After Leveson: a wider lens on privacy

Fascination with people’s lives is natural, and journalism has changed. We need a more nuanced debate on press intrusion.

Does William and Kate’s baby actually exist? You could be forgiven for wondering, given how few times George has actually been seen: he wasn’t there again for the Sandringham Christmas walkabout. With only two public appearances, and one family snap, he may be the least-seen royal baby of the photographic era. Presumably he is occasionally pushed outside the gates of the Middleton family home, but there are no paparazzi to snap him. These are post-Leveson days and there has been no greater beneficiary than the royal family, around whose privacy the press now gently treads.

George’s invisibility is in startling contrast to the coverage of William and Harry’s early years. By the mid-80s, tabloids were eagerly snapping away and speculating on everything they saw: whether or not Diana was breastfeeding, and who the nannies and playdates were. Diana played along, often co-operating with the press to allow casual and intimate photos.

Committed republicans probably welcome this invisibility: the less we hear about this boring family the better. But invisibility and mystique in fact serve monarchist causes far more effectively than public scrutiny.

Read full article;


Diana, rewritten and erased

Sniggers over the recent biopic are part of a greater perception of Princess Diana herself – as an embarrassment to be forgotten.

The Princess Diana biopic has bombed in the US, making only the equivalent of £40,000 from initial screenings in 38 cinemas in its first weekend. It is tempting to conclude that America has finally fallen out of love with Diana. But much more likely is that potential audiences were deterred by the panning the film has received on both sides of the Atlantic.

I kept away from the film when it was released in British cinemas for precisely the same reason: it sounded cringe-making. Yet even as I kept away, I was puzzled by the wall-to-wall contempt it had provoked. Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, writing in the Independent on Sunday, found the critical sniggering excessive too; was it, she asked, because some elements of the story, especially Diana’s intimacy with a Pakistani doctor, were still unsettling?


For full story


The problem with nursing homes lies in our uncaring work culture

Moving my mother into a home wasn’t easy, but Jeremy Hunt’s Chinese peasant model is not the answer.

My mother went into a nursing home earlier this year. Contrary to Jeremy Hunt’s suggestion that people casually consign elderly relations to care homes rather than caring for them themselves, it was one of the most painful decisions I’ve ever taken. Judging from others I met in the same situation, my feelings were typical. No one takes these decisions lightly. As it turned out, my mother’s move was far less painful for her than for her family. At the care home she was embraced by a loving and stable staff who worked hard to settle her in. By contrast we had to discover fast just how little support, financial or otherwise, there is for our elderly people.

Read full article


The Language of Wolves

What’s at stake in wolf conservation? It isn’t just the survival of the species but the survival of wilderness

“Beware the wolves of Chiantishire,” warned a recent Daily Mail headline. Tuscany’s “idyllic landscape of rolling fields and poplar-lined hills”, the article continued, which in the past “proved irresistible to the great, the good and the very rich”, have in recent months become “home to a savage predator – packs of marauding wolves which are growing increasingly brazen”. Politicians in Chianti-country, we are told, “have called on the government to take action. There are growing fears that the wolves could attack humans.”

Even by the Daily Mail’s usual standards of scaremongering, this scenario is pushing it. In spite of their mythically savage status, proven attacks on humans by wolves are very small in number: globally since 2000 there have only been around 20 confirmed attacks. By comparison, in an average year there are 26 deaths caused by domestic dogs in the United States alone. The risk to humans of an unprovoked attack by a wolf is minuscule in comparison, even taking into account the vastly greater number of dogs.


Read more

Sending Liz Jones to report on Somalia is grotesque

The fashion writer represents the worst excesses of the west’s dieting obsession. Why send her to cover a devastating famine?


Who would be the most inappropriate journalist you could think of to send to cover the famine in Somalia? Asked that question, it wouldn’t be long before most people arrive at the correct answer: Liz Jones, a narcissistic fashion journalist, a lifelong anorexic, a person who just spent £13,500 on a facelift, and a confessional columnist who charts her obsessions every week in the Mail on Sunday’s You magazine. If a further question was asked along the lines of “could there be anything worse than the simple fact of sending such an inappropriate journalist to cover a famine?”, the answer would have to be yes. Yes, she could use the occasion to berate the British NHS and the caring professions for not being caring “at all”. Apparently they failed to realise the fate of the starving Somalians rested on Jones being able to queue jump.

