The ‘public interest’ issue is Mr. Murdoch’s fitness to run a British newspaper …

The Press Complaints Commission emailed me today because I had made a complaint about The Sun’s publication of the two Prince Harry images.

They asked for more information about why I had complained, stating that some of the complaints were about taste and decency, which is not in their remit.

They also claimed that, as the royal household had not complained, that it would have to be considered as a special case if they were to look at the issue solely on the basis of complaints from unconnected third parties.

Here is the focus of my complaint, why I feel that this should be treated as a special case:

Dear Sir,
My complaint has nothing to do with taste or decency. My complaint tries to separate the issues, namely ‘public interest’ and ‘invasion of privacy’.
The fact is that these photos appear to have been taken without Prince Harry’s consent, so someone seriously breached a confidence and invaded his privacy. Notwithstanding that, the culprit has then sold on the images to a website for publication. One might imagine that it was best left there, because those throughout the world that had any interest in the matter must have known what had happened and simply did not need to see the photos published by any British newspapers as it could not give any further understanding to the matter.
Despite the matter of the Prince’s privacy, the editor of the Sun and its owner, Rupert Murdoch, decided to purchase the images for £10,000 and publish them. Mr. Murdoch clearly learnt nothing from his recent embarrassment at the Leveson hearings. He approved the request by his newspaper’s editor to buy and publish images that had been taken in a gross breach of trust and an equally gross invasion of privacy. Surely this makes Mr. Murdoch and his newspapers complicit after the event in that invasion of privacy? The ‘public interest’ issue here is not in the necessity of seeing the images as The Sun maintains, but in why Mr. Murdoch feels justified in publishing images of a person who had not even permitted the photos to be taken in the first place?
Thus the ‘public interest’ issue is Mr. Murdoch’s fitness to run a British newspaper. I accept the limitation of criticism by the PCC but this matter needs to  be evaluated to see if due diligence, in terms of privacy issues, took place. Surely that is a matter for the PCC, for if it isn’t, I’d like to know what is!

Hilarious … enough to make a cat laugh!

Disability rights activists are angry about the involvement of the French company, Atos Healthcare, as the main sponsor in the Locog (government organised) Paralympics because it also has the government contract to administer the assessments that determine whether claimants of incapacity benefit are “fit to work”. We recently published an article highlighting the failures of Atos and other government contract decisions.

Tara Flood, winner of a Paralympic gold medal in Barcelona in 1992, said: “It is a shocking irony that Atos is a main sponsor of London 2012 whilst destroying disabled people’s lives on behalf of the government.”

The London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (Locog) has stood squarely behind Atos ahead of the Paralympics. “Atos is an incredibly valuable technology partner. They have been involved for many years now. They provide a portal for the volunteers, they provide a system to manage the information process and the distribution of results. They are a critical and valued member of delivering these Games,” said the Locog chief executive, Paul Deighton. He also claimed that without their sponsorship the Games would not happen in their current form.

There’s not much room for bias here is there? Let’s see. A government appointed organisation that is getting almost half its decisions concerning assessments overturned at appeal throws money at a government organised international sporting event as a sponsor? You couldn’t make it up!

More evidence that Cameron doesn’t care so much about people as profit …

Separatist leader Tabuni murdered

Whilst in Jakarta in April, David Cameron praised Indonesia as a paradigm of Islamic democracy for countries throughout the Muslim world. On a two-day visit to the nation, Cameron claimed that democracy would be the guarantor of  security and religious freedom across the country. At the time I rejected Cameron’s over-simplistic rubber-stamping of the government of Indonesia as a defender of human rights and justice for its people. I wrote about the fairly regular slaughter of the menfolk of Ahmadiyyan families.

It seemed to me that the prime minister must have known about this, but being an unquestioning apologist for big business, was more interested in signing contracts than standing up for the defenceless in Indonesia. It is likely that defending the business interests of global companies is the real prism that we should look through in order to understand Cameron’s rosy appraisal of Indonesia’s “inspiring” democracy. Indonesia’s budget for arms spending over the next 18 months is just over £1 billion.

