What does charity mean to you? Is it giving when there’s nothing left to give or delivering a portion of funds dedicated to improving lives in more disadvantaged areas of the world? But what happens when scandal erupts, muddying established reputations for giving and disrupting their operations? You often get an amalgamation of finger-pointing and outrage without much in the way of in-depth discussion.
Soon after the Oxfam scandal, allegations also sprang up against Brendan Cox, very much a resulting factor of the #MeToo movement which exploded in 2017. The first allegation came from a filing in 2015 in which Brendan was alleged to have sexually assaulted a woman at Harvard University in the United States; he was never charged for this, but more details eventually surfaced regarding inappropriate behaviour in his time at the Save the Children charity. In an admittance of guilt, Brendan Cox recently stepped down from his posts, stating: “I want to apologise deeply and unreservedly for my past behaviour and for the hurt and offence that I have caused”. Cox’s behaviour is hard to believe at first glance but simultaneously it is vastly disappointing to see someone expected to represent honest and progressive interests take such a drastic downturn in values. He does his family, particularly his wife Jo, an immense disservice with these deeds and will likely not work for the charity sector again. The controversy didn’t stop there as later the man in charge of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, also resigned due to quote: “unsuitable and thoughtless texts to female staff”
Both scandals point to the notion of “trial by media”, a point in which the media and online discussion ends up deciding for the masses how guilty an organisation or person is, thereby setting the tone and direction of the conversation before any civil debate can take place. This paradox of charity work against unsavoury behaviour from those at the top speaks to several debates including power and position and the way we react to such scandals. Politics inevitably seeps into the scene; type in #Oxfam or #BrendanCox into Twitter and you’ll find a maelstrom of rage coming from the right wing, with the vitriol being directed at a single person more often than not. This raises another question; do we question how and why charity went wrong or vilify absolutely the organisations and the people who run them? I disagree with the latter; while the cliché of “a few bad apples” may reflect badly on charities, it should not discount the work charities do.
With that said, the way we handle organisations and individuals can differ drastically; charities should be held to account with the confidence that their work to give to others will continue while also tackling the few individuals that violate their goals. The British actor Simon Pegg said it best in a recent interview: “Oxfam is an organisation which helps countless people; I think it would be wrong to hold entire organisation to account for the actions of a few people”. On the other hand, holding individual people responsible for their actions is more complicated; we are all imperfect but should misconduct vilify us for the rest of our lives? This is made all too easy in the digital age and should instead be determined through an appropriate punishment in the justice system. Nevertheless, charity work should continue if we are to look outwards, rather than inwards as the UK is doing so often nowadays, with an increased emphasis on ensuring that each charity worker is both accountable and ethical in their responsibilities.
Boris Johnson; what a character… That’s probably the simplest way to describe the UK’s current Foreign Secretary. For many years he’s been in the spotlight, his time as the mayor of London being one example, though recently this has often been for the wrong reasons; last year he was one of the spearheads behind the leave campaign and while he wasn’t quite as vitriolic as Nigel Farage, Johnson still gained infamy for his use of a bright red bus with the slogan: “We send £350 Million a week to the EU; let’s spend that money instead on the NHS”. Of course, we know that this trick worked and Boris hoped this would propel him towards a leadership position, which instead went to Theresa May. Dishonesty and its openness have drastically increased in the UK since last year’s referendum; a willingness to twist facts and get the result you want, in turn gaining a higher ability to impose your personal interests on everyone else.
Johnson’s veering off to the side to write a self-promoting article speaks volumes of how the press plays a significant role in political procedure. The papers hold UK politicians to account but often they’re known to throw their support behind a specific party in the election; the Daily Telegraph in Boris Johnson’s case is no different. Media ownership by rich moguls is a big problem in the UK and this facilitates a medium where a pompous self-interest takes centre stage. Since Johnson repeated the false £350 million claim, the Telegraph has followed up with further articles showing fellow politician Michael Gove throwing his support into the mix; they spread the slogan without questioning it, common people read and move towards believing them; with such a massive disconnect with politics in the UK, this is how it usually goes. In return, many politicians find themselves working for newspapers, the most recent of which being George Osborne becoming the editor of the Evening Standard and Nick Clegg joining the i Paper as a columnist.
Nowadays I find myself in a somewhat similar position; writing this blog and expressing my individual opinions with a journalism degree under my belt while pursuing a planned career in international affairs, particularly through the UK’s Civil Service. I’m of the opinion that you check your biases at the door when working for this sector; what would happen if I suddenly leaked some information to the press or wrote an article bigging myself up while working to undermine my superiors? I’d probably be sacked immediately, no questions asked. This comes back to my previous post on leadership where a lack of accountability has allowed the higher-ups to get away with breaking the rules set out by democratic institutions. In my opinion, the rules and ethical conduct of country branches should travel all the way to the top, ensuring accountability is maintained and that neglect of position and responsibility is cut down. As for Boris Johnson, he’s likely to keep his job, despite the frustration from commentators, with Theresa May apparently working to rein him in so as not to look to wobbly. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess, but he’s sure to be discredited further if continues to spread falsehoods.
