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Category Archives: Media

‘Fessing up: George Monbiot in Receipt of the Proceeds of Tax Dodging.

en: Picture of George Monbiot at the Make Pove...

George Monbiot: Putting his head above the parapet

George Monbiot, hero of the watermelon greens and other trendy lefty causes, has published his ‘registry of interests‘.

Credit to him, as he is seeking to avoid accusations of hypocrisy by doing what so many of those he criticises should do. After all the environmentalist movement, for example, are often quick to discount opinions opposed to their own, on the grounds that such critics are in the pay of ‘big oil’ or ‘big business’ or whoever else is the bogeyman-du-jour. (Conveniently ignoring how many in their own ranks, supporting green taxes and regulation, are often in the pay of ‘big government’.)

Hypocrisy is a dangerous and infectious condition, though. George’s main income, unsurprisingly, is from the Grauniad – £62,007 to be precise, in the year to 30th September 2011. Nothing so remarkable about that. Equally unsurprisingly, a quick trawl even through George’s own archive reveals some very recent attacks on tax avoidance, something that many of his Farringdon Road colleagues also pontificate on.

So what? Well, let’s not forget that the Grauniad itself is something of an authority on the practice of tax avoidance – a.k.a. among the Left as ‘tax dodging’ – having practised it itself.

Nevertheless, one assumes George is happy to take money from this tax-dodging organisation. As the likes of UKUncut and their fellow left-wing travellers would regard this as a moral crime, is George really happy that he is benefiting from the proceeds of such activity?

Are his followers happy that he is in the pay of ‘big tax-dodgers’?

Yet perhaps we are being harsh on George. I’m sure he has levelled his criticisms of tax avoidance at his own newspaper as well, hasn’t he? After all, a man of principle would not be afraid of biting the hand that feeds him, would he? As Geroge himself says:

… I believe that journalists should live by the standards they demand of others

So, if anyone can find links to any relevant article, I’d be happy to append them here, lest it be thought that I’m accusing him of hypocrisy.

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I Can Do Journalism, Me

Well, maybe not quite, but it is one of those alternative careers that in a parallel universe I might have found myself in. I was of the generation where the ‘fad’ subject was computer studies, shortly before environmental science became all the rage. Nowadays it seems to be media studies. I do remember some advice that was given to an aspiring hack that if one is looking at a serious career path in journalism, then it’s not Media Studies that one should take as a degree subject but English.

All that was before the dawn of Freedom of Information Act requests (‘FOIs’). This does seems to be the lazy journalist’s best friend, as it appears to eliminate the tedious job of actually following up enquiries. I happen to know that my own local council receives over 500 FOI requests per year now, with a significant proportion from the media. The only annoying aspect of this, from the receiving end, is that the majority of demands would be happily answered in reply to a polite request, rather than the bureaucratic and bolshie “I know my rights” approach of an FOI.

The last year or so has seen a spate of FOIs regarding pay and expenses (unsurprisingly) but one of the first requests received, just after the act was introduced, was about the amount spent on tea and biscuits – I kid you not – from one of the local ‘papers. Cutting edge investigative journalism was clearly not dead.

It may be though, that this is another means of sorting the serious journalists from the media studies kiddies, since the best stories – MP’s expenses being an obvious example – require a long pursuit of the FOI rights through the various appeal processes following refusal by the enquired, thus testing the professional doggedness of the determined hack.

FOIs are clearly no use for working on breaking stories, as there is a four week response period. However, less time sensitive issues can be investigated using the device. When I say “investigated” it sometimes seems more like ‘enter the information you get back into a spreadsheet, work out a few averages, identify the outliers and slot the numbers, together with a suitably outraged comment from an appropriate pressure group, into the draft article you wrote four weeks ago’. Job done, Editor happy, lunch awaits. Cynical? Me? As if.

Every now and again, though, an FOI does the rounds which flags up what could turn into the top of one day’s news agenda. Some are obviously shots in the dark, but who knows? Perhaps this recent one, might turn up something amusing (though not, I would d*mn well hope, from my council):

From: DataNews [mailto:newsdesk@datanews.co.uk]
Sent: 31 March 2010 14:03
To: DataNews
Subject: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST
In the period 1.4.06 to 31.12.09 please state on how many occasions your
council has paid a Feng Shui consultant or paid for a staff member to
attend a Feng Shui course?
For each of these occasions state when the payment was made, who the
payment was made to and provide documentation you hold which explains
either the advice that was provided or the nature of the course that was
attended. Also provide me with a cost of the advice or the course.
Yours sincerely,
Matthew Davis

Matthew Davis’ DataNews agency works largely via FOI requests and he has pursued some worthy lines of enquiry in the past, but Feng Shui? The 20 working day deadline on this one expires on 30th April … just in time for the local elections, or in good time for a nice silly season story.

What Is The Top Rate Of Tax?

I know it can’t be easy being a financial journalist in the aftermath of budget day, with so much to take in and summarise for the laity. It must be even worse for the political journos, who have to give almost instantaneous reaction on subjects which are probably not their first love: maths and finance.

A case in point was the changes to the VAT rate. So many reported the change as being 2.5%. Well, yes, in a way it was: the difference between 17.5% and 15% is 0.025 = 2.5%. However, 2.5% on 15% is actually an increase of 2.5/15 = 16.67% in the amount of VAT paid.

As if that tiresomely pedantic arithmetical issue wasn’t enough, how about when you start talking about the tax system itself?

Try this easy question: what is the top marginal rate of tax in this country?

We’re talking personal tax rates, for, say, a “typical” person of working age.

40%?
50% – the new “top rate” coming into effect in a couple of weeks?

Well, let’s have a look at the rates applicable to a typical full-time employee with one child (for 2010/11):

Income up to Income Tax National Insurance Personal Allowance reduction* Tax Credit withdrawal* Total
£ 5,720 0% 0% 0%
£ 6,420 0% 11% 11%
£ 6,475 0% 11% 39% 50%
£ 23,753 20% 11% 39% 70%
£ 43,888 20% 11% 0% 31%
£ 50,000 40% 1% 0% 41%
£ 58,171 40% 1% 6.67% 47.67%
£ 100,000 40% 1% 41%
£ 112,950 40% 1% 20% 61%
£ 150,000 50% 1% 51%

Yes, the top rate of tax for high earners after April will be 61% for those on incomes between about £100,000 and £112,950. That 98% of the late Seventies doesn’t seem so far off now does it?

Now, I doubt those in that income bracket would be regarded as poor, but have a look at someone in the £6,475 – £23,753 range: they are paying 70%, not just from next month, but for quite some time to date. So there are some people on just £125 a week forking out 70% on every extra pound they earn.

I have spared you the horrors of the implications for pension contributions for those bringing in more than £130,000, the added complexity of the 10p band (yes, it’s still there for a few lucky souls), the age-related allowances and their withdrawal rate, the special rates for dividends … come on, wake up at the back! All this, together with the dark art of the tax credit calculation, does mean that the table I threw together above could have various permutations, but the essence is the same.

So, to all the journalists out there, a helpful hint: the new top rate of tax will be 70%, not 50%, and that’s for among the lowest paid. What’s more, it has been for some time now.

* Just to explain the two less familiar columns above: tax credit withdrawal rates are essentially a tax – for every extra pound you earn, you lose 39p back to HM Treasury. The personal allowance is withdrawn at the rate of £1 for every £2 extra income, taxed at 40%; so that’s 40p out of £2: 20%. Also, I have used the 2009/10 tax credit rates – what I had to hand – so the £23,753 might change slightly in 2010/11.)

(BTW, this lot does not count as professional advice. Placing any financial or tax planning decisions on a blog post, even by an accountant, would be a silly thing to do.)

UPDATE 25/3: I’ve had a chance to check and update the figures (around the 50% rate in particular) following the budget speech, and it’s even worse – the top rate of tax is still the 70% hitting low earners. Nice one, Gordon!

Context

Imagine Britain is fighting a military campaign on a foreign continent, part of a wider conflict. We are operating alongside the US and other allies. We are fighting a brutal regime – brutality that is in little doubt except among, perhaps, a minority in this country, who would rather we had kept out of the whole thing.

In this campaign we and our allies have suffered losses approaching 250,000.

“Surely this can’t go on”, you might think. “We should get out of there. What’s it got to do with us anyway?” Liberal commentators might opine: “We know the other lot are nasty pieces of work, but maybe if we left them alone they wouldn’t keep picking on us.”

Well, such a reaction might be understandable, given the partial picture I have painted. What I omitted to say was that, in return for our losses of nearly 250,000, the other side lost 650,000. Granted, it would have been preferable had those 900,000 not had to die, but unfortunately Herr Hitler had other ideas, and was not going to stop picking on us, even if we hadn’t fought (and won) the North African campaign in World War 2. Had a snapshot been taken before El Alamein, when things were looking particularly grim, I’m sure it would have looked far worse.

So today we have a poll which shows that a majority of those questioned think we should get out of Afghanistan. Surprised? We have a constant diet of headlines that readily focus on the growing death toll among our own forces. Of course, we should know about these casualties and pay tribute, but without the context (e.g. the successes that the troops have had against the Taliban) it is unsurprising that the general populace feel that we be better off cutting our losses and running. There are occasional special reports from embedded journalists from the big news outlets, but inevitably it’s the regular headlines that set the scene.

This would therefore seem an appropriate moment to plug again the excellent work of Michael Yon, an independent journalist, from a military background, who has embedded himself with both his compatriot US forces and our own. Michael, as an independent, does not come from an institutionally biased media organisation, nor does his output have to pass through any agenda-driven editorial process. He tells as as he – and his camera – sees it. This is a good piece for starters (though make sure you have some time to spare – it is worth it).

Andrew Marr's Pulped Fiction?

Guido has picked up on the recall of Andrew Marr’s book “A History of Modern Britain”.

His co-conspirators’ theories generally fall into two camps. Either:
(a) Marr’s fawning coverage of new Labour’s time in power, including such fairy stories as “an end to boom and bust”, “prudence” and “Bank of England independence”, has been pointed out to be a load of cobblers, or
(b) It’s a clever marketing ploy by Pan Macmillan to shift the remaining stock and set up some appetite for the next reprint.

My view? As Gordon Brown sends Britain back into the economic dark ages, it may just be that the title fell foul of some “trade descriptions act” or misleading advertising rules.

Wonder if he’ll mention it on his programme tomorrow morning? *

Andrew Marr - A History of Modern Britain

* Update 8/3: So it fell to the mischievous Clive Anderson, less than ten minutes in, to mention it: “You’ve got some problems with your book being pulped. Can we talk about that?” AM: “You can talk about it all you want. I can’t”

Another update: No, I’ve never heard of Erin Pizzey. Andrew Marr has though. I can’t say I particularly remember the “Angry Brigade” (of which Pizzey was once a member) but I’ve definitely heard of the Red Brigade. I’m not sure it would be wise to mix the two up, though, in these litigious days.

Borissed Off

Give them credit, at least the Kentish Times are consistent. Consistently anti-Boris … though I appreciate that they are not under the same requirement for impartiality that the likes of the BBC pretend to abide by.

Next week Boris is visiting Bromley (in ‘Metropolitan Kent’) for his first People’s Question Time. The Bromley Times has been wound up by Bromley’s Labour Leader John Getgood and have found a few random comments on the BorisWatch site – itself hardly a Boris fan-zine. Apparently the blond one is only coming to Bromley for an easy ride….

Mr Johnson received the majority of the mayoral votes in Bromley and the evening will be chaired by Conservative London Assembly Member for Bromley and Bexley, James Cleverly.

Well, James is chairing it because it’s in his constituency – that’s the convention – and Boris also received the majority of Mayoral votes in most of the London boroughs. That’s why he won. Get over it.

Maybe Cllr Getgood and the Bromley Times think Boris should ignore the largest London borough? Fair enough, they got used to being ignored by the last Mayor, but if he has to restrict himself to the boroughs that came out for Ken then it’ll be a short tour.

Boris Talks Cobblers

I’ve been somewhat busy the last few days, so am only just catching up on the other stories around the blogosphere. Rather than bore you (even more) with outdated opinions on stuff that happened three days ago, I’ll just mention one perennial chestnut – the BBC licence fee.
Now I campaigned with and for Boris and will almost certainly do so next time, but on at least one non-London specific issue he is, as Iain Dale rightly says, talking utter codswallop.

Boris’ thoughts on the licence fee included this myth gem:

Take away the licence fee and you take away the Beeb’s ability to spend £6 million on the world’s greatest festival of classical music. [The Proms]

Boris, sadly, is thinking like a socialist. He doesn’t believe, it seems, that things can happen without the State underwriting them. He thinks that without the BBC extorting money from its customers, no-one would be interested in coming up with the readies, either in the form of sponsorship or otherwise, to keep the world’s greatest festival of classical music going.

I am not a friend of the licence fee. It is an anachronism that provided an efficient means of funding the BBC when it was the only broadcaster. Therefore, logically, it should have been given up in the early fifties when ITV came along.

It boils down to this basic question, which I have never yet heard a supporter of the licence fee answer (at least without resorting to vague meaningless concepts like “public service broadcasting”):

If the BBC is so good, then why does it have to threaten its customers with fines or imprisonment?

Actually, that question isn’t quite right, since to refer to licence fee payers as “customers of the BBC” is like calling any driver a “customer of the M1 motorway”. (Some of) your road taxes go to pay for it, whether you ever use it or not. To continue the car analogy, the licence fee is like buying a Toyota and finding that you also have to pay a fee to Daimler-Benz.

Frankly, I’d have abolished the licence fee years ago if I had the power, but as it happens, it need only be until 2012 that we have to endure this vestige of pre-war paternalism, as by then the digital TV roll out will have completed and the BBC can be funded by voluntary subscription using a scrambled signal and decoder cards just like many other channels seem to manage.

Now the Conservative Party policy is to share out some of the licence fee with other broadcasters. While it makes it a little less unfair on the other companies, it doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. That, I guess, reflects the fact that there is a considerable difference of opinion in the party over the licence fee. Sadly, too many of my fellow Conservatives fall for the emotional scaremongering that Boris and others indulge in. It will take time, therefore, but I am convinced that the days of the licence fee are numbered.

Wow. A whole post about the BBC and not one mention of bias!

Right Wing Comedy

It’s not a phrase you hear too often, at least on this side of the Atlantic. For many, it typically conjures up images of Bernard Manning or worse (if that’s possible). That is probably a function of the strange hegemony of the Left in comedy, particularly satirical comedy. For a current example, each week on the BBC “Mock the Week” presents us with the likes of Frankie Boyle, with his sick jokes about Mrs Thatcher’s eventual death as noted by Biased BBC. Then again, he is simply continuing a tradition started in the early Eighties when alternative comedy began.

The problem is that while the focus on broadcasters’ impartiality is often on current affairs coverage in the newsroom (for all the good the criticism does), it seems to fall by the wayside when it comes to other output, including comedy. You might wonder how such balance would be achieved – how many right wing (and funny) comedians can you think of?

Happily, Fox News, the channel the Left love to hate and sneer at*, is helping to fill the void in the States with its “Half Hour News Hour” – itself a reaction to the Daily Show (which we are also subjected to via More4).

It is like a breath of fresh air. Try these for starters:

“Gun Free Zones” – suggesting that criminals might not be too bothered about gun laws…

Then some speculation about what the 7/7 terrorists and similar people might have in common…

And then back to our starting point: “Liberal Media Bias” – “of course I’m totally neutral: Hilary, Obama, Edwards, whatever …”

Doesn’t it say something about both the thinly veiled political colours of so much of the broadcast media and the pointlessness of trying to regulate it, that to balance out the Left wing bias on our “impartial” broadcasters, we would have to look overseas to the likes of an unashamedly right-wing show like the Half Hour News Hour?

* It’s also the channel that the Left like to use to justify BBC bias (once they’ve given up trying to deny there is any). “Well I’d rather have the BBC than Fox News!” they cry. Well that’s fine, just as long as you’re happy to pay for it and I don’t have to.

The End is Upon Us

I haven’t done precise scientific measurements, but I have a random hunch that the runner beans in the garden are 3mm shorter than they were at the same time every previous year that we have been in our house (4 years).

So, with our runner beans now growing at the slowest rate on record, this must be a sign of the effects of global warming. We are all going to die. Get out now while you can and think of the children.

Ok, maybe a bit too silly, but then again

A number of UK bird species are laying eggs significantly earlier than they were 40 years ago, a report reveals.

A conservation coalition’s report says some finches, robins and tits are all laying earlier and puts this down to warming caused by climate change.

The RSPB said birds were having to respond to climate change to survive.

It must be the silly season when that fact that species are adapting to an ever changing environment is deemed to be news. Do supporters of the man-made climate change doctrine not realise that this sort of thing is starting to do their cause more harm than good?

Not that I am in any way suggesting that man-made global warming is not a real and incontrovertible truth that only loonies and the big bad evil oil companies could possibly doubt. After all, everybody knows that the statistics of the “hockey stick” are totally sound.

How Not To Spin

So now we see that Gordon Brown heads a government so incompetent that they can’t even handle a leak consultation properly. Yet it seems they have friends in the Sun.

Yesterday morning the Sun was leading with the news that Alistair Darling Gordon Brown was considering scrapping stamp duty for a while. Then during the day the Treasury spinners were pushing the “deferral” line.

Deferral of stamp duty is likely to make as much difference as an ice lolly in the underworld. The money will normally have to be set aside at the time of completion anyway, and if you find yourself having to break into your stamp duty fund then surely a forced sale isn’t far behind.

The Sun’s sources got the spin wrong, assuming they gave George Pascoe-Watson the full list of options being considered. The Sun obviously went for the big headline – that of “scrapping” stamp duty – when in fact that was probably the least likely option. So the Treasury had to spend most of yesterday back-pedalling as they realised that what should have been a PR coup had been turned into an expectations management disaster.

Either that, or the Sun was fed the single option and if so the sources will have lost credibility (though given that Brown managed to cheese off most of the media last October anyway this won’t make too much difference). This morning, though, without missing a beat, The Sun has switched from the “scrapping” story to the “deferral” line and still gives a positive slant to the idea (though with a more tempered editorial). This is despite much of yesterday’s general coverage pointing out that with the news of a potential change in the open, the housing market now risks going from a downturn to flatlining until the Autumn statement. Now the Sun could have gone in hard with the “back-pedalling” line but has chosen not to – why?