Our millionaire prime minister seems to have forgotten about East Timor and  West Papua. Both regions are struggling to free themselves from what they see as locally focussed tyranny, persecution, toture and  killings. The leader of the separatist party in West Papua was killed in June after police targeted him.  It is commonplace for the local people to be the subject of persecution and torture at the hands of Indonesian state security.

The suppression is not just military either. Political decisions that are taken in Jakarta are rarely to the advantage of the native Papuans, as was reported recently by Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA).  An Indonesian oil palm plantation in which Norway has a financial stake paid Papuan tribal landowners as little as US$0.65 per hectare for their forestland:

In the new report Clear-Cut Exploitation, EIA and its Indonesian partner Telapak expose woefully low payments by PT Henrison Inti Persada (PT HIP) to marginalised Moi tribe clans for land and timber. Evidence includes a copy of PT HIPs ‘contract’ with a Moi tribe clan leader, detailing a payment of US$923 for 14.2 sq km of forestlands – just US$0.65 per hectare. In contrast, when the Hong Kong-based commodities conglomerate Noble Group bought a majority stake in PT HIP in 2010, industry analysts estimated the plantation would be worth US$162 million once developed (based on a US$5,000 per hectare valuation) – or 7,812 times the price received by Moi tribe landowners per hectare.

Clear-Cut Exploitation also details payments as low as US$25 per cubic meter to landowners for timber harvested during clearance of their forests, including for valuable merbau. EIA research reveals the company then exported merbau for US$875 per cubic metre, making millions in profit. EIA/Telapak research further highlights a history of legal irregularities in the plantation’s development and in timber harvesting – crimes never punished by Government officials tasked with safeguarding West Papua’s forests and people. Violations include forest clearance and timber utilisation prior to permits being issued, and failure to develop smallholder estates in line with legal requirements.  Development benefits such as houses, vehicles and education which were promised to impoverished landowners by the plantation company have not materialised.

Jago Wadley, EIA Senior Forest Campaigner said: “Papuans, some of the poorest citizens in Indonesia, are being utterly exploited in legally questionable oil palm land deals that provide huge financial opportunities for international investors at the expense of the people and forests of West Papua.” The briefing also outlines how Norway has a stake in the plantation via the multi-million dollar shareholdings of its sovereign wealth fund – the world’s biggest – in Noble Group. Norway has been internationally feted as a climate change leader following its significant political and financial investment in efforts to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) in Indonesia and elsewhere.

EIA and Telapak argue that such contradictions highlight how, if left unreformed, investment and commodity markets will continue to destroy forests and undermine local communities in spite of efforts to reduce emissions from deforestation. “That Norway – Indonesia’s biggest REDD+ donor – will also profit from this destructive exploitation is ironic in the extreme. Norway could be paying Papuans to maintain their forests instead of profiting from deforestation in West Papua,” said Telapak Forests Campaigner Abu Meridian.


Papua, at the far east of the archipelago, has been the scene of a low-level separatist insurgency for decades. The Papuans have bravely resisted the menacing behaviour of the Indonesians. Surely if this subject is so easily researched, our Prime Minister must now about it – or is he simply too occupied with making a profit to notice the people that are being trampled on?

ConDemned to a slow death …

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone with a whit of understanding about this government to hear that they have ignored the pleas from the rich and famous, various captains of industry, including Lord Sugar, and over 150,000 voters in their haste to wring as much money as they can from the bid for the East Coast rail franchise.

FirstGroup have consistently rated amongst the worst of the train operators in recent passenger satisfaction surveys – the Department for Transport should insist that they make improvements in their existing services before being able to  take on other franchises. Virgin have received far greater popularity ratings than FirstGroup in the latest survey report by Passenger Focus, the independent public body set up by the Government to protect the interests of Britain’s rail passengers.

