Evening Standard’s Budget "leak": why leaking by the state is now a way of life in Whitehall
Articles - Government spin
Nicholas Jones, 21 March 2013

A Budget leak by the London Evening Standard – listing on Twitter the key changes to be made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – has lifted the lid on the lengths to which successive governments have gone in manipulating the presentation of financial announcements.

By mistakenly Tweeting its own front page splash on the Budget twenty minutes before the Chancellor had even started his speech, the Evening Standard inadvertently confirmed the extent of the collusion between the Treasury and selected political correspondents.

Why, might one ask, would a Chancellor want his officials to give exclusive details of his Budget in advance to an evening newspaper in London? 

The answer is simple: the Evening Standard presents the City of London’s financial markets – and the rest of the news media – with the first considered impression of the announcements in the Chancellor’s red Budget box.

No spin doctor would dare to underestimate the potential impact of the Evening Standard’s front page; after all this is the first serious assessment of the Chancellor’s announcements. 
Nuclear boss wants to cut family fuel aid
Articles - Nuclear

Protestors against a proposed nuclear power station at Hinkley Andy Rowell and Richard Cookson, 17 March 2013 

Exclusive published in the Independent on Sunday.

The boss of a company set to build two nuclear reactors in Somerset has been demanding cuts to renewable energy subsidies and to help for people in fuel poverty while quietly lobbying the European Commission for financial help for new nuclear power stations.

Areva, which is part owned by the French state, has signed a contract to build nuclear reactors for EDF, another French company, at Hinkley Point. If it goes ahead, it will be the first new nuclear power plant in Britain for a generation. Areva already has hundreds of engineers working on the project.

EDF and the Government are locked in negotiations over how much the firm will be paid for the electricity it produces at Hinkley. Even though the Coalition Agreement states that new nuclear power stations will only go ahead if "they receive no public subsidy", the Government is offering to guarantee a minimum price for the electricity produced for up to 40 years. Critics say this amounts to a subsidy.

Until now, it was widely assumed that EDF was leading the call for subsidies for new nuclear. But a new document reveals that last November, Areva's chief executive officer, Luc Oursel, lobbied the European Environment Commissioner, Connie Hedagaard, for financial help for the construction of new nuclear power stations.
‘There is no way of knowing how much damage Jenner caused’
Articles - Dirty tricks

Spycop Mark Jenner

Mark Metcalf, 16 March 2012

This article was first posted on Big Issue in the north.

The police spy recently revealed to be Mark Jenner (left) worked on a number of political activists' campaigns, reveals Mark Metcalf.

I now know the name of the Metropolitan Police officer who was employed to spy on the protest group in which I was one of the key organisers in the 1990s. Thanks to his former partner Alison (not her real name) and the Guardian it has been established that the man I knew during my time at the Colin Roach Centre (CRC) in Hackney as Mark Cassidy is Mark Jenner of the Met’s special demonstration squad (SDS).

Jenner’s name was revealed when Alison gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into undercover policing, his police role confirmed by the Guardian on 1 March. He is one of 11 undercover police officers publicly identified. Nine of them had sexual relations with activists mainly from environmental groups.

The officers’ actions began unravelling in 2011 when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) dropped criminal proceedings against six people facing charges related to a conspiracy to sabotage a coal-fired power station at Ratcliffe-on-Soar, Nottinghamshire. The convictions of another 20 activists were later quashed after it was revealed that long-term police spy PC Mark Kennedy had acted as an agent provocateur within the environmental movement. Further allegations of undercover police officers acting beyond their authorisation then surfaced and we now know they were given the names of infants who had died many years previously.

The Metropolitan Police has now been ordered to investigate under Operation Herne how SDS officers created and maintained false identities while undercover.

Downfall of Huhne and Pryce: how politicians fall victim to an overconfident media presentation
Articles - British Politics
Nicholas Jones, 14 March 2013

Chris Huhne’s downfall had a thread running through it which connected him to the disgrace of a long-line of post-war politicians. In almost every case it was the work of journalists which was responsible for initially exposing their misdemeanours or sexual infidelities, yet those involved seemed to have believed mistakenly that they could somehow outwit the ability of Britain’s national newspapers to hold the powerful to account.

Whether it was John Profumo, John Stonehouse, David Mellor, Jeffrey Archer, Jonathan Aitken or John Prescott, they had all learned how to use – and to even manipulate – the news media yet in the end they could not keep the journalists at bay.

