Wednesday 30 January 2008

British blogger 'Lionheart' due to be arrested

The blogger 'Lionheart' is due to be arrested by Bedfordshire Police on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred.

The blog US or Them has published an email sent to Lionheart (Mr Paul Ray) by PC Ian Holden, an officer in the Hate Crime Unit. In the email PC Holden says:

'The offence that I need to arrest you for is “Stir up Racial Hatred
by displaying written material” contrary to sections 18(1) and 27(3) of the Public Order Act 1986.'

Describing himself as an 'unapologetic Christian', Mr Ray's blog contains outspoken criticisms of Islam and the British government's response to terrorist activity.

Mr Ray has been ordered to appear at Greyfriars Police Station on the 19th February. He is currently in the United States and is weighing up whether to return to the UK to face police questioning.

A spokesperson for Bedfordshire Police confirmed that Lionheart is due to be arrested under the Public Order Act.

When asked what would happen if Lionheart refused to report to the police on the 19th February she replied that 'there are no standard procedures, it depends on the individual circumstances surrounding the investigation'.

The blogger has enlisted the help of lawyer Anthony Bennett, a former member of Veritas, a right wing political party.

In a comment on the Lionheart blog, Mr Bennett warns the Bedfordshire Police to
'be very careful', indicating that he is willing to complain to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) about the case.

Lionheart has found support from the bloggers in both the UK and the US who believe his right to freedom of speech is being violated. Mr Ray argues that he is simply 'telling people what is happening to my community and country'.

Danish Milblog launching at the Frontline Club

The Frontline Club are hosting a blog by a Danish soldier due to be deployed in Afghanistan in the near future.

After going through the rigmarole of medical jabs, writing a will, and telling his family that he's about to go to one of the most dangerous places on the planet, Lars decides to entitle his first post: 'Why do I do it?' Indeed.

Tuesday 29 January 2008

Bandwidth: the curse of US milbloggers

Frontline Fobbit says he hasn't been able to access his blog recently because his journal has been blocked by military networks. He claims:
"It isn't because of anything I did or said, but because they have filtered out blogging sites to conserve bandwidth."
'Bandwidth' was also cited by the US military when they stopped serving soldiers using Youtube and MySpace in May last year.

If any other US milblogs have been affected in the same way as Frontline Fobbit please get in touch.

I've said it before and I'll say it again...

...get over to Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal. He's a Lieutenant serving in Iraq. Here are his two latest posts: In My Army, and Graveyard Shift. Lt G's blog is interesting, original and beautifully written.

Monday 28 January 2008

Just for fun

A short behind-the-scenes video of how three men recreated the D-Day landings on Omaha Beach for a BBC 2 documentary:

'Blood out of a Stone Act 2000': Freedom of Information

I submitted a Freedom of Information Request to the Ministry of Defence last November on a topic related to my PhD project.* Legally they should have contacted me within 20 days and I know they received my request because they've published it on the disclosures log. I still have no reply.

I tried to follow up my request by phone, but guess what...the MoD's Freedom of Information team do not have a telephone number that the public can ring - there's nothing quite like ease of access.

So the best I could do was a leave a message with the Information Access Office who said they would leave a message for the FOI team to contact me. I've tried this twice and still nothing.

This morning I decided on one last final attempt. I submitted another Freedom of Information Request asking the MoD to deal with my initial Freedom of Information Request. Crazy. I hold out little hope for this, which means I'll probably have to complain to the Information Commissioner.

Maybe, once the Information Commissioner's got on their case, the MoD might finally reply. Which would be a start, wouldn't it?

But I imagine, at best, the MoD will tell me they need more time to locate the information, and at worst they'll tell me they can't disclose it because of some exemption under the Act. And even if they do come up with something they'll probably charge me - for the extra working hours it takes to locate the relevant documents.

So here's to the 'Blood out of a Stone Act 2000' and all it does for open and accountable democracy.

