Thursday, 14 July 2011

How hard can it be to sell a house?

Hundreds of thousands of us do it every year - move house.

And it has been described as one of the three most stressful things that we might encounter in our lives, up there with bereavement and divorce.

One might be forgiven for thinking that it's an easy thing. You see a house you like, you want to buy it, and then you put in an offer which is accepted. And in the meantime you put your own house on the market, and a lovely buyer comes along, puts in an offer and you accept it, and in due course you all move into your new homes and live happily ever after. But in England and Wales this is not how it works.

If you have been through the house selling process, then you will know that the claims of the amount of stress it causes are not exaggerated. In England and Wales one in every four house sales falls through. It is not unreasonable to suggest that the reason for this is that the process is grossly unfair and hugely complicated.

In England and Wales the transaction is not legally binding until contracts have been exchanged, a process which can take several weeks or even months, during which time either party is free to pull out of the sale/purchase, or even to attempt to renegotiate the price.

Gazumping (a process where the seller sells the property to a new buyer at a higher price) is common practice, as is gazundering (a process where the buyer reduces his offer, often at the last minute, thus putting the seller under pressure to accept or risk losing the sale.

And the amount of paperwork required in order to complete the process is finominal. With solicitors having to send letters backwards and forwards to one another until, eventually, every piece of paperwork is completed and everyone can agree on a date for completion. On average, a house sale/purchase in England and Wales takes sixteen weeks.

So what could be done to make this process easier?

In Scotland the process is different. An offer is legally binding as soon as it is accepted, and the buyer is bound to proceed with the purchase just as the seller is bound to sell the property. Gazumping and gazundering does not exist, and as a result the process takes much less time (around eight weeks) and is far less stressful.

Surely the question needs to be asked as to why this process does not exist in England and Wales? And why buying and selling a house is still one of the three most stressful things we may ever have to do?

The housing market generates a significant amount of tax revenue, with stamp duty at 1% (for houses under £250000), 3% (for houses under £500000), and 5% (for houses over £1000000), therefore it is surely not unreasonable to expect that the process be simplified in order to ensure the housing market remains active, with the minimum amount of stress to vendors/purchasers.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

A name is for life, but if you give it, it's not you that has to live with it.

This week David and Victoria Beckham announced that they have named their new baby daughter Harper Seven. This has sparked speculation as to what might have inspired the name, especially Seven, which it has been rumoured is David Beckham's lucky number.

The Beckhams are not new to the concept of inspired naming, as their eldest son Brooklyn was reputedly named after the place where he was conceived.

Over the years there has been a trend of celebrities giving their offspring more unconventional names, with Bob Geldof and Paula Yates being possibly the most unconventional, naming their children Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom Michelle Charlotte Angel Vanessa, (not all of those are unconventional but there is certainly a mouthful in there), and Little Pixie. Paula Yates went on to have another daughter whom she named Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily.

However, this trend seems to be moving further than the celebrity world with more and more people wanting to move away from the usual top baby names such as Jack, Chloe, Sophie, Amelia, Daniel etc which for several years now have ranked in the top names given to children in the UK.

People seem to want to give their children names that either have meaning, or are just unusual or quirky.

What people seem to lose sight of is the fact that it's the child that has to live with the name for the rest of its life, and that if you're going to call your child Harper or Heavenly or Princess or something even more unusual, there will come a time when the child may be ridiculed because of his/her name, and will most likely resent you for it.

Generally a name is something we are called by, people don't hear of someone called 'Jack' and attach anything to it. Yet tell someone that you know someone called 'Heavenly' and they will form an opinion before they've even met the person, that opinion ranging from "Sounds like a hippy," if it's an adult, to "Poor kid, what were her parents thinking!" if it's a child.

There may be a million Jacks and Chloes out there, but ultimately it's not the name that makes someone an individual, everyone is an individual in their own right. But while calling a baby Princess might seem cute at the time of naming, it's always worth remembering that the cute baby Princess will have to grow up and be associated with that name for perhaps the next eighty years.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

It was on twitter first - is the tabloid press becoming obsolete?

thank you and goodbye

Was the front-page headline which signified the last ever edition of the News of the World - the UK's biggest selling Sunday newspaper. The paper closed this week amid allegations of phone hacking.

But this is not about the phone hacking scandal, which has been discussed in great depth in the media over the past months, and which I have no doubt will be continued to be discussed as an enquiry is launched, but whether there really is still a place for tabloid newspapers in our society.

The News of the World and other papers like it such as the Sun, the Mirror, the Daily Star and other tabloids make most of their profit from publishing stories based on the private lives of what are mostly public figures. It is not unheard of for any one of the above publications to run with an "exclusive" story on the perceived wrongdoings of any celebrity figure.

