Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Favourite Songs of 2011

It's that time of the year again and time for a list of some of my favourite songs of the year, and in truth it's been a good year for new music so here's a few that have been played more than a few times on my iPod....

Low – Try to Sleep - Video link

Brilliant track from a great album and from a band who steadfastly refuse to change; the world is a much better place for them.

Jean Claude Gavri - (I Hear) Musik In The Street - Video link

Currently dominating my iPod, Gavri is creating superbly listenable dance music.

Joe Goddard Ft Valentina – Gabriel - Video link

Hot Chip man Joe Goddard shows his credentials with this summer anthem

The Horrors – I can see through you - Video link

The Horrors surprised with another change in direction and produced a superb 80’s Goth inspired classic

Psychemagik - SoundCloud page

Too many songs to narrow it down to just one, enjoy this maestro at work by listening to his Soundcloud page.

Death in Vegas – Your Loft My Acid - Video Link

An eerie slice of electro loveliness from DIV that will have fans rejoicing at their return.

The Japanese Popstars – Take Forever - Video Link

Robert Smith adds a slice of vocal brilliance to this track from another band burgeoning with talent and keen to show the darker side of dance can equally captivate.

Jane’s Addiction – End to the Lies - Video Link

Another welcome return and what a song, a absolute assault on the ears that shows no sign of abating from the first chord to the last.

TV on the Radio – Will Do - Video Link

The loss of bassist Gerard Smith was desperately sad, so difficult to choose any one track from a fine album but this is one of the standouts.

DJ Shadow Ft Little Dragon – Scale it Back - Video Link

Brilliant track featuring another extraordinary talent in Little Dragon, the beat master’s showing no signs of mellowing on another great album.

There's many who haven't made the list and for those apologies but acts such as Little Dragon, I Break Horses & Foster the People have also provided us with some great music.

We've also lost many great musicians this year, Mick Karn, John Barry, Gerard Smith, Amy Winehouse and Gerry Rafferty are just a few amongst those who passed away this year.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

London Riots Solved: Bring Back National Conscription

So there we have it, what started out as a peaceful demonstration against the shooting of a man in Tottenham has spiralled out of control into three nights of rioting that has now spread to other parts of the country.

And the commentators opinions being aired on the news vary from those wishing to condemn society for creating this situation and the fact that these people are the great ignored to those who feel this has nothing more to do with anything than criminality and opportunism.

As ever there seems to be a load of comments offering up reasons as to why these riots occurred but very little in the way of solutions; and not just ones to placate the people taking part in these riots either. It is as if people are afraid to put their suggestions on the table for fear of being pilloried for appearing to be too radical or insensitive to the situation.

Perhaps neither set of opinions are right but from the coverage I have seen one thing is for certain these rioters aren’t doing this for a statement; if it is then it is a fashion statement. They know the difference in value between looting a Poundstretcher or B&M Bargains and looting a JD Sports or an Armani shop.

To me what has evolved from that peaceful demonstration outside the Tottenham police station has nothing to do with the shooting of Mark Duggan in Tottenham last week and everything to do with a coordinated spate of opportunism as people group together and take advantage of that incident for their own means.

The majority of the rioters caught on camera appear to be young, masked and extraordinarily knowledable about designer brands of footwear and clothing; there is no cause to be fought for here, just bundles of designer gear and cash.

So what possible solution can be tabled to stop this happening again?

There seems to be a lot of people on the various comment boards and social networking sites saying these rioters have nothing to lose and are a lost generation forgotten by society; fine then let’s give them something to aim for in their lives.

I see it as a gradual erosion of authority undermined by a small minority of school children who see the media-dominated landscape in which we live full of people (I shall refrain from calling them celebrities) making a living out of being basically good at very little apart from keeping themselves in the public eye, from which they somehow make a living; the Big Brother generation perhaps?

Young, impressionable children who watch these shows and aspire to the lifestyle seem to give up on their studies believing they can follow in their heroes footsteps and as a consequence leave school with little or no education and very little in the way of prospects. If they fail then society, via the benefits system and other mechanisms will bail them out so what is their risk?

I know I am simplifying the situation here but I think we have all seen enough young children on TV talk about their desire to become a WAG, a singer on X-Factor or a reality TV show star to grasp what is happening to these young, impressionable minds.

I would propose this: if you leave school at 16 or 18 then you either go to college, get a training placement, get a job or you go into some form of national conscription where you will learn a skill.

Being sat at home on benefits is not an option. So if you fail at school you have a choice of these options and hopefully you will be able to regain your self esteem and a skill that will provide you with employment and respect.

National conscription needn’t mean just going into the military either. It could mean working for the voluntary services, helping others in society who are in need of assistance and gaining respect in your community for participating in schemes that put back rather than just take out.