(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)
2016 was a difficult year in many ways, there was much in the way of bitterness and little in the way of understanding; what went wrong over the past 365 days could almost be considered a chain reaction of sorts; there was something radical about this year, a point where numerous systems and sensibilities were suddenly thrown out the window in a blind rage. This is something I’ll try to consider and reflect on here, however difficult it may be from a purely UK perspective.
When talking about the Western world however, most eyes point to the UK and the United States who both took grossly misguided steps that may well end up destroying the values of openness, acceptability and freedom. The picture above explains better than words what happened to both nations in 2016; two lying conmen, masquerading as anti-establishment standing in a gold-plated lift with smug grins on their faces over how they managed to trick two of the most powerful western nations into voting against their own interests. They really did bring change this year; specifically, they made things worse and both times, events that should have derailed the two conmen had little to no effect. In the UK, MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far right terrorist chanting “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” while in the US, Trump could get away with making vulgar remarks about women and walking free from his criticism of a disabled reporter and countless ethnic minorities. It was blindingly clear that the two cons were disastrous. Britain has been hurled to the back of the queue on the world stage and into a period of uncertainty without any plan or a deal that would leave us better off and the United States has an incredibly misguided and potentially dangerous presidency coming in January 2017. On both sides of the world, the two big votes were fraught with infighting, vitriolic exchanges across social media and many instances that whipped some (not all) people into frenzies of anger and resentment. This often happens with any election but 2016 felt so unhinged and furious in the West that the structure of politics, left and right, looked set to come crashing down; not for reasons of progress but for more efficient division and manipulation of the masses to go down a specific path.
This erosion and hacking of Britain’s democracy didn’t stop at the EU referendum; Theresa May’s government passed the snoopers charter into law, perhaps the most extensive surveillance laws in the world; no discussion, no debate, they were simply put through and will come into effect next year. All companies will be required to hold browsing data (Categorised by who, what, when and where) for thousands of people across the UK with public authorities having free rein to access devices. On top of this, the government can demand a backdoor into devices from companies to allow for even more intrusion; consider the notion of all MPs being exempt from the charter and you have an extremely suspicious law coming into effect. Then there was the successful bid for Sky by media mogul Rupert Murdoch; after his last attempt was derailed by the phone hacking scandal in 2011, NewsCorp will now take over the large British broadcaster for £11.2 billion, handing over even more control to corporate media. It doesn’t bode well for public perception (which for years has been manipulated by the tabloid press) and it certainly doesn’t bode well for journalism either as a greater control and agenda is enacted on the media. Some have stated that Sky News won’t turn into Fox News in the States, but it may be worth taking their future coverage with a grain of salt. What could happen next? According to an account in the book: Hack Attack by Nick Davis, Murdoch may wish to steamroll British regulator Ofcom, imposing a complete domination of the UK press without any barriers. That’s worth keeping an eye on.
Looking ahead to 2017, what kind of progress can be made? Can we manage to learn from the massive uptake of xenophobia and division? Or will some nations, especially the West, descend into further nastiness? It may well come down to common people, who can’t be blamed for 2016’s missteps as they were horribly misled by the people above them, to make the biggest action against changes that will negatively impact them in the future, not to mention challenge racism, bigotry and those who would cause further damage and division. To close, I think this alternative Christmas message from Brendan Cox suits best; it’s something that everyone should watch and consider as we go into the new year.
(Images in the public domain used for the purposes of review and criticism)
As 2016 comes to a close, politics is looking to the future after a set of thunderous earthquakes; there’s one particular trend I’ve noticed. After a Supreme Court ruling, the triggering of the Brexit process was debated in Parliament. I had some hope that the Labour and Liberal Democrats would be able to halt its progress. Perhaps both parties could have pulled together and fight the Brexit con, letting the people know why their vote was the product of lies and manipulation. But it was not to be as parliament voted vastly in favour (461 for to 89 against) of making the Conservatives release a plan for Brexit and aiming to trigger article 50 for next year at the end of March. The controversial move is all but confirmed; quite disappointing but did they really have much of a choice? To go against a vote, even if it was a con would be a bad move from any party wanting to win the next election. Consider the tabloid media’s attack on the UK’s judicial judges after they stated that Brexit could not be triggered without a vote in parliament first (Which is a fundamental part of our democratic process). If Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron denied Brexit from going through, the media would tear into them relentlessly and they might as well kiss the 2020 election goodbye. It’s this kind of acceptance that compels parties to act for the bigger picture rather than making moves that could anger the populous. It is also indicative of just how much sway external forces and the media have over the UK. Conversely, the move is certainly holding the current government to account; if Theresa May and her cabinet fail to deliver a comprehensive Brexit plan before then, they will be held as incompetent by their rival parties, thus diminishing their own reputation.
