We live in the media age. We have permanent access to rolling news, something happens in Australia at 1:00, it could be being reported in the UK by 1:05.
I think we have a responsibility to keep up with the ongoing events in the world, as so many of them affect us either directly or indirectly.
I am possibly one of the most opinionated people I know.
And as such I have decided to create a platform for those opinions.
Ordinarily I write here about events in the news which I
have opinions on, however something I experienced yesterday has compelled me to
share it here and to ask the question, have we lost all sense of compassion?
Yesterday on a train from London Charing Cross a woman got
on at Waterloo East, stood at the entrance to the carriage and began to
speak.Initially I thought she was some
kind of religious evangelist about to speak the word of whichever religion she
might represent, however after telling the carriage her name and saying that
she meant no offense, she then proceeded to say that she was homeless, that she
had nowhere to sleep tonight, and that she would be very grateful if people
could spare any change they might have in order that she be able to be safe and
warm tonight.She said that the streets
of London are no place for a woman to be sleeping, and please would people
consider helping her out.
The previously quite noisy carriage was stunned into
absolute silence, and no-one said a word as she shuffled through the
carriage.No-one gave her any money
either.As soon as she’d gone people
resumed their conversations, all apart from a group of young girls behind me
who started talking about how awkward that was etc.
A few minutes later she came back through the carriage and
got off the train at Lewisham.I can
only assume that she may have continued to get on trains, going from one stop
to another and then ultimately back again, and who knows how far she had come
or how far she would go.
But what surprised me most was the reaction I got when I
posed the question on Facebook and twitter, “if a woman silenced the train
carriage you were in then said that she was homeless and could people please give
her money, what would you do?”I had
expected a few people to say that they would give money, or food, had expected
some to say that they would ignore her and do nothing.However the responses I got ranged from “I
would wonder where she got the train fare from,” as the majority response, with
one stating that “I would see the train manager and ask for her to be removed
since she clearly won’t have paid to be on the train,” of about 25 replies only
three would have given her anything, two would have given money and one said he
would give her food.One even stated
that she would move to another carriage.
I will be the first to hold my hands up and state that I
wouldn’t likely give money to a homeless person, not necessarily because I
think that beggars are fakes just wanting to make money, but because a lot of
people on the streets have substance abuse issues and I would feel
uncomfortable giving someone money in the knowledge it might go to fund an
alcohol or drug habit. But there are many homeless charities out there and I
would give to those, and am about to sponsor a friend who is going to go to
Everest base camp in order to support such a homeless charity.
But while I might not give to individuals, I do wonder how
we have developed into a society who can display such open hostility towards
someone who is clearly in a worse off position than they are. Hostility that
would state they would move to a different train carriage to avoid being in the
same space as that person, for instance.
There is no way of knowing whether the woman on that train
was genuinely homeless or not.However given
the response she received I don’t imagine that riding a train line on a Sunday
afternoon asking for money is a very lucrative pursuit, therefore I can only
conclude that she was indeed someone who is in a worse off position than the
majority of people who would see fit to judge her, and is at least deserving of
some compassion if not our cash.
So how is it that so many people feel unable to even feel
compassion for someone in a potentially vulnerable position?
Following calls for a change in US gun laws after the shooting of 26people (including 20 children) in a school in Newtown, Connecticut, the national rifle association (NRA) have decided to add their opinion into the debate.
Now as this is the NRA, no one would have expected them to support any kind of tightening of gun ownership. However I equally don't think most expected quite such an extreme statement either.
Firstly, the point was made that the only thing that could stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun. Well perhaps there is some merit in that, but it could surely then also be argued that the one thing that could stop a good guy with a gun is, a bad guy with a gun. And how can we ever be sure who is the good guy and who is the bad? After all, Adam Lanza had no previous history of violence before he entered a school last Friday and ended 26 innocent lives.
There was also a call for a national database of the mentally ill, and for the media to stop demonising lawful gun owners. So how do we define mentally ill in terms of being suitable for entry into a national database? And doesn't mental illness have enough stigma attached, without labelling everyone with mental illness in this way? While I think it fair to say that someone who goes on the rampage with a gun almost certainly has some mental health issues, it does not automatically follow that everyone with mental health issues has the potential to turn into a gun toting maniac. The gun used in last Friday's shootings was legally owned, but demonising the mentally ill is, it seems, preferable to putting any question mark over someone's legal right to own a semi automatic rifle.
However the NRA have gone one further in their encouragement of gun use, and have suggested that if all schools were armed then such a tragedy could be prevented in the future. They called for congress to fund armed security across all schools.
Except there is yet again a flaw in that proposal, because, as stated above, the one thing that can stop a good guy with a gun is, a bad guy with a gun. So what the NRA are in fact proposing is that US schools be turned into potential battle grounds where, if all goes according to plan, good will defeat evil. Except this isn't the movies, and real life doesn't work like that.