I know this is a very simplistic view but in principle and with a lot of debate and structure I think this is a sound basis from which we can build and stop our children leaving school and just sliding into a nothingness of an existence and make them more responsible for their own destiny rather than blaming everyone else.

Follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Friday, July 15, 2011

Rebekah Brooks: The World's Most Famous Red Head?

Legend has it that red headed people have a reputation for being fiery, adventurous and unafraid.

They can also be bold and mischievous.

Judging by this picture we can also add occasionally scary to the list as well.

Well that's enough of the compliments because the woman who quite possibly holds the dubious honour of being the world's most famous red head title is now without a job having announced her resignation today at News International's Wapping HQ.

It is alleged that it was offered last week but only announced today after the Murdoch's bitter battle to keep hold of their own human shield floundered under a barrage of criticism from all sides of the political spectrum and public revulsion.

However the motive for accepting her resignation is unclear. Only last night News Corporation's second biggest shareholder, Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal Alsaud, being interviewed on Newsnight was adamant that if Brooks' involvement in the hacking scandal was proven then "for sure she has to go, you bet she has to go"; money has never been far from the Murdoch's heart when making decisions so this latest chapter in the story could have been the deal breaker for Brooks' future with the company.

In another extraordinary move, this time announced by James Murdoch, News International will be running full page adverts in the national press this weekend apologising for the phone hacking scandal.

"We will apologise to the nation for what has happened. We will follow this up in the future with communications about the actions we have taken to address the wrongdoing that occurred. We are also sending letters to our commercial partners with an update on the actions we are taking," he said.

We all know that times are hard in the newspaper industry and the money would be welcome but surely by doing business with the Murdoch empire and placing these adverts is it not a slight hypocrisy?

So all eyes will be on next Tuesday when the Culture Committee hearing begins and no doubt more revelations are brought out in the open in this extraordinary saga.

You can follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Revolution will not be Televised (At least not by Murdoch)

I've never been a big fan of mass demonstrations; they always seemed pointless and only served to inflame the situation and in truth push the goals they were hoping to achieve further away as politicians dug in their heels, too scared to be seen as weak and bow down to the demonstrators.

The sight of thousands of people waving Socialist Worker placards annoyed me as well. In truth the Socialist Worker seems to put its name to almost any demonstration in the hope that they will get onto the TV, but as the party has very little influence in the real world of politics in which we live, it all seems rather pointless.

Not that I'm saying socialism is dead or irrelevant, far from it, I just find that sometimes people attach themselves to causes for their own gain rather than that of the demonstrators.

So with that in mind and the recent demonstrations against the spending cuts fresh in the memory you could be forgiven for thinking that as the phone hacking scandal got into gear at the beginning of last week this would also blow over and eventually subside into a wave of public apathy; not a chance.

One key factor behind the huge upsurge in public opinion was how the scandal mutated from the hacking of celebrities and MP's phones, many of whom court the very people who were turning against them in their papers, to hacking phones of victims of some of the most high profile crimes over the past decade; these violations of privacy ignited an outcry of public revulsion to a level we may never see again.

And it was this outcry that gained momentum as revelation after revelation came to light and the public began to see the full extent of what NI was up too. This, it has to said, is almost solely down to the excellent investigative work carried out Nick Davies of the Guardian, the man who continued to pursue the hacking scandal when almost everyone else turned their back on it.

We rarely see in this country, with the exception of war, such a united front from politicians and the public alike; and even conflict is no guarantee of a united front as we have recently witnessed.

But Murdoch will not go quietly, however the difference is the sheer magnitude of opposition and the fact it is coming from all angles that will have both him and his team reeling.

Today The Sun carries the headline 'Brown Wrong' and counters Gordon Brown's accusations with their side of the story.

News International has bought back $5bn of its own shares to try and underpin the value; the share price has dropped 14% since the 4th of July.

And with the possibility that both Rupert and James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks may appear in front of MP's at the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee, we could be set for the most fascinating reality television show in years.

However the bad news keeps on piling and today Murdoch Sr will undoubtedly shudder at the news that US senator Jay Rockefeller has called for an investigation into whether reported hacking by News Corporation targeted any US citizens and has warned of "serious consequences" should that be found to be the case.

Even in his own country Murdoch is not safe as the Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch's media empire announced it is to investigate all payments made to contributors since 2008, as the fallout from the UK phone-hacking scandal continues to widen.

Parliament, which seems to have been given a new lease of life and relevance, now lines up as one voice in its attempts to rid the country of Murdoch's methods. MP's know they have been given a golden opportunity to gain back some of the credibility they destroyed during the expenses scandal and are seizing the chance to be seen as next in line to knock Murdoch.