Full article

‘Grieving’ chimps need rigorous study

Chimpanzee images have been presented as proof they share human emotions. Be wary of such speculative observation.


Who could have seen, and not been moved by, the video shown this week of a group of chimpanzees apparently mourning the death of Pansy, an elderly member of their troupe? The chimps gathered around her, moving her bedding gently and apparently checking her breathing. The video accompanying a report in the journal Current Biology was offered to support the idea that chimpanzees share human emotions like grief. Last year an equally striking image had shown a group of chimpanzees watching as the body of one of their group was carried off. The chimps stood silently, their arms around each other’s shoulders, apparently consoling one other.

Full article


Reality TV’s talent for naivete

Producers of shows such as Britain’s Got Talent must stop pretending that participants like Susan Boyle choose their fate

Why is it no surprise that Susan Boyle was checked into a clinic this weekend at best suffering from exhaustion, at worst some kind of mental breakdown? Anyone who remotely thought about this reality show star as a real person might guess that could happen. It’s the probable outcome when a unattractive, church-going, middle-aged spinster who suffers from learning difficulties and has lived a completely sheltered life with her parents until her mother’s recent death gets discovered for her talent, made over, sought out by the world’s media and then thrown to the media commentators, bloggers and twitterers to indulge in the atavistic bullying now part and parcel of modern celebrification.

Full article:


Looking After Mother 4


This week my brother rang to say he had last-minute tickets to Madame Butterfly at the Royal Albert Hall. Could I bring Mum or would I prefer to bring my partner? I struggled with my conscience, but only briefly. “It’s difficult bringing Mum out at night. I’ll have to take the car instead of public transport.” What I really meant was I fancied an unencumbered night out. I knew how much she’d love Madame Butterfly, so because I felt guilty I decided to call in on her on my way to work.

When I arrive, Mum is up and dressed. She looks different in a way I can’t quite pin down until she says, “We’re looking for my teeth.” Her carer is there. She comes every morning to remind Mum to take her medicine and help tidy up. Mum seems to draw out the best in her carers, and her current one is no exception. She’s Ghanaian, sweet-natured and very conscientious. She’s also inventive and is currently using a ladle to empty my mother’s dishwasher, clogged up – again – with vast amounts of fat. I hold a bucket beside her and we discuss Mum’s increasingly alarming habit of leaving fat heating up on the stove.

I resume the hunt for the missing teeth


Read more:

Looking After Mother 3


On Saturday, my mother arrives at my front door. She’s made her way over by bus because I’ve told her that we had a break-in the previous afternoon. This is one of her endearing characteristics: she is always on-side in a crisis. She never did symbolic occasions much, such as birthdays or Mother’s Day. But if any of us were having any difficulties she would always pitch up. It wasn’t to do anything in particular, just be there.

This instinct is still intact, driving her to undertake a journey she hasn’t managed on her own for a long time. Except by the time she arrives, she can’t remember why she has come. She remembers when she sees the front door. It looks as if a psycho with a battering ram has been at it and that it has taken many hours to board it up. Which is precisely the situation. “Oh no,” she says, “How dreadful”.

I tell her in some detail what has happened, the force used and how long it took to secure the door. She steps over the splintered wood and the shards of glass heading for the kitchen. “How did they get in?” she asks.


Read more


Looking After Mother 2

We were getting ready for the cinema when the phone rang. It was my mother’s neighbours. Someone in the block had called the council to investigate loud knocking noises coming from her flat. Eventually she’d answered the door, and after they had all gathered in her kitchen listening to the pipes, concluded something was seriously wrong with the central heating.

It would be a lie to say I rushed to the rescue. I felt exasperated. I’d had a difficult day and was looking forward to some relaxation. It was also the day the snow came down heavily in London. I sent the neighbour to and fro, eliminating possibilities, hoping to fix it remotely. She was greeted every time by my astonished mother who in minutes had forgotten her last visit. But I knew this was unfair on the neighbour. I would have to call British Gas.

Ringing a call centre for an emergency visit on your own behalf is tiresome enough. Calling them for someone else – with the same name – trips the fuses. But “Andy” eventually allowed me to make my case.

Read More: