Tuesday, May 24, 2011

One Ring to rule them all...

Today a debate took place in parliament regarding an absolutely crucial issue for the future of the UK and the financial well-being of its citizens: Mark Reckless MP proposed an anti-bailout motion that would have been the first strong anti-Euro (and with it - anti EU) sentiment expressed by the house in decades.

Many a strong word was spoken in the chamber earlier against the EU by many of the handful (circa 50) present - and by MPs from both sides of the aisle. For once I actually felt proud of the MPs participating, and I recommend you watch the debate on iplayer, or read the proceedings in Hansard tomorrow. It was such a sharp contrast to the puppet show that passes for the Prime Minister's Question time and I had to fancy what Parliament would be like if these individuals occupied the front benches instead of the back.

Yet how many of those words will be carried by our ever useless peon media to the the ears and eyes of the masses? Instead the media will be perhaps focused on some prat who sought injunctions against revealing a relationship with a woman trying to extort him (and try finding *that* latter fact reported in the media....they would have known had they actually read the linked document....).

However this pleasant fantasy of a functioning representative democracy was soon blown to pieces as I remembered how Daniel Hannan had detailed the "wrecking amendment" put forward.

It didn't matter what the attendees actually said. The whips ensured another 250 MPs turned up to guarantee it was the amended version that went through and not the original motion, turning what was a strongly worded motion into a wet-through general statement of discontent that the government can safely ignore.

I sometimes find it difficult containing my anger over such shenanigans in parliament - regarding how easily results can be 'fixed' in this fashion. I don't remember sleeping in and missing the vote for which whips I wanted. Do you? And I find it intolerable that the people who both proposed the wrecking amendment and voted are not obliged to participate in the debate.

The People's Pledge valiantly attempted to encourage people to write to their MPs beforehand to ask them to vote against the amendment. Would that doing so have had any effect in any case where the majority of MPs are concerned. Aside from the whipped MPs I note, with utter disgust, that ALL of the MPs from Sheffield (which has been my home for far too long now...) failed to even turn up to either the debate or the vote. So much for the salt-of-the-earth Labour MPs standing up for the working man and woman, eh? My current MP, Mr. Paul "I ran Sheffield University Student's Union" Blomfeld, ignored my letter on the topic - as indeed he has done with the last few letters sent to him.

(UPDATE: One of my friends has just informed me that however that "Blomfield did manage to find the time to attend a drinks reception for Sheffield Union officers")

The final vote was 267 to 46. Had it been just those present for the debate voting I am confident the original motion, not the amended version, would have been carried. Such is our utterly dysfunctional democracy and its attendant handmaiden Fourth Estate that not only did this happen, but it won't even be reported.

It doesn't matter what we think. It doesn't matter what we want. It doesn't even matter what most of our MPs do either.

The One Ring has called and the Nazgul are answering their master's call.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Ammo: Applied churnalism.com - the BBC and the Environment Agency

(For an explanation of 'Ammo' - see here).

In a previous post I highlighted the fantastic new facility, Churnalism.com. I used the example of a recent idiotic climate change story to highlight how useful the site was.

However, aside from individual queries, it is possible to use the site to process more substantial amounts of data that can potentially reveal trends or biases, and that is what I have done today.

My interest piqued by the utterly moronic 'Llama' story (eviscerated here) I decided to carry out a thorough survey of exactly how many press releases are cut and pasted (and how much is copied) by our media class in the UK.

My findings shocked even cynical old me.

I took all of the press releases from May and June 2010 available on the Environment Agency site. (Oddly, as I was working through the data the public link to the May 2010 data simply disappeared...however this isn't a problem as I stored the URLs of every single press release so others can verify this for themselves).

The research covered a total of 166 press releases. I will work out the statistical significance later, however I believe the sample is representative as it covers two out of twelve months of data. The data needs to be arranged in a tidier format; when this is done I will add an update to this post with the data in an excel spreadsheet so others can replicate my results.

My methodology was simple, every press release was copied into churnalism.com in its entirety. Some had a lot of data that could have been regarded as extraneous, however I didn't want to start editorialising and putting all of the data in is more favourable to the media organisations. I have carried out some analysis of the data below; I'm sure there are more interesting links and patterns to be found - you are welcome to see what you can do with the data yourself when I upload it. Additionally the figure I used as a percentage was the percentage of the article that is made up of pasted material. Every entry can be verified on Churnalism.com

Summary by Media organisation:

The BBC:
The BBC cut and pasted significant content (at least 20%) from 78 articles. Out of those, 39 had 50% or more of their content cut and pasted from the press release. In a number of cases the BBC also generated 2-4 articles from the same press release. In percentage terms, and regarding the sample as representative I conclude that the BBC cuts and pastes content from 45% of Environment Agency press releases. Out of all press releases, 23% are partial (20-49%) copies and 23% are majority copies (50%+) of the Press Release content.

Can you see the political bias yet?

I probably don't have to spell out the implications of this - any level of churnalism is obviously undesirable, yet such an enormous amount carried out by the BBC, uncritically carried on behalf of the Environment Agency, is absolutely not acceptable and completely shocking. BBC 'impartiality is in our genes', or BBC 'the worlds greatest media organisation' my arse. Not to mention the fact that it has billions at its disposal, is publicly funded (by compulsory tax) and is the nation's media monopoly organisation.

None of the other media organisations came even close:

The Independent:
14 Articles cut and pasted. Of those 12 were less than 50% pasted content and 2 were more.

The Telegraph:
10 articles cut and pasted. Of those 7 were less than 50% pasted content and 3 were more.

The Daily Mirror:
7 articles cut and pasted, all of which were lesss than 50% of content pasted.

The Guardian:
7 articles cut and pasted. All were less than 50% of content pasted.

The Express:
6 articles cut and pasted, all of which were lesss than 50% of content pasted.

The Daily Mail:
6 articles cut and pasted, all of which were lesss than 50% of content pasted.

Financial Times:
1 single article, less than 50% pasted.

The Times:
1 single article, less than 50% pasted.

The data should not be trusted for statistical analysis on the basis of dates as I believe the environment agency may have put the wrong dates on their some of their Press Releases - sometimes up to a week ahead of articles that have copied them.

There may be some crossover either in articles cut and pasting material from more than one article or from parts of the Environment Agency's press releases being repeated from one press release to another. Further work is required to weed these out (which could either strengthen or weaken the churnalism respectively).

Finally there are likely some minor errors in calculations; I've gone through the data twice so far but will be applying a finer level of attention later.

**Data to be uploaded later in the week**

I'd like to invite others to replicate this work - potentially crowdsourcing such efforts could allow us to check the entire content for the Environment Agency's press releases and churnalist enablers such as the BBC so there would be no ambiguity whatsoever, especially if the data is kept public.

There are countless other comparisons that could be made using churnalism.com between particular organisations, individuals and media organisations to reveal what was previously hidden.

Fight the endarkenment!