A readers complaint. Does British media still lack ethics and morals after Leveson? The Peckford Place Media Disaster.

This week I received a readers complaint regarding facts that circulated everywhere in the media in the UK.  It were the names of the occupants of the house in which an alleged slave holding is said to have occurred.  Later it was suggested, that it may have had also something to do with one of the occupants former political activities.

When we run my update on the latest revelations and names on Thursday (28/11/13) in the German paper Taz, Die Tageszeitung, the German broadsheet newspaper I write for, the main reason was that the  story everybody thought they knew, had changed from merely a trafficked people story to one of people possibly being trapped by a political ideology and the person behind it, and there were also issues coming up, concerning the unresolved death of a woman in 1997, who fell out of a bathroom window subscribed to the supposed political collective.

A reader felt compelled to write and complain, why we published all these names and why with so many question-marks?   More to the point why did we publish names and circumstances that have not been confirmed yet, and were just speculative?  The “readers-letters editor”highlighted the letter and I answered it for the Saturday edition 30/11/13.  In my response I speak of different cultural norms, the fact that the British media was totally full with the names and we had a duty to report, although in the most careful language.  I thanked the reader though for raising the issue and showing that for her the pain threshold had been over stepped.

In honesty, I felt she was quite right, but the facts were totally public in the UK for days.  The same facts would not as easily have come to light in Germany though.  And I felt that the way the UK-press had addressed the story was tasteless and in part immoral too.  You have to consider here that right to privacy and anonymity are principles most Germans will defend at all costs (still paradoxically Germans have their private family names on all their letter boxes and bells in Germany, unlike the anonymous door number system here in Britain).

Papers like The Sun and the Daily Express allegedly had paid for information given to them by neighbours, who had been quiet for months and years about what they knew about the circumstances of these people next-door.  Why did a person who received over 500 letters, as we read, and lived next door, never raise the issue with any external agency, but then willingly gave  much of it or all away to the sensationalist press, allegedly for large sums of  money? And why did the mainstream press including The Guardian,  The Independent, ITV and even the BBC then build upon that data released by the sensationalists amongst our profession?

Why did British media overall not think that it was wrong to publish the alleged name of the 30-year old on Sunday evening, as well as the names of all the other occupants after that?  For sure everybody knew the women were vulnerable and facts were under investigation?

As a matter of fact on Tuesday an e-mail reached me by the Metropolitan Police asking journalists to stop speculating and stating that the revelations interfered with investigations.  Still on the very same day and on the day after that more names and facts came out and unlike the photo of the 30-year old published on Sunday with her face hidden – that publication itself a scandal – the same photo was later shown with her full profile visible, giving away any anonymity she may have preferred to keep.  That is immoral.

As a correspondent I played a role in carrying these facts forward to Germany, but only after they were common knowledge in Britain by all in the UK who read papers, or listen or watch news, and because these facts changed the facts on the grounds.

But it was hardly ethical by the British press to  reveal the possible details of women, who very much were victims and deserve society’s protection.  If the women chose to come out and talk to the media it is a different matter, but some of the facts were revealed using private and confidential letters of clearly failed neighbours (in my judgement), who did not alert supporting agencies when they could and should have done, and chose to cash in on the misfortune of their neighbours for personal gain through the hands of journalists or people who call themselves that.

I can not change the way news is made in the UK, and as a correspondent I act often reactive anyway, and  have the duty to let people in Germany know what is happening here, but I wonder if in deed I could have done it differently, perhaps not naming any of the people in spite of them being given here?  I just wonder though how it would have looked?  Most other German media also gave all the facts away.

But for Britain these are the post-Leveson-Inquiry days.  Rebecca Brooks is still in the Old Bailey being tried.

There is a reason why organisations like the BBC do usually not pay for interviews, and I think that all media should follow suit, unless exceptional circumstances ask for a different approach.  Further there must be a more moral and communal accountability in such cases.

So I must agree with my German reader.  Still I did put a lot of question marks and words like alleged, presumed, not officially confirmed in my report of the  28th of November, making it clear, the information was others guesswork.  But that was what it was at in London at the time, and the papers were full of  it.

