Are British MP’s to blame for inciting hatred?

The British have long prided themselves on being a tolerant society. My experience of studying and marrying a native gave me a unique insight into their love for queues, music, and refusal to kick up a fuss instantly. Infact,they are quite a simple lot – harmless, witty, theatre-going,  a bit delusional about expectations of the English football team; in love with their pubs, banter, curry, and fish and chips.

Yet, when we read the papers or hear the local radio, watch television or social media – there are innumerable references to class, headscarves, halal meat, Islamic extremism, and the latest controversy – desire to punch a Muslim woman.

Just the other night, Tory MP Michael Fabricant took to twitter and said he would punch well-known journalist and author Yasmin Alibhai. Fabricant made the violent comment while watching an impassioned debate on Channel 4 with Brown and Former Radio 4 editor, Rod Liddle, discussing the release of his new book, ‘Selfish Whining Monkeys: How we Ended Up Greedy, Narcissistic and Unhappy.

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What’s interesting is that the tweet has been retweeted 611 times and favorited by 344 people. Does this validate the idea, its okay to commit violence against a woman just because you don’t agree with her views?

In response to a Channel 4 tweet, yet again, Fabricant refers to Yasmin as ‘ghastly’ and talks about his reluctance to view BBC Question Time as a result of her regular appearance.

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Fabricant apologised, but insisted Brown was utterly infuriating and he could never appear on a discussion programme with her.

In another instance, the potrayal in the media of a frenzied Islamic agenda in British schools compelled the Prime Minister to define ‘British values’.

A new investigation carried out by Ofsted, Birmingham City councils and  Education Funding Authority, alleges hard-line Muslims are set to “take over” schools in Birmingham. The Trojan Horse letter alleged a socially conservative sect of Muslims were trying to get their own members on to governing bodies and ousting head teachers. But Inside story on Al Jazeera uncovered a different side. The so called  ‘Trojan Horse’ letter was unsigned and undated, with some claiming it to be a hoax.

Yet, that didn’t stop Tory MP and Education Secretary Michael Gove from  insisting on ‘British values’ to be inculcated in schools across England.

Has Gove acted foolishly? Is there any evidence to prove  extremism is predominant in schools around England? Or is it another example of MP’s at the forefront of a distasteful Islamophobia campaign?

When asked about British  values during a visit to Sweden, David Cameron  said,

“I would say freedom, tolerance, respect for the rule of law, belief in personal and social responsibility and respect for British institutions – those are the sorts of things that I would hope would be inculcated into the curriculum in any school in Britain whether it was a private school, state school, faith-based school, free school, academy or anything else.”

There’s no harm in articulating the British institution and its values. However, when done as a counter-attack to alleged extremism in schools, based on a document that can’t be verified, the move can be viewed as antagonistic.  In trying to perpetuate values, British politicians are unwittingly creating a theme of ‘them and us’ by excluding a certain section of society.

Less eyebrows would be raised if it was the British National Party or some right wing propagandist. But when it is Oxbridge-educated, self-proclaimed liberalist MP’s that claim equality, liberty and ‘the big society’ are at the the heart of their campaign, something’s incurably wrong.

Especially at  a time where the ‘war on terror’ is a critical issue in the Middle East, and British jihadists are involved, MP’s should do more to subsume all sections of society than provoke anger.

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Why Gethin Chamberlain’s views on Goa are ill-founded

Yesterday, while browsing through the travelogues on Guardian, I stumbled upon Gethin Chamberlain’s article, ‘Why Goa is looking to go upmarket – and banish Brits and backpackers’.

Chamberlain unwittingly paints Goa to be a place weary of hedonistic hippies, and parsimonious travellers, with the government now aiming to clampdown specifically on British tourists and backpackers.

While the Goa Government has been keen to raise the bar on the quality of tourism, Chamberlain, through his article is careless to imply the move is aimed specifically at British nationals.