However, with the increased use of social media such as Facebook AND Twitter, it could be argued that we no longer have a need to pay to read about which footballer has cheated on their wife, or which actress has just had cosmetic surgery, as this information is usually published on Twitter before too long - often even before it appears in the press.

In fact, recently Manchester United footballer Ryan Giggs, who had taken out an injunction to prevent details of his private life being published in the press, found out that preventing publication didn't prevent the information becoming public knowledge, as it was posted on Twitter within days, and was soon public knowledge to far more people than would have been the case had the information just been published in the Sunday tabloids.

Aside from that, most celebrities do now have their own Twitter accounts, usually with several hundred thousand followers, which enables them to make information about themselves public without having to wait for it to be published in the press.

I personally have no idea why anyone would want to read about Ryan Giggs' affairs or Katie Price's latest boyfriend/diet/cosmetic surgery, however, it is clear from sales of both the tabloids and the celebrity magazines that there is a definite market for this kind of information. But given our media has expanded beyond print, and even paid media to Twitter/Facebook, it is surely not unreasonable to question whether the tabloid newspaper with its gossip columns is fast becoming obsolete and will soon be replaced by user-led distribution of information, as our access to social media increases.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

What next for British Journalism now that the (news of the) world has ended?

Following increasingly damaging allegations over phone hacking, the

News of the World

Has announced that the Sunday edition will be its last.

In truth the paper has been in the news for some considerable months, with reports that its journalists hacked into the voicemails of various celebrities and politicians. However, these allegations became a lot more damaging in the past week, when it was alleged that the hacking of voicemails had extended to murder victims and their parents, deceased members of the armed forces and victims of the July 7 bombings.

Serious action was called for and the closure of the paper was announced this afternoon.

But surely the question needs to be asked what now for the reputation of British journalism?

It is already widely speculated that the practice of phone hacking was not unique to the News of the World, and it is not unreasonable to think that now the paper has closed, the spotlight may well fall on other publications.

So how does British reporting come back from this? Many of the tabloid press's main reporting is on scandal type stories, celebrities having affairs, politicians turning out to be gay/having affairs/over claiming on their expenses.

Now the British public know how that kind of information has been obtained in the past, surely any story of that nature is going to be met with suspicion by those who read it?

One can't help wondering when a paper reports that "a close friend of Mr X said," whether they mean that the close friend said it to the paper, or whether he said it on the individual's voicemail and it was intercepted.

Have we potentially moved to a point where salacious reporting has lost its shine because of the mere nature by which the information has been obtained in the past? Even if a paper is not guilty of these tactics, it's difficult for anyone to believe given the recent allegations.

It could of course be argued that the affairs of celebrities aren't really newsworthy in the first place, but that is perhaps a topic for another discussion.

In the meantime the rest of the British press are left to defend their own reputations in the wake of the closure of one of the top selling Sunday papers in the country, and one can only imagine that both the public and the rest of the world's media will view them all with suspicion for a long time to come.

Enter our lottery, and win a chance to have a baby!

A UK charity is to launch a


in which for the price of £20 per ticket, entrants will have the chance to win a monthly prize of £25000 worth of fertility treatment.

Approximately 45000 cycles of IVF are carried out in the UK each year, however many of these have to be privately funded since the NHS has strict criteria for funding IVF. At an average cost of £4000 per cycle, it isn't difficult to see how a couple desperate to have a baby but without the financial means to fund the treatment, might turn to a lottery-type game in order to be in with a chance.

Using a lottery to win the chance of medical treatment surely raises signifficant questions:

IVF is a medical procedure, surely there are some ethical issues attached to being able to gamble for the chance to win medical treatment? And if you can do it with IVF, where do you draw the line? A lottery for cosmetic surgery? How about a lottery to win the chance to receive cancer treatments that are not funded by the NHS? After all, if it's not wrong to do it for IVF, then why would it be wrong to do it for any other kind of treatment?

Also how right is it ethically and morally to gamble for the chance to create a life? IVF itself carries risks, risk of side effects from the drugs, risks of multiple pregnancy, and the associated risks to the babies in the event of a twin pregnancy or more.

And finally we surely have to look at the financial implications. At a cost of £20 per ticket, in order to raise the £25000 needed for the prize, you would only need to sell 1250 tickets. Bearing in mind that many people would be likely to buy more than one ticket, it's highly likely that more tickets would be sold. So how right is it that this charity would then profit from the desperation of infertile couples?

As it is IVF is a gamble, since the chances of success are around one in three. So is it right to gamble for the chance to gamble for the chance to have a baby?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Trial by media - when the media get it wrong

Today a woman in the US

Casey Anthony

Was found not guilty of murdering her two-year-old daughter in 2008.

It had been aledged that Casey Anthony had murdered two-year-old Caylee because she got in the way of her lifestyle. However, the jury unanimously found her not guilty of murder, manslaughter, and child abuse, with her only having been found guilty of lying to the police.