Part of me wonders if in deed one must approach the British way of reporting in a different and novel way.  I will think about this in the months to follow. That’s my job.  But what is the job of my UK colleagues?

What is our purpose as journalists? Is it not also to help the world to become better by thinking about the mistakes of others for example?

In my opinion the second biggest headline over the last days has been missed by most of my UK colleagues- not by me:

In my report in the Taz on Monday the 25th I put my fingers clearly on the neighbours, who did not talk and sold their story.  Here was scandalous footage, one that could have altered behaviour by other neighbours to continue to be bystanders and silent witnesses to terrible abuse.  The papers should have been more full with that, than the names and photos of the victims.

Now that the intoxication of the Lambeth story wears of, it would be very much time to think about the cure for the hang-over, and perhaps get off the bottle of sensationalism in the future all together!?


Taz Die Tageszeitung: Nichts zu feiern bei der BBC

Newsnight (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daniel Zylbersztajn Taz: Bei der BBC gab es nichts zu feiern.  Ich schaue ein bischen hinter die Kulissen.

German Taz Die Tageszeiting main feature:  Nothing to celebrate at the BBC after 90 years!

Link TAZ Nichts zu feiern:  http://www.taz.de/90-Jahre-BBC/!105546/

For my English language readers who do not speak or read German

My article in the Taz about the BBC Newsnight Lord McAlpine debacle of the BBC in the last weeks gives some background on the amount of change its employees were so far subjected to.  Not that it was already enough, Helen Boaden‘s  QF speech to staff meant that the BBC had more axings planned:  about 800 jobs are to go until 2016, along with the merger of the world service and BBC News.  Staff, who wanted to keep anonymous,  told me about discrepancies in pay, with managers highly paid, those making programs usually low paid.  Another editor complaint that her language service was no longer being measured by quality, but by quantity of hits.  She said that only if she reports the “heartbreaking story of the donkey with his prosthesis” will she survive.   It is not to be forgotten that this is a member of staff who already witnessed cuts, the loss of funding from the foreign office, and the final departure from Bush House.  My article then shifts to a brilliant documentary made by the BBC, one of those we ill see probably less of in the future and produced by James Cook and presented by Mike Thompson (online version is here www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-20267659).  It puts the current affair headed by the mistake of falsely accusing one politician into perspective.  According to BBCs  research about 20.000 Jewish people less could have died in 1944, had the BBC not withheld the truth.

Nevertheless things look difficult at the BBC.  I have heartfelt feelings for some of my colleagues and friends who work there, and have told those I conversed with personally that there is no better alternative than take to Doris Day‘s ce sera.

However on a serious note, I do believe the course leader of the highly regarded MA Radio at Goldsmiths,  Tim Crook, who works closely with the BBC,  was right when he told me that he sees the integrity of journalism under threat.  It is important that everyone understands that every time we take a free newspaper in our hand, or read news only online,  that is without paying for it, we are contributing to the decline of journalism.  This is not to say free stuff and blogs are not sometimes brilliant.  They do an excellent service at times.  But we need a reliable and in deed trustworthy network of newspapers and media outlets to counter the barrage of spin, political intrigues and corporate chauvinism.  At the taz.de they have a nice system of providing the articles free of charge but enabling readers to pay even as little as 5 Pence for any one  article voluntarily.   It is easily done online and rewards the paper and the journalist.

When it concerns big corporates like the BBC, which receive the main part of their funding from the tax payer, I think it is right to ask why the  management gets more than those who physically produce the news.   A management which has been accused now of partially not really being in charge, nor having a clue.  It is impossible to say to what extend this is right, but what is certain is that far less news will be produced in the future by BBC, for example party conferences will no longer have dedicated teams.  Some of the midday news slots will also disappear and there will be more repetition.   The merger of the WS bilingual section and BBC news in foreign affairs will also change the way the BBC has traditionally reported, namely through well skilled  journalists who are sent to different regions for some time.  It is questionable given already huge cuts and redundancies since Hutton, if the same tools of cuts  ought to be applied to the BBC as anywhere else because of the government’s austerity brief.