But with Cameron claiming that the reforms and the public enquiries that will come into play over the next few months how much will the results of these impact on the day to day running of Parliament?

In the case of the expenses scandal it was simple; don't break the rules and stop claiming expenses you are not entitled too.

In the case of the phone hacking scandal not quite so clear.

Friendships have built up over years between MP's and the media, to expect these to cease and to expect MP's to live in a bubble insulated from the influence of media is impractical. To draw a line across which MP's cannot cross will be impossible to manage and perversely could result in Parliament becoming isolated from the real world and unable to communicate effectively with the public it is there to serve.

Cameron himself has fallen foul of friendships and loyalty already and this scandal is still only in its second week; although the Coulson question has been lingering for a lot longer.

Big business has been close to various MP's for years, with lobbying companies trying to influence decisions and certain board appointments seemingly based on an endless conveyor belt of accessibility to the very people we entrust to serve our interests; how can this be reigned in?

And who exactly is going to monitor how MP's interact with the media and what amount of influence is deemed too much?

Perhaps pre-judging what may or may not happen in the next few months is futile as the sheer pace and remit of these enquiries and the criminal investigations seem to change almost daily.

With over 3800 hacking cases yet to be investigated there are sure to be plenty of revelations still to be unearthed and many more shocking disclosures along the way.

We are in an age when 140 characters and a carefully crafted hashtag campaign can, in an instant, undermine a super injunction or falsely accuse someone of a crime they did not commit, such is the pace of today's world of media. And anything that is even slightly less than truth in this case will be surely be seized upon by Murdoch's legal team; one that includes Lord Macdonald QC who was DPP during the last hacking investigation in 2005-2006.

I think the history books will look back on this event and show what is possible if the collective will of the people is channeled in such a way that politicians of all parties cannot fail but to follow; after all we put them there in the first place to represent our interests, not theirs.

It should also show that journalism is a vital part of democracy and that people such as Nick Davies, and indeed the Guardian newspaper who support was key to the story maintaining relevance, should be held up as examples of how important they are in the defending our way of life and ensuring that there is always someone who is willing to take risks in exposing the truth.

And the result is in: Murdoch has withdrawn his bid for BskyB.

You can follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

News International: An Empire in Ruins?

They say a week in politics is a long time; perhaps that saying can now be changed to encompass the last week endured by News International, for it is undoubtedly running scared.

With each new day comes a new revelation, and like a particularly contagious virus, it is starting to spread across different areas of the corporation. And as it spreads deeper the aura of invincibility that once seemed to cover every corner of the empire is crumbling away, leaving behind the last bastions of resistance; Murdoch Sr, Murdoch Jr and Brooks.

Yesterday saw the beginnings of the accusations Gordon Brown levelled at the group, and today saw the culmination in those accusations leading to the front doors of both the Sun and Sunday Times. Citing that the group had links to the criminal underworld and gained access to his personal bank account and legal files is just another of what is becoming a procession of MP's coming out of the woodwork, free from the shackles of tabloid revenge and confident that they can speak without retribution against what was once a menace that hovered above Parliament like a hawk keeping watch on its prey.

Yet we still get replies such as this from a spokesman for News International: "We note the allegations made concerning the reporting of matters relating to Gordon Brown. So that we can investigate these matters further, we ask that all information concerning these allegations is provided to us."

Why are we standing by and giving NI employees the time to investigate and possibly cleanse the place of any incriminating evidence BEFORE the police step in? We've already read reports claiming that millions of internal e-mails and messages were deleted off machines at the offices of the NOTW so why not start to get tough and let the police get involved sooner?

Today also sees the turn of acting deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan police John Yates, who's previous enquiry and conclusion into the phone hacking allegedly took just three hours, to face the Home Affairs Committee; that should be an interesting session.

This is a man who has united all parties in their condemnation of his conduct....

Lord Prescott said Yates should stand down.

In less than a day, in three hours he said [Yates] had reviewed it and there was no evidence whatsoever. There is no evidence whatsoever that was just a big lie. They made judgements about not pursuing criminal actions that had been conducted, that is in fact is enough to have seen them moved out of their jobs.

Yates is still there, when all this evidence is coming out by Commissioner Akers, it is totally unacceptable that he stays in that job. Can't he find gardening leave which they usually find in these situations until we have cleared all this up with a public inquiry.

Conservative MP George Eustice said Yates had some serious questions to answer.

Why with all these 11,000 pages of evidence, knowing as they did that it was quite widespread why they didn't do a more thorough investigation at the time ... [Yates] investigated the cash for peerages allegations thoroughly and without fear or favour. I think it does look like there has been a different approach on this particular instance.