*In theory, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 allows citizens in the UK to request all sorts of information about public organisations. In practice, read on...

Update 29/1/08
  • You can read what James Ball (see comment below) has to say on the FOI Act in the Guardian's Comment is Free section.
  • No further contact from the MoD as yet!

Friday 25 January 2008

Expect news on President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan soon...

...he's speaking at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Whitehall, London at 3.30pm today. Afraid I haven't got a ticket, but I know several BBC journalists who do! There were several phone calls between the World Affairs Unit and Planning yesterday making sure everything was in place.

Of course, how much news there is will depend on what he says. After this incident, I think someone should ask him about Osama Bin Laden.

Video removed by YouTube and Live Leak

The video I linked to below has been removed. This does not surprise me - the footage was horrendous. It showed a young Iraqi woman being stoned to death last April in Mosul.

I have since discovered this isn't the first time somebody has tried to post this video.

The argument about how and when to publish death and suffering has a long history and there are no easy answers. Here's a few points:

  • The video represents an appalling invasion of privacy on behalf of the dead girl and her family. Would they want her death to be published in this way?
  • There is a danger that the video might incite revenge attacks
  • Some people might argue this is a form of perverse voyeuristic entertainment - why do we need to see what happens to her? Surely to imagine is more than enough.
    • 'To stand and stare, to expose the person who suffers to the public gaze is refined cruelty'. Karen Sanders, Ethics and Journalism, pp. 94-5
  • Showing graphic images does not necessarily move people to compassion. (See Susan Moeller in Compassion Fatigue, p320)
  • The video could be accessed by children who might the video excpetionally disturbing (Though Youtube does restrict access to graphic videos and could have done this)
  • The argument that media audiences should be informed about suffering and death in an accurate, truthful, and perhaps even, in a shocking, disturbing and upsetting manner is compelling.
  • The danger of sanitising coverage of death and suffering is that we ignore the plight of our fellow human beings. Sometimes we need to be shocked in order to understand the full reality of a situation.
    • 'We can’t believe in a make believe world where no-one cries. Bad things happen. People suffer.' Karen Sanders, Ethics and Journalism, p. 103.
  • We can become immune to death and suffering that is conveyed only in words. Casualties in Iraq are often presented as numbers with no human face.
    • Mike Hudson and John Stainer quoted in Richard Keeble, Ethics For Journalists: '...could the carnage on the Somme, Passchendale or Verdun [World War One battlefields] possibly have continued if it had been witnessed nightly in millions of European sitting rooms?' p103

Thursday 24 January 2008

Video of killing of young woman in Mosul, Iraq

Mohammed, at Last of Iraqis, has put up a video apparently of a religiously motivated killing in Mosul, Northern Iraq last year.

Mohammed claims that the young woman, called Doa'a, ran off with a Muslim and converted to Islam. On her return, she was stoned to death by angry members of the Yazidi religion. Mohammed says he's got hold of the video of this killing.

(WARNING: The video on the post contains very disturbing pictures. But it does not play automatically when you open the link.)

According to Mohammed, the young woman was a member of the Yazidi religion. The Yazidis are mostly ethnic Kurds living in the Northern city of Mosul. (Tensions between the Yazidis and Muslims in this area were reported by the BBC in August and September 2007.)

There was some limited coverage of what may be the same incident at the end of this BBC report.

"Tensions between the Yazidi sect and local Muslims have grown since a Yazidi girl was reportedly stoned by her community in April for converting to Islam."

I've emailed Mohammed and am hoping to confirm that this refers to the same incident. Mohammed cannot guarantee the authenticity of the video but he's pretty sure its genuine from the dress of the people in the video.

I've received a reply from Mohmamed and he believes the BBC report does refer to the same incident.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

Major Andy Olmsted remembered on the BBC

In an earlier post I linked to the story of Maj Andy Olmsted. He was killed by sniper fire in January in Iraq - the first US casualty in 2008. Months previously he had written a blog post to be published in the event of his death.

