Journalism: The bridge between the truth and the lies

I’ve always been interested in writing. As I grew older, I realised that I would love to write for a living and so I was drawn to journalism. Although creative writing also inspired me, I loved the attraction of journalistic writing. For me, creative writing would be something I did in my spare time, perhaps writing the odd segment for a never-published novel, while journalism was a potential career. Journalists, we are often told, are sometimes seen as gatekeepers. The fourth estate. The bridge between those in power and those who elect them. Throughout history, the power of journalism to inform and shape debate and opinion has been shown time and again, and journalists are needed now more than ever.

Journalism attracts me because of the nature of the job – writing profusely and investigating new things, meeting new people, sharing new experiences. Although I currently don’t have much experience in journalism, I aim to gain more and improve my skills in this area. Journalism is such a broad area, which is another attraction for me. I have always been in awe, and inspired by, investigative journalists. Their work has helped inform the public, shape government police, bring to light repressive regimes and illegal activities, and countless other achievements. Journalists such as John Pilger and Greg Palast, amongst many others, were a source of inspiration for me. Other areas of journalism that interest me are war, conflict and terrorism reporting as well as political journalism. It is my aim to gain more experience in journalism, to become comfortable in the various practises and gain valuable writing skills.

Journalism is under attack at the moment, from censorship, restrictive laws, and the threat of increased regulations which could harm the freedom of press. Even the internet, a tool used for freedom of expression and connectivity, is a potential threat to journalism. The rise in ‘citizen’ journalists for example and the near-instant speed that news, images and video can be shared means that traditional journalism will have to change and adapt, or risk being damaged… However, it is also true that we need journalism now more than ever. With governments threatening to censor the internet, with oppression and conflicts still raging across the globe, with government corruption and propaganda still present, journalism is still the bridge between the rulers and the people. The gap between the truth and the lies.

Outcry from civil liberty groups as Police buy digital tracking software

One Nation Under CCTV

Image by tj.blackwell via Flickr

The Metropolitan Police have bought a security programme which can track suspects and their associates in the digital world, prompting a backlash from civil liberties groups and privacy campaigners, the Guardian reports.

The Met, Britain’s largest police force, has its hands on Geotime, a security programme used by the US military. It can collate digital data and can be used to generate a three-dimensional graphic,  showing an individual’s movements and communications with other people. It can collect the information from social networking sites, satellite navigation equipment, mobile phones, IP logs, and even financial transactions.

Given the contention with the Met’s policing of the recent demonstrations, it is natural that there would be an outcry against such a purchase. It is emerging that the Met has been keeping tabs on “domestic extremists” – ordinary citizens who attend peaceful demonstrations or affiliate with activist groups. A recent example has been that of John Catt, an 86 year old man, who has had his presence at peaceful protests and demos logged in secret by police units over four years. He is currently attempting legal action against the police. He has no criminal record, yet has been systematically stalked by police units.

There has also been an outcry against the infiltration of green activist groups by undercover police of late. Civil rights and privacy campaigners and lawyers are expressing concern at how the software could potentially be used to monitor innocent parties, in breach of data protection legislation. As their current track record is not immaculate, these concerns are potentially very valid.

Alex Hanff, the campaigns manager at Privacy International, said: “Once millions and millions of pieces of microdata are aggregated, you end up with this very high-resolution picture of somebody, and this is effectively what they are doing here.”

“We shouldn’t be tracked and traced and have pictures built by our own government and police for the benefit of commercial gain.”

Sarah McSherry, a partner at Christian Khan Solicitors, which represents several protesters in cases against the Metropolitan police, said: “We have already seen the utilisation of a number of tactics which infringe the right to peaceful protest, privacy and freedom of expression, assembly and movement. All of these have a chilling effect on participation in peaceful protest.”

“This latest tool could also be used in a wholly invasive way and could fly in the face of the role of the police to facilitate rather than impede the activities of democratic protesters.”

The Met has confirmed that Geotime has been paid for, yet has declined to give a figure. Several possible uses for the software are being assessed, yet there has been no comment on whether the software might be used during investigations into public order offences.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Met stated: “We are in the process of evaluating the Geotime software to explore how it could possibly be used to assist us in understanding patterns in data relating to both space and time. A decision has yet to be made as to whether we will adopt the technology [permanently]. We have used dummy data to look at how the software works and have explored how we could use it to examine police vehicle movements, crime patterns and telephone investigations.”

Alongside the Met, the Ministry of Defence is also examining Geotime. A spokesman said: “The MoD is assessing Geotime as part of its research programme but it is not currently being used on operations.”

Man throws snowball at police, faces court

Firstly, welcome once more to Police State Britain, soon to be renamed Airstrip One. A man who threw a snowball at a police officer just before Christmas faces a second court hearing next week after being charged with “common assault”.