The reach and pace with which this whole affair is moving is breathtaking, leaving almost everyone in its tracks as it progresses onwards without the barriers that would once try to hold it back.

And more bad news for's spreading to the US.

I think Jon Stewart's take on what is happening in this country perhaps best sums up how the Murdoch empire is crumbling into parody...

With the strong links NI has into the Republican party bound to be examined, class actions being taken by US shareholders who are disgruntled with the slide in value of their stock and Melanie Sloan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington commenting 'if Mr Murdoch's employees can be so brazen as to target the British prime minister, then it is not unreasonable to believe they also might hack into the voicemails of American politicians and citizens' the very future of Murdoch's empire could be called into question.

And yet amongst all this we now see that the domain name has been transferred into the ownership of News International.

Do they really think people are going to have the desire and appetite to engage in another Murdoch backed travesty of a Sunday paper given all that is happening at the moment?

But against the backdrop of the utter carnage that is taking place in the media and despite universal condemnation, including calls from the parents of Milly Dowler for her to 'do the honourable thing' and quit, Rebekah Brooks is still the Chief Executive of News International.

You can follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Friday, July 8, 2011

What price Rebekah Brooks?

When I wrote yesterday about whether the NOTW could survive or whether it may close given the public outcry over the phone hacking scandal as the extent to which this had spread into the lives of us all became apparent I was accused of being over-dramatic and also hamming the situation up and that inevitably it would all blow over....

In almost any other circumstance or situation it would have blown over and the headline writers would focus on the next scandal; but this is a News International scandal and if past performances were a guide to future outcomes it was never going to play by the rule book.

But this was no ordinary company closure and to cap it all and to end the most bizarre of days, the one and only Rebekah Brooks, to many one of the key players in the scandal, was the person charged with standing up in front of the staff and making the announcement that this Sunday's NOTW would be the last.

I think many of us would struggle to write a script with such imagination.

Whilst we can all focus on the corporate machinations surrounding the decision, the situation with the BSkyB bid and how much wrong has been done in the past by the paper, in the here and now 200 NOTW employees have lost their jobs as a result of the perceived failure of the board to handle certain key players in the whole sorry scandal.

And then there is the commercial motive behind the decision; advertisers were clambering for the exit as the brand value of the NOTW sank through the floor and any subsequent association with it quickly became a poisoned chalice.

What must sadden people who are or have been associated with the paper though must be both the pace of its demise and that many of the good things the paper has achieved over the years will be lost as it becomes consigned to the history books.

When the newspaper 'Today', Britain's first colour newspaper and also part of the News International group, ceased production in 1995 it went with a whimper and in truth many people didn't even notice, such was its lack of influence and impact on the world of news at the time.

But this is different, love it or hate it, the NOTW did have an impact on British news and culture.

Its many campaigns, such as the one supporting Sarah's Law, were responsible for helping shape the law in this country and protect parents with young children by giving them access to the sex offenders register.

Although not without controversy, the Fake Sheikh, the undercover reporter whose exploits are said to have brought over 250 criminals to justice as well as exposing the odd England football manager along the way, are further examples of some of the good the paper did.

But all of this will be washed away as the headline writers will focus only on the key movers and shakers in the scandal, some if which seem determined to back each other to hilt.

Watching the statement made by James Murdoch defending Rebekah Brooks will I'm sure, make people wonder what exactly she has to do that will be considered morally and ethically wrong in the eyes of the company.

Many questions remain unanswered and just how deep the public enquiry will go to find answers is going to be interesting as many stakeholders in this scandal are yet to be named, exposed and shoved into the media spotlight.

Some comment that this is a victory for the British public however I think this is incorrect; the NOTW was the most read of all the Sunday papers and continued to entertain and brighten up many peoples Sundays right up to the very end.

The controversies were always there ,as were the court cases and the salacious scandals that would rock the celebrity or political world to its core for a few days; and then it was business as usual and people moved on.

But the depth to which the main players in the phone hacking scandal sank significantly up the stakes and it is apparent that the British public cannot move on from this; understandably so.

At this moment in time the only winner appears to be Rebekah Brooks because, at least on the surface, she has managed to preside over the closure of 168 years of newspaper history and deprive 200 people of a job; that is quite some sacrificial lamb and whether it was worth it only time will tell.

As for the future of the NOTW, well I believe there will be a time when new owners and a new attitude can prevail and hopefully it can return to the stands in the not too distant future.

However if NI think the Sun on Sunday or whatever else they plan to replace it with will work I would suggest they think again as guilt by association is difficult to shake and anything with an NI stamp of ownership on it is going to become something of a pariah as this scandal rolls on.