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My first thoughts were; indeed there has been an unprecedented influx of the frugal, drug mongering, carousing visitors along the Anjuna, Moira and other popular belts – however a majority aren’t from the UK.

Infact, according to data tabled in the house by the tourism ministry, top arrivals to Goa’s sunny beaches in 2010 and 2011 were from European countries, namely Germany, Finland, France, Switzerland, Russia and Sweden. Others from Britain, Israel and the Middle East.

The steady decline in visitors from the UK is evident after seeing a 30 per cent fall in visitors to Goa, highlighted in an article by local Zee news network.  On the other hand, Russian arrivals have seen a sharp increase by more than 200 per cent.

As you read further into the article he says, ‘Tired of being India’s answer to Blackpool, it wants to go upmarket.’

Now, anyone having visited both places will say the comparison of Goa to Blackpool is unfathomable; to say the least it’s like comparing apples and mangoes.

Matthew Barham, having visited both places says, ‘Goa and Blackpool can’t really be compared.’

‘Goa is a historic and in large areas unspoiled. Its natural beauty displays its rich historical Portuguese roots in its architecture, local culture and predominantly Catholic heritage,’he added.

‘My experience of Blackpool is that of a tatty seaside resort constructed 150 years ago during the boom period of the industrial revolution, and is localized around a single concrete promenade that features low-brow seaside attractions that haven’t been updated since the 1970s.’

Its true in recent years, Goa’s natural beauty in some areas has faded due to over populated areas, beaches strewn with rubbish and public transport infrastructure that make it impossible to explore, unless you are willing to spend the spare dosh on taxis.

Nevertheless, UNESCO heritage sites, baroque style architecture of churches, and temples has not stopped the young, international and worldly travelers seeking inspiration and enlightenment in the small island.

While Mr. Lobo is discerning on the type of tourists he aims to attract, he is not far from the truth when he speaks about its declining image, and Goa’s plans to go upmarket. Although, it is a bit sinister and lazy of Chamberlain to base his conclusions on a single testimony of the shack owner. He could have interviewed a few more locals to deliver more insight as opposed to solely draw a conclusion based on an interview with the owner of the Shack Welfare society.

This isn’t the first time Gethin Chamberlain has got his facts wrong. In 2009, he wrongly reported 2000 people were released from the Sri Lankan government’s internment camps for Tamils. This was incorrect, and a correction followed stating the number was 5153 and more, according to the United Nations.

Another article written in context with the ever increasing numbers of rape across India read, ‘If girls look sexy, boys will rape. Is this what Indian men really believe?’

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The views reflected in the article were based on interviews with five waiters at a restaurant along a seaside beach, presumably unemployed. Why, of course, these would be anything but, shocking. Having been raised in Goa, this was not the mentality of the many men folk and peers I went to university or played sports with.

If I were to put this into the gang crime context in London, this is the equivalent of  myself walking up to a row of council flats in a dodgy suburb of London and asking the young unemployed  if they would murder another for their belongings.

The response is obvious.

Chamberlain is an example of a western journalist reporting in an eastern country where his views are visibly inaccurate on many levels. When trying to paint the picture of a country abroad, it’s ludicrous to compare Goa to Blackpool; and the government’s aim to ban British travellers is disingenuous.

For those who read this, even well-heeled travellers will have a misinformed view of the place and its people, when in truth, the facts state otherwise.  So while the Goa government is well meaning in implementing new laws for tourism, could there have been a misunderstanding in Chamberlain’s reportage?

As Edward Said pointed out in his book Orientalism, ‘Western study of the oriental countries was political intellectualism meant for European self-affirmation, rather than for objective intellectual enquiry and academic study of Eastern cultures. Hence, Orientalism functioned as a method of practical, cultural discrimination applied as a means of imperialist domination, producing the claim that the Western Orientalist knows more about the Orient than do the Orientals.

Diamond Jubilee street views: A glimpse of Gloriana leading a flotilla of a thousand boats past Battersea Bridge

It is said a picture says a thousand words.

