Archive for February, 2015

Picture this, the editor of a left-wing publication is dragged before a bench of politicians, having upset his government. He is asked: “Do you love this country?”

This is not a committee on un-American activities in the 1950s. This is Westminster interrogating Alan Rusbridger of The Guardian little more than a year ago.

Alan Rusbridger (Photo via www.flickr.com/photos/internaz)

Alan Rusbridger (Photo via http://www.flickr.com/photos/internaz)

To his credit, Mr Rusbridger’s (evidently exasperated) reply was to tell the prosecutorial panel that what he loved in his country was its free press, but it often appears that this is not something the nation itself values.

As if to illustrate the point, comic John Cleese compared journalists to murderers at a public meeting, but the only person called a cretin by those present was the hack who shared the remark on Twitter.

Ordered first to stand up, then to sit down and shut up, the beleaguered reporter was at a gathering held by Hacked Off, a pressure group campaigning for state regulation of the press.

Of the emails I got from this group before becoming disillusioned with it, precisely none called for action against the police over phone hacking, despite reports of officers knowingly failing to act on it and selling stories for profit.

Nor do I recall any politicians being arrested amid the Leveson hysteria, despite one of those convicted being on the staff of the Prime Minister.

When it comes to the media though, Hacked Off is tireless, never forgetting to mention the hacking scandal; a failing of the few used to justify unprecedented regulation for the many.

We are constantly reminded of the value of a free press. This past week alone has offered the example of the cash-for-access scandal, while even phone-hacking itself was first unearthed by The Guardian.

Still, as a nation we are scornful of journalists, especially since 2011. For the politicians, this is a blessing.

It’s telling that the one thing our squabbling MPs can agree on is the Royal Charter, cooked up by themselves, setting out the rules for any future press regulator.

Waved through by all parties in the small hours of the morning (and definitely not over pizza with Hacked Off) this charter means exemplary court damages for titles refusing regulation whilst making them liable, even in victory, for their accuser’s legal costs.

Had any publication gone along with it, this charter could have ended centuries of press freedom. Not that the Prime Minister was slow to encourage the sceptical media to bow to it, warning of “hideous” regulation should they not.

Of course, nothing in the charter was necessary to prevent horrors like phone hacking anyway. The acts which outraged us all are illegal and were at the time; they needed only to be punished.

Instead we are now faced with a government-approved system which chastises naughty and nice alike.

Pushed as a way to reign in tawdry tabloids, the charter actually puts the honest majority at risk, including the regional press, community-run newspapers, blogs, charities and magazines like Private Eye.

Sadder still, it does so with public approval.

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David Cameron. Photo: Number 10 (www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov)

David Cameron. Photo: Number 10 (www.flickr.com/photos/number10gov)

Like so many of the foot soldiers in my inglorious profession, the trudge to the bottom of my career ladder felt a long one.

In the years before my first journalism job, I cleared tables, washed dishes, stacked shelves, sold suits and even (on one particularly fragrant occasion) scrubbed clean the walls of a recently vacated stable. Glamorous? No. Paid? Certainly.

Yet it wasn’t all fun and games. I remember well the reactions of Jobcentre staff to any aspirations above menial labour; I recall the time wasted on tailoring applications that were not even acknowledged with a refusal.

The life of a jobseeker is not that of a bon viveur. It wasn’t when I graduated amid a deep recession, nor is it today. Still, there was once a basic dignity in it if you were making an effort. Not for much longer it would seem.

David Cameron, our ever-sympathetic Prime Minister, has announced plans to force the jobless to do community work in exchange for their benefits.

If the measure sounds familiar, that’s because the words ‘community work’ very nearly describe a punishment meted out to petty criminals. It’s also not the first time people have been penalised by the coalition for struggling to find employment.

Under the government’s workfare scheme, jobless graduates worked unskilled roles on a full-time basis for big-money bosses. Their reward? Their paltry Jobseeker’s Allowance – an hourly rate of pay outrageously short of the minimum.

The premise, as ever, was to get more people into jobs by building their experience, but the logic was daft. What employer would create a paid position when there’s a massive free workforce available?

Thinking of it, I’m reminded of something my dad told me – one of those ‘back in the day’ stories about how he had left school on a Friday and walked into his first job on a Monday. Is investment in an untried young person now too onerous for employers?

Not that the taste is so sweet for those who are promoted into paid roles. I know people who work full time when their contracts stipulate a day’s worth of work. Their hours could be slashed at any moment, but they’re expected to keep the week free.

One of these people was berated by a previous boss for having the audacity to go home on time, being told their breaks (to which they’re statutorily entitled) obliged them to stay late. Clocking out times were, however, altered for staff to reflect their contracted hours.

Meanwhile, those plucky upstarts who would trouble their chiefs with tribunals have been dealt a blow, with steep fees enacted for those starting a case and smaller rewards for those who win them.

In the past, I’ve put this change in the workplace down to the economy – too many souls for too few jobs. But the much-proclaimed recovery we’re all supposed to be enjoying (which definitely isn’t debt fuelled) hasn’t abated things. Why?

Now I don’t consider myself a bolshy crusader or even particularly left wing, but the question I feel compelled to ask now seems an increasingly controversial one – can we not reward an honest day’s work with an honest day’s pay?