You can follow me on Twitter @mcollinsblog

Thursday, July 7, 2011


As News of the World's current editor Colin Myler told his colleagues that they would have to "atone for the wrongdoing that took place in the past" all around him could be seen to be crumbling as public anger coupled with the spectre of advertisers deserting the paper took a grip on Sunday's most popular newspaper.

Of course, apoligising for past indiscretions is nothing new for the paper, but it is the speed and the undoubtedly decisive actions taken by brands such as Ford, Vauxhall, Co-op and Proctor & Gamble, just some of the names withdrawing their adverts, that will shake not only the NOTW but also News International to the core.

The recent apologies for hacking the phones of such celebrities as Sienna Miller was greeted with apathy and even the promise of £20m of compensation set aside to deal with the issue seemed to do little to assuage the anger of those whose privacy was so callously disregarded in the papers pursuit of a good story.

Doubtless those in and around the NOTW at the time were able to breathe a slight sigh of relief though because despite the high profile coverage and the widespread condemnation of the whole hacking affair, up until then it was primarily focusing on celebrities, and as such, public condemnation was limited; and there was certainly no advertiser revolt as we have now.

Then super injunctions came full swing into public view culminating with Andrew Marr making a pubic apology citing an error of judgement about his own super injunction that prevented the press from reporting on his affair.

With the exposure of Ryan Giggs' own super injunction through a combination of an Twitter extensive campaign and the MP John Hemming, the spotlight seemed to have turned full swing back in the favour of the press, who were now seen as the guardians of free speech fighting against corporations and individuals keen to suppress anything that may cause them public embarrassment. Perhaps the sight of a Fred Goodwin on a list of those obtaining a super injunction helped fan the flames of public anger towards these new weapons against free speech.

But once again public sentiment towards the press, and in particular the NOTW, has turned full circle as a series of crippling revelations hit the headlines this week concerning the alleged hacking of phones during the Milly Dowler and Soham murder investigations.

At the centre of these investigations is Glenn Mulcaire, a private detective formerly employed by the NOTW, a man who was jailed for his part in the royal aides' hacking scandal that also saw NOTW royal correspondent Clive Goodman jailed and the then editor Andy Coulson resign, saying that he took responsibility for the scandal.

Of course Andy Coulson went on to become Cameron's own spin doctor, a position he subsequently resigned earlier this year due to further implications over the scandal encompassing the paper.

But that was in 2007, fast forward to today and Rebekah Brooks, editor of the NOTW at the time of the investigation in 2002, refuses to acknowledge that she had any idea that Glenn Mulcaire was hacking into Milly Dowler's phone and therefore has no intention of resining her position of Chief Executive in the UK for News International.

Along with the the two high profile murder investigations, both of which the NOTW was selling their own papers through high profile exclusives and campaigns to help find the victims, other allegations are seeping into the public domain.

We can now add relatives and victims of the 7/7 bombings and families who have lost loved ones in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to the ever growing list of people who have possibly been affected by this scandal, and I wouldn't be surprised if this list continues to grow.

And the revelations don't end there; Lord Macdonald QC has been joined News International as a legal adviser on the case. Lord Macdonald QC was head of the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) during the investigation in 2005-2006.

Rebekah Brooks is to oversea the internal investigation into phone hacking at the NOTW; Peta Buscombe the head of the PCC, the press watchdog has attacked this 'extraordinary decision' by Ruprt Murdoch and went on to comment that 'in any other business that would not be allowed to happen'

And with almost every new hour another company or charity pulls out of advertising or supporting the paper. Perhaps this is the real issue for Murdoch though, with the loss of accounts like Ford costing the paper circa £4m in annual revenue there is the real possibility that the paper will be bereft of any major adverts as it goes to press this weekend.

The Royal British Legion has announced it will be dropping its NOTW campaign in the light of revelations this week and Npower are also dropping their advertising in the paper, joining an ever growing list of companies turning their back on the paper.

So is this the end for the paper? Well the court of public opinion is the most relevant barometer and looking around the blogs, Twitter posts and editorial, the mood is one of complete disgust and shows little sign of abating.

The key difference between the current wave of anger and what went before has been the fact that this latest wave of allegations centres around cases and people who were ordinary members of the public and were victims of crime; something that could happen to any one of us.

In the case of Milly Dowler and the Soham Murders, very high profile cases that struck right at the heart of family life in Britain. So whilst we may not be able to relate to a celebrity or a member of the royal family, we can all relate to those parents and what suffering they had to endure during those terrible days; to find out a paper we once thought was there trying to help the enquiries was actually hacking into their phones and profiting from the resultant information is truly abhorrent to us all, and that is the key difference.