BBC Radio Five Live's Pods and Blogs programme has interviewed Hillary Bok, a fellow blogger on the site Obsidian Wings. She published Andy's last post. You can listen to the interview here. The piece begins at 27 mins 30.

If you haven't read the original post you can find it here. It really is quite extraordinary.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

'Blog-journalism': New York Times gets to grips with a 'blogging' rival

The New York Times has written an article profiling Michael Yon, a blogger or independent journalist, who has written numerous dispatches from Iraq. His reports are funded by readers who donate money on his website.

In the article, Yon says he didn't know what a blogger was when he started writing and that he was not a journalist.

Now, after several years covering the Iraq war, Yon 'insists that he still does not really know the rules of journalism, but says he has recently, grudgingly, accepted that he has become a journalist.'

The New York Times isn't sure how to describe Yon or his work either:
  1. 'Like most bloggers...'
  2. '....such citizen journalism...'
  3. 'Internet journalist...'
  4. Eventually appearing to decide that: 'he created a niche outlet', 'better reported than most blogs', and 'more opinionated than most news reporting'. His work put many 'professional journalists to shame.'
I wonder when Yon decided he had become a journalist? Is there a noticeable difference between his early work and his later dispatches? Can you categorise some of his writing as 'blogging' and other bits as 'journalism'?

It all suggests that blogging is more than merely a new platform for information. There appears to be some sort of identity associated with being a blogger and a different one for the journalist. Similarly, journalism is cast as being different from blogging and Michael Yon's work as somewhere in between the two.

The relationship between blogging and journalism is being formed by individuals like Yon and articles like these. Blogging is not usually journalism but it can be. And if a blog becomes recognised as journalism, does it cease to be blogging?

Perhaps there is a category of writing that sits between blogging and journalism - a sort of 'blog-journalism' - more opinionated and argumentative than most news journalism, but more factually reliable, better-researched, and generally more relevant (in a news sense) than many blogs.

The New York Times article can be found here.

Arnim Stauth on war reporting

Yesterday at the War Studies department at King's I listened to Arnim Stauth talking about his career as a war reporter. At the moment he's doing some work for CNN, but most of his reporting has been done for ARD/WDR in Germany. He was the first journalist to report the Taliban uprising at Qala-i-Jangi in November 2001 and followed the British into Southern Iraq in 2003 operating around a mile behind the front line. Here are a few things that caught my attention:

  • He said journalism has "a mission in a democratic society" It is based on values and these values are violated in war by both sides in a conflict. We need to give people the information they need so they can act as responsible citizens.
  • Sometimes as a reporter you have to decide whether you want to go for the human interest story or a piece providing context and analysis. Stauth suggests that as a reporter you should go for the former and leave the newsreader back home to provide the rest.
  • Stauth's clearly a meticulous researcher, and his journalism benefitted from simply having more knowledge about a subject than the people around him - both other journalists and military press officers. He took a Geiger counter with him to Iraq to demonstrate the dangerous levels of radioactivity present after the use of depleted uranium shells by Coalition forces - a story based on simple, but effective, research prior to the conflict.
  • He prefers slower editing to the short, sharp edits that characterise American news reports. "Often the tragedy of war happens on one face", he says, and if that face makes compelling viewing why cut away too quickly?
  • He was critical of 'under-fire' piece-to-cameras suggesting they were irresponsible and that the German public do not appreciate the bravado. Compare this approach with BBC journalist, Jeremy Bowen, who observed in a documentary that if you do enough 'under-fire' pieces you won awards. But Stauth's caution hardly made him immune from danger. He found himself 50 yards from the Taliban uprising at Qala-i-Jangi and wondered whether he would have to shoot at the Taliban to defend himself before fleeing the fortress.

