The art and science of communications: From strategic to personal

Category Archives: Mass media

Ben Goldacre of the Guardian, has a major beef with the poor standard of science reporting in the media.  And who can blame him?

You read the newspapers, you listen to the radio, you watch television and scientists and researchers are claiming this, that and the other, to the extent that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the public to decide what is absolute fact and what is more debatable.

Perusing the media we can see that exercise makes you fat, coffee makes you see dead people, and Facebook causes cancer, the list is endless – what are we, the public, to make of these  apparently scientific facts?  The swine flu issue is now under close examination – with claims that lobbying by pharmaceutical companies managed to increase the hype and perceived danger, for their own advantage.  Lobbying by industries is seen as a legitimate function but what are the implications for the reporting of scientific fact? And if that wasn’t enough, the reporting of scientific evidence surrounding climate change is a highly contentious area, not least exemplified by Channel 4’s Great Global Warming Swindle and more recently by the data leaked from University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.  With two such entrenched camps in the debate, how balanced is the media in its scientific reporting?

During the Darwin Lecture Series, CB3 met Ben and asked him to justify his anger at scientific reporting in the media.


Organised by the University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES), Monday 22 March 2010 sees the final event of Communicating European Citizenship project, with a conference hosted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, uniting academic experts in communication, citizenship and European integration from a range of disciplines (politics, law, sociology, communications). Programme highlights include:

1)  The FCO’s Role in Communicating the EU to Young People – Alison Rose, Head of the Europe Communications, Institutions, Treaty and Iberia Group

2)  Perceptions of the EU and the Challenge of Communicating with Young EU Citizens – Jenny Fairbrass, Co-convenor of project/UACES Treasurer and Stephen Fairbrass, Co-convenor of project/Senior Lecturer in Citizenship Education, with feedback from the Continuing Professional Development and Year 9/10 conferences held earlier in 2010.

3)   Round Table to Consider Perceptions of the EU and the Challenge of Communicating with Young EU Citizenschaired by Alex Warleigh-Lack, Brunel University

*         Albert Weale, University College London

*         Don Rowe, Citizenship Foundation

*         Jean Lambert MEP

*         Andy Thorpe, Bradford Academy

*         Anna Neale, Longdendale Community Language College

4)  Ten Research Panels, each comprising three papers, on the following themes:

*       National dimension and citizenship

*       Economic issues and citizenship

*       Participation and elections

*       Education and citizenship

*       The media and citizenship

*       Social and Environmental citizenship

*       Legal issues

*       Civil Society

*       Active citizenship and local/regional issues

*       Communication strategy and discourse

Please see http://www.uaces.org/events/conferences/cec/for details of the project (co-funded by the European Commission), the programme of research panels, and in order to register.

Communicating European Citizenship - quite a task!


The possibility of reform of the UK’s unjust libel laws appears to be growing. Indeed, the Secretary of State for Justice,  Jack Straw is hoping to push through the findings of the working party on libel reform, before the next general election. 

Our current laws create a chilling effect on the writing, reporting and broadcasting of information, when powerful concerns can threaten debilitating libel action against any who threaten their interests.  It’s not that the libel laws are themselves completely at fault but that they encourage astronomical costs to be involved in libel action, in some cases nore than 100 times more costly than in Europe.  The horrific costs of a libel case mean that losing can result in a legal bill running to over £1m (even if the damages are just £10,000).  The result is that the UK has become the top global location for libel tourism or even, as some have termed it, libel terrorism.

Libel Laws - keeping these guys busy.

The cases highlighted by the Libel Reform Campaign should add greater pressure for reform. The cases of Simon Singh and Peter Wilmshurst highlight the real dangers and distortion that the suppression of free expression through the courts can present to the public.  Wilmshurst is being sued in the UK by a US company, NMT Medical Inc, for an article written by a Canadian medical journalist and published on a US website. The journalist was reporting a lecture given by Wilmshurst at a major medical conference in the US.  Simon Singh was sued by the British Chiropractic Association after he wrote an article in the Guardian criticising the association for supporting members who claim that chiropractic treatments – which involve manipulation of the spine – can treat children’s colic, sleeping and feeding problems, frequent ear infections, asthma and prolonged crying.  As Bad Science author Ben Goldacre puts it, any law that stifles critical appraisal is a danger to patients and the public.  Most recently, Danish radiologist Henrik Thomsen has spoken of his fears of discussing his work after a subsidiary of General Electric claimed he had damaged its reputation by raising concerns about a product.

The campaigning done by Index on Censorship, English PEN and Sense about Science under the banner of the Libel Reform Coalition has led over 20,000 people to sign a petition and MPs to receive 7,000 letters and emails in just a few months.   Supporters include Stephen Fry, Lord Rees of Ludlow, Ricky Gervais, Martin Amis, Jonathan Ross, James Randi, Professor Richard Dawkins, Penn & Teller and Professor Sir David King, former Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government.

These, and other, cases present a clear reminder that English libel laws need to change. The US has already realised that there is something fundamentally wrong with our legal system and is taking action. Indeed, American states are now individually passing laws to protect their citizens from libel actions in the UK and as a result English libel judgments will soon carry no weight in America.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg are already considering reform of our libel laws seriously and the clamour for reform is being made clear from several quarters, not least the Libel Reform Campaign.