So as politicians line up to take on the once feared Murdoch empire, something that was almost unthinkable a few years ago, and allegation after allegation continue to surface, each one carrying their own legacy of victims stories and as the spotlight falls on Scotland Yard to ensure that this investigation finally unveils the whole truth of the scandal, one question remains unanswered; can the NOTW survive?

I've asked a couple of questions in a poll and the results of which I want to post to the NOTW so please feel free to stop by and vote.



Monday, June 13, 2011

The Syrian Lesbian Blogger: When Best Intentions Get Lost

The blogosphere went into overdrive this week as the mysterious identity of a young Arab lesbian blogger who was apparently kidnapped last week in Syria has been revealed conclusively to be a hoax. The blogs were written not by a gay girl in Damascus, but a middle-aged American man named as Tom MacMaster who is based in Scotland and studying for a Masters at Edinburgh University.

Whilst we can only sit and wonder what subject he is studying I think we can all be confident that a role in diplomacy may pass him by as he has managed to spark a worldwide campaign to get the woman released only later to reveal the whole thing was a vehicle he created to air his views.

On Sunday, an "apology to readers" appeared on the blog signed by Tom MacMaster who said he was "the sole author of all posts on this blog".

Mr MacMaster, who is on holiday in Turkey, told BBC Scotland in an interview: "I really felt a number of years ago, in discussions on Middle East issues in the US, often when I presented real facts and opinions, the immediate reaction to someone with my name was: 'Why are you anti-American? Why are you anti-Jewish?'

"So I invented a name to talk under that would keep the focus on the actual issue."

So Amina, the nom de plume of Tom MacMaster, became the focus of an international media media campaign after a post which was said to be written by Amina's cousin said she had been seized by armed men believed to be members of President Assad's Baath party; and it was all a hoax.

One apology later and the recriminations started to flow toward Mr MacMaster as the full implications of his fictitious blog were unfolding in front of the very audience he had hoped to preach his views too.

MacMaster's assertion "I do not believe that I have harmed anyone" was not met with much sympathy, activists were furious.

Sami Hamwi, the pseudonym for the Damascus editor of GayMiddleEast wrote: "To Mr MacMaster, I say shame on you!!! There are bloggers in Syria who are trying as hard as they can to report news and stories from the country. We have to deal with too many difficulties than you can imagine. What you have done has harmed many, put us all in danger, and made us worry about our LGBT activism. Add to that, that it might have caused doubts about the authenticity of our blogs, stories, and us.

"Your apology is not accepted, since I have myself started to investigate Amina's arrest. I could have put myself in a grave danger inquiring about a fictitious figure. Really … Shame on you!!!"

"What a waste of time when we are trying so hard to get news out of Syria," another Damascus activist told the Guardian.

Blogs are meant to entertain, inspire, inform and help people create all manner of content and broadcast it to the world; most of it is irrelevant and no more than personal musings but we accept this when we read them . However what Tom MacMaster created was different, his blog could have have had serious implications for people trying to help Amina and endangered those he was allegedly trying to speak up for.

It is also questionable as to whether his form of speaking out was actually going to benefit anyone; when people support or follow a cause that is close to them they expect the activists they support are real.

And by unwinding Amina back from the kidnap incident and declaring his hand all that Tom MacMaster managed to do was create a backlash from the very people he was trying to give a voice too.

Of course, creating a blog under a pseudonym to conceal an identity is nothing new; perhaps one of the most famous ones was the nom de plume 'Belle De Jour' who wrote her 'Diary of a London Call Girl' which was based on her real life experiences of being a call girl.

Belle De Jour was in fact a pseudonym used to hide the identity of Brooke Magnanti. In November 2009, reportedly fearing her real identity was about to come out, Magnanti revealed her real name and occupation as a child health scientist.

But that case is totally different to the one that Tom MacMaster has created; where as you could cite that the 'Diary of a London Call Girl' had no intention to harm or waste time, the character created by MacMaster was done so solely to help him vent his own opinions in a way that would create the maximum amount of publicity.

So is this unfortunate incident the price we pay for the democratisation of the media? Practising free speech and being able to air our opinions to the world at the touch of a button is one of the truly revolutionary things that has been a product of the internet, but at what cost?

Whereas previous generations of activists had only their placards and the support of some of the world's media to air their campaigns, today activists can now desktop publish their way into the hearts and minds and indeed homes of millions of people simply by pressing enter on their computers.

This is, on the whole, a good thing. The Arab Spring would not be anywhere near as widely reported if were not for the amount of bloggers out there using the social web tools at their disposal to give the world an untarnished view of events in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain to name a few.

We have all seen the reports filed by frustrated journalists who have been taken by government officials in Libya to specially selected areas of interest to help groom worldwide opinion of the Gaddafi regime they are so desperate for us to see. The minute any reporters try to deviate from the selected path they are stopped, their cameras taken and in some cases even beaten up.