New links up today

I'm still ploughing through the blogs and have posted some of the interesting links on my side bar. I save links here more regularly than I post so the site is always being updated.

Monday 21 January 2008

Keeping up with the bloggers

It's easy to get behind in the blogosphere. I've been away for a three and a half days and now I've got at least 1000 blog posts to trawl through to get myself back up to date. I'll post later in the day if I find anything interesting...

Wednesday 16 January 2008

BBC i-Player is good but whatever happened to Project Kangaroo?

Over on the BBC Internet Blog Ashley Highfield has written about the 'marketing' launch of i-Player, the BBC's on demand streaming of the last 7 days of television.

He seems pleased with progress so far and I reckon it's one of the first tangible steps of the long-predicted demise of appointment television.

One of the great things about i-Player is the search facility. It allows you to easily scan the last 7 days of television for anything that interests you, rather than constantly keeping track of the television listings.

So last week, I searched 'Iraq' and discovered an interesting interview with General Sir Mike Jackson, (Head of the British Army 2003-6) on Hardtalk - a News 24 programme I'd never heard of.

Channel 4 also has an on demand service. What some bright spark needs to do is bring these 'On Demand' services together on one website...

Hang on, I thought that was the point of 'Project Kangaroo'. This was a joint project between ITV, Channel 4 and BBC to launch a joint website where you could download TV programmes in the same place.

It would mean that rather than just searching the BBC's programmes, I could search the output of a number of television channels in one go. I haven't heard much about this since this article in the Guardian. I'll post on the BBC Internet Blog and see if I get a response.

UPDATE: Project Kangaroo seems to be in the early stages. It was only announced in November 2007 though this press release suggests it should be up and running in 2008. Nick Reynolds, Editor of the BBC Internet Blog, has pointed me to Ashley Highfield's post on the project.
Random Bonus Observation 1:
I've since discovered that Hardtalk has been running for ten years(!). But if you broadcast at 11.30pm and 4.30am on a channel that needs at least a freeview box nobody ever finds out about your programme.

RBO2: Part of what I do is comparing news coverage of an event. Now that ITV's evening bulletin is at 1opm rather than 10.30pm, comparing the BBC and ITV has once again become rather difficult.

What would be really useful is if both organisations could stick their news bulletins up on demand so I can compare coverage by watching them one after the other. This would be much better than the current alternatives - channel hopping or trying to watch two televisions at the same time.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Chinese 'citizen journalist' killed

A Chinese man who tried to film a protest on his mobile phone was killed by a city official on Monday.

Wei Wenhua, 41, was beaten to death as he filmed a confrontation between officials and villagers in the province of Hubei.

The villagers were complaining about waste being dumped near their homes.

The killing has caused outrage in China's online community and Qi Zhengjun, chief of the administration bureau at Tianmen has already lost his job over the incident. For more see CNN and Global Voices.

Blogging in the snow

  • "It was a gift straight from Mother Nature herself (with a possible assist from her red-headed stepchild, Global Warming) – snow": Lt G over at Kaboom tells us about his first 'snow patrol' in Iraq.
  • And it's no warmer in Kabul, Afghanistan. Maj Gian P. Hernandez escapes the weather to watch the neurosurgeon at work in the ER room of a local hospital.

Monday 14 January 2008

BBC 4 - five years in Iraq

For those of you who want some light-hearted television to provide welcome relief from the miserable weather, don't watch BBC 4 tonight or tomorrow.

The channel is providing a special short season of programmes to mark five years of meddling in Iraq. The offering includes No Plan, No Peace; This World: Baghdad, A Doctor's Story; and Frontline Iraq.

British soldier blogging the Iraq war?

It looks as though Universal Soldier is going to start some sort of retrospective blog of the Iraq war. He's written a teasing little post taking us all the way back to Autumn 2002 and the build up to war in Iraq.

