that someone had even hacked the mobile phone of teenage murder victim Milly Dowler that really brought the opprobrium of the general public down on the heads of some of Murdoch’s senior employees. It was brave of the Guardian to persist in its inquiries, at a time when no other media were touching the story and Rusbridger himself was visited by both Met Commissioner John Stephenson and Yates of the Yard, who told him there was no substance to allegations and advised him to back off. As Rusbridger self-deprecatingly admitted, he does not look like a heroic figure, in the Ben Bradlee mould; one friend accurately, if unflatteringly, described him as resembling Harry Potter’s lonely uncle. But now the fruits of the Guardian’s hard work — and in particular of several indefatigable investigative journalists — have paid off. There are bound to be yet more scandalous revelations, and the Prime Minister David Cameron must be kicking himself for having chosen some unfortunate friends. But one positive thing that may come out of all this, Rusbridger argued, would be the creation of a press regulatory body with teeth. The Press Complaints Commission (PCC) has proved to be totally ineffectual. A new body could be called something like the Press and Media Standards Commission, Rusbridger suggested. And one of the first things it should review is what that fickle phrase ‘in the public interest’ means.

Link: www.geddesprize.co.uk

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Baha’i Seven on Trial

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 19th January, 2010

With all my political and media activities, I don’t always get to the Comments pages of my daily paper every day, but today I was glad to  pick up on Cherie Blair’s article on the Baha’i in Iran in a recent back issue of The Guardian. On 12 January the trial began of the so-called Baha’i Seven: seven prominent members of the Baha’i faith in Iran who have been accused of spying for Israel — a charge which, if validated could carry the death penalty. The case is, of course, monstruous, like so much in today’s Iran, where any sort of dissent or difference is likely to invite harsh retribution. The Baha’i faith began in Iran in the nineteenth century, but has been systematically persecuted since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 because of its eclectic nature, recognising that of God in prophets of all sorts of different religions. It is an essentially pacific religion, universal and based on human values of love and understanding. The Israel connection is largely because the most spectacular Baha’i religious site is in Haifa: a hillside garden arranged in tiers. It is important that the world keeps its eyes on the trial of the seven Baha’i leaders and deplores the maltreatment of Baha’i followers. The Iranian constitution permits freedom of religion, but alas the reality is quite different.

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Gaza, Giza and the Gorgeous Geezer

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th January, 2010

George Galloway, ‘Respect’ MP for Bethnal Greeen and Bow, has got himself into the news again by being thrown out of Egypt. Things are never dull where the former Big Brother spectacle is concerned. Predictably, news of his expulsion (for trying to return to Gaza, to which he had earlier been with an Palestinian solidarity aid convoy) has provoked a welter of reactions, from the adulatory to the damning. Just take a look at the comments after the relevant news article in today’s Guardian online (www.guardian.co.uk) to get a flavour. I am sure that when he next visits Tower Hamlets he will give a stirring speech full of righteous outrage.

The sad thing is that, not for the first time, the personality and performance of Mr Galloway is actually detracting from the cause which he genuinely supports. The aid convoys to Gaza have been a very worthy endeavour, bringing practical relief to a population which has suffered a prolonged blockade and military assault (including another air attack today). There are some very fine people involved in the current convoy, including some of my friends from Waltham Forest Palestine Solidarity Committee.

The Egyptians have behaved badly by making the convoy go through geographical contortions to get to Gaza at all. But what is needed is strong diplomatic pressure from Britain on Cairo to be more sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Annoying them so much that they expel you from the country is not helpful, alas, George. But of course it is all good publibity for the man who now hopes to bring his political show to my home constituency of Poplar and Limehouse.

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Clegg’s Clear Stance on Gaza

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th December, 2009

Tomorrow human rights activists around the world will be commemorating — but certainly not celebrating — the first anniversary of Israel’s Operation Cast Lead against the population of Gaza. As was made clear in the report by Judge Richard Goldstone and his UN team, there is sufficient evidence to warrant investigations into both the Israeli Defense Force and Hamas on charges of war crimes. Several senior Israeli politicians amd military leaders are theoretically at risk of being arrested when they traval abroad, though many Western governments have reassured them that they will in fact be safe from prosecution. Just as Israel has consistently violated the Geneva Conventions and other instruments of international law — not least by the construction of illegal settlements in the West Bank and the systematic judaisation of East Jerusalem — without any effective international sanction. The British government has been shameful in its relative silence, mouthing token protests at settlement activity, for example, without doing anything pratical to bring Israel to heel — including putting pressure on Washington. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu got a noticeably warm welcome from Gordon Brown when he visited 10 Downing Street a while back.