No matter how powerful Gaddafi's henchmen are though, they will never be able to silence a population armed with the power of the internet, a computer and a camera phone.

But there will always been the odd one that slips through the net and whilst Tom MacMaster has had his 15 minutes of fame, we can only hope that he has not done untold damage to the reputations of the thousands of bloggers in these regions who are doing extremely valuable work at considerable risk to themselves and telling the world what is happening during these volatile times.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Has Britain Got Bored of Britain's Got Talent?

Once again the internet proves to be the unruly child of the media world that rears up and slaps corporations in the face and then retreats to survey the carnage.

This time Ronan Parke, the 12-year-old who is seen as a hot favourite to win this year's Britain's Got Talent in the series final on Saturday, is at the centre of a storm brewing about whether he has been a product of Syco and groomed for success over the last two years.

Much like the controversy that dogged the last series of X-Factor when Cheryl Cole dodged her vote in what conspiracy theorists said was a direct attempt to manipulate the vote and save the contestant Katie, social networks have sprung into life off the back of an anonymous posting on a blog claiming to be someone from within camp Sony making allegations about the background of Ronan Clarke.

In the case of the X-Factor result, Ofcom said: 'It's unlikely the complaints will be upheld based on the fact the show didn't go against the regulator's rulebook.'

But this is a different situation altogether, with allegations being levelled at SYCO in particular on how they have manipulated both the artist and the show to produce the results that they ultimately want.

Of course none of this is new, scratch beneath the surface of any of these shows and allegations and conspiracies are plentiful and easily found in every corner of the internet.

As with any show of this type, a whole economy springs up alongside it as everyone tries to gain their slice of the pie and cash in on the cash cow that is reality television; the newspapers get the exclusives, the artists get some exposure and maybe a career out of it, the record labels get some sales and if they're lucky a spin off from songs that the artists cover during the show and finally the betting shops also get to cash in.

It is a machine that is very corporate and very much of benefit to the corporations that back these shows in the first place; perhaps the irony of this is that the show's 'undiscovered talent hoping for a break' ethos is a million miles away from the shiny offices and suits that await any winner.

But even the most calculated of corporate marketing initiatives can go horribly wrong; witness Rage Against the Machine's Christmas number 1 in 2009 that kept X Factor winner Joe McElderry's 'The Climb' by 50,000 copies and was seen by many as a slap in the face for Simon Cowell and his cohorts. And just to show that SYCO are all heart, Joe McElderry was recently dropped by the label and last seen heading back to his parents house after seeing his career nose dive back into the obscurity from whence if once came.

Timing is everything though, and as this story takes a grip of the nation and debate rages across the media one question we must be asking ourselves now is are we finally bored of these talent shows and actually more interested in the side shows they produce given that all we see on the screen is perhaps not as we would expect it to be?

If the chance of someone being plucked from obscurity and thrust into the public's eye is all but a creation of illusion by the makers then is the whole point of talent shows now lost in the corporate maze of lawyers and management teams determined to have their way?

One thing that is certain is that irrespective of how true these allegations are, Ronan Parke's career has already started with an unwelcome amount of media attention and his potential value as a commodity to SYCO may already be turning into something of a liability.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

New End of the World Date Announced

Those who have sold their houses, spent all their life savings on promoting the big day and have made a contribution to the alleged $100 million donation pot to Rapture need not worry any more; Harold got the date wrong, the world will officially end on October the 21st.

People like Robert Fitzpatrick who spent his life savings spreading the word and Jeff Hopkins who drove around New York with a doomsday sign on top of his car can feel that all their time and effort, and of course money, was worthwhile as Camping only got it wrong by about five months.

And what, in the scheme of things, is five months when you're predicting the end of the world?

If an aircraft carrier was five months late we wouldn't even consider that late, if a major rail or road project was similarly late we would accept that as totally normal, so when a man, who seems to have cornered the market in global Armageddon predictions gets it slightly wrong then we should afford him the courtesy of allowing him a third go; and maybe this time he'll be lucky.

And fair play to Harold, who seems to have no qualms about this slight timing error. After the initial frenzy had calmed down he could be seen on TV giving an interview claiming that 'when May 21 came and went, it was a very difficult time for me. A very difficult time'.

Is this possibly one of the biggest understatements in recent times?

He also claimed that the whole world was under a 'Spiritual Reckoning' from May 21st through to the new end of the world date on October 21st.

The interview Harold Camping gave also had more bad news for his many followers as he announced that he won't give back any of the $100 million raised in donations as this was used to promote the "End of Days" campaign and it still had purpose in spreading the gospel.