No one wants a repeat of the Newtown tragedy, but surely the answer is not to make guns in schools the norm, or to send the message that the answer to murder and violence is murder and violence.
So yet another shooting in America.This time a kindergarten in Newtown,
Connecticut..27 people believed to be dead including twenty
children.And as is customary in these
shootings, the gunman of course then turned the gun on himself.
And so the discussions follow.President Obama says that action needs to be
taken, something needs to be done.David
Cameron and the Queen have sent their messages of shock and sadness.The world is horrified, because the shooting
of twenty innocent children is just so horrific as to be incomprehensible to
the majority of normal thinking people.
And then we ask the question again, the question that comes
up every time another person in the US goes on the rampage with a gun, a
phenomenon which seems to occur with frightening regularity.And the question is when are the US going to
do something about their gun laws?
This isn’t about knee-jerk “let’s ban all guns”
reactions.This is about having tighter
regulation on just who can go into a shop and buy a gun.And the types of guns that people can go into
a shop and buy.Why, for instance, does
any average individual need to own a semi-automatic rifle?Why?
One of the arguments I’ve heard for not changing the laws is
that if someone is determined enough to go on a killing spree, they will find
the means to obtain a gun and do so whether they are illegal/regulated or
not.Well that may or may not be the
case.However equally it’s possible that
if someone goes on a mass shooting spree, this is often because of a reaction
to something that has caused the shooter to snap.In which case, not having a gun to hand would
certainly prevent someone from being able to pick up the gun and reactively go
out killing people.
We have tighter gun laws in this country, and even in Canada
and Switzerland where the prevalence Of gun ownership is higher, and the gun
crime rate is much lower.
Any crime can be committed by someone determined to do
so.We don’t make the argument against
making crimes illegal for any other circumstance, so why should guns be any
For me the realisation became real when I read that in many
schools in the US they have lockdown drills, where children are prepared on how
to react to a mass shooting.So how does
it become acceptable that, instead of tightening the laws and procedures that
make such mass shootings easier to carry out, a country instead teaches its children
that mass shootings are the norm and something to be prepared for, like a fire
I have lived in countries where terrorism was prevalent and
as such, bomb drills were the norm.However an individual going out on a mass killing spree with a gun is
not and should never be prepared for as an anticipated event, and we need to seriously
question the mentality of a society that thinks this way.
The American constitution apparently gives the right for all
Americans to bear arms.But what about
the rights of the innocent victims of this constitutional right?Since when was the right to live safely, in
an environment where gun drills didn’t exist and mass shootings weren’t a part
of the educational process less important than every man and woman’s right to
own a gun?
How many deaths will it take before the Americans begin to
question whether the right to own a gun really is that important?Will this shooting be remembered as the one
that changes the laws of gun ownership or will we just look back at it in six
months time when CBS is reporting on the latest gunning down of innocent people
somewhere in the states?
This morning twenty children got up and headed for school.They will have been excitedly anticipating
Christmas which is just ten days away.Eagerly wondering about what Santa will bring them.They are still young enough, you see, to
believe in Santa, some of them as young as just four years old.This morning twenty children had their whole
lives ahead of them.And tonight twenty
sets of parents will not be tucking their children into bed.Will not be anticipating putting the presents
under the tree in ten days time which will already have been bought and
wrapped.And all because a man had the
right to own a gun.
As I write this, I am suddenly struck by the contrast with
another story that has been in the news this week, where millions of people have
sought to blame two Australian DJ’s for the suicide of a nurse after they made
a prank call to the hospital where she was working with the Duchess of Cambridge.They have been sent death threats, there have
been calls for prank calls to be banned and even some suggestion that either
the DJ’s or the Australian radio station they represented should be charged
with either murder or at best corporate manslaughter.And that was a hoax.Badly thought out, but a hoax none the
And yet a lunatic goes on the rampage with a gun and kills
27 innocent people and still millions of people out there defend their rights
to own a gun.How did it happen that
people’s priorities became quite so skewed?
Today a man was jailed for twelve weeks after posting
offensive jokes about missing April Jones and Madeleine McCann on Facebook.
The twenty year old was arrested on Saturday night for his
own safety after a fifty-strong mob turned up at his house with baseball bats.Interestingly though, none of the mob were
For me this is not about the inappropriateness of posting
offensive jokes on social media. The issue here lies with freedom of Speech,
and the message that sending someone to jail for exercising their right to that
freedom of Speech sends.