Often because of their prominent positions in public life or their acquaintance with newspaper proprietors, editors and broadcasting executives, politicians believe they have established some kind of protection against the worst excesses of the tabloid press.

They tend to become overconfident; they sometimes make the mistake of threatening to go over the heads of reporters direct to the editor or worst of all, try to play one newspaper or news outlet off against another - a sure fire way of encouraging Tony Blair’s “feral beasts” to take even greater risks.
Spies and Fleet Street: BBC Radio 4's 'The MI6 and the Media' reviewed
Articles - PR industry
Paul Lashmar, 7 March 2013

Spies and the media is a good subject for investigation and the BBC’s Radio 4 Document programme launched its new series this week with a programme called ‘The MI6 and the Media’. The pre broadcast publicity said it examines purported MI6 documents released by the Soviets at the height of the Cold War said to identify MI6 agents in the British media.  As a journalist who has covered MI6’s activities since the late-1970s and heard endless speculation about MI6 assets in Fleet Street, I looked forward to some new facts on this controversial area. But after listening I felt ambivalent about the value of the programme and it is decidedly a curate’s egg. It did, in its favour, managed to get to the end without one reference to James Bond. Kim Philby did pop up rather inconclusively.  On the one hand the programme, fronted by author Jeremy Duns, revisited and develops an interesting historical vignette: in December 1968 the Russian newspaper Izvestia ran a series of articles accusing high-profile British journalists of being spies - listing their names and alleged codenames.

The Russians claimed journalists and editors at the Sunday Times, the Observer, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the BBC worked directly with MI6. The Soviets had a cache of documents they claimed were MI6 memos, apparently photographed with a miniature spy camera. One table listed each publication, the journalist or editor MI6 had as its contact there, their codename and the codename of their MI6 "handler".
Misinformation and propaganda: British media coverage of the Bulgarian “problem”
Articles - Media spin
Biserka Anderson, 6 March 2013

On 20 February 36-year-old artist Plamen Goranov set himself ablaze in the Bulgarian seaside town of Varna in protest against the local government’s links to the mafia, amidst nationwide anti-corruption rallies that have shaken Bulgaria in the last few weeks and led to the government's resignation. After sustaining 80% burns and spending 11 days in a coma, he died in the evening of 3 March – Bulgaria’s Liberation Day. Today, 6 March 2013, Bulgaria has announced a national day of mourning for Plamen Goranov who has turned into a heroic figure for protesters - a symbol of what many believe is a long-overdue revolution, with his death kindling revolutionary sentiments even further. Parallels with Jan Palach, the Czech student whose self-immolation in protest against the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia is believed to have led to the fall of Communism, are not uncommon. The dramatic incident happens at a time when hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians take to the streets every day to voice their discontent with the status quo after 23 years of political and economic transition, which has left Bulgaria the poorest country in Europe.

Media filters in action – restriction and slant

The mainstream Bulgarian media’s coverage of Plamen’s act has 'ranged from deafening silence to attempts at character assassination', as his friends wrote in a manifesto which was shared in social media days before he died, in a bid to tell the truth about Plamen’s personality and the motives behind his sacrificial protest act. 'There is no doubt that it was an act of resolute rejection of corruption and injustice that have permeated every aspect of social life in his town and his country,' states the manifesto, which has so far been largely ignored by the agenda-setting media in his home country and beyond.
Media communication and the consequences of war, continued
Articles - Iraq
Joe Emersberger, 5 March 2013

You can read the first part of Joe's analysis for Spinwatch, 'Media communication and the consequences of war: counting the casualties in Iraq', here.  Below is an exchange Joe had with Chris Elliot, the readers' editor for the Guardian, regarding their article last week that stated the death toll from the Iraq war was "tens of thousands".  Joe has added further comments after the exchange.

My letter to the Guardian

RE: Don't Mention The Iraq War

Dear Guardian editors

Nick Hopkins wrote that the war “…led to the death of almost 200 British troops and tens of thousands
of Iraqis.”

It is beyond any rational dispute that the Iraq war caused over a half
million Iraqi deaths.

There were 2 scientific studies published that examined the death toll
from the war up until the end of June of 2006. The Lancet study
estimated a death toll of 650,000 Iraqis.  The Iraqi government (in
conjunction with the WHO ) published a study in the New England Journal
of Medicine (NEJM) that examined the same period. It published death
rates which correspond to a death toll of 400,000 (as confirmed by the
lead author of that study).

