The War on Journalism

“It is often said that journalism is the first rough draft of history; by contrast, investigative journalism provides the first rough draft of legislation. It does so by drawing attention to failures within society’s system of regulation and to the ways in which those systems can be circumvented by the rich, the powerful and the corrupt.”
Hugo de Burgh; Investigative Journalism, Context and Practice

“Democracy Dies in Darkness”
Washington Post

When disinformation is rife the world suffers. Truth and understanding are the foundations of sound decision making. Without information and the knowledge of what is going on around us we, the population, are powerless.
We all have the capability to double check and triple check everything we are told, and we should. The mantra: “question everything” has never been more necessary. And it is this mantra that leads me to put more and more faith in journalism.

Journalists and media outlets have been hounded since news was conceived, and sometimes they deserve it. False claims, conjecture and low-level reporting have often lead to news organisations having to print redactions, apologies and sometimes face lawful action as a result of their claims and how they go about collecting evidence. News of the World’s phone hacking scandal is the obvious case that comes to mind. But the wayward actions of the few should not taint the legitimate, decent work of the many.

People go into journalism because they want to tell the truth. Some just want to break a story and achieve a level of fame. Some people want to attend parties, drink champagne and hang out with the elite. Some journalists make money from commenting on food and drink or art and movies. Journalists report on everything. Their job is to comment on the world, hold a mirror up to society and, if you still believe there is decency in the world of journalism, to shine a light into dark places and hold those who have wronged to justice. As journalist Robert Rosenthal states in his TED X talk on 2nd April, 2011 regarding reporting that it has a role “as a watchdog facing the abuses and the lies and the threats of the government.”

The more we know what is going on in the world around us, the better.
It was investigative journalism that blew open the case of fourteen assassinations on U.K soil by Russian agents by Heidi Blake and her team at Buzzfeed. The story is a mind-blowing piece that goes from Russian actions to potential cover ups by the then Home Secretary, Teresa May. Investigative journalism podcast, The Tip-Off, gives a profound insight into how this particular story was broken (link below).

When the public first heard about Russian interference in western democratic processes many believed that it was unsubstantiated nonsense from the mouths of liberal fanatics.

The weight of Russian interference in western affairs first came to my notice in another podcast, News Roast, when guest, John Sweeney told of multiple sources corroborating the claim (link below). Since then it has emerged that Russian interference through the sharing of supposed confidential information, hacking and the sharing of fake news through social media platforms has been substantiated by the heads of Facebook and Twitter as well as by MI5, the C.I.A and the F.B.I.

The only people that seem to be denying this claim are President Donald Trump, the far-right, and the Kremlin.

Russia aside, it is journalism that shines light on things that we do not see on a day-to-day basis. Louis Theroux is an exemplary figure to look at when it comes to delving into the stranger aspects of life. Actor turned documentarian Ross Kemp is another shining example looking at crime, immigration, drug abuse etc.

These people dive into the worlds that are only on the fringes of our conscious and bring them roaring onto our television screens. Because of this kind of reporting we become more knowledgeable about what is going on around the globe. It makes the struggles we hear about in faraway lands and in other communities more personable, something we can relate to.
But for all its triumphs, journalism is under threat.

When Donald Trump rose to power throughout the presidential campaign of 2016, he aimed a direct attack at journalists screaming “fake news” and claiming that he wanted to open up libel laws so that journalists would be more susceptible to being sued for their work. But that was not all. He was provoking such a hostile environment at his rallies that reporters and news crews were under physical threat from frenzied mobs who screamed at, and tried to attack them. Members of the press were often put in sectioned off areas where crowds could locate and hound them.

Bob Woodward, the man who broke the Watergate scandal, recently released a book: FEAR – Trump in the White House. Trump has already slandered the book putting it under the “fake” banner but the volume is one of a few that have surfaced since he took office.

One person’s claims against Trump does not necessarily mean that he has done something wrong. What does, however, bring doubt regarding his suitability for the role of president of the United States is when multiple sources of information consistently corroborate with one-another, bringing into question his actions and his ethics. So it is through the corroboration of evidence where weight gathers on the scales of truth.

Trump is the most obvious example because he is hot topic and has been since he put his name forward as a candidate for the presidency. But aside from Nigel Farage and recently Jacob Rees-Mogg, he is one of the biggest threats to truth in the western world. Through belittling and an almost child-like rebuttal of news stations, he becomes impervious to truth’s grasp. It is quite extraordinary.

Let’s move on. The reason why I trust journalists is because good investigative journalism does its best to sit outside the usual spheres of influence. Good investigative journalism is not a mere opinion piece or a work of speculation. Investigative journalism is the digging for hard evidence to support claims. This kind of work can take weeks, months, or years. But it is diligent and is often of such quality that it becomes evidence in courts of law. The only real difference between an investigation undertaken by police and one undertaken by journalists is one of method.

We all want the truth. But sometimes flying close to the truth puts journalists in peril. Daphne Caruana Galizia, former journalist, writer and anti-corruption activist in Malta was killed by car bomb after receiving multiple threats about her work investigating Malta’s Labour party, organised crime, money laundering and the liberal providing of European passports to wealthy individuals.

Daphne Caruana Galizia was a prolific journalist and blogger whose online publications often received more readership than Malta’s own newspapers. Despite the tragic fate that befell Daphne her son – Matthew – is a Pulitzer prize winning journalist and part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). This is a true testament to the determination to find truth.

