Saturday, April 16, 2011

Local press is the limit of local accountability

Eric Pickles is proving to be one of the great reformers of this government. He intends to use the transparency agenda to highlight the waste and inefficiency in local government, and to increase local accountability to go with the transfer of more power and responsibility to local councils.

A few weeks ago, his Department for Communities and Local Government introduced citizens’ rights to inspect councils’ ledgers:
“New transparency rules will require councils to publicise to the press and public the little-known rights to inspect councils' detailed financial accounts, ledgers and records. This is designed to increase scrutiny of councils' spending decisions by armchair auditors and local investigative journalists.”
This is in addition to plans for online transparency – not just publishing spending over £500, but also contracts, tenders, staffing and more:
"The Code proposes the minimum datasets that should be released, openly and for reuse, by local authorities are:

-expenditure over £500, (including costs, supplier and transaction information)
-grants and payments under contract to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector
-names, budgets and responsibilities of staff paid over £58,200 - equivalent to the lowest Senior Civil Service pay band
-an organisational chart
-councillor allowances and expenses
-copies of contracts and tenders to businesses and to the voluntary community and social enterprise sector
-policies, performance, audits and key indicators on the authorities' fiscal and financial position
-data of democratic running of the local authority including the constitution, election results, committee minutes, decision - making processes and records of decisions"
So far every council has started publishing their spending over £500 – apart from Labour-run Nottingham. They alone appear to believe that it is for them to determine what transparency and accountability the people may enjoy.

But there is a crucial problem with localism: the weakness of the local press. The nationals can (and frequently do) jump in with both feet, regardless of the consequences: it’s not so much ‘publish and be damned’ as ‘harass, eavesdrop and intercept mobile phone messages and be damned’. It is a highly competitive, aggressive and invasive pursuit, to the extent that journalists are prepared to transgress the law in order to secure their story. And they do so, it appears, because (on the off-chance they’re caught) they can afford to pay the odd £100k in compensation to make it all go away.

But the Burton Mail, the Bedford News, the Shields Gazette and the South Bucks Star can’t work that way. In difficult economic times they are more vulnerable. There are only around 90 city-based and regional dailies and 1,200 weeklies, but they are all struggling to survive in a world of free internet. Local readerships are already ageing, and when local newsagents and post offices close and the papers lose their three key regional advertising markets - property, cars and jobs – local reporting is cut back and thousands of journalists are made redundant. The very mechanism for local scrutiny and accountability is precariously dependent on the boom and bust cycles of the economy.

Further more, local editors do not dare touch some stories for fear of an instant lawsuit: they simply cannot take the risk for fear of bankruptcy or uninsurability should they lose a case. An allegation of financial impropriety doesn’t even have to name an individual before it becomes libellous: if the subject may be identified by anyone from discursive description or elliptical allusion, the newspaper has committed a tortious act and the journalist or editor becomes a tortfeasor. Punitive compensation is then due for any emotional, economic, or reputational injuries.

The nationals can afford to investigate rigorously, and they have highly proficient journalists who are up to the task. They can and do risk tort by publishing a partial truth in order to eke out the greater truth. They can hold Parliament and politicians to account because they operate under a secure financial aegis. The locals have no such liberty, and rarely do they have journalists who up to the task. Indeed, while there are a few notable exceptions, many view local journalism as little more than work experience where they learn their craft as they await their elevation to Fleet Street. Local journalists are frequently beholden to local officials and friendly councillors for their stories, and they would be loath to compromise a cosy relationship of mutually-beneficial back-scratching.

So, when a local council pays its chief executive £200k a year while it is closing libraries and cutting care for the disabled, the local narrative is one of ‘Tory cuts’. When council managers are paid more than MPs while ‘Sure Start’ centres are sacrificed and grants to voluntary organisations are slashed, the local narrative remains that of ‘Tory cuts’. A journalist eager to investigate waste, mismanagement or downright fraud is all too often warned off by their editor, because they can’t make the story ‘stand up’: if it’s not watertight, they won’t risk.