There is only one mainstream British political party, the Liberal Democrats (and only one party leader, Nick Clegg).  that can hold its head up high on the Palestinian issue, not only for endorsing the Goldstone Report but also for reminding the British electorate of the ongoing suffering in Gaza as well as in the Occupied Territories. The LibDems have rightly condemned Palestinian rocket attacks on Israeli communities and other forms of terror activity. But that does not justify the treatment the Palestinian civilian population is still receiving at the hands of the Israeli Defense Force and some militant Jewish settlers. The most urgent priority now is for Israel to lift the blockade on Gaza, so people there can regain some sort of normality in their lives. Nick Clegg made a clear and brave statement about that in an article in The Guardian earlier this week. So, tomorrow mourn for the victims of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, on both sides of the divide. And stand up for the right of the Palestinians to be treated as dignified human beings.

Link: www.ldfp.eu

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Aminatou Haidar’s Right to Be Free

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 11th December, 2009

Yesterday was International Human Rights Day and as I walked across Trafalgar Square at luncthime from the pomp and ceremony of the Vin d’Honneur for the new South African High Commissioner at South Africa House to a similar event for the new Czech Ambassador at the Athenaeum in Pall Mall, I passed by two human rights demonstrations outside the National Gallery. The first was by people protesting about the People’s Republic of China’s oppression of followers of Fa Lun Gong, while the second highlighted the case of Aminatou Haidar, the Sahrawi human rights campaigner who is on hunger strike at an airport in the Canary Islands. By coincidence, Lamine Baali, the Polisario representative in London had cornered me about her case at the South African reception. Then this moning I was pleased to see a related comment piece by Paul Laverty and Ken Loach in The Guardian. For those who are not familiar with the case, Ms Haidar was prevented from returning to her home town of Layoun in Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara on her way back from receiving an award in the United States because she refused to fill in her nationality as ‘Moroccan’ on her landing card. She was thus deported to the Canary Islands are is staging her protest to be allowed to return to her family, but as a proud Sahrawi.

Morocco and Mauritania occupied the Western Sahara after Spain left its former colony in the mid-1970s, though later the Mauritanians were defeated by the Polisario Sahrawi fighters and withdrew, leaving the territory divided (literally, by an earth wall). I slept under the stars in the desert there the night I heard on the BBC World Service of Nelson Mandela’s release from jail in South Africa in 1990. It would be wonderful if tonight I could hear of Aminatou Haidar’s safe return, as her hunger strike is taking its toll. Meanwhile, the Spanish (for all their concerns not to offend the Moroccans) really must accept their moral responsibility to get this matter resolved.

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Moving towards an Elected House of Lords

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 27th August, 2009

Jack StrawThe Guardian hosted a seminar yesterday, co-sponsored by Unlock Democracy, on Moving towards an Elected House of Lords, at which the star performer was the Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, interviewed by Guardian journalist Jonathan Friedland. Although there was inevitably quite a bit of discussion about the Government’s 2008 white paper on the issue, the Secretary of State was remarkably candid in his comments and responses to questions. There was an audible gasp from the room when he confessed that he went into the ‘no’ lobby on the last vote over a largely or wholly elected Upper House having not really thought about the issue; instead, he just followed the suggestion of a colleague who was voting at the time. He says he has now had time to think about the matter and has changed his mind. Well, that’s a relief, then.

Polly Toynbee, who was one of three Grand Inquisitors who got the chance to make statements, rather than just put a short question, really tore into him, basically saying that the Labour government had been a huge disappointment on electoral reform (and much else). Jack Straw spluttered that actually they had done rather a lot (from Scottish devolution onwards and indeed the eviction of most herditary peers from the Lords), but Polly got a loud round of applause. She knows how to play to the gallery.

I asked the Minister the following question: ‘Given the scepticism among proponents of electoral reform about the degree of commitment of the current government to the matter and its awareness of the urgency, and given the fact that you have said you would favour an open or semi-open* regional list for elections by some form of proportional representation for the Lords, would it not be a quick an easy way for the government to demonstrate its good faith by bringing in legisation to change the elections for the European Parliament to an open or semi-open list system?’

I rather expected an evasive or even negative response, but on the contrary he said that as there have now been three direct elections to the European Parliament under the regional list system, perhaps it is time to review that system. This is something that I (and I hope others) will pursue.

(NB An open list system means that voters can put their cross by the name of their preferred candidate, rather than by the name of their preferred party, as is the case under the current ‘closed’ list system. A semi-open list system means that they can put their cross either by the party or by an individual candidate.)

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