Twitter, Facebook etc. are full of offensive material which
is passed off as jokes.Go into any
comedy club in the country and you will find the most distasteful jokes imaginable,
most of which are made at the expense of other people.The elderly, men, women, the disabled, dead celebrities,
and apparently missing children.When it
comes to humour, pretty much any topic is fair game.Many of them are crass and distasteful, deeply
offensive even, and would not be considered funny at all by the vast majority
of people. We have the right to be
offended at the jokes that others make which are considered distasteful or
offensive, and we have the right to voice that disapproval both to the
individual concerned and even publically if those jokes are made on a public
But surely it is a slippery slope when we start prosecuting
people for making jokes which are considered distasteful?After all, where do we draw the line? what to
one is offensive, may not be to someone else, and vice versa, and even if
something is considered to be universally distasteful, does it make it worthy
of prosecution purely based on the offense caused to others?
There is no question that posting so-called jokes about
missing children is distasteful and offensive in the extreme.But then I feel the same about posting jokes about
people with learning difficulties, severe disabilities etc.There are several well-known comedians who
have a reputation for being deliberately offensive.Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Ricky Gervais all
have reputations for making the most distasteful jokes imaginable, people
actively boycott their shows/appearances on television/publically express their
distaste on facebook, twitter and even in the media.Yet we don’t hear calls for them to be
arrested and jailed and rightly so.Because while distasteful jokes are offensive to many, those making the
jokes still have the right to do so, and once we start taking away people’s right
to make distasteful jokes, where do we then draw a line?
In this country we regularly speak out about people being
jailed in other, less liberal countries for daring to express opinions which we
have the freedom to express here.By
jailing people for posting offensive jokes on Facebook, it is just a slippery
slope towards eroding our ability to exercise freedom of speech.
Matthew Woods was an idiot.If he was posting such tasteless jokes on my Facebook newsfeed or
twitter timeline I would have no hesitation in unfollowing him.But that doesn’t mean I feel he should be
sent to jail, after all, we all have the ability to offend someone at some point
or other. Should we all be careful what
we post in case it offends someone and lands us in jail?
We have the right to freedom of speech in this country.That includes the right to express our
opinions over other people’s distasteful comments made in the name of humour.We need to ensure we retain that freedom of
speech, and applying prison terms to people who do so is going down a slippery
slope to removing our right to that freedom of speech.
Yesterday Sky News reporter Kay Burley sparked complaints after
revealing live to a volunteer in the search for missing five-year-old April
Jones that this was now a murder enquiry and then asking her how she felt.
Previous to this, Burley had said a few days before that Sky
had a development which viewers would be excited about, before going on to
interview the estranged son of a man currently being questioned on suspicion of
April Jones’ murder.
Kay Burley’s tactlessness is already well documented, from
incidents such as her interview with Peter Andre, where she queried how he
would feel if Katie Price’s new husband might want to adopt his children, to an
interview she conducted with the wife of Suffolk Strangler Steve Wright, in
which she asked, “do you think that if you’d had a better sex life, he wouldn’t
have done it?”
Journalists are generally not known for their tact or
sensitivity, although it would appear that Kay Burley has a particular skill
for asking the most tactless and insensitive questions imaginable at the most
However, I can’t also help wondering whether the public’s
desire for rolling reporting of news events fuels the need for the Kay Burleys of
When a serious crime happens, Sky News are there, reporting
every detail as it happens, when it happens, regardless of whether it has been
verified as being true or not.Truth and
speculation are intermingled and after watching about twenty minutes of a
broadcast it can be impossible to know which are the actual facts of the case
and what is speculation handed to reporters by members of the public, many of
whom are often seeking their five minutes of fame.
And where there is Sky news there are the millions of viewers
who watch it, taking in every detail and speculating about it all amongst their
close friends and family.
Whether we like it or not news has now become the new
entertainment.It’s almost like reality TV,
except the participants are real people who didn’t actually apply to be there.
Yesterday hundreds of complaints were apparently made to Sky
News and Ofcom by outraged viewers, and #sackKayBurley was trending on twitter.But today I don’t imagine those viewers will
have switched news channels to the BBC in their outrage.Some will, some won’t, and some new viewers
will even go over to Sky to go and have a look to see what it’s all about.
Broadcasters should have a responsibility to broadcast
actual news in a sensitive way while at the same time still being informative.However we as a society also surely have a
responsibility to remember that the news is actually someone else’s life, which
we have been given an insight into purely because of the factors that have
brought them into the news in the first place, and not entertainment fodder
created by the broadcasters for our own edification.