Dean Smith, aged 31, had been playing with his family and five-year old stepson in the snow. A playful snowball fight ensued, and Dean threw a snowball at a police officer who was nearby. Nothing more happened until three days later when police officers arrived at his house in a riot van, handcuffed him, and charged him with “common assault”. Now I don’t know what nationality the officers were, but here in Airstrip One snow is not that “common”. Personally, I would have called that an uncommon assault. After all, it’s not everyday you get “assaulted” by snowballs, is it?

It’s a total joke,” said Smith. “I had been playing with my stepson, having a little snowball fight. I had one snowball in my left hand and saw the police officer and just threw it at her as a joke – I’m not even sure it hit her. Nothing happened so I didn’t think much more of it. Then three days later [the police] turned up at my house in a riot van and arrested me for assaulting a PC. I couldn’t believe it – I thought they had the wrong person.”

Nobody has been able to believe what is happening,” Smith continues. “Even other police officers I have spoken with since were laughing, saying they can’t believe [the case] is going ahead.” The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is deciding whether to proceed with the case or give Smith a caution. “What really gets me is how much money this has cost the taxpayer,” Smith said.

“National Security” excuse used one too many times?

Shami Chakrabarti at Humber Mouth on 28 June 2007

Image via Wikipedia

The government has been accused of using the fabled “threat to national security” excuse as a justification to suppress or withhold information that does not, in fact, pose any threat to national security.

Shami Chakrabarti, the director of the civil rights group Liberty, wrote to the attorney General, Dominic Grieve, stating that ministers and their lawyers were abusing their positions. Chakrabarti stated that increasingly, the government is citing “national security” in court cases to supress information that could be potentially embarrassing.

The “War on Terror” essentially allows governments and ministers to abuse the perpetual hightened security alerts that they themselves implement. The most common excuse used to justify the witholding of information or for persuing a contentious course of action is that it is for the preservation of “national security”. It is difficult to contest this as, typically, one has to take the government’s “word” for it; they cannot show “evidence” for their claims as that, too, could breach “national security”. Which is convenient.

Now, however, the government has come under attack Continue reading

WikiLeaks: Hero or Villain?

Logo used by Wikileaks

Image via Wikipedia

As of 17:26, 29th November 2010, WikiLeaks has released only a “handful” of the 250,000 strong cache of secret US embassy documents – a total of 243 at present. Yet already the international community has been set ablaze, with politicians condemning the release of the confidential reports – some labelled “Not for foreign eyes” (NOFORN).

Across the globe, governments and diplomats are taking action to limit the damage and to preserve foreign relations. Some are attempting to take action against WikiLeaks – Australia has launched a “whole-of-government” investigation into the website, perhaps partly due to the fact that the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, is an Australian citizen. Australia’s attorney general Robert McClelland said: “We’re waiting for advice from the agencies as to appropriate course of actions that may be taken in response”. Downing Street has condemned the release, stating that the leaks have damaged “national security”. Pakistan has also criticised the release; it’s foreign ministry spokesman, Abdul Basit, said today: “We condemn the irresponsible disclosure of sensitive official documents”. China has censored local media, banning any reporting on the subject. The French government has described the leaks as an attack on democracy, pledging their support to the American administration. Naturally, US politicians and diplomats are vehemently condemning WikiLeaks and Eric Holder, the US attorney-general, explained that “there is an active, ongoing criminal investigation” whilst threatening that some members of the media will face “real consequences”. One US official is even calling for WikiLeaks to be branded as a “terrorist organistion”, though it does not appear as if many support this reactionist statement.

But how “treasonous” is WikiLeaks act?  Despite the fact that many of the cables have been marked “secret”, there are approximately 3 million Americans with the clearance to read the documents. It is clear that “secret” is a relevant classification in this sense. Continue reading

Broken Promises, Broken Buildings

A peaceful protest turns violent as protesters storm Conservative Party HQ, smashing windows and lighting fires

[This is a video montage that I created using footage of the student protest in London, November 10th. It includes video clips from several sources, and I have included footage of Nick Clegg filmed prior to the General Election. I in no way advocate the violence or the damage to property that occurred during the demonstration, however the aim of this video is to convey the emotions and feelings of the activists engaged in the protest in contrast to the promises made by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg prior to the election. This video is not-for-profit and I do not own the rights to the footage used. I will be happy to remove any or all footage if asked to by the owners.]

Over 50,00 students turned up in London on Wednesday to protest the government’s proposal to raise University tuition fees by more than 200%, which could leave many students paying back the debt for the rest of their working lives.

The student protest began peacefully despite the unanticipated scale of the demonstration and the underwhelming police presence. The demonstration marched from Horse Guards Parade, central London, and past Westminster, however when the march reached the rally point at Millbank, the protest took a turn for the worse.

At around 1.37pm it is reported that over a hundred protestors broke off from the crowd and stormed Millbank Tower, the Conservative party’s headquarters, occupying the lobbies and waving flags from the rooftops, shouting “Tory Scum!” and “Nick Clegg, we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too”, according to the Guardian’s Matther Taylor, who was present.

Workers were evactuated from the building shortly after as the protestors smashed windows, threw missiles, lit emergency flares, spray-painted anarchist logos and anti-Tory messages on the walls, Continue reading