At a national and local level the government and its subsidiary levels are taking a wrecking bar to established facilities and services in a reckless – certain not wreck-less – fashion. The government withdrew funding from Remploy, which lead to the organisation closing twenty-seven factories that employed thousands of disabled workers. The government’s reasoning was simple: the £25,000-a-year per man subsidy would be better spent on individual support to get workers into mainstream employment. Local government bosses disagreed. The leader of one of the local councils, Liam Smith of Barking and Dagenham Council, voiced scepticism about the government’s promise that workers would find jobs in the mainstream market. He had to implement cuts of £14m from the council’s public spending last year and £20m more will follow next year. “The government says these people will be helped into local employment but where are these jobs?” said Mr. Smith. “A single vacancy in this area can attract 100-plus applicants. I know fit, young people with university degrees who can’t get a job stacking shelves at Tesco. What hope do these disabled people have in that climate?” The government should either focus on the long-term cost of their decision at Remploy or admit that they don’t care about the employment possibilities for the long-term disabled.

The Government should look at more closely at the cost-benefit impact of schemes that are intended to provide the opportunity of employment, as is the case at Remploy, or contracts that will bring in more than they do currently, as is the situation with the FirstGroup bid. Economics comprises more than just the highest bidder – look what happened with G4S at London 2012. Decision-making without cost-benefit analysis will only lead to ever greater economic catastrophe and the governments cock-ups are endless. French firm Atos was paid in excess of £120m in the last financial year to carry out about 725,000 face-to-face medical tests on benefit claimants.  The assessments were first introduced on a pilot basis by Labour in 2008 and rolled out across the country by the coalition government post-May 2010. These medicals typically last around 45 minutes. Let’s be generous and say that each medical lasts an hour including paperwork from client to client. That means that each medical is costing more than £165 each. You might expect for that kind of money, that the calibre of the assessments would be exemplary, but sadly not so. Officials at the DWP, relying on the Atos assessments, have got many decisions wrong, with nearly four out of 10 appeals upheld at tribunals. The National Audit Office said it was unclear whether the quality of the tests was to blame for the number of wrong decisions. From these examples it is clear that their is not enough analysis predicating government thinking.

On previous occasions when Virgin Rail have lost a bid for a rail operator franchise. the companies that were awarded contracts failed to deliver the revenues or improvements set out in their bids. Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, said the government would “push on” with the 13-year contract because it is a “good deal for taxpayers”. The contract signing could happen on Wednesday. Mrs Greening told the media today that the bidders had “bought into” the “fair and well-established process”. She claimed that if Virgin had won the bid it would have “been perfectly happy with the process”, which is not what the doubts are about. Virgin’s argument is that it is economically impossible for FirstGroup to make improvements and additions to service on the scale that it has, and yet pay much more than Virgin Rail are currently paying for the franchise. Mrs. Greening is ignoring an e-petition that currently stands at  157,321 signatories that the process should be put on hold for further parliamentary scrutiny. If that fails, Mrs. Greening had better hope that FirstGroup can honour their commitments or her job will be up for grabs next.

i think therefore i am not (a customer any more)

27 August 2012

Mr. Tim Cook
CEO  @ Apple
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014

Dear Mr. Cook

May I congratulate you on your own goal in winning $660 million court judgement in the patent war that you have fought with Samsung. Unfortunately, after your recent similar battles in the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and Germany, your victory in a court literally on your own doorstep appears somewhat ‘tainted’. I’m not saying there was anything wrong with the court process in the US, but rather that the European courts seem to hold a completely different view. That made  me think twice about a few things.

Firstly, and I must say this, I do not like globalised companies as they have a tendency to –

a) intimidate their competitors with lawsuits and sharp practices
b) base themselves, or key subsidiaries, in places where taxes are negligible
c) have an inability to listen to their customers: the ‘we are always right’ attitude

To give an example of the third tendency, I recently wrote to Larry Page at Google Inc by ordinary mail – try sending an email, for the average Joe it’s impossible – and I sat back and waited for my reply. My letter was about the change of look to Gmail and the consolidation of Google’s products in terms of privacy, specifically emails being scanned to identify and place appropriate ads in future emails. Of course, I didn’t receive a reply; clearly I was beneath dignifying with a response..