It’s not just the UK who is tossing around ideas of appeasement; Germany’s next election is taking place between August and October 2017 and this has brought further measures which could be tied in with the events to come. Chancellor Angela Merkel has recently endorsed her party’s proposition for a partial burqa ban, stating that “the full facial veil is inappropriate and should be banned wherever it is legally possible”. When an election is bearing down on you, do you maintain your common policy or alter it somewhat to put more emphasis on integration while also making a light appeal to the far-right sects that have become more common in recent years? It’s easy to suggest that the need to stay in power and win elections is the principal goal of any political party, but this may well come at the cost of inclusiveness. The far right and populism is a side that can no longer be ignored in this regard and it’s possible that aspects of that political viewpoint may slowly become a larger consideration for the left to deal with in the future. We’ll have to watch 2017 carefully.
(Images used for the purposes of review under fair use. Tabloid headlines in public domain)
Being able to speak your mind on social media is a widely enjoyed freedom in the Western world and with the power of the internet, it becomes ever more difficult to quell and censor individuals, that is unless you stand at a higher position than the person you are targeting. The latest case of censorship lies within CNN and their recent two week suspension of Elise Labott, who posted a tweet on the 19th of November expressing her dislike of a passed US government bill.
The bill in question approved security agencies to screen all Syrian and Iraqi refugees, thus making it more difficult for them to enter the United States. She made an apology for the tweet a day later, calling it inappropriate and disrespectful, though I suspect this may have been due to external pressure from her employer. This tweet was met with one side saying that she doesn’t have to apologise for her human response, while the other was critical of her bias and lack of objectivity. CNN’s social media policy is quite ruthless in the way it restricts its reporters from commenting and editorialising online; it aims to maintain its position as the non-partisan news organisation, as well as neutrality with all of its reporters. By tweeting towards one side or another on social media, CNN believes that this compromises a reporter’s ability to be viewed as objective and from their point of view; Labott broke an agreement that was made with her employer.
Everyone, It was wrong of me to editorialize. My tweet was inappropriate and disrespectful. I sincerely apologize.
CNN hasn’t been a stranger to controversy in their coverage of recent events; their generalisation of countries with Muslim communities, alongside stating that Muslims cannot “shirk” responsibility for the Paris attacks was met with strong criticism and anger from several outlets and communities. According to the broadcaster, the Muslim community is supposed to personally know everything about ISIS and their main operatives, as well their operations and because of this, they are branded as much to blame as the terrorists who committed the attacks. This kind of ignorance insults the Muslim community, distancing and preventing everyone from coming to a common understanding about the difference between Muslims and ISIS. The terror organisation brings its own twisted ideas and interpretations, abusing, skewing and warping Islam to do so and as such, they do not account for the entire Muslim population; why the mainstream media cannot grasp onto this is anyone’s guess.
In terms of where things stand, I’m with Labott and her supporters on this; for starters, it’s her personal Twitter account and CNN doesn’t have any right to control what she talks about on something that belongs to her. It’s going against freedom of speech. Secondly, whatever Labott posts on Twitter is completely separate from her work and has not harmed or slandered anyone. Lastly, and this may be the most important thing; she’s telling the truth. The bill that just passed WILL make things more difficult for refugees; it will cut back on the amount of people the United States will accept and it does go against the promise of freedom in American society. Labott made a case with her tweet that following morals and simply being human is far more beneficial to the viewer than staying the course and remaining neutral, omitting several key facts and information in the process.
If you are giving the facts and conveying the truth, then this is always the better course to take, even if a strict series of company rules restricts and regulates this kind of behaviour. Despite the support Labott has received from many on social media, this kind of incident has made me wary of joining some larger news organisations. When taking on a position, are we also obliged to keep our opinions perfectly aligned with whom we are affiliated with? Are we forced to keep quiet when we personally disagree with something our organisation covered on the evening news? Is criticism of major political and societal decisions outlawed the moment we put our name to a job contract? There needs to be a better balance between reporting the news in accordance with a company’s guidelines, while also being able to speak your mind on issues that matter.
(Images sourced from Google Images: All labelled for reuse)
(All tweets used are attributed to Elise Labott’s Twitter account @eliselabottcnn)
This post was written as part of the pens4peace campaign at Bournemouth University. For more details on the #ItsUPtoUs campaign, take a look at our Twitter page: https://twitter.com/pens4peace