Localism is a laudable aim, and Eric Pickles is a vastly underestimated and unjustly derided politician of great knowledge and considerable expertise. But ‘armchair auditors’ become largely redundant when their only media outlet is the local rag populated with not-so-investigative journalists and a hyper-cautious editor. And since local rags are read by only a tenth of a local population, the vast majority are still dependent on inter alia the BBC to perpetuate the narrative of ‘Tory cuts’. Ironically, the localism designed to foster transparency and accountability may founder not for want of the necessity of local curiosity, but for want of the luxury of the medium for disseminating what is uncovered. If the timid local press is eroded further, the crisis in local democracy will simply be blamed on central government. And the wheel will have come full circle. Again.

52 Comments:

Blogger Maturecheese said...

You have hit the nail on the head again YG as you describe our local papers inadequacies. Mind you I suspect that as I live in Wales the citizens’ rights to inspect councils’ ledgers doesn't even apply to us. I can't see a Labour dominated Assembly allowing scrutiny of it's Labour dominated wastrel councils.

16 April 2011 at 09:29  
Anonymous Dreadnaught said...

Mr Pickles' good works would command much more attention and do the Conservatives more good on the PR front if he reduced his avoir du pois. He does little to enhance the public's perception that 'we're all in this together' so let's tighten our belts guff, looking as well fed as he does.

He really could do with a make-over - Unless of course, he is to be the secret weapon in the fight against providing gastric banding for the plebs.

16 April 2011 at 10:27  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

Readers letters tend to be the best voices in the local rags.

16 April 2011 at 10:54  
Blogger Edward Bond said...

Couldn't the internet replace the local?

16 April 2011 at 11:10  
Blogger WitteringsfromWitney said...

My local council does pubicise the period for inspection of their files, albeit on the internet only.

On the subject of local newspapers, the problem them have is similar to the problem the national newspapers have - namely decent journalists!

If the paper media wish to combat the rise of the internet, then the above is a hint where to begin!

16 April 2011 at 11:39  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Re libel: A mutual insurance fund against lawsuits, guaranteed by some arrangement with the Consolidated Fund (does this still exist after Mr Brown sold off the gold reserves?), and arbitration for expelling or capping reckless participants?

Internet is not enough. Agreed need for journalists of the right kind.

Finance for newspaper publishing big problem. Compare Pearson Group, Newscorp et al.

16 April 2011 at 11:48  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Maybe the Not the Tories should lead by example? Let's see accountability and efficiency from central government first.

I won't be holding my breath.

16 April 2011 at 12:01  
Blogger English Viking said...

Your Grace,

Interesting you should mention the Burton Mail, as I have personal experience of that particular rag. It is nothing more than a perpetual election leaflet for the Labour party, and cannot be even be trusted to report accurately on a cat stuck up a tree. The sooner it goes broke, the better.

BTW, you say Pickles is 'unjustly derided'.

He is a fat moron, the likes of which would look good dangling from a lamp-post, if I could find a rope strong enough to dangle his disgustingly corpulent body.

Please click the link, and see why all derision is entirely justified. Just look at his overwhelming sense of entitlement.

http://youtu.be/LYl6WW5ypRE

16 April 2011 at 12:32  
Blogger Bred in the bone said...

Damn it YG, just love you Man, this post has inspired me to sit down and write a letter to my local Pendle Today, about the sorcery, witchcraft and Ogrish shenannigans going on around town.

16 April 2011 at 13:02  
Blogger Johnny Rottenborough said...

As Mrs Gnostic (12:01) suggests, some national accountability wouldn’t come amiss, starting with Baroness Warsi and her family wedding.

16 April 2011 at 14:08  
Blogger Edward Spalton said...

A considerable amount of newspaper revenue arises from official advertisements by local councils.

Years ago we had a freesheet called "The Derby Trader". Some people felt it was quite a red rag until it had a run in with the Labour controlled County Council. The Council withdrew all its advertising and the paper became very much more investigative in its reporting and free and frank with its views.