Lord Justice Leveson’s legacy: will investigative journalists face ever greater obstacles?
Articles - Media spin
Nicholas Jones, 1 March 2013

Investigative journalism – across both the press and broadcasting – will almost certainly suffer as a result of the Leveson Inquiry and the introduction of a new regulatory regime. Most speakers at the launch of a new book – After Leveson? The future of British Journalism – feared the worst.

Perhaps the clearest warning of the obstacles that would be placed in the way of investigative journalism came from Dorothy Byrne, head of news and current affairs at Channel Four Television, who gave a vivid description of the way 'multi-billion pound organisations and evil regimes' used 'tiers of incredibly expensive lawyers' to thwart Channel Four’s investigations.

She said that any new regulatory regime for the press would be scrutinised by lawyers to find new ways to frustrate and curb newspaper investigations.

Her concern was echoed by Mick Hume of the Free Speech Network and the investigative journalist Paul Lashmar. But Evan Harris, Associate Director of Hacked Off, the group campaigning for the introduction of the Leveson recommendations, disagreed and insisted that Leveson had not proposed any alterations to the existing regulatory code of the Press Complaints Commission.

The future prospects for investigative journalism dominated much of the debate at the Media Society event to launch After Leveson? (26.2.2013)
The Repentant Environmentalist: Part 2
Articles - GM Industry
Jonathan Matthews, 27 February 2013

Jonathan Matthews of GMWatch looks at how the bogus PR packaging of Mark Lynas explored in Part 1 of this article has been used to smuggle in some seriously bad science. (For the responses of Lynas and others to Part 1 see here.)

When the author Mark Lynas caused a social media sensation by apologizing for founding the anti-GM movement, he was at pains to explain that his change of heart came from his discovery of science.

His pitch to this January's Oxford Farming Conference was that while in his anti-GM days he was doing little more than peddling 'green urban myths', his support for GM was now firmly grounded in the best scientific evidence.

Lynas explained that writing his two books on climate change had forced him to learn how to read scientific papers and to understand statistics. In addition, the global warming debate had taught him that 'the only facts that mattered were the ones published in the most distinguished scholarly journals'. In an American TV interview, Lynas added that his change of heart on GM came 'from the fact that I've spent a long time studying the science on biotechnology'.

There have been a number of excellent responses to Lynas. For instance, Dr Doug Gurian-Sherman, a former risk assessor of GM crops for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has shown how Lynas ignores inconvenient facts that undermine his claims. He and the University of Michigan Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, John Vandermeer, have suggested the problems with Lynas' arguments arise from his naïve and simplistic use of science. 

But could something else be going on here? Could Lynas' depiction of his GM conversion being all about junking dogma for hard data, be better understood as part of a carefully crafted and rhetorically effective PR narrative - in fact, as part of the same PR narrative as his apology for helping to found the anti-GM movement?
The nuclear industry secondments to Government departments responsible for policy and regulation
Articles - Nuclear
Rich Cookson, 22 February 2013

At least 15 people working for the nuclear energy industry or its consultants have been seconded to Government departments responsible for policy or regulation, with some being paid for by the taxpayer, NuclearSpin has discovered.

EDF Energy, which has asked ministers to consider a 40-year subsidy scheme for its proposed UK plants, has seconded two staff to the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) at the Health and Safety Executive. One is interim programme manager for the ONR's programme at the Sellafield plant in Cumbria. The other is a technical assistant on the Decommissioning Fuel and Waste Programme.

The engineering company Babcock, which describes itself as 'the UK's largest specialist nuclear support services organisation', has also seconded two staff to the ONR: a technical assistant to the Civil Nuclear Reactor Programme, and another employee to help with the ‘Development and review of ONR wide processes’.

The ONR says that all secondees are paid for by the nuclear industry and it has safeguards in place to ensure there is no conflict of interest. Id adds that no secondee works on matters directly related to their parent organisation.

Engineering consultant Atkins Ltd, which describes itself as 'at the forefront of the worldwide nuclear renaissance', is providing a policy adviser for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills' (BIS) commercial nuclear policy team. The company boasts of its 'extensive knowledge of the legislative and regulatory framework in the UK' on its website. BIS refused to say if taxpayers are funding the post.
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