A recent study, by TLG Communications, presents sobering reading for all those social/digtal/new (or even ‘now’) media  gurus out there.

A poll of 1,000 opinion leaders found radio had more influence than any other media on corporate reputation. Television came second and print third, while online languished in fourth place.

IPlayer - Digital convergence keeping traditional forms alive and thriving.

It’s a timely reminder that even in the technology-saturated West the older, more traditional forms of communication still have considerable sway and relevance.  In fact, if anything, new technology, such as iPlayer, have given radio and mainstream television an added boost.  TLG founder Malcolm Gooderham said:

“This year, for the first time, we have surveyed the influence of different med­ia on brand reputation. Given the prevalence of new media companies being nominated as thought leaders, it may be surprising that the overwhelming winner in the med­ia category is old ­media, and almost 100 years old at that.”

Digital convergence is still the main factor in the transformation of the communication environment but it’s worthwhile remembering that this convergence is of new and old media, not the birth of a totally unique phenomena at the expense of what has gone before.

As Clay Shirky adeptly explained at a TED Talk earlier this year:

“The media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. And that’s good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations. … The Internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time. Where as the phone gave us the one to one pattern. And television, radio, magazines, books, gave us the one to many pattern. The Internet gives us the many to many pattern. For the first time media is natively good at supporting these kinds of conversations.”

The good old wireless ... a bit smaller now and less like a Dalek, but popular nevertheless.

Just so, but we humans are still tuned into the big message coming from the central hub.  The way we source our information, and thereby create our ‘worldviews’ and form our opinions, is changing rapidly.  The online communities still tend to form their conversations around what has been despatched via a traditional system, excepting the occasional on-line viral successes.  As long as power structure still feature a degree of centrality, regardless of the shift of power, the traditional forms of communication, aided and abetted by digital technology, will remain a focus and the likes of BBC News at Ten and Channel 4 News will still play a major role in the structure of society.

Long live new media, but may old media never die.


The UK’s new Minister of Defence, Bob Ainsworth, gave his first public speech on Wednesday 8 July at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), wordled below.  Now, Ainsworth, unlike his predecessors, has previous in the area of defence, as in he was Minister of State for the Armed Forces from June 2007, so he’s pretty much up to speed on what it’s all about.  Further, he’s known as a straight talker.

Ainsworth1

So his first speech as Minister of Defence could have been expected to be a no-nonsense justification of UK military operations and presence in Helmand, especially with casualty rates amongst his troops currently so appalingly high, which has given the media extra focus on Afghanistan.  The circumstances, unfortunate and saddening as they are, the timing and the platform gave an opportunity for the MoD to give heightened voice to a message which is not being heard by the British public, a message clearly articulating why the UK is doing what it’s doing, and suffering because of it, in a far off counry.

Indeed, Ainsworth was refreshingly forthright, admitting that the problems faced are grave and serious.  Further, he did attempt to show signs of a strategy, articulating several steps necessary, many already under way, to stabilise the situation and reach an ‘end state’, not an end date.  Indeed, he stated that ‘more lives will be lost and our resolve will be tested’ – no pulling of punches here.  In fact, that was the message received by the media, as scores of headlines, from the BBC to the tabloids reiterated the warning of further lives being lost.

Yet as to explaining why, an opportunity was missed.  Of the 2943 words of the speech, only 220 words, less than 10%, were invested in that crucial element of explaining why.  Any message explaining why it is vital that the UK continue to puts its people in harm’s way was drowned out, if really attempted at all.

The MoD itself seemed to be caught up in its own tight worldview, panglossian in its attempt to be seen to be  filling this yawning information gap.  As can be seen from its own website, despite the lack of real attempt to deal with the ‘why’ question, MoD were keen to portray the speech as one in which “Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth has given a speech today explaining why the British Armed Forces are on operations in Afghanistan”.

Unfortunately he didn’t.  A fine speech it may have been, but it didn’t do what it says on the tin.

Of course it would be naive to think that good old-fashioned politics would merely allow such a speech to go ahead.  Yet politics is about power and influence and retaining it.  And modern democratic politics cannot achieve such things without an informed public.  With operations at high tempo, and serving personnel working bloody hard to achieve their objectives, and suffering in order to do so, the media ensures that Afghanistan remains in the spotlight in the eyes of the public.  Under this spotlight and with a new, straight talking Minister, there is a window of opportunity to articulate the governments reasons for pursuing such a difficult course, to inform its public so they may at least understand.  Those at Chatham House might understand (and remember this was a public speech – Chatham House was the location not the audience), CB3 might understand, most journalists might  understand, but the majority of the British public remain unclear as to why our Armed Forces are being asked to do what they are doing.  The window of opportunity for changing that won’t stay open for long.



IS THE PUBLIC INTEREST UNDER THREAT?