Over the past three years this case has received extensive media coverage, with numerous people connected with the case appearing on chat shows to discuss the guilty verdict before it had even gone to trial. The trial itself was televised, and you only need look at the various discussion forums and news sites to see that the public, and the media were in no doubt as to the outcome of this trial.

In short, Casey Anthony was found guilty of murdering her daughter and was going to be executed. The media had spoken, and the public were right behind them.

So you can only imagine their shock, anger, and dismay when the jury, after several hours of deliberation, returned a unanimous not guilty verdict. Casey Anthony, instead of going to the electric chair, will serve no more than four years in prison when she is sentenced on Thursday.

So what now of the media? What of the public who had been convinced that a woman murdered her daughter and was going to die, but instead will walk free in the next few months?

There is anger at the not guilty verdict. The public had decided she was guilty, they had spoken and were awaiting confirmation of their decision, but instead they have been told that Casey Anthony didn't commit the crimes they were convinced she had committed.

So how far should we take media involvement when it comes to reporting on crime?

It is not uncommon for newspapers to publish the names and addresses of suspects after they've been arrested even if they have not been charged.

Currently a case has begun against two newspapers in the UK, after the coverage of the arrest of a Bristol man,

Chris Jefferies

On suspicion of the murder of Jo Yeates in December last year. After his arrest, his name and address were published, with one newspaper even taking statements from people who knew him proclaiming that he always seemed "a bit dodgy." Within days Jefferies had virtually been found guilty of Jo Yeates' murder. After being questioned for three days he was released without charge, and has since been cleared of any involvement in the murder.

But it was too late. The press had done its work, and his character will forever be tarnished with the reputation that he was arrested on suspicion of murder. It doesn't matter that he was never charged, there will always be people who believe he was involved, mud sticks, after all. It is reported that Jefferies has since had to move away from the area.

We do have a public justice system, and I agree that it should be seen to be transparent, with the public being made aware of developments in a case, especially when such a high profile one. But surely a line needs to be drawn between the publication of what could be perceived to be vital information which might lead to more witnesses coming forward and ultimately to justice being served, and sensationalising the reporting of a case in order to encourage the public to become involved and even to imagine they have a hand in the justice process.

One can't help but wonder how impartial any jury could possibly be, when a case is reported in such great detail, some of which is just rumour and hearsay, before the case has even come to trial.

For Casey Anthony the future looks bleak. In the eyes of her haters, she killed a child, The fact she was found not guilty in a court of law is irrelevant - there will be some who feel she deserves justice and who might even seek retribution on behalf of the child they never either knew nor cared about until her name appeared in the headlines.

Perhaps it's time for the media to take a step back from the sensational details and concentrated on the justice they claim to seek on behalf of the innocent victims of crimes.

underhanded journalism - who bears the responsibility?

It has recently emerged that the voicemails of murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler were accessed by the News of the World during the investigation into her disappearance. At the time this led her parents to believe that she was still alive, as some of her voicemails were deleted in order to leave room for more.

In journalistic terms, this has to be about as low as anyone can go in order to gain a story, and the revelation has been met with shock and disgust.

Quite aside from that, there are surely questions to be asked as to whether or not this could lead to criminal charges, such as perverting the course of justice or hampering a police investigation, but presumably only time will tell.

However, the News of the World is no stranger to phone hacking, in fact in the past months/years there have been numerous allegations by celebrities and politicians, claiming that they have been targeted in the tabloid's pursuit of a story about their private lives.

That the use of these underhanded tactics is despicable is surely not in dispute, and it could be argued that those responsible should be brought to account for their actions. However, it could also be argued that the readers of these newspapers also bear some responsibility.

The News of the World is one of the top selling Sunday papers in the UK. And given the paper is well known for its underhanded tactics in obtaining stories, it is evident that what the paper prints is what the readers want.

The phone hacking scandal has been ongoing for some months now, and yet while people seem to quietly object, it is only with this recent revelation that people have begun to openly express their disgust. And while it of course goes without saying that accessing the voicemails of a thirteen year old who it turned out was murdered is about as low as you can get, in truth it is no less despicable to access the voicemails of a celebrity, or politician in order to publish details about their private lives for everyone to read.

Ultimately these papers print what their readers want to see, they are therefore feeding a chain of supply and demand.

I'm not entirely sure that there are people who would want to pay money to read about what a thirteen year old had as her voicemails, but then I'm not entirely sure that they wouldn't either. The readers of the News of the World generally seek sensation, stories about the private lives of their favourite celebrity, or least favourite politician. How this information is gained is irrelevant to them - as long as they can read about it, where it came from is not important.

Therefore, while the journalist accessing the voicemails should bear the brunt of responsibility, without the market, i.e. the readers, there would be no need for the underhanded tactics in order to gain a story, and therefore the readers surely also bear some responsibility.