Today has marked the end of the 2012 Paralympic games in
London.These games have been held up as
the most successful since the inception of the Paralympic games, with venues
being full and tickets being sold out, something which in the past was unheard
An all round positive attitude has surrounded the games,
with people being in awe of the athletes from all countries, not least our own
British Paralympians whose efforts took us to third place in the medal table.Many people have said that they in fact didn’t
see the disabilities when watching the games, that they just saw the
achievements, and that on the whole, their attitudes and awareness of
disability has changed as a result, and there is a feeling that this will
remain the case.But will it
Let’s look past the fact the games were sponsored by the
company responsible for assessing disabled benefit claimants, or the fact that
the man responsible for wanting to cut disability benefits was handing out
medals at one of the events, not because those points aren’t necessarily
relevant, but because they have in fact been debated in numerous other quarters
and thus there is probably very little left to say.
But let’s instead look at whether the public view as a whole
will change, and whether disability will be seen in a different light now both
publically and in the media.
I can’t help thinking that this is perhaps a bit of a false
reality for some, in a world where they have been given a previously unseen
insight into the world of disability, in an environment where inclusion has
been complete due to the fact the resources were available to make it so, and
that once the resources (the volunteers) go back to their day jobs and the
athletes return to their respective countries, people will remember the games
with fondness, but forget the message they brought, and will go back to living
in blissful ignorance of disability, while many disabled people go back to
living in a world where full inclusion is not yet a reality.
But this doesn’t need to be the case.
Disabled sport is not reserved only for the Paralympics.Our Paralympic athletes are competing all the
time in various events.And there is
other disabled sport out there too.So
what will the media be doing to cover it now that we’ve had a taste for it?The Blind Cricket world cup will be held in
India this year for instance.Will one
of the broadcasters be covering it at all? And if not, why not?
Sport brings people together all the time, so what better
way to raise the profile of disability and keep it raised? The Paralympics are
testament to the fact that people are able to see past the disability and see
the ability of our athletes, therefore there is surely no reason why this trend
can continue, and in doing so alter people’s attitudes in general.
But my fear is that this will be a bit like one of those
charity events like comic relief, where a one off event gets everyone talking
about charity, and giving money to charity, and what can be done, and then once
it’s all over people go back to their lives and yet again become oblivious to
the plight of those around them, until next year’s event brings it all back
into their memory.There’s a risk that
the Paralympics will be the same.People
are enthusiastic about disabled sport now; they have a renewed realisation of
what disabled people are capable of.But
once the memory of the games fade and disabled people are no longer in the
spotlight, those people’s memories will fade, until next time, when perhaps the
commonwealth games are on, but even then, as they’re not in our own country the
enthusiasm will be less.
We need to use this opportunity not to forget.We need to embrace the fact that disability
is not this thing to fear or shy away from, and our broadcasters need to use
this enthusiasm for disabled sport to promote more of it and show more of it on
Acceptance of disability does not have to be a once every
four years event…
Today seven times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong has
announced that he is giving up his fight against the US anti doping agency
(USADA) who claim that he cheated by taking performance enhancing drugs.They are now looking to strip him of his
titles which he achieved since 1999, and to ban him from pro cycling for
Armstrong has maintained his innocence throughout, saying
that he has never failed a drugs test and that there is no concrete evidence to
prove that he ever took drugs.
When I first heard of these doping allegations my initial
thoughts were that it was all a bit of a witch hunt, especially given there
appeared to be no evidence.Armstrong
has had an amazingly successful career.He won seven tours between 1999 and 2006, during which time he claims he
submitted over 500 samples for drug testing and never failed any of them. At a
time when doping was rife within cycling the world’s top cyclist, who was there
against all the odds, was drug-free.It’s little wonder really that there might be people out there wanting
to tarnish that image.
But now that Lance Armstrong has decided not to fight the
allegations any more I can’t help wondering about the implications of
that.After all, there is potential for
him to be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned from pro
cycling for life.
For me, being prepared to give up one’s reputation, and
everything you have worked for and achieved over the years purely because you
feel you can’t fight it any more just doesn’t add up.After all, once Lance Armstrong is stripped
of his titles on the basis he willingly gave them up there is no way back.If he were proved guilty and stripped of the
titles he might have some recourse in the future, through avenues of appeal
etc.But essentially giving them up
willingly just seems like an admission of guilt to me.And it doesn’t matter how much he protests
his innocence, the guilt is in the willingness to give it up and the fact he is
going to give up his titles and medals and potentially put the reputation of
his charity on the line.
Did Lance Armstrong take performance enhancing drugs during
his Tour de France time?In truth we’ll
likely never know.But fact is that drugs
were rife within cycling at the time, and when the top cyclist, known for being
clean and drug-free then holds his hands up and willingly gives up all the
titles he apparently worked so hard to achieve, it doesn’t exactly give out the
idea that he is entirely innocent.
The only thing that Lance Armstrong can achieve from this is
the fact that, not having stood up to the evidence, there are still going to be
people who will believe in his innocence. Whereas if he were found guilty
through the presentation of evidence his reputation would have suffered far