Blogging so long after the event does mean you lose one of the crucial publishing advantages of the medium: immediacy. But I haven't come across any British milblogs that blog regularly and immediately from the front line in the way that US soldiers do, so I'll be sitting, watching, and waiting, for future posts.

Friday 11 January 2008

Photoblog post of 4 Rifles in Basra

Last year, independent journalist, Michael Yon, was embedded with 4 Rifles in Basra and he's been writing up dispatches chronicling his time with the British Army.

Unlike the other parts, Part V is mainly a series of photos with commentary.

He begins by mentioning a conversation with William Rigby, whose identical twin brother, John, was killed in June.

Thursday 10 January 2008

I'm enjoying Lt G at Kaboom...

Here's his latest post. For starters, I haven't picked up many milbloggers who begin with Shakespeare! But for me, the most interesting part and the crux of the post, is the suggestion that America's recent success in finally winning over some hearts and minds is mostly a consequence of giving Iraqis jobs and filling their wallets.

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Milblogging: how it might change military history

Whenever I read milblogs and hear people talking about them, I become more convinced that blogging must transform the whole discipline of military history.

In the first instance, understanding morale, combat cohesion, and the battlefield experience of Afghanistan and Iraq should be much easier than previous wars. No need to go searching through the archives or getting hold of family letters that have been locked away in an attic for 50 odd years. Instead, you can log on to the Internet and track down some blogs. You'll also have access to photos and video.

Second, I believe the insights into combat provided by bloggers might help us understand previous wars. Bloggers' willingness to share their personal feelings, for example, might provide valuable insights into PTSD. This knowledge could then be used to re-approach studies of 'shell-shock' during World War One, where the condition was barely recognised, let alone discussed.

Third, military historians will have to get to grips with understanding blogs as a source. Blogs may still often resemble the personal diaries that soldiers in previous eras kept but they have significant and fairly obvious differences.

Historians will have to understand why people blog; what their motivations are; how the process of writing on a computer differs from writing with ink on a page; what difference publication, reaction and comment makes to a blog; the extent to which military censorship of a blog is similar or different to censorship in the past.

Milblogging discussion on US Radio

Various mil(itary)bloggers discussed their writing on KUOW radio yesterday morning including Gordon Alanko, Doug Traversa, Benjamin Tupper and Army Girl. David Sandford was also on the show. He's the editor of and started the Sandbox website in October 2006 to provide a forum for milbloggers.

You can listen to the whole show here.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Blogging from beyond the grave

I've just come across a fascinating blog post via the Sandbox website. It was written by Major Andrew Olmsted who was killed in Iraq on 3 January.

He was trying to persuade insurgents to surrender when he was hit by sniper fire. He soon became the first US Casualty in Iraq in 2008. (There's more about the circumstances of his death at Rocky Mountain News.)

Olmsted had prepared a 'Final Post' in case he was killed in Iraq and primed another blogger to publish it the day after his death. It's a surreal thing to read and I'm not really sure what to make of it all. I've certainly never seen anything quite like it before.

(My immediate and rather strange thought is that sombody could prepare a whole raft of blog posts to be published after their death and thus 'live on' in the digital world.)

Here are some extracts:
  • "This is an entry I would have preferred not to have published, but there are limits to what we can control in life, and apparently I have passed one of those limits."
  • "What I don't want this to be is a chance for me, or anyone else, to be maudlin. I'm dead. That sucks, at least for me and my family and friends. But all the tears in the world aren't going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss."
  • "Believe it or not, one of the things I will miss most is not being able to blog any longer."
  • "I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side."
  • "I write this in part, admittedly, because I would like to think that there's at least a little something out there to remember me by. Granted, this site will eventually vanish, being ephemeral in a very real sense of the word, but at least for a time it can serve as a tiny record of my contributions to the world."
  • "This is the hardest part. While I certainly have no desire to die, at this point I no longer have any worries. That is not true of the woman who made my life something to enjoy rather than something merely to survive."
You can read the full post at the Sandbox.