Now your company is attempting, by whatever legal means, to hound other companies so that you succeed in either bankrupting them or forcing them to purchase a licence from you.

Until today I was more than happy with your company. We have an iPad and two iPods and an iPhone in the family. My son, just about to go to boarding school, was to get an iPad and an iPhone, but because of your appalling attitude to competition, I have decided that I will now buy him products from another company – not Google, of course because of their disdain at my letter, so their behaviour is proving expensive for them too.

Mr. Cook, we are all minions really, because one day we are swimming with the tide and then – whoops! – we find the tide is against us and ‘us’ includes you. Look how Facebook is crumbling because of its poor direction. So you will have to do without me as a future customer and I will have to go to Microsoft – at least Bill and Melinda (with the adorable Mr. Buffet) are intent on spending their capital wealth for the benefit of humanity, rather than be greedy and spiteful. What a shame the Apple is going so rotten.

Yours sincerely

And you thought our justice systen didn’t deliver …

A Norwegian court today found that mass killer Anders Behring Breivik is sane and sentenced him to 21 years in jail. The right-wing extremist was convicted of terrorism and premeditated murder, and given the maximum sentence of 21 years’ imprisonment, of which he must serve a minimum of 10 years. If he continues to be a danger the sentence may be extended.

The term to be served is somewhat worse than ours for a single murder, but the sentence with remission for killing 77 people would cause outrage here. Breivik should be grateful for his nation’s leniency to his crimes. This man, at just 33, planned and executed Europe’s worst peacetime atrocity by bombing Norway’s capital then shooting 69 young people at a summer camp. As this is a country of about five million people with around 30 murders a year, it is hard to underestimate the shocking nature of Breivik’s actions in July last year.

To serve 10 years in prison for such a crime would beggar belief and bankrupt the expression travesty of justice.

Murdoch’s broken promise …

It had to be one of Murdoch’s papers that broke the restraint shown by the rest of the press by publishing the images of Prince Harry getting naked at a party in Las Vegas.

Not satisfied with the breach of Harry’s privacy by a person or persons presumably unknown at the party or the subsequent publication by the media outside of the UK, The Sun had to demonstrate just how morally low it can stoop, pandering to the prurient and pig ignorant of its readers in a desperate attempt to increase its circulation.

This is Murdoch and his editor’s way of showing contempt for the embarrassment they suffered at the hands of the Leveson Inquiry. Their reasoning is that the photos have been published elsewhere, thus lending a ‘public interest’ excuse to their misguided actions; however, the foreign media regularly publish images of murder and terrorism victims but The Sun doesn’t publish any of that material.

The reason why The Sun will succeed in getting away with this is because the Press Complaints Commission is a self-regulatory body that Murdoch seeks to challenge and ignore because it has no legal powers. For all its authoritative appearance, the PCC is a paper tiger. The Leveson Inquiry has only recently concluded its business and yet here we have the Murdoch of old yet again sticking his fingers up at any attempt to set a standard by claiming that his poor decision making is somehow necessary to protect the liberties of the media.

With the ridiculous headline above its editorial claiming “We fight for press freedom”, Murdoch’s hacks are trying to excuse their efforts as defending press freedom. If this is an example of that Mr. Murdoch, most of us don’t want it. Sinking to the lowest common denominator and drowning in the published  private lives of people only demonstrates that the Murdoch press learned nothing from the News of the World scandal. After that disgraceful exposé, Murdoch wrote an apology in which he said “Our business was founded on the idea that a free and open press should be a positive force in society. We need to live up to this.” From where I am, I cannot see that Murdoch is living up to that promise.