Category Archives: Media

Guatemala’s lack of press freedom

The attention should rightfully be on the murdered journalists and the conditions under which all journalists in Guatemala, and the region more generally, operate. However, the Nic Wirtz piece for Americas Quarterly mentions something that might be important to this case and is terribly important as the US considers investing upwards of a billion dollars in the Northern Triangle.
According to local cable television presenter Marvin Israel Túnchez, who was taken to the hospital with gunshot wounds to his arm and leg, López was the target of the assassination. López’s investigations in 2013 into public works in the department of Suchitepéquez had revealed 2.8 million quetzales ($368,000) worth of non-existent work.
“Journalism is one of the most dangerous jobs in Guatemala,” said Túnchez, who works for Canal 30, the same channel as Carlos Orellana, a journalist who was murdered in 2013.
Public works projects are where some of the region's real corruption takes place. It's why CICIG is needed and its responsibility amplified.

While Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador share certain characteristics, the violence carried out against journalists in Guatemala and Honduras seem to be much less, though no less troubling, in El Salvador.

Chuka Umunna’s Walk-Out

Chuka Umunna is one of Labour's Great Hopes for the future, so his actions as a mere Shadow Business Secretary are subject to just a little bit more scrutiny than others.  Mind you, even a low profile shadow minister would probably make waves by walking out of a live television interview, and that's what Chuka has done today.  Annoyed at Sky News' Dermot Murnaghan questioning about a letter Eric Pickles has sent to British mosques, Umunna said he hadn't read the letter and wouldn't comment.  Murnaghan pushed the issue, certainly seeming to have some disbelief about whether Umunna had indeed read the letter or not, and as the interview wrapped up, with an admittedly snarky comment from Murnaghan, Mr. Umunna upped and offed.  Angrily.

I guess one of the qualities of a front-line politician is to deal with such fire with equanimity, and humour if possible. Watch the interview and judge for yourselves, but I thought while Murnaghan was edging beyond the merely persistent to the openly contemptuous, it was probably still within Mr. Umunna's grasp to rescue something from the exchange while sticking to his line about not commenting on a letter he hadn't read.  Neither of them looked good by the unhappy end, but Dermot Murnaghan doesn't have to present himself to the British public as a political leader who can cope with some narky questions effectively.  So Umunna has lost overall.

The fair-minded Iain Dale thinks he was right to walk out.  The Spectator's Isabel Hardman understands his situation but notes that he made a mistake in apparently losing his temper.

Ms. Hardman in her post made a great comment about the fact that part of Murnaghan's own frustration may have been due to the fact that the "I haven't read it" line is now so often used by politicians to avoid commenting on contentious issues.  Taking David Cameron as an example, she notes:

David Cameron has a phalanx of media advisers but manages to give the impression he never comes across awkward comments made by members of his own party.

Selective reading - not just something done by A-level students!

The Defenders of the Free Press in Paris today, and their records in office

Daniel Wickham (ex-SGS-er and now LSE student) has been doing an excellent job on twitter today of examining the less than reputable records of many of the world leaders currently portraying their commitment to free speech in Paris.

It's a great list, wonderful evidence of the artifice which many of these leaders are showing, and while there's a sample below, you'll find the fuller twitter exchange, replete with helpful further additions from other tweeters, here.

I thought surviving Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Bernard Holtrop was a little harsh when he commented that "we vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends", but as we witness the long line of crocodile tear pouring leaders, taking a break from imprisoning or censoring their own journalists, you can sort of see where he's coming from!

NB: There's an interesting comment here from David Brooks in the New York Times as to why he - and probably most of us - is NOT "Charlie Hebdo".

Do we need another round of leaders’ TV debates?

David Cameron is clear that he won't attend any television debates between the party leaders if the Green Party is not invited; Ed Miliband is clear that such debates should go ahead with or without the Prime Minister (and presumably the Greens).  Both, of course, are thoroughly cynical positions.  Cameron has no great interest in ensuring proper representation of all political views and parties; he is using the Greens' exclusion as a possible bargaining chip for avoiding the debates altogether.  He didn't perform notably well last time (despite apparently thinking he would ace them), knows that they benefit opposition leaders more than prime ministers, and is in particular keen, I would imagine, to deny Nigel Farage any sort of television platform at all.

Ed Miliband, meanwhile, is keen to see the debates go ahead because he knows that it has a chance of offering him a better profile than if they don't; his stance on the 'empty chair', meanwhile, is a natural response to try and embarass Cameron.

There is, though, a good question to be asked about whether we should actually have televised leaders' debates at all?  They are not a good fit for a parliamentary system of government; they exacerbate the personality factor in politics (and it is worth remembering that the same media which might decry personality politics is also the institution which encourages it); they were remarkably unilluminating last time and they tend to draw the oxygen of publicity away from more substantive policy issues during the campaign.

The UK's is not a presidential system.  The party leaders are directly responsible only to the voters in their respective constituencies.  Their leadership responsibilities revolve around appointing cabinets or shadow cabinets and co-ordinating policy across their parties.  The party leader who heads his party in government holds a title that denotes his position as 'primus inter pares', not just 'primus'.

Television has its own clear agenda, unrelated to the constitutional niceties of parliamentary elections.  Leaders' debates offer higher ratings and an easier way of channelling reportage of an election campaign via personalities, an easier and more popular process.  Modern political leaders are notorious for allowing media campaigns - especially television ones - to dictate their actions, and it was the commercial determination of Sky News, along with David Cameron's desire to appease its then owner Rupert Murdoch, which played as big a role as any in setting up the debates in 2010.

If television executives are keen for debates - and in themselves these are clearly not bad things - then perhaps they should consider instead holding policy debates, fronted by the respective party spokesmen responsible.  Thus, a debate on health issues with Jeremy Hunt, Andy Burnham and their fellow Health spokesmen.  Education featuring Nicky Morgan, Tristram Hunt etc.  This at least would be a better representation of the parliamentary system we actually have, and strike against the increasing devolving of politics around the personalities of party leaders.  Given Miliband's problems with his own profile, I'm a little surprised he hasn't suggested this himself.

NB: Andrew Rawnsley in today's Observer is very clear that the main impediment to any debates is coming from the Conservatives, and he outlines their reasons for wanting to sabotage them here.