Monday 7 January 2008

Reorganising the BBC Newsroom

On the BBC Editors blog Peter Horrocks, Head of BBC Newsroom, asks this question:

"Text messages and e-mails from our audiences have brought a valuable additional aspect to our journalism. But how much attention should we pay to people who care strongly enough about an issue to send a message? They might either be typical of a wide part of the audience or perhaps just a tiny vocal minority."

And he talks a lot of sense in answering it.

One of the issues Peter Horrocks discusses is the structural and physical reorganisation of the newsroom. I think this is necessary if the BBC wants to get the best out of user-generated content.

There is already a system to feed UGC to the website, TV and radio. Peter Horrocks mentions that Paul Wood, then Defence Correspondent, picked up a story about poor living conditions for members of the armed forces from photos that were sent in from soldiers' families.

But I think the fact that most of the Online team are currently on the 7th Floor of Television Centre, a long way from the main TV and radio news hubs must mean that some potential follow up stories are missed, and that journalists are not always aware of what is going on in other departments.

One BBC correspondent I spoke, for example, seemed to be unaware that the BBC website already has editors publishing round ups of the best blogs on certain international affairs such as Iraq and more recently Kenya.

I would suggest that the reorganisation of the newsroom might give BBC journalists a greater awareness of the potential value of citizen journalism and that, at worst, the content the audience produces would be very useful to them as background information.

The key journalistic and technological challenge will be sifting through the ever-increasing haystack of thoughts, pictures and videos that are sent in to the BBC in order to find the hard needle of a journalistic story.

More Kenyan blogs via the BBC

BBC Online publish some blogs from Kenya.

Sunday 6 January 2008

British blogger inside Kenya

The Times has tracked down a British housewife blogging in Kenya. Frances Woodhams, 35, and mother of three children, started blogging in 2006. She says that all the "mundane" matters she used to write about on her blog have "gone out of the window". In a post on 2nd January, she describes being "sick with worry", and New Year's day as "truly a black day for Kenyans".

BBC edits Bhutto's claim that Bin Laden is dead

Here the BBC responds to claims that it 'censored' a David Frost interview with Benazir Bhutto last November which was published on the BBC website.

During the interview for Al Jazeera, the late Benazir Bhutto calmly states that Osama Bin Laden had been killed by Omar Sheikh.

The BBC shares some news material with Al Jazeera but edited the video before it was published on the BBC News website.

The BBC say the claim was edited out because of time pressure and a desire to 'avoid confusion', but admit that it should have been left in.

Al Jazeera broadcast the interview unedited and you can see it, in full, on YouTube. Bhutto's claim that Bin Laden was killed comes around 6 mins 10 and remarkably went unchallenged by David Frost.

Friday 4 January 2008

Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal

A new US milblog including first impressions of military life in Iraq. Also has a useful 'military jargon' toolbar for the uninitiated.

Inside Kenya

A few blogs from the state formerly known as Africa's most stable country.
  • This post suggests the crisis may have been triggered by the election chaos but is a consequence of underlying tensions within Kenya. It's described as follows by Kenyan pundit: 'Bankelele has a good post that highlights why the conflict is about more than just Kikuyu vs. Luo (can the international media please catch up).'

Wednesday 2 January 2008

Genius needed to understand me (allegedly)

According to this little device, you need to be a genius to read my blog, so congratulations to anybody who can make head and tail of it.

(I'm sure this is just because I've used 'PhD' in the sidebar and reckon using phrases such as 'make head and tail of it' will help lower the reading level!)

My blog may be necessarily specialist but it's not rocket science is it? What do you think? If it's really so difficult to understand maybe I should try to dumb it down a bit!

4 Rifles in Basra in 2007

Parts III and IV of Michael Yon's dispatches from 4 Rifles deployment in Basra last year. You can find Parts I and II here if you missed them before.
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