So there you have it, no refunds offered and a delay in service.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Ryan Giggs named by John Hemming, Lib Dem MP

As if symbolic of how fast news spreads and changes in today's media orientated world John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP, has named Ryan Giggs as the player at the centre of the injunction that has sparked debate across both the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

Ignoring the advice of the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, the MP cited the fact that 75,000 people on Twitter had already named the player and impractical to imprison them all.

Last week it was Fred Goodwin, exposed by Lord Stoneham for taking out an injunction to suppress an alleged relationship he had with a senior executive in the House of Lords and this week he has been joined by John Hemming MP.

Perhaps we can now say this is the beginning of the end of these ridiculous privacy injunctions as all they have done so far is to serve up more press time than is really deserved for the celebrities who strive to keep their private lives off the front pages.

As MP's and Lords continue to accuse the courts of over-reaching themselves with these types of injunctions, people who decide to go down this route to try and secure some form of privacy from the press must now be aware that as Twitter and other social media outlets are practically impossible to prosecute they could simply be throwing money down the drain.

140 Characters that mean so much..

What an absolute load of nonsense.

The lawyers have spent hundreds of hours, created documents that probably contain tens of thousands of words and probably spent hundreds of thousands of pounds of their clients money yet 140 characters later and it's all left in tatters.

And what have they actually achieved? They've probably created more press coverage and awareness of how farcical these privacy orders are than any MP or commentator could do at any stage during the argument; well done.

As for the alleged footballer, well his name is all over Twitter and now as a result all over the world so he has now probably become the whipping boy the press needed to show how stupidly ill thought out these injunctions are.

At the centre of it, the actual story has now moved to sidelines in the wider debate and become nothing more than yet another titillating scandal involving a high profile star; get over it, there are loads of these types of story every day and the result is always the same; a few headlines followed by some recriminations and then it all blows over.

Nobody actually really cares about these types of scandals, they are not life threatening and hold no purpose in life apart from perhaps creating some light hearted banter over the country's water coolers, but that is about it.

And then we have the laughable prospect that the legal team advising this player, who has now undoubtedly been relieved of loads of cash by their accounts department, are planing to sue Twitter; has anyone actually advised the player that to do this they would have to do it in a Californian court and that also he would apparently have to reveal his identity during the proceedings?

And now, in a further act of defiance of the English courts, the Sunday Herald not only name the player but also put an image of him on the front page and restrict access to the article to Scotland only citing that the injunction has no power in Scotland! Did this players legal team check this fact as well?

All in all what has turned out to be a nightmare case for the legal team and something that has given the anti-privacy law advocates their biggest moment must have left the player to sit and ponder why on earth he ever embarked on this journey in the first place.

However there are far more serious issues that have been inadvertently highlighted by this case, issues that effect real lives and stories of wrong doing that surely should have been placed into the public domain but stopped by the various high court injunctions now issued on an apparently regular basis.

There are no real winners in this case, or are there? The player has been left to reflect on whether this was a wise move after all, the law courts are being made to look totally out of touch with society and Imogen Thomas, the woman at the centre of the scandal, will probably never be able to sell her story. But what about the lawyers? One wonders whether they are either licking their wounds in defeat or are they at this very moment in time creating another angle to stifle the press on behalf of their hapless client? After all, they charge by the hour irrespective of what happens.

But this begs a very serious question of our legal system: if you're rich and you've got something to hide can you suppress the press through the courts? Or am I being totally naive because this has been going on for years?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

M6 Paranormal Crash Footage: An elaborate hoax or clever marketing or the real thing?

As the internet becomes full of links and debates and forums talking about the mysterious footage that has suddenly appeared about the M6 Paranormal Crash the burning question on everyone’s lips is probably ‘is this real’?

It certainly looks real; anyone capable of pulling off a hoax that spontaneous probably needs congratulating.

But who is ‘Dino’? Why send it out now? Where’s the inevitable link to the movie and where can we find out more?

Interestingly ‘Dino’ claims in a very short reply to an e-mail I sent that he never really wanted to send it out in the first place, which begs the question why do it? Also our mystery man claims that one of his mates is into all things paranormal and that he made him put it out; that’s hardly a convincing reason though.

So here are the facts as we know them:

1. We have a video for a crash that no one can confirm or deny.

2. From a source that no one can interview.

3. That carries no obvious source of advertising or mechanism to make money.

So why do it?

Truth is we’ll probably never know. If it is true then it is a fascinating insight into an accident that has never been publicly acknowledged but one that I have on several occasions tried and failed to get to the bottom of.

If it isn’t true, and this is perhaps the most fascinating of all scenarios, why would someone spend all that time and money creating something that looks quite credible but has no apparent motive or end product?

You can view the video and judge for yourself at All News Web: