Friday, September 30, 2005

Leaving On a (easy)Jet Plane

Don't look for me in EC1 next week, dahlings, as I'll be busy living it up at the glamourous hotspot du jour that is.... Northern Ireland!! On the to-do list are South Armagh, Belfast and Antrim. From what I've seen on the news, it's all go! Full update upon my return on 10 October.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

I want my CBC

It's pretty much a non-issue on this side of the pond, but over in Canada a real national tragedy is taking place. Okay, so nobody's been kidnapped, held hostage or killed. But what is happening is the slow death of the one institution that manages to unite people from across the country and give them a unique voice.

It's been over 40 days now since hundreds of journalists, producers and other media workers at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation were summarily locked out of work after voting 87% in favour of a strike over labour casualisation and union rights. The lockout has even extended to CBC reporters and news crews overseas, with foreign correspondents sitting on explosive news stories but not covering the events.

Foreign correspondent Adrienne Arsenault in the Gaza Strip.

So what does this entail? In a nutshell, it means that Canada's only public broadcaster is not reporting any Canadian news, nor is it showing new programming of any kind. Reams of news footage from BBC World are being imported to cover for the lack of international news, while local headlines are read out in bare-bones form by reluctant managers. Any new dramas, comedies or documentaries produced by the CBC have been replaced by repeats of old shows. Viewer figures, already lukewarm at best, have plummeted.

In typical Canadian fashion, it might just be the impending start of the hockey season in October that forces the CBC to reach some kind of agreement on the current dispute; Canadians have already missed one hockey season over a strike, and missing another one due to a lockout would probably kick off some kind of civil war.

Still, the point is that the CBC has obviously reached the breaking point in a crisis that has been brewing for over a decade. Funding has been gradually cut further and further back since the heady 1980s, leaving many Canadians wondering what exactly the point of the CBC is, when the same news and better shows can be found on private TV stations instead. One former director general of the CBC recently wrote a column suggesting that the broadcaster should shut down completely until it has reinvented itself from the ground up: labour, salaries, artistic direction, the works. Fine by me, but before that happens, there had better be a serious, clear-cut commitment to transforming the CBC into something that people actually want to watch, and by people I don't just mean those over 40. Younger generations simply are not watching the CBC, because most ofwhat's on offer is simply too bloody staid.

Liberal MP Sam Bulte told picketing staffers last week: "We need you. You are the strongest cultural institution that we have. Without you we are not a country." Strong words perhaps, but they betray a constant nagging worry for the CBC that the BBC has fortunately never been troubled by: the US. Yes, the BBC and other channels here import American shows, but in Canada, viewers can flip over to ABC, CNN, FOX or NBC at the flip of a switch, with many of us choosing to eschew Canadian channels altogether. And why not? There is simply no comparison between American and Canadian TV. US shows are more exciting, have more cliffhangers and complicated storylines, more dazzling special effects and more popular actors. How many average 20-year-olds are going to forego the latest episode of Lost or Desperate Housewives in favour of, erm, the latest David Suzuki documentary on the wonderful world of wombats? Or - shudder - Wind At My Back, the 'family drama' set in 1930s rural Ontario that's so saccharine it makes you want to rub extra-strength Colgate in your eyes.

Here in England, everyone has an opinion about the BBC. But love her or hate her, "Auntie" still has the ability to get the nation talking, to produce shows that will have people debating over the water cooler the next day. And that includes the under-30s. Take Little Britain, for instance. If the CBC could come up with something half as inventive and successful, they'd be beside themselves. The main thing to remember is that compared to the CBC, the Beeb makes a valiant case for why public broadcasters do have a tremendously important role to play. In a country as vast as Canada, the need for that role is even greater.

In spite of all the bitching, please don't get me wrong: I love the CBC, and I can't wait to have it back on the airwaves. A lot of people get real pleasure out of watching the CBC, and if only it (and the government) reassessed what it really means to Canadians, a whole lot more could enjoy it as well.

* * * * *

One interesting side-effect of the current lockout is the emergence of a whole host of blogs by CBC journalists, camera crews and other workers, talking about how it's affecting their lives and the lives of those around them. You can find a list of them here (scroll down the page).

Also of note, the NUJ staged a demonstration outside the BBC's Bush House in central London a couple of weeks ago, in solidarity with their CBC counterparts and in protest at the BBC's decision to plug the gaps in the CBC's coverage despite knowing that they were due to industrial action (more here).

Thursday, September 22, 2005


I have recently rediscovered Untitled, the first song off Interpol's album Turn On the Bright Lights, and it is possibly the greatest, most heartwrenching emo-zen torchlight anthem ever. Not because of the lyrics, but precisely because there are so few. I am speechless, my eyes welling up. Contradict me if you dare, bitches! That is all.

Friday, September 16, 2005


Wahey! Turns out that my alma mater is not the apolitical desert that I once thought it was. Pity it's for all the wrong reasons, though. According to a report published in the Guardian today (loving the new look, but going through a nostalgic phase for the old masthead), City University falls into a list of 30 universities across England, Scotland and Wales that house 'extremist organisations' that 'pose a serious threat to national security', apparently unbeknownst to the teaching staff. City, it seems, has a small squadron of Islamist subversives (the Guardian's words, not mine) operating on campus, as do the majority of the other universities on the list. Here it is in full, with related offences alongside. You'll no doubt find it unsurprising that the only animal rights extremists are based at Oxford.
  • Birmingham (Islamist)
  • Brunel (BNP, Islamist)
  • Cambridge (BNP)
  • City (Islamist)
  • Coventry (Islamist)
  • Cranford Community College (Islamist)
  • Derby (Islamist)
  • Dundee (Islamist)
  • Durham (Islamist)
  • Greenwich (BNP)
  • Imperial College (Islamist)
  • Kingston (Islamist)
  • Leeds (BNP, Islamist)
  • Leicester (Islamist)
  • LSE (Islamist)
  • Luton (Islamist)
  • Manchester (BNP, Islamist)
  • Manchester Metropolitan (BNP)
  • Newcastle (Islamist)
  • Nottingham (Islamist)
  • Oxford (Animal rights extremists)
  • Reading (Islamist)
  • Salford (BNP)
  • South Bank (Islamist)
  • SOAS (Islamist)
  • Sussex (BNP)
  • Sunderland (BNP, Islamist)
  • Swansea (Islamist)
  • Wolverhampton (Islamist)
  • York (BNP)
Personally, I feel bad for the kids stuck at places like Leeds, Manchester and Sunderland. Imagine having "Islamofascists" (I hate that word) and the BNP battling it out in the corridors. There are probably whole sections of the university that are off limits for one group or the other. Turf, you might say.

I personally never noticed any Islamist subversives during my time at City, but then it's not as though I was looking for them in the first place. So who are these people, and what do they do? Apparently they are members of Hizb ut-Tahrir and al-Muhajiroun, albeit with varying levels of organisation.

For me, this compares interestingly with the first university I attended, famous (in Canada) for its politically charged student body. Things descended into violence in 2002 after Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to make a speech there. In recent years, Concordia has made headlines for its Israeli-Palestinian divide, with the student union joining forces with something called the Society for Palestinian Human Rights on one side, while Concordia Hillel took up the opposing position.

Obviously the fight or 'cause' was different; last I checked, neither side wanted to install a new religious regime in Ottawa. But perhaps another important reason they were less of a threat is that they were easier to keep tabs on. Everybody knew who the leading student voices were on both sides. Concordia had not one but two weekly student newspapers when I was there, and both regularly chronicled the ins and outs of the political debate. Letters-to-the-editor pages were often full to bursting with angry exhortations, barbed retorts and impassioned manifestos. Put simply, there was a forum for these people to express themselves and to engage in debate. I can't speak for the other universities, but at City, there was no such forum. Student politics didn't exist, and a typical student body president's platform ran something along the lines of, "I will work hard to get more money for the Ents committee and cheap drinks in the student bar!!!!!" You get the drift. The idea of adopting or supporting an actual cause or an issue was never discussed, and as a result, most politically minded students felt completely disconnected from the union. Our "student newspaper", Massive, came out only once every few months, sometimes twice a year at most, and was rarely more than a series of lifestyle features and CD reviews.

So I wonder: is the presence of covert extremists, Islamist or otherwise, on campus a by-product of a failed communication system? Surely the point of university (apart from drinking oneself into the ground and surviving on tinned beans) is to share ideas and promote democracy in learning... isn't it? Maybe if these people had a vehicle for sharing their idea with others, there would be enough of an outcry from the more moderate and liberal of the student body to cause them to continually reassert and reassess their political beliefs. Just a thought.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Another City freebie

Workers in and around the Farringdon area this week will have noticed a new addition to the already dizzying array of free newspapers and magazines on offer just outside the tube station in the morning rush. The latest arrival is City AM, a 24-page tabloid-sized paper which calls to mind the front pages of the FT, but with nicer pictures. Hilariously, the paper's motto is "Business with Personality", written in al caps in a serious, no-nonsense font that's so small and personality-free you could be forgiven for missing it altogether.

Still, from what I've seen, the actual journalism is pretty solid, and considering I cover a fairly specialised field, I was pleased to discover that there were a few items that even I could make use of.

The competition for the more established papers just keeps on intensifying, though. At last count, when making the trek from boyfriend's place near Tower Hill, I was able to pick up at least four if not five free papers or magazines on my way to work in Farringdon: Metro, Nine-to-Five, City AM, Miss London, and the free edition of the Evening Standard at lunch time. When will it end?! How much information can one person digest, especially when the vast majority of those targeted by these rags are City workers who will spend much of the day surfing free news websites anyway! The mind boggles.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Jackson PR coup

Oh, this is going to be good: Apparently, Michael Jackson has written a song for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. It's called From the Bottom of My Heart and he's hoping to record it with a bunch of other stars and release it as a charity single, à la We Are the World circa 1985.

What a canny move by Jackson's PR people! He's done this once before, to huge acclaim, leading the American answer to Bob Geldof's Feed the World at the height of the Ethiopian famine crisis of the mid-1980s. It sold millions, and Jacko's image as a pop saviour was fixed permanently in the minds of his many loyal fans.

Of course, his image now is more than a bit tarnished compared to those heady days. All the same, I wish him luck, and am looking forward with great excitement to the accompanying music video. Can't you just picture it: the good people of New Orleans saved from a watery grave by a haloed Michael Jackson swooping in, dressed head-to-toe in white, and parting the seas "with love". Hey, why expect anything less from a man who once arranged for a 60-foot statue of himself to be floated down the Thames?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

For god's sake

Do we really need to sit through yet another movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice? That's at least one per decade for the past four decades. ENOUGH! Can't any of you people read?