Then there are all the "partnerships" and quasi official organisations. Some newspaper editors feel it is public spirited to serve on them. And everywhere is the shady influence of "Common Purpose" -a training organisation with charitable status, based on the Fuhrerprinzip. At one time, several Midland newspaper editors were its "graduates".

So whilst there are some very good local papers and editors, the pressures and influences on them are considerable.

16 April 2011 at 14:17  
Anonymous Papal Bill said...

Too right Your Grace - local councils are far less transparent and accountable than they were, thanks to two trends: The switch from committees to cabinets in the town hall, and the increased financial problems of the local press.

Most are understaffed, reporters are overstretched and underpaid, and there are few resources left to put the local council on the rack.
At one time, local councilors were keen to cultivate publicity; for the past several years, they have preferred to pursue their agenda in near secrecy.

Consequently, I am very sceptical about localism, if it means more power to town halls.

16 April 2011 at 14:54  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Answers on a postcard?

Are we back to 'independent' auditors? Quangos filled with ex-local government senior managers, appointed by ex-local government senior managers, on large pensions? Racking in even greater salaries than in their previous posts?

Ending the regime of audit creates a vacuum. It cannot be filled by the press - local or national.

What are local opposition parties for? Local Councillors are now salaried. They have 'Scutiny Committees'. For what? To hold local administrations to account, that's what.

Sometimes too much information can be as problematic as too little and it has to be interpreted and subject to some form of analysis. Whether this can ever be imparial is a moot point.

Isn't democracy a pain!

16 April 2011 at 15:14  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Would it be more newsworthy for the national press of the UK or the local press of Dewsbury to let it be known that "Obamastan" is the talk of the USA and that Mr Cameron is usefully serving the aim of making this country into a client or satellite territory by (among other things) advising HMQ on the appointment of Baroness Warsi of Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, as a cabinet minister "without portfolio"?

Editorial criteria? Improving circulation; increasing revenue; serving one or more sections of the community; proprietor's preference -- that sort of thing.

No need to mention Common Purpose, that's done above.

16 April 2011 at 15:38  
Anonymous Oswin said...

Our 'local rags' (don't forget the Hexham Courant, Britain's oldest weekly newspaper!) cannot defend themselves against the threat of violent reaction to 'truth-telling' - I know of several who fear ANY mention of pressing local concerns (shhh: Islam!)

16 April 2011 at 15:45  
Anonymous Voyager said...

Many local newspapers are owned by the Us firm Gannett publisher of US News, they are basically comics and have every interest in sucking up to local councils for advertising.

What is interesting however is that Public Companies must have a registered office where shareholders can see Employment Contracts of Directors, Articles of Association and Share Registers. Funny that local authority Officers do not have the same accountability

16 April 2011 at 16:03  
Anonymous not a machine said...

I think Eric Pickles has shown quite a bit of nouse in the canny world of district and big town councils who under the labour terror had become PR merchants for beaurocracy handouts .It can be very tedious work finding 50k execs responsible for funny budgets.
I am trying not berate the need for local council ,but in some of them the answers you get are just plain tech speak designed to bury there decison into the pit they dont want you to know that much about .


Your grace mentioned reporting clearly some papers carry official council news and road and planning matters , which is right , however some locals carry no investigative aspects at all , useually picture of councillor cutting ribbon , visiting etc etc.Of course there is nothing wrong with showing a visit or opening , that is local government , but when as a person you ask a legitimate question about somthing not right and it doesnt get reported (although it may be buried in the councils internet records of the meeting if they are upto date that is) , the public do not have much idea of what more challenging questions are being said .
Local reporting has suffered as perhaps the seed bed for certain journalistic qualities was changed in the labour years .Some of us noticed this in national press , that was tied in with the presidential era of Blair/Brown and the displacing of printed media with the internet era.
the internet threw up unbounded commentators some like Guido Fawkes took it further and started getting the buried info out. Quite wether the interenet is the rebellion and the newspapers more set piece orientated remains to be seem , for newspapers now have bloggs.
Andrew Neil got loads of stick on daily politics show , but some of us could see he was one of the very few journos that , did the old fashioned service of asking them demanding questions (it is public service to give decison makers a proper interview when certain matters need atention).
As a former editor of the sunday times and a whole career in journalism he has seem them come and go , and he still holds somthing of journalism having important service to all . There are others I could mention , quite a few in the BBC still exist that were trained on quality and ability , sky has some also.

