Your News RIP

I’ve only reviewed one TV programme so far: Your News. I now understand that this coming weekend’s edition of this programme will be the last one ever, as the BBC have not unreasonably decided to axe the show. So if you’ve yet to play Your News Bingo, you’d better tune in this weekend (at various times).

And if anyone has any requests of programmes they’d like me to review in the hope that this axing is evidence of a Pushing the boundary curse, let me know.

(I’m back from a few-month-long blogging hiatus, by the way. At some point soon, here and/or on Boris Watch, I shall resume doing proper posts. I’m sure you’re on the edges of your respective seats* with anticipation.)

* The plurality of this sentence’s reference to ‘you’ may overstate my readership.


Why politicians can’t win: the postcode lottery

The postcode lottery. (This picture took two hours to make, after waiting for a lottery draw to come on TV so I could get the original image. You're right, it wasn't worth it.)

I’m sure there’s another series of posts to be had on the theme of “why politicians can’t win”, but here’s one reason to get things started.

We hear quite frequently about a “postcode lottery” in health, or education, or whatever other public service is in the media firing line on any particular day.

It’s outrageous, the message runs, that the government allows a situation to arise whereby someone in one area is prescribed a particular drug, or given access to a high quality of teaching, while someone in another area is left pleading on their knees outside their GP’s surgery for a prescription for the same drug, or given shockingly substandard teaching.

That’s certainly a decent enough viewpoint, but there’s no disguising the fact that it amounts to a call for much more centralised control of the public services in question.

Yet the people who play the “postcode lottery” card are often the same people who at other times will trumpet the benefits of “localisation”. The Tories are particularly keen on localisation at the moment, and in fact on Tuesday night they called on their council leaders to ignore central government requests for information and certain non-statutory activities. As Eric Pickles put it:

The time is overdue for Conservative councils to stand up to this bullying and controlling government on behalf of their communities. It is time for Conservative councils to just say no. […] We are not in the business of delivering ‘Labour Lite’; local priorities now must take precedent.

But if local priorities take precedent over central co-ordination, won’t we end up with a postcode lottery in which some localities prioritise some drugs while others prioritise others?

So if they over-centralise, they aren’t giving local people the power to have their own say over their lives, but if they devolve power they cause postcode lotteries. What are they supposed to do to win?

Glass 1% empty: mobile phone costs

Glass 1% empty Glass 1% empty is what I’m going to brand posts which look at the media’s habit of taking what to my mind is clearly a good-news story, then somehow finding the grain of bad news in it and focusing on that. This happens rather often, so I won’t be covering them all.

Friday’s Guardian reported that the EU is soon to enforce a reduction in mobile phone call charges across Europe. Brilliant, I hear millions of mobile phone users cry.

But wait, cry the newspaper editors. It can’t be good news, it has to be bad somehow. Oh yes, here we go, this’ll do for the headline:

Forced price cuts would end free handsets, phone firms tell Brussels

So the story proceeds with the principle established that the call cost-cutting is OK but the “end” of free handsets is very bad news.

But just think about this for a minute. In the environmentally conscious world in which we sometimes like to imagine we now live, shouldn’t cost be related to consumption and waste? How does the mobile phone industry’s current business model shape up then?

Activity Consumption and wastefulness Cost to consumer
Making calls Negligible High
Replacing your phone at least once a year to stay fashionable and cutting-edge High Negligible

It’s not a great match, is it?

I don’t think I need to redraw my table to represent the model to be “forced” upon us by the EU, do I?

I suppose this comes back to the same principle as my thoughts on car running costs last week. In a capitalist system, to tackle environmental problems, the costs of polluting/ wasting/ damaging the environment need to be incurred in proportion to the pollution emitted/ waste generated/ damage inflicted.

What’s more, the table above is a completely artificial construct of the mobile phone industry. If we change the heading of the right-hand column to “Cost to mobile phone company”, “High” and “Negligible” swap places. It costs the companies little to connect and sustain calls, but of course phones are worth far more than they’re ever sold for.

If we’re to stand a chance of tackling global warming, companies simply can’t continue to be allowed to subsidise – often heavily – environmental damage and waste, getting consumers to pay through the nose for relatively non-damaging activities instead.

And that’s why, unlike the mainstream media, I think this story is, let’s say, 99% good news.

Daily Express descends into self-parody

Did anyone responsible for any part of this front page actually seriously mean anything they wrote?

It looks like one of those mocked-up spoofs you find used as the group picture on anti-Mail/anti-Express Facebook groups.