Daniel Z

Ein Finger ist genug – Behinderte über den Atos Sponsorenanteil bei den Paralympics

English description:

In this article I reported the protests of some disability groups regarding the sponsorship of Atos.  As the article remained unpublished I enlist it here to give credit to a significant side-issue to the Paralympics that was uttered several times to me in my encounters with disabled people in London.

Dieser Text, der bis jetzt nicht veröffentlicht wurde, berichtete über Proteste bezüglich des Großkonzerns Atos der die Paralympics sponserte.  Da ich immer wieder auf behinderte Menschen in London traf die mich darüber ansprachen, war ich der Meinung  ich, dass ich ihn Post-paralympics hier zum Nachlesen einfügen sollte.

Ein Finger ist genug!

(Alle Rechte vorbehalten (C) dzx2.net Daniel Zylbersztajn)

Behinderte über den Atos Sponsorenanteil bei den Paralympics

Daniel Zylbersztajn, London

Die Londoner Paralympics, kostete Geld. Zwar wurde der größte Teil der etwa £10 Milliarden Gesamtkosten der Olympischen und Paralympischen Spiele von den britischen Steuerzahlern getragen, aber etwa 7% des Kostenanteils wurd durch Sponsoren gedeckt. Nach David Stubbs, vom Londoner Organisations Komitees (Locog) waren es sogar 1/3 der Gesamtkosten, da Locog die Aufarbeitung des Ost-Londoner Gebietes (welche 2/3 der Kosten), vom Bau und der Durchführung der Spiele unabhängig versteht.Unter diesen Sponsoren befand  sich auch Atos. Das weltweite Unternehmen, dem seit letztem Jahr auch ein Teil Siemens gehört, hatte sich mit £64 Millionen speziell den Paralympics verschrieben. Aber einige britische Interessengruppen, welche Menschen mit Behinderungen vertreten, protestierten während der Paralympics gegen den Deal mit Atos.

In Großbritannien ist Atos für Tests im Auftrag der Regierung verantwortlich, die alle potentielle Sozialhilfeempfänger auf ihre Arbeitstauglichkeit prüft. In weniger als einer halben Stunde führt Atos-Personal ein computergesteuertes Testverfahren durch. Die Haupbetroffenen sind Menschen mit Behinderungen sowie mit chronischen Krankheitsbildern. Durch diese Testverfahren kam Atos seit einigen Jahren immer wieder ins Rampenlicht.  „Atos Kills!“ hieß es wiederholt auf Demonstrationen.   Tatsächlich waren die Leistungen von Atos auf verschiedenen Ebenen mangelhaft. Das besagten offiziell ein Untersuchungsausschuss und zwei unabhängige Studien im Auftrag der Regierung Westminsters. Die darin aufgeführten Beispiele schockierten: Atos war für auf Hilfe angewiesene Personengruppen, die beispielsweise weitere Auskünfte zu den Tests brauchten , nahezu unerreichbar. Menschen mit Gehbehinderungen wurden in einigen Regionen in mehrstöckige Gebäude ohne Rampen oder Aufzüge geladen. Auch überbuchte Atos absichtlich Patiententermine. Das Testverfahren selber wurde als mechanisch, schlecht, und den verschiedenen Krankheitsbildern unangemessen befunden. Korrespondenz der mit Atos arbeitenden zuständigen Regierungsbehörde mit den Kunden sei demoralisierend gewesen, so der Ausschuss. Wichtige Patientendaten die für das Resultat der Tests wichtig gewesen wären wurden oft ignoriert. 

Die Interessengruppe Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC – Behinderte gegen Kürzungen) spach sich am schärfsten gegen Atos aus. Ihr Aufruf zu Demonstrationen gegen Atos während den Paralympics liest sich dramatisch, „ Atos testet Menschen durch ein unmenschliches Computerprogramm und schult seine Angestellten, Betroffene von der Sozialhilfe runter zu drücken… Atos verwüstet Menschenleben weiterhin. Viele nahmen sich auf Grund der Tests das Leben, und über 1000 Menschen starben kurz nachdem sie als ‘arbeitsfähig’ deklariert wurden.”