I appreciate the news media landscape has changed , but has the respect and quality of journalism ? I dont mind them being left or right , so long as they do the basics well, of fact and resonsibility.
you perhaps cannot role good jornos out of campus , some clearly have flair and vocation inbuilt , some trade in the more sordid and shady worlds .
But if the world of news papers and journalism is sink beneath the on demand internet age or god forgive the spurious 140 charcters drivel , we will lose the benfit of decent questions , that inform the public .

An differnet news age is here , we should be careful it doesnt just signify , dumbing down , illiterate texting and ,smiley ecomotion faces . In the beggining was the word .would be rather a shame if we lost the ability of the english langauge to make us intelligent and thoughtful .
Perhaps some of our quality journos/presenters would care not to retire without ensuring a new crop can at least do proper investigative journalism , before they all become quitely sponsered by the fear of conformity to powers of the dumbest factor so made from offices hid.
A free press is an intelligent thing , perhaps not always clean , but vital if you want a society that can think and evaluate .
Opps there I go again assuming labour didnt want you to think and evaluate , but how close we came to complete pravda .

lets us hope the the journos may know themselves and understand the era we have been through.

16 April 2011 at 19:03  
Anonymous not a machine said...

On a side note I have just seen the postal vote question for the AV referendum , bit of polava , not quite sure if question is right , see if any other eports come in .

16 April 2011 at 19:12  
Blogger English Viking said...

Your Grace,

OT I know.

Just noticed the 'creed' on your side-bar.

I am genuinely shocked that you think such a thing a subject for either levity or parody.

Is nothing sacred?

16 April 2011 at 19:51  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr English Viking,

What are you talking about? It was an acutely political formula contrived to hold together a divided empire: it is not and has never been sacred.

16 April 2011 at 19:59  
Anonymous MrJ said...

What is genuinely shocking is the AV Etc farrago. May I address the the point raised by not a machine (19:12), having due regard for Cranmer's Conservative Creed?

The referendun question is: "At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post’ system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?"

It may be acceptable to say "for the purposes of this referendum we are calling the present system
to elect MPs to the House of Commons ‘first past the post’ ", on the assumption that this is common knowledge and the person voting knows what it is.

But the question "Should the ‘alternative vote’ system be used instead?" makes what must be the false, or at least, unverified assumption that this is sufficient to inform the voter what s/he is voting for or against.

Many voters will in fact be deciding for reasons or motives irrespective of any official explanation however lucid. It is what we are used to: when voting for MPs, whatever they say, we vote FOR an individual against our party preference or FOR a party regardless of the candidate's merit; or for small-minded reasons or with greater hopes of our own; and nowadays there may not be many who believe much that they are told or promised by any candidate.

The outcome, in the sense of what will happen in the next election and thereafter, is beyond anyone's control. Some may hope that the future of the people of this country will be guided by a providence which is not deceived by the folly of those who put their trust in voting YES, or the subversion of the constitution by The GOD Squad, Common Purpose, the Electoral Reform Society or the machinations of the any of the organs of the European Union. Such persons, to my mind, would be best advised not to abstain but to vote NO.

16 April 2011 at 20:41  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

English Viking

You take live way, way too seriously!

16 April 2011 at 21:29  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

... or even life.

16 April 2011 at 21:31  
Blogger English Viking said...

Your Grace,

At least you replied, for which I am most grateful.

The Nicene Creed is sacred to me.

Why laugh at such a thing?

16 April 2011 at 22:37  
Blogger English Viking said...

Dodo,

It's not a rehearsal.

Life, that is.

16 April 2011 at 22:39  
Anonymous not a machine said...

mmm lid dem grandee ex special boat service takes on chancellors sub , lib dem business sec shares platform with not so second class labour leader. Must be about to AV a laugh .