However I wanted to take this a step further and capture the singing, chanting and unbelievable atmosphere at the Queens Diamond Jubilee from different points in London

Despite the dark skies and rainy weather, people were ebullient, celebrating and keen to get a glimpse of the 1 million especially designed Gloriana leading the 1000 boat flotilla

Did Rebekah Brooks get the media LOL at the Prime Minister ?

The media love it when people in the pubic eye have their foot in the mouth. And last week, Rebekah Brooks was not one to hold back when recounting her text exchanges with our very own Prime Minister David Cameron.

On Friday, Brooks told the Leveson inquiry Cameron signed off his text messages LOL for “lots of love”. She added: “That was until I told him it meant laugh out loud.”

What ensued after Rebecca’s evidence at the inquiry, not only took the British media by storm but also hit International news like Toronto based Globe and Mail and Business Insider to name a few. Not a single media organisation was to show some mercy to David Cameron’s ignorance of LOL text speak, infact of everything that came out of the inquiry, LOLgate featured as top story of the day.

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If anyone tuned into the Press review  on Sky news  that evening, even the panellists ie Alex Deane , Head of public Affairs at Weber Shandwick, former Cameron aide were ROTFL  about several references to LOLgate. Social media was a buzz with the LOL frenzy and many tweeting their concerns.

One Brown Moses said “How can we expect David Cameron to run the country when he doesn’t even know what LOL means? Talk about out of touch!

And another Twop Twips suggested the Prime Minister attend her text speak workshops, “DAVID CAMERON. It would benefit you to attend my Modern Acronyms and Text Speak seminar on the 15th, See You Next Tuesday, LOL x”

A certain member John Prescott had this picture on his twit feed

When it comes to the world of Acronyms, what was once ‘Lots of Love’ a few years or even a decade ago has become ‘Laugh out loud’ who knows what it might be tomorrow ‘Little old lady’ or ‘leave out Larry’. Is the PM a little behind in  ‘text speak’ or simply just far too occupied in the House of Lords addressing the nations woes.

The point being, David Cameron might not be the first to have found himself in a pickle. There are many people around who still use LOL to sign off texts using LOL for lots of love. Give the Tory a break and move on. Greece is on the verge of exiting the Euro as we speak, less than 80 days for the Olympics, JP Morgan’s Dimon is under fire for a shock trading causing losses worth $2 billion, now said to be $3billion and Manchester City are still celebrating their championship title win after 44 years!

So David Cameron, keep your head up and LOL !

Spain’s economy: What do some of London’s spaniards have to say

If you switch on the TV, or read the papers, headlines like these on the Spanish economy can’t escape you. As we move into the next quarter, one can only be hopeful, but looks like not much has changed since two years ago for the people of Spain.

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While most of these articles talk about the future, what analysts have to say, how long will it take before things fall into line and what needs to be done, which I think is imperative, my curiosity drove me to find out how this could have impacted people around me.  Looking for a different angle to that seen in the mainstream media about Spain’s dwindling economy , I approached my friends and people working in restaurants down the street to find out what they have to say.

At a restaurant in Upper Street, which has a vague spanish exterior, I’m curious to find out if there are any Spanish natives and then comes up Esther Alija, the Assistant Manager at Sangria. Despite the tough economic situation and depressing news about the economy, Esther is upbeat and optimistic. She says,” I came here four years ago to study TV production at the University of Middlesex with plans to go back to my country and work in a TV broadcasting house, but after my graduation I am still here.”

“I can’t go back there, there is not even a job for me in a restaurant. I work here part-time on weekends with shifts in between while I am still looking for work in my field, ” she said.

“My boyfriend is a qualified engineer and he is working as a waiter here in London. The south of Spain is in a worse condition than Madrid, and especially the villages, they are affected the worst,” she added

Prof. Luis Garicano, of London School of Economics said in his blog Nada es Gratis, “Since the beginning of the crisis, the percentage of households unemployed (ie, includes members unemployed or inactive) has increased about 8 percentage points and in about 36 percent of all households.”