Seit dem Ende des Regierungsausschusses, wurden Atos Verfahren verbessert.  Auf direkte Anfrage, konnte auch die damalige Ausschussvorsitzende Dame Anne Begg MP nur vergangene Probleme aufzählen und bestätigte positive Veränderungen. Trotzdem kam ein erleichtertes Aufschwingen der Agitosfahne für Atos zu rasch . Zwei Fernsehdokumentarsendungen, der BBC und Channel 4, wollten vor Beginn der Olympischen und Paralympischen Spiele beweisen, dass Atos immer noch nicht alle Verbesserungsmaßnahmen, welche in den Ausschüssen diskutiert wurden, eingeführt hat. Dabei erklärten vor versteckter Kamera, ein Atos Ausbilder einem Arzt, der sich bei Atos als Prüfer’ ausbilden ließ, es dürften nicht mehr als 11% der Getesteten als arbeitsunfähig ausgewiesen werden. Die Ausbilder erklärten dem Arzt außerdem: „Solange man noch einen Finger benutzen kann, ist man arbeitsfähig.“ Es waren erneute, wenn auch nicht großflächige Beweise, daß Atos auch weiterhin schockieren kann. In einem Interview mit der BBC bezeugte vor auch der Leiter der den Regierungsausschuss informierenden Studien, ” die Tests seien immer noch traumatisch für viele, trotz humaner Verbesserungen.

Der Labour Abgeordnete Tom Greatrex fordert jetzt eine Neuprüfung des Atos Regierungsvertrages. Er fand heraus, daß die Klagen gegen die Entscheidungen von Atos, dem Staat zusätzlichen jährlich £60 Millionen kosten. Atos solle die Arbeitsunfähigkeit von Anfang an besser einstufen, und somit die Notwendigkeit der Klagen senken. Aber die Einzelheiten des Vertrages zwischen Atos und der Regierung werden als geheim eingestuft. Die Ärztin Margeret McCarty versteht diese Geheimtuerei nicht:

 „Die Art und Weise, wie man die am meisten Kranken in unserer Gesellschaft behandelt, sollte anstatt hinter Wänden versteckt, sichtbar und offen sein. Der Staat und nicht ein Privatunternehmen sollten dafür die Verantwortung tragen.

Nach täglichen Aktionen während den Paralympics begaben sich DPAC mit Gleichgesinnten am 31. August zum Protest bei Oxford Circus.  Es kam zu Zusammenstoessen mit der Polizei (siehe The Guardian) „Let the Atos Games begin!,“ behaupteten DPAC ironisch, obwohl sie versicherten, dass sie nicht gegen die Paralympics und die darin gezeigten athletischen Leistungen seien. Protesten zum Trotz, ermächtigte sich Atos einer Sponsorenbeteiligung für das nächste internationale große Sportereignis in Großbritannien, den 2014 Commonwealth Games. Man darf annehmen, dass das auf Statistik und IT spezialisierte Unternehmen alles gut kalkuliert hat. 2015 läuft der Atos Regierungsvertrag aus und müßte dann erneuert werden. Zu den Paralympics bescheinigte Atos Sprecherin Caroline Crouch zur Zeit der Paralympics:. „Atos sei stolz, der weltweite IT Partner der Paralympischen Spiele zu sein und ist dieser Rolle und der Regierung voll verpflichtet.“

Text steht in Verbindung mit dem Bericht in der TAZ www.taz.de/Grosskonzerne-bei-Olympia/!98221/


Kolumne London Eye (Tageszeitung TAZ) Lieber Rot als Britisch (column / commentary better red than British)

Ist britische Olympiaberichterstattung einseitig?

Is British olympic reporting biased towards only one country Team GB (German article)?



‘That’s the way to do it!’ Punch and Judy turns 350 – The story about my feature –

All Rights Reserved dzx2.net

Punch and Judy and and German Kasperl have not much in common or so it seems.

My latest contribution to Deutsche Welle examines this further.  DW has released

a printed version prior to the audio feature.