I particularly like their proud trumpeting that they are “10p CHEAPER THAN THE DAILY MAIL”. I think it says something about also being “better” underneath that, though it’s hard to make it out. I think drawing a comparison between the Mail and the Express is like comparing having all your teeth ripped out without anaesthetic by a dentist for £50 with having them ripped out by a drunk friend with pliers for £40.

Do people buying the Express actually feel like by reading it they are becoming more informed about the world around them? How disturbing.

TV review: Your News

This is the first of what might become a series of reviews – definitely not all as excessively detailed as the below – of TV programmes which I feel are unlikely to be reviewed elsewhere. Possible future contenders include BBC Parliament’s The Record, BBC News’s Click, and BBC Two’s post-Newsnight weather bulletin.


"Your News" is a strange programme, whose weekly 15-to-20-minute dose is given several different outings each weekend on the BBC News channel.

To call it merely "strange" is perhaps to go a little too easy on it: this programme is actually painfully bad in most respects, although if I’m at a loose end when its title shows up in the now and next listings, I will usually opt to cringe my way through it, for reasons which will perhaps become clear below.

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Blog Nation

BenSix, me and the Tory Troll

On Wednesday night, as evidenced in the photo above (thanks Sunny), I attended the Liberal Conspiracy/Comment is Free (CiF) Blog Nation event for bloggers of the liberal-left persuasion, at the Guardian Newsroom.

I’ve been to the Newsroom for a number of its exhibitions over the past few years, including a great tribute to their sadly missed cartoonist Austin, and more bizarrely the world’s first chance to gaze at the entire skeleton of the whale that swam up the Thames a couple of summers ago.

It turned out that the part of the venue which had back then been the whale’s temporary showcase more ordinarily doubles as a lecture theatre-type room, and it was in here that I began putting faces to bloggers’ names as they introduced themselves throughout the discussions, which covered topics from campaigning to coping with the likelihood of a Conservative government in 2010, and from feminism in the blogosphere to the signal-to-noise ratio in comments, particularly on CiF.

[I’m going to use a “Read more” link now. Personally I don’t like these when I’m reading a blog but they seem popular in long posts elsewhere so I’ll give it a go. Feedback warmly welcomed about whether these are good or not.]

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Beanz Meanz Swinez

I’ve been doubly gobsmacked by the unfolding tale of Heinz’s ‘gay kiss’-incorporating mayonnaise advert.

First, I was taken aback by the large number of complaints that had been attracted by a simple peck on the lips between a two men in an advert. Which century is this? Where did so many homophobes suddenly find the Advertising Standards Authority’s phone number? Apparently:

viewers complained to the Advertising Standards Authority that it was "offensive" and "inappropriate to see two men kissing".

Other complaints include that the ad was "unsuitable to be seen by children" and that it raised the difficult problem of parents having to discuss the issue of same-sex relationships with younger viewers.

Well, really – poor them. Fancy having to discuss an issue of perfectly natural loving relationships with children. How is this not a good thing? I don’t hear these people complaining about having to discuss issues like, say, straight relationships, or perhaps even less natural things like why people keep interrupting their television-viewing to insist they buy things they don’t really need.

Then, shortly after I finished shaking my head in disappointment at people’s narrow-mindedness, I learned that Heinz’s reaction was to cave in and drop the advert! What on earth are they thinking? Have they calculated that bigots are a more profitable market than the rest of us? Is it really more important to keep them on side than the rest of us?

(I suppose they might have a point actually – I can’t speak for other non-bigots but I haven’t bought Heinz products in years. Own-brand beans are so much cheaper, and taste great. Which makes joining the boycott rather easier… 😉 )

What makes this all even more bizarre is that if you watch the advert, it’s pretty clear that this advert is no more about an actual same-sex relationship than the Bounty kitchen paper ads are about accurately portraying a pair of cohabiting pre-op transsexuals.

If you’re looking for things to get upset by in this ad, how about the casually sexist stereotyping inherent in wheeling out the cliché of ‘mum’ preparing meals for kids, nagging them and so forth, and ‘dad’ going out to work? Or the fact that a product banned from kids’ TV due to its unhealthiness is prominently advertised being given to kids for lunch.

I’m not suggesting either of these is a reason to pull the ad off air, but they’re certainly better justifications for doing so than a supposed gay kiss (which is almost entirely in the eye of the beholder anyway).

Of course, Heinz has now garnered a lot of publicity over this, as well as appeasing homophobes, but I can’t help wondering if this may turn out to be one of those rare occasions when there is such a thing as bad publicity. Here’s hoping.