Not so long ago, Ade Lozano and myself used to share a house in Sheffield. I wrote to Ade to find out if things were any better since she moved home to Seville last year. Currently unemployed, she said, “I’m an architect and I’ve been unemployed for nearly one and a half year. Unfortunately, the construction sector is one of the worst hit by the economic crisis.”

“Many things have changed since the recession. Job opportunities are close to nothing, even if you are a graduate or you have some work experience. If you are a very lucky excellent door-to-door sales agent or a sales representative you might get a job with some mobile network operator who will also then only pay you if you sell something,” she said.

Garciano shows an interesting statistic of the spanish unemployent levels going back to 1976. According to the EPA , first quarter of 2012 was bad, of the 20.5 million jobs that existed in Spain in the third quarter of 2007, 3 million have been destroyed in the crisis. This represents a 15% loss of existing jobs in 23 quarters, compared with 14% of jobs lost in 10 years of job losses from the crisis that began in 1976.

Without any income, people are compelled to spend less and are monitoring every penny, which has inevitably led to the closing of most small shops and bars in Seville.

Lozano said, ” I would be lying if I said this hasn’t taken a toll on my lifestyle. Certainly, since the recession, I’ve gone shopping only a few times and going out has been less. My social life has been reduced to watching a movie at home or going for a walk with some friends. As I don’t have any income I can’t afford to spend much money on things that are not essential but only those to cover my expenses. This situation has compelled me to change my habits and consume less.”

” The cost of living has gone up and people are consuming less. Cars are something people will not invest in these times and is seen as something as a luxury, ” said a 25 year old receptionist working at the restaurant.

Tatty, another said: Everybody knows the political situation is no good there. There is no work in Spain; I completed a degree in Business Administration and work as a waitress now. There are no jobs at all.”

The anonymous receptionist added, ” I studied in Germany but came here because my friends are here in London. Yes there are no jobs in Spain, but where I come from, Barcelona is still a lot better.”

So what are the reasons for Spain’s economic predicament? “Compared to Germany and France, I think we are worse off because people here are not interested in politics, they aren’t equipped with enough knowledge to fight the big corporations, financiers, politicians and the decision makers which makes it harder,” she added

Having said this, “I am still positive we will get out of it, everyone knows of the Great Depression of 1929 in America, its a cycle, we will come out of it,” she added.

“Worst enemies of press freedom are journalists themselves”

Apprehensive and hopeful, at 7pm , Frontline club is packed with  host BBC 4 radio presenter Steve Hewlett, panelists and members all gathered to discuss the extent to which former Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi influenced the media and its future after his resignation last year. With a majority italians, the evening’s panel and audience included a large number of journalists, academics and thinkers from Italy and the UK, two countries where the media’s conduct and independence has become an urgent part of the national agenda.

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Interestingly, condemnation of Berlusconi’s media involvement was not wholesale. Paolo Mancini, University of Perugia said,

“Everyone here will expect me to say one thing but I don’t think Berlusconi is controlling the media. It’s overstated.”

“Berlusconi tried to limit freedom of journalists but he did not succeed because there was the opposition press, particularly the print media,” agreed Gianpietro Mazzoleni, from the University of Milan.

“RAI 3 constantly make shows that have continued to keep people alive and alert people against Berlusconi “

However, some industry insiders were not convinced. Mattia Bagnoli, UK correspondent at the Italian news agency ANSA opposed:

“I must say he controlled much of the Italian media for a long time. We are not talking about news here but we are talking about culture and reality shows. What’s on television is a reflection of what he projects on to Italian people to enjoy life.”

“He had control in the media not only through television but also through print in the form of advertising through his company Mondadori,” he added.

As with all modern European countries, most Italians depend on television for their source of news and information. So was Berlusconi clever in choosing his medium?