Feature was aired on 13th of March 2012 on World-Link (Deutsche Welle).  Please contact DW to request a copy of the podcast (E-Mail Link) if you missed it, or Read the Article on DW here!

So what on earth got me to do this feature?  It was about two years ago that I encountered Punch and Judy first with my daughter in St George’s Park, Holborn on St George’s Day.  I thought we were going to see what I knew as a Kasperl show, but was taken back when I saw Punch whom I thought to be Kasper, hit everyone of his characters.  To my amazement my daughter stomached it but I came out outraged talking to my friends about the brute Brits.  A year later on another show near Covent Garden, my daughter’s friend, they are French – Irish,  run crying away from the show, whilst my daughter quite liked it.  At the end of the show I spoke to the puppeteer, who turned out to be Geoff Felix, a Punch and Judy puppeteer of many years experience, who as I later found out kept a whole historical archive on the show.  I asked him why it was so different from the  German version and it was him who first suggested to me that actually there was such a play in Germany, but it was transformed, his real words were “sanitized” through the Nazi Reich. So this story it seemed wasn’t so much about the supposed brute Brits, but about the even more brutal Germans.

This really drew my curiosity.  I had never head such a thing.  Was it true?  I kept the idea in my head, and made sure I took all the essential details from Geoff.  I few months later I found myself in the  Munich city museum in the puppet exhibition.  And there I saw to my astonishment that in deed Kasper prior to 1932 was the villain you recognize as if you are British.

After some research and the fact that Punch and Judy’s 350th  anniversary was about to come up I pitched BBC World Service with my idea to run the story why the puppet plays would be so different in the two countries, Germany and the UK.  The BBC answered to my astonishment with “definitely not!”  It still puzzles me today why it was the BBC – who was after all are  based in Punch and Judy’s  home-country-  that  felt  the story was not worthwhile.  I wondered if perhaps they had a negative view of the show, being “violent,”  and part of  children entertainment at the sea-side.  Neither was the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Munich interested, the paper being based near  the  home of  the German 1920’s Kasper assemble inside  the Munich City Museum.  The German weekly Die Zeit was interested, but felt the style wasn’t right, perhaps they wanted it more in a more arty way, which is quite unlike the tradition of Punch and Judy, rooted in impoverished working class puppeteering.  But my editor at Deutsche Welle called me within minutes of telling him about the idea.  He is an American living in Cologne for some time now and like any migrant has to negotiate two cultures, in his case the very differences between Anglo-Saxon and German culture that my feature attempted to investigate.

Slowly a picture began to emerge.  After speaking to Manfred Wegner from the City Museum of Munich, who oversees the permanent puppet exhibition I was just as unsettled about the civilised tamed Kasperl as I was initially about the portrayed violence of Punch and Judy.  This conflict made me contact Prof. Andrew Tolmie at one of Europe’s  leading centres in child psychology.

There are still no definite answers, but I think if one contextualize either play tradition, they both of their right place in the imagination of a child.  It is worth pointing out, that neither Punch, Polcinella, nor Kasperl at their beginnings were actually part of children theatre, but pointy and witty adult entertainment.  They evolved into the children’s genre only gradually.  Whilst violence is till displayed in every Punch and Judy, one thing that isn’t  is the once traditional use of  animals, in particular a little dog usually called Toby, nor will you find an African character that only speaks gibberish.  I was told the reason is simple.  A puppeteer plays to a live audience, if he plays things that the majority of an audience dislikes, he is out of a job.

Another comment I like to make is that the friendliness of all the puppeteers I met was remarkable and quite above the norm.  These are thinking people who enjoy entertaining children for their genuine laughter.  It isn’t always easy living, and I heard about quote a few injuries to, either to backs or shoulders, and playing puppets is quite physical, but regardless it seems that once they start playing they almost can’t stop it.  Geoff Felix said to me that there is a saying among Punch and Judy players:  If you look after Mr Punch, he will look after you!”

Punch and Judy’s 350th birthday  was celebrated at Covent Garden on 12th of May 2012.

German Kasper and Police Officer   All rights reserved dzx2.net