Three Russian journalists (Alexander Rastorguev, Kirill Radchenko and Orkhan Dzhemal) were killed in the Central African Republic in July of 2018 whilst investigating private military company – Wagner – that had supposed ties to the Kremlin. At least 58 journalists have been killed in Russia since 1992. The world of journalism, especially in places where unethical practices have been undertaken, is a dangerous environment.

We read newspapers. We watch the news. We rely on providers for information to inform us about the state of affairs from sport to politics and global trends. If we did not have some form of news we would have absolutely no idea what exactly it is that government is up to, what legislature is passed and how that legislature is going to affect us. It is our right to have access to this information. It is right to know when corruption or unethical actions are taking place.

It is our right to be informed. It is our right to know and to be holders of the truth. In a constantly shifting world to have truth is to know your place. Know your stance, and know the next steps you wish to take.

And that is why the war on journalism must stop.

The New-build Dilemma

It is official – houses are getting smaller.

Here are a few numbers from an article on the subject by Andrew Ellson and Jedidajah Otte in The Times, 20th August, 2018.

On average:

– Houses are now 20% smaller than in the 1970’s

– Living rooms are 1/3 smaller

– Kitchens are 1/4 smaller

– Bedrooms are 1/5 smaller

The road to purchasing a house is littered with potholes, diversions, dead-ends and dodgy signage. It took myself and my partner a year and a half to save up the deposit needed for a house in our area. And we only managed it because of the charity of my parents letting me live rent free in their house. If my partner and I had been renting, it would have taken us nearly three or four years to save for that deposit. That says a lot about our current culture.

New couples, new families and O.A.P’s looking to upgrade in their later years are buying new houses in new developments. Around Crawley and Horsham alone – where I am based – five new sectors are being added. Thousands of houses and apartments. All of them built smaller than the average residence, and – from myriad conversations I have had with labourers on site – with ever cheaper materials. For example: door frames built from compressed cardboard, plumbing constructed from PVC pipework, fake chimneys made from wood and rendered to look like brickwork. As well as plasterboard walls which would crumble if the PVC breaks or splits – after all PVC is far more brittle than copper and more susceptible to changes in pressure and atmospheric conditions.

New builds are not just smaller but also more expensive than the regular property and they are selling on the notion that, because they are modern, they have a longer lifespan than those built during earlier periods. No previous owners. No degradation. A new space to make a new home.

Space aside there is another issue facing those living in the new build houses and that is one of mental health. Statistically those living in smaller properties are more likely to develop mental health and social issues such as depression and anxiety. In cramped conditions, members of the family cannot get the time on their own that they need, as highlighted by Ben Derbyshire, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects who says that “In a two-bed, four person home there is no space to be on your own except in the lavatory. Humans are social animals but they also need peace, quiet and space for concentration.”

Higher property prices of new builds lead to financial anxieties due to buyers taking out larger mortgages. Combined with smaller living conditions leading to mental health problems the precedent being set by property developers is worrying.

Mental health and social issues after all lead to the most amount of work days missed and account for two of every five visits to G.P’s. The financial demand of the house combined with the house itself causing stress and worry would only create a false economy, would it not?

That is not to say that every new build is small, but with prices already high for smaller dwellings, the costs of larger properties are exponentially more and therefore fall into a price bracket that is often unachievable by those living on the average income. As commentator Tim Montgomerie says: “Inflated house prices owe much to the power of a few major builders to restrict the supply of new homes.” If someone wants to buy a house to call a home, they are at the whim of the prices dictated by developers. If you are a high-earner or in a high earning partnership and have enough money to buy a larger property, well, it turns out money really can buy you happiness.

The saleability of houses in regards to number of rooms is another contentious issue that we face in the United Kingdom. We are one of the only nations that sell properties based on the number of bedrooms that it has. In America and in much of Europe houses are sold on the basis of how many square metres are available. While people within the U.K might be happy in the knowledge that they have bought a three bedroom property, the space inside might not be appropriate for either the family unit, or to provide adequate separation space. After all, many properties advertised to have three bedrooms live up to the promise but space is massively lacking. What are sold as double bedrooms can at best fit a double bed and nothing else. I came across many of these houses when looking for the place we eventually called home.

As property developers squeeze as many houses into an acquired space as possible in order to maximise profits, the government is doing little in the way of putting regulations in place in order to set a decent living standard. Instead the “minimum size standards for new dwellings” as laid down by the government is entirely voluntary. This needs to change. The standards should become policy for all new developments not only for the benefit of the inhabitants but, as pointed out above, for the economy as a whole.

Architecture and proper civic planning can be, and has been, a tool for great change. By giving people space in which they can be part of the family unit and when needed to spend time by themselves. By focusing on creating public spaces in order to eradicate seclusion from one another and by bringing back community centres for children and social clubs for adults.

Due to the neoliberal dogma that the Conservative government subscribe to, projects such as this will simply not take hold. Maximising profits for companies and deregulating the market only weakens the government’s voice in matters of public discourse as corporate interest takes control. Prices will rise, houses will get incrementally smaller so that it is barely noticeable, and the effects on buyers will only be negative as a result.

Is this the way we want to go? Of course not. We need a government that will implement change and stamp policy into place to give people the place, and space, that they deserve.