Marco Niada, former bureau chief of Il Sole 24, said his television empire failed to keep pace with new media.

“He knows many Italian people don’t read. He thought without imposing too much influence through paper he could control them through TV. However, he started to be defeated by technology. He was still stuck in terrestrial TV and social media started to take over.”

It didn’t take long for the lurid saga of Berlusconi’s bunga bunga parties to surface. Giovanni, an Italian documentary director, pointed out coverage of the scandal in mainstream Italian TV media was poor, saying most people relied on the internet. Meanwhile a reporter from the Financial Times defended the Italian news output: “Don’t make the Italian media sound clandestine. La Repubblica went all out to cover the scandal extensively for days.”

Mattia added, “As an Italian news agency we are obliged to cover it impartially and we did.”

The discussion swiftly moved into the future of Italian media, now that Berlusconi is gone.

Mattia and Gianpietro weren’t entirely optimistic, as they feel many of the Italian MPs are still linked to Berlusconi.

“Mario Monti is here just to bring the country back from default. They need to rewrite the constitution for RAI,” said Mattia.

“Monti factor is crucial at this point,” said Gianpietro. We don’t know about the future but we can guess, Monti will take the opportunity to reform RAI but he will be cautious.”

Coming back to the question of press freedom, Steve asked whether a more liberal Italian media is possible in five years. Marco said,

“Worst enemies of press freedom are journalists themselves, It will take more than five years. “

As the Leveson Enquiry uncovers more evidence of press corruption in the UK, these words may ring true for the British and Italian news industries alike.

Meeting Italian PM Mario Monti in London

I was chuffed when my Senior Producer Rose asked me in to work for the Italian PMs first visit to London since being elected. A lot of details about his visit were obscure till late Monday evening and was to be confirmed only Tuesday, something you start getting used to working in news.

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When events such like these take place you have to be ready for many surprises as the day starts to unfold. At the last minute I hear about his visit to the Financial Times office in Southwark. I rushed with the camera crew, not many of the other media were there as this was not officially listed on the Italian government website governo.it

A lot about covering events like these is ensuring you are on top of your logistics, building entrances etc. Assumptions just don’t work. I had to make sure we were at the right place and not some back entrance, to film the first shots of his arrival.We managed to get hold of the Italian embassy press officer with only a few minutes to go, who confirmed details of filming access. I heard about a 20 minute delay in his arrival, and my feet were numb in the cold.

So what was Monti here for and what was he going to discuss? In the wake of what happened to the Costa Concordia that submerged in Giglio, I wondered if that would come up in the press conference, and right enough it did. Monti’s response to Costa Concordia sinking was ‘This could not and should not have happened”

He was here to reassure Britain to explain what they are doing to assure their finances are back on track. Since being elected, a lot of what he plans to do is tackle tax evasion and organised crime which is impacting the money flow within the country. With more regulations in place for borrowing many people have now turned to borrowing from mafia controlled private operators which is further digging a hole to the Italian economy.

At London Stock Exchange he is then heard saying ‘ We expect a shift in the mentality of tax payers and in the behaviour of tax payers in Italy. Growth is key.’

How much of this can be tackled? Much of the situation he is in reminds me of the time Obama took over from Bush and how he continues to battle it out every day still trying to undo all the damage Bush has done over the many years. However in this situation , its trying to turn around Berlusconi’s mess.

I was not up to speed with details of the other events at London School of Economics and the Stock Exchange but while I was in Houghton Street at the School of economics heard a group of protesters fighting against Montis plan to force through 33billion Euros of Cuts saying similar cuts have devastated the greek economy.

I had to rush back with my tapes and was hoping not to be stuck in traffic again. Back in the office I was reliant on twitter, and local feeds closely following his programme for the rest of the evening. Its too soon to say anything since its only two months since he has been in power. Speaking to most Italians they do feel that he has saved the ship from sinking further, only time will tell.