However I would like know what is tawdry about blowing a hole in wonk election form . Unless that is complaining about public opinion hardening in no to AV, whats wrong in the public wanting there elected to be accountable before any vote , without worrying about second place position.

Sub may have a different proposition on his hands , if Carswells question is viable ,whole fleet ready if that one doesnt come out clean .

17 April 2011 at 00:01  
Anonymous chevron said...

"The Nicene Creed is sacred to me. Why laugh at such a thing?"

I am sure almost everything is sacred to someone. Should we ban humour for fear of causing offence to those who become indignant before considering intent? How can anyone be justly "offended" where there is no motive to offend?

I take real offence at some atheist advertisments, for example, as they are often designed to offend (protestations to the contrary often sound awfully hollow). But would I be similarly offended by a contemplative Buddhist who tells me that there is no personal or creator God? Of course not! Intent is everything when assessing moral culpability. Just as it is morally wrong to go around acting with the aim to cause offence, so is it wrong to judge people based on something that may merely be a subjectively perceived slight (as unjustified negativity invariably provokes negativity, indeed 'offence', within others).

17 April 2011 at 00:17  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Chevron

As a christian did you find the 'Life of Brian' offensive? Or, because it was written by atheist 'comedians', its parody of the life and death of Christ was okay?

Hard as I find it to say this, English Viking has a (small) point in that the style of 'creed' parodies of the Nicene Creed. I don't find it offensive because it doesn't make fun of the actual content of the Nicene Creed.

No, there's more than intent involved. There's also a requirement in a decent society to avoid causing offence to the sensitivities and sensibilities of others. This means being aware of what you say and do.

17 April 2011 at 01:11  
Blogger English Viking said...

Chevron,

Ban and ridicule everything you like.

Don't expect me to agree.

17 April 2011 at 01:11  
Blogger English Viking said...

Dodo, Chevron, etc...

I was talking to His Grace, not thee.

Surely it is indicative of the collapse of Christianity that so called Christians argue amongst themselves?

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
one in Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us men and for our salvation
he came down from heaven
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in fulfillment of the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of Life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen

The above is not a laughing matter.

17 April 2011 at 01:24  
Anonymous chevron said...

@ Viking
"I was talking to His Grace, not thee."
Oh, come now! You cannot expect to express an opinion on a public board to go without third-party challenge, especially if you do not specifically request it.

To post the Nicene creed as some evidence of Christian unity is peculiar, seeing as its origins were political. There are many groups or individuals that would term themselves Christians and desire to be true Christians, but either do not understand or cannot accept certain doctrines expressed within that Creed. Are they any less Christian on that account?

Let me ask you, what IS a Christian? Is a Christian someone who believes all the right things, someone who thinks they believe all the right things (but nevertheless has it all in a muddle), or someone who through faith has a desire to follow Christ according to their knowledge (or lack thereof), and tries to DO all the right things?

17 April 2011 at 02:08  
Blogger English Viking said...

Chevron,

A Christian is one that follows the Christ.

Nothing more, nothing less.

PS I am not remotely interested in your 'opinions',

17 April 2011 at 02:27  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Dear English Viking,

May I respectfully say that the version of the "Apostle's" Creed which you have reproduced here is not the version as printed in the Book of Common Prayer in use when I was a boy. As you will know, it begins "I believe" translating the Latin "Credo". Students of the history of the creeds and of theology will know there is good reason for that, whether or not "we" has more lately come into use (for reasons which may or may not be considered to be well-founded).

Those to whom the "I believe" version is dear may consider that the change from "I" to "We" was not well-advised. Opinions are permitted to differ about that, but either way, the Creed is not a laughing matter.

The composition headed "Cranmer's Conservative Creed" is, of course, modelled on the Prayer Book Creed, but it is not in mockery of the faith or religious practice of any of the churches or denominations of Christendom.

In my view (if he will forgive me saying so) he has correctly stated of the Creed proper "It was an acutely political formula contrived to hold together a divided empire: it is not and has never been sacred."

17 April 2011 at 02:45  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

English Viking

Why are you on here if you have no interest in the opinions of others?

Isn't that what the blog is for - an honest exchange of views?

Or do you see it as a platform for your, shall we say, somewhat unique representation of the message of Christ?

If you accept the Nicene Creed then do you accept theological development and teaching as a function of church structure and organisation to promote and support same - not 'Sola Scripture' or 'radical' protestantism.

These features imply authority, leadership and acceptance of doctine and dogma. Characteristics I thought you distained!

17 April 2011 at 03:03  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Mr J

The modern Roman Catholic credo starts with "We believe ...."

This raises the question as to whether English Viking is actually a follower of the Church of Rome and is on here parodying protestant opposition to the authority of the Pope. We know he is a collector of the writings of Catholic theologians.

17 April 2011 at 03:09  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

Mr J

By the way, the Apostles Creed is a different doxology to the Nicene Creed being very much shorter and containing fewer points of christian doctrine and dogma.

17 April 2011 at 03:14  
Blogger English Viking said...

Dodo,

I am so very tired.

I look at my life, and all I can do is regret.

Perhaps it is best if I leave?

What if I give in? What if I say 'You have won'?

OOHH, you are so very clever, you have seen off a monkey like me.

My last word: I have always tried to quit myself as a man.

17 April 2011 at 03:24  
Blogger English Viking said...

Mr J,

Your point, and your politeness, are duly noted.

I could argue until I am blue in the face.

What's the point?

17 April 2011 at 03:41  
Anonymous chevron said...

@ Dodo

I'm going to answer you backwards ...

"There's also a requirement in a decent society to avoid causing offence to the sensitivities and sensibilities of others"

You are missing a very important word there : "GRATUITOUS offence". Everyone has a duty to evaluate the possible consequences of their actions, however that is not the same as saying that doing things that may (or even will) cause offence are out of bounds. Otherwise are all religions (however that might be defined) exempt from commentary, satire, critique and parody? Naturally not.

Let me explain my position with a (rather contrived) framework :

1) It can never be right to carry out any action with an immoral motive. Gratuitously offensive material is thus excluded.

2) An individual must question and evaluate according to their conscience whether, on balance, the merits of given material outweigh the potential for causing offence (assuming it occurs to them that there is a potential for offence, of course). In following an informed conscience, there can be no moral culpability.

3) That those viewing the material view its author in a charitable light (ie. they assume that step 2 was followed as long as the material does not obviously violate step 1). Seek to inform if felt necessary, but realise that the author may still disagree in conscience with your assessment, as is their right.

4) The phrase "taking offence" is reserved for cases when step 1 appears to have been ignored. In such cases, strong but polite condemnation is absolutely called for once the author has been quietly informed and refuses a retraction. However ...

5) simply stating that you are offended is meaningless and unhelpful. Providing reasons is everything, as in judging conscience applies reason, and it is only through a change in conscience that an author may choose to amend their material.

Foaming outrage at every bit of offence taken - as seems to be the norm these days in the public sphere over trivial differences in opinion - exacerbates the problem, and imho is worse than the original deliberately offensive material, because it whips the wider mob into an unrighteous frenzy and breeds hatred. What could be more inimical to the Gospel than such crass hypocrisy?

So to answer :
"As a Christian did you find the 'Life of Brian' offensive?"

It seems apparent that it was not written with the sole aim of causing offence, and could be considered to have substantial 'artistic merit'. It was opportunity to a) poke fun at certain aspects in a ridiculous manner (akin to other Python output) and b) act as a vehicle for some very silly sketches on topics that have very little to do with the religious theme (What have the Romans ever done for us? Wodger! etc).

So no, I was not "offended" (as I am applying step 3 and consider the producers not to have violated step 1). Not really my type of humour, though, and I've not watched it for very many years :) Perhaps I'd see it differently these days *shrug*

17 April 2011 at 04:10  
Anonymous chevron said...

(Posted this about 15 mins ago, and seems to have disappeared into the void. Reposting. I'm going to assume, given the time, that the first copy was not moderated for being too far OT. Apologies if so!)

@ Dodo

I'm going to answer you backwards ...

"There's also a requirement in a decent society to avoid causing offence to the sensitivities and sensibilities of others"

You are missing a very important word there : "GRATUITOUS offence". Everyone has a duty to evaluate the possible consequences of their actions, however that is not the same as saying that doing things that may (or even will) cause offence are out of bounds. Otherwise are all religions (however that might be defined) exempt from commentary, satire, critique and parody? Naturally not.

Let me explain my position with a (rather contrived) framework :

1) It can never be right to carry out any action with an immoral motive. Gratuitously offensive material is thus excluded.

2) An individual must question and evaluate according to their conscience whether, on balance, the merits of given material outweigh the potential for causing offence (assuming it occurs to them that there is a potential for offence, of course). In following an informed conscience, there can be no moral culpability.

3) That those viewing the material view its author in a charitable light (ie. they assume that step 2 was followed as long as the material does not obviously violate step 1). Seek to inform if felt necessary, but realise that the author may still disagree in conscience with your assessment, as is their right.

4) The phrase "taking offence" is reserved for cases when step 1 appears to have been ignored. In such cases, strong but polite condemnation is absolutely called for once the author has been quietly informed and refuses a retraction. However ...

5) simply stating that you are offended is meaningless and unhelpful. Providing reasons is everything, as in judging conscience applies reason, and it is only through a change in conscience that an author may choose to amend their material.

Foaming outrage at every bit of offence taken - as seems to be the norm these days in the public sphere over trivial differences in opinion - exacerbates the problem, and imho is worse than the original deliberately offensive material, because it whips the wider mob into an unrighteous frenzy and breeds hatred. What could be more inimical to the Gospel than such crass hypocrisy?

So to answer :
"As a Christian did you find the 'Life of Brian' offensive?"

It seems apparent that it was not written with the sole aim of causing offence, and could be considered to have substantial 'artistic merit'. It was opportunity to a) poke fun at certain aspects in a ridiculous manner (akin to other Python output) and b) act as a vehicle for some very silly sketches on topics that have very little to do with the religious theme (What have the Romans ever done for us? Wodger! etc).

So no, I was not "offended" (as I am applying step 3 and consider the producers not to have violated step 1). Not really my type of humour, though, and I've not watched it for very many years :)

17 April 2011 at 04:41  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Not to prolong this discussion but to correct an error at 02:45 this morning (due to a lapse but not actual ignorance as it happens). The Creed quoted is as named(02:37) : the Nicene. In other respects 02:45 stet. The Apostle's is used in BCP Morning and Evening Prayer.

And in view of that error may I add that The Nicene is the one sung in settings of the Latin Mass which begins with "Kyrie", such as the resounding opening chorus of Bach's in B Minor.

Here's hoping that none are driven from here by regrets or by the taunts of others.

17 April 2011 at 07:58  
Anonymous DanJ0 said...

Dodo: "As a christian did you find the 'Life of Brian' offensive? Or, because it was written by atheist 'comedians', its parody of the life and death of Christ was okay?"

Is that what it was? Brian was a distinct character to Jesus as the opening scenes show. Jesus even makes a cameo appearance and is the serious religious reference point. If anything it's a parody of life in first century Judea.

I think it's a fabulous film and not just because I'm an atheist. Very clever, very witty, and brilliantly done. Michael Palin as Nisus Wettus still makes me smile when I think of him.

The sermon on the mount where people at the back couldn't hear and thought it was "Blessed are the cheesemakers" ... causing much grumbling about favouritism and some interpretive soul to pipe up that it probably referred to makers of all dairy products.

The thing is, you kind of know that Judea was probably a bit like that with all sorts of religious wackos and political agitators popping up to oppose the Roman occupation and to redirect the institutionalised Judaism of the time.

One of the most interesting things for me about the film was the attempts to ban it, even before it was actually seen, and the furore surrounding it afterwards and still surrounds it in some parts. So much for freedom of expression etc.

17 April 2011 at 08:50  
Anonymous len said...

The 'life of Brian'was the' Python Team' having a go at religion.In their opinions nothing is sacred, everything is fair game to' poke fun at'.
That is on one level.
On another level it is trying to undermine the 'establishment 'the Established Church in particular.
I would like to see (in the name of fairness) the Python team those (still available) do a similar feature on Islam, Gays,or even Darwin or Dawkin`s.

Or would that be taking things too far?

17 April 2011 at 09:20  
Anonymous DanJ0 said...

"I would like to see (in the name of fairness) the Python team those (still available) do a similar feature on Islam, Gays,or even Darwin or Dawkin`s."

Gay comedy has been done to death.

At least the team has told us the meaning of life: It's nothing very special. Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.

17 April 2011 at 09:51  
Anonymous len said...

The 'team'has told us the meaning of life?

And how do we achieve it.? Should we have told Hitler, Stalin, PolPot, etc, etc, to be 'nice' to people?.

The World awaits your answer Danjo!

Because it is the ...How... which is the crux of the matter!

17 April 2011 at 10:10  
Anonymous len said...

Without an answer to the basic problem with Humanity (His Fallen Nature) all suggestion of being 'nice' are 'pie in the sky and totally useless!

Jesus Christ is the ONLY person with a solution to Humanities problems .Religion tries to be 'nice'. Secularists Philosophies tell people to be 'nice' to each other, but does it work?
Has it ever worked?.
All the `isms have ended in disaster, because they have failed to address the basic problem.
Humanity has only ONE hope and that is in Jesus Christ, wake up!

17 April 2011 at 10:17  
Anonymous DanJ0 said...

Len: "The World awaits your answer Danjo!"

You need to watch the film. It's from the film, you see. The final lines. Oh well, so much for the joke there. :(

17 April 2011 at 10:57  
Blogger The Last Dodo said...

The depiction of a crucifixion in the 'Life of Brian', with the song "Always look on the Bright Side of Life", by any standards is deeply offensive to God and to Christians.

Don't dress this up as comedic art!

And what can be said about the 'Last Temptation of Christ'? Theologically stretching or blasphemy?

17 April 2011 at 14:08  
Anonymous MrJ said...

Dodo 17 April 14:08_ 'Last Temptation of Christ'. More challenging on that subject, and presumably more interesting to commenters and other visitors to this blog, would be Milton's Paradise Regained. But whether to read those 4 books before the 12 of Paradise Lost depends on the reader.

17 April 2011 at 16:00  
Anonymous MrJ said...

PS to 16:00_Inadvertently repeated elsewhere(topic "Hosanna to the Son of David").

17 April 2011 at 16:56  
Anonymous non mouse said...

Your Grace. Local or otherwise, the press now lets us all down. The wonder is their failure to recognise themselves as authors of their own demise, or diggers of their own graves. Their ability to analyze their audiences has hit an historical low.

The place of the internet is thus paramount in importance. On one side, we use the medium as some early lyricists did - to address audiences directly and beyond the clout of the powerful. We know not what we will lose though, because web-based transmission is as ephemeral as that which was oral.

And even when literacy and printing brought material records and pamphleteering into the equation, audiences lost records through censorship and destruction of manuscripts and/or the printing machines. We know that we stand to do the same again.

Your Grace's comment to EV confirms that the Creed was intensely political - like so much Church Literature - for the Church has ever meshed with the powerful as well as with the people. One also notes that theological disagreements have compounded, or contributed to, such arguments throughout history. There is nothing new.

I think the special thing was the degree of freedom and security Britons enjoyed before the traitors gave away the Christian nation for which our fathers fought so hard. The case is classic in that we are in danger of 'not knowing what you had until you've lost it.' In this case, they've tried to prevent us from knowing. Furthermore, deliberate re-writers of history are intent on pretending we never had it in the first place. They also are internet users; some of them even work to subvert Your Grace where we write.

The battle never ceases; the field is seldom level; and the goalposts shift from moment to moment.

Thank you, Your Grace, for contributing to the quality of literacy and Christianity: in our own spot of time. Your work is as essential as ever it was.

17 April 2011 at 17:34  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pickles is a liar and a charlatan

18 April 2011 at 14:40  

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