MEDIA POLICY RESPONSES TO THE PRIVATE SECTOR RECESSION IN EUROPE

Symposium jointly organised by the Communication and Media Research Institute (CAMRI), University of Westminster, and the European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA)

Date:  2 October, 2009

Venue: University of Westminster, Regent Str Campus, 309 Regent Str, London W1B 2UW

camri_logo

THE TOPIC

In virtually every European country, the private media sector is suffering intense economic pressure from the cyclical downturn in advertising and the structural shift of advertising revenue to the web. As a result, corporations are pursuing every avenue to exploit new and existing means of generating revenue, and of maximising the potential of digitalisation. This is having a direct impact on the policy making process at both national and supranational levels as governments and regulatory agencies are coming under increasing pressure to restrict new initiatives in the public sector, to apply the strictest possible criteria to publicly funded media organizations, and to relax overall regulatory oversight of the private sector.

This symposium will seek to bring together scholars and regulators from around Europe to discuss the nature of new policy initiatives being canvassed or implemented, and their repercussions for promoting (or foreclosing) the public interest. Topics of particular interest include, but are not limited to:

·         Means of exploiting the “public” to alleviate pressures on the “private” (partnership deals, sharing proceeds of public funding etc.)

·         Limits on expansion or interpretation of public service broadcaster remits

·         Circumscribing funding opportunities for Public Service Media (PSM)

·         Proposals to change or reduce advertising controls or restrictions

·         Relaxing restrictions on concentration of ownership

·         Proposals to change or relax cross-ownership regimes at local, regional or national levels

·         Initiatives and responses at the EU level

There will be three themed sessions and one plenary session consisting of two keynote speakers. The precise themes will depend on abstracts received, but are provisionally designated as

i.                     relaxation of regulatory regimes and potential consequences

ii.                   pressures on PSBs and regimes of public funding

iii.                  ownership, consolidation and threats to pluralism

The model for this symposium will be short position papers of no more than 10 minutes in length designed to prompt cross-national discussion and debate. Our objective is to promote a better understanding of how governments and regulators within Europe are responding to the inevitable pressure to accommodate the private sector, and perhaps to anticipate some of the consequences. The emphasis will therefore be on discussion and exchange.

Our intention is then to select around 10 papers to be written up for an edited collection arising out of the symposium.

PROGRAMME AND REGISTRATION

The symposium will take place from 9.30 to 5.30 on Friday, October 2nd. There will be three sessions consisting of concurrent panels and one plenary session.

Online registration will open in September 2009.

DEADLINE FOR ABSTRACTS

Abstracts (between 300 and 500 words) addressing one or more of the above topics, and including a brief set of questions posed by the proposed paper, should be emailed in Word-format to  <Journalism@wmin.ac.uk <mailto:Journalism@wmin.ac.uk> > by Monday July 6th, 2009. Each abstract must include the presenter’s name, affiliation, email and postal address, together with the title of the paper and a brief biographical note on the presenter.

The selection committee will comprise members of CAMRI’s Policy Group and ECREA’s Communication Law & Policy Group.  Applicants will be advised by the end of July 2009 of the outcome of their submissions.

More information will be available in due time on the conference websites:

http://www.wmin.ac.uk/camri

<https://webmail.wmin.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.wmin.ac.uk/camri>

<https://webmail.wmin.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://www.wmin.ac.uk/camri>

http://commlawpolicy.wordpress.com

<https://webmail.wmin.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://commlawpolicy.wordpress.com/>

<https://webmail.wmin.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=https://webmail.wmin.ac.uk/exchweb/bin/redir.asp?URL=http://commlawpolicy.wordpress.com/>


Every year PRWeek produces the ‘Power Book’ – the definitive guide to the most influential people in Public Relations (CB3 has yet to grace the pages of said publication!).  It includes the likes and dislikes of 100 of the UK’s finest – and can be indicative of trends in communications  – i.e it’s what the big boys are thinking and saying.  Now, there are a lot of people in communications who may not often glance through a corporate PR magazine – especially those in public diplomacy, information operations and public affairs.  So, although this will be a little UK-centric, CB3 just thought it would be useful to provide a quick resume of what the PR powerbrokers are really into ….

Popular chap

Popular chap

Most popular politician – some chap called Obama won by a mile. (Nelson Mandela, Vince Cable (if you’re not a Brit you won’t have heard of him – top chap though) and Margaret Thatcher also featured highly.

Most respected journalist – Andrew Marr, followed by Jeff Randall and John Simpson

Top newspapers – FT and The Guardian (both way ahead of third place The Times)

Just pipped by the FT

Just pipped by the FT

Best online –  BBC by far, but Google, Facebook, Guardian Unlimited and Twitter feature in top five.

Best broadcast – Today (BBC Radio 4).  In fact, in the top six, various BBC programmes featured, with the only exception being SKY News.twitter_logo

Business or brand to watch – Obama and Apple fought for top space, with Twitter, Aldi (sign of the times) and Google, trailing after them.

Best PR campaign – easily Obama’s presidential campaign (oh, that Obama – not the Irish pub)

Okay, this may be from  a UK perspective but it may be  somewhat informative for others across the globe as well.  So, in a nutshell, if you want to be up with the best, be familiar with Obama, BBC, Guardian, Google and Twitter and you can’t go wrong!