News Picks: Ireland, Palestine Papers, Egypt, Sexy Anchors

Ireland

New Fianna Fail leader says sorry – Maybe it’s all too late but it was nice to hear a change from the usual bluster and arrogance of Fianna Fail leaders as Michael Martin apologised for his and his party’s actions over the last 14 years in power that have led to the country’s economic collapse.

“I am sorry for the mistakes we made as a party and that I’ve made as a minister — very sorry for those mistakes that we made,” Martin said after being elected leader of the party following the political suicide mission conducted by Taoiseach (still!) Brian Cowen last week.

Martin’s task will be to rebuild the party as a credible opposition to the likely Fine Gael/Labour coalition that will be formed in the aftermath of the election due late next month. In one sense he’s already started, challenging the leaders of these two parties to a three-way debate (much in the way Cameron, Brown and Clegg battled it out last year). This has already been rejected by Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny who wants to include more parties in the debates perhaps wary of not looking so good in alongside Martin and Labour leader Eamon Gilmore.

Palestine Papers

Saeb Erekat hits back – At first he described the revelations in the Palestine Papers as “a pack of lies” but in an article for The Guardian, chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat has said that the coverage of the release of the documents has distracted from the real issue: “That Palestinian negotiators have consistently come to the table in complete seriousness and in good faith, and that we have only been met by rejection at the other end.”

This is something I alluded to in my previous post on the subject, that really we should not be criticising the actions of the Palestinian negotiators (although they are questionable in many ways) but examining the reasons as to why, when they were being offered so much, Israel, supported by the United States, were continually rejecting what was on the table.

If Israel cannot in any way consider the offers so far put forward by the Palestinians, then what hopes for a two state solution or at least a peaceful solution?

Egypt

A Manifesto for Change in Egypt – Could this be the tipping point that sends Egypt the way of Tunisia? Mohammed El Baradei, the former head of the European Atomic Energy Agency, is returning to the country ahead of presidential elections due to take place in September. But in the midst of heavy protests on the streets of Egypt’s cities, he has warned in an article for The Daily Beast that “the Egyptian people broke the barrier of fear, and once that is broken, there is no stopping them.”

Protestors across the country are demanding change taking inspiration from Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolution”. Toppling president Hosni Mubarak will not be as easy as Bin Ali in Tunisia. For a start Mubarak still holds considerable clout within the country and has the armed forces on his side, something Bin Ali could not really say in the dying days of his regime.

As always, Brian Whitaker’s blog, Al-Bab is an excellent resource of news and comment on what’s happening in the Middle East.

Sexy Anchors

Sexy News Anchors Distract Male Viewers – Of the many revelations that have emerged from Sky Sports over the past week in which their leading lights Richard Keys and Andy Gray have been unceremoniously consigned to the dustbin has been that they only ever hired good-looking women to anchor their programmes, particularly Sky Sports News. Anyone who watches Sky Sports News will know that there are a plethora of  blonde and attractive women delivering the latest sports news.

Now, new research in the US has found that when a female news anchor’s sexual attractiveness is played up (more make-up, tight-fitting tops), male viewers retain less information. Conversely, the researchers at Indiana University found that the men who took part in the study recalled significantly more information watching the unsexualised anchor deliver news than her sexualised version.

 

News Picks: Ireland’s political crisis, Phone hacking, China, Palestine Papers

Ireland

The worst Taoiseach in the State’s history – Events in Irish politics have taken an almighty turn since my last post and have, frankly, descended into utter chaos and farce.

After seemingly his finest hour Taoiseach Brian Cowen reversed all his good work with a politically suicidal attempt to parachute six new people into his cabinet after resignations across the board by Ministers who would be retiring at the election.

He then resigned as leader of Fianna Fail but retained his role as leader of the country prompting the junior coalition partner, the Green Party to withdraw from government. Ireland’s cabinet now consists of just seven people, some with three portfolios and the longest job titles in the world.

There will be final effort to push through a finance bill this week but the desire for change has grown even stronger than it already has been over the weekend and a general election is just weeks away.

Phone hacking/BSkyB takeover

Cameron and Murdoch’s son attended private dinner – Aside from the implications of Andy Coulsen’s resignation last week on David Cameron’s judgement there is also the issue of News Corporation’s attempts to takeover BSkyB, a move feared by many in the UK media, not least because of the phone hacking allegations surrounding the Murdoch owned News of the World, which are unlikely to go away.

The Independent today reports that that Cameron met with James Murdoch, Rupert Murdoch’s son and chairman of News Corp. in Europe and Asia, late last year. However the PM’s spokesman today said any discussion about News Corp’s proposed takeover of BSkyB would have no bearing on the decision of the Culture Secretary on whether or not to allow the move.

The PM’s spokesman would also not comment on whether the Cameron has any plans to meet with Rupert Murdoch when he comes to London this week in what many see as his attempts to get a hold a crisis that is engulfing his media empire.

China

China grooming Hu’s successor – Much was made of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to the White House last week where he was given a full state banquet by President Obama. But it’s unlikely Hu will return to the US with his successor already being groomed to takeover, probably next year.

Profiled in the New York Times, Xi Jinping, the current vice president, is unlikely to alter China’s direction in the world although he could be more popular amongst Communist Party members. How much influence he will wield in an increasingly peripheral position as president of the world’s second-largest economy and fastest-modernising military power is unclear.

Palestine Papers

Leaks show there is no peace process – The leaking of documents relating to discussions about the Middle East peace process show just how much of a gulf there is between what is said in public by political leaders and what is offered and argued in private. This could be said of any political discourse in any country in any part of the world, but it’s all the more crucial here because of the volatility of the region.

As Channel 4 News’ Lindsay Hilsum points out, there is much concentration on the perceived weakness of the Palestinian negotiators, but she asks why did the US not push Israel into more concessions?Why did Middle East envoy Tony Blair not offer more praise for what the Palestinians were prepared to offer?

Truth is, in my view, that this merely confirms the status quo of US-Israeli relations that have been this way for decades. Whilst some may point to an increasing appreciation of the plight of Palestinians in recent years, namely George W. Bush becoming the first US president  to call for a two state solution, the reality is that the US nor Israel really don’t want this to happen.

The up shot of this latest leak (which has nothing to do with Wikileaks by the way), is the certain death of the two state solution and, worse still, possibly further violence and war in the region.

News Picks: Palin and the media, Obama, Phone hacking, Cowen’s victory

US Politics

Sarah Palin and the Media symbiosis – The excellent US pollster Nate Silver has posted an interesting piece of research about how American’s view Sarah Palin. It’s not so much the argument of how favourably or unfavourable they look upon her but just how many people actually hold an opinion of the former Alaskan governor, who until she was the surprise pick for Republican vice presidential nominee in 2008, was utterly unknown in the US.

Research found that 53% of people held a strong view of Palin, that’s second only to the President Barack Obama. Silver asks what drives this fascination with Palin? Is it her? The media? Or the American public? Probably a combination of all three.

Is Barack Obama keeping his promises? – An interesting fact check of President Obama’s 2008 campaign pledges weighing up how many he has managed to keep, how many he has broken, and how many he has compromised on or are still in the works since he entered the White House.

The results show he has kept 26% of his pledges, most notably health care (although this was laden with compromises). In total he has broken 33 promises but most pledges (44%) are described as in the works with at least two years left in office.

Christine O’Donnell – she’s back! – Remember the Republican nominee for Senator in Delaware who had to fight of accusations of being a witch? Well she lost, unsurprisingly, but that doesn’t appear to have dented her political ambitions. O’Donnell has announced the formation of a Political Action Committee (PAC), a way of staying involved in the political process and a vehicle for raising money. Sarah Palin utilises it to great effect. O’Donnell is hoping to do the same.

Phone hacking

What are the other papers up to? – The News of the World continues to be mired in controversy over phone hacking allegations and questions about just how high up in the organisation they went. The Guardian has been doggedly pursuing it’s perceived rivals, who are part of Rupert Murdoch’s News International stable, for years now.

But are they keeping their own house in order? The Press Gazette had asked it and other national media, including the Daily Mail, Trinity Mirror, Telegraph Media Group and the BBC, about phone hacking. So far only Guardian News and Media have responded to their questions.

Ireland

Cowen wins confidence vote but victory could yet be Martin’s – Unsurprisingly, Taoiseach Brian Cowen won the vote of confidence in his leadership of Ireland’s governing party, Fianna Fail, late last night and has been crowing about it in the Dail (Parliament) today.

But the learned Irish political writer Harry McGee suggests that victory may, in the long run, be that of last night’s failed challenger Michael Martin who has emerged from this “pantomime” (as one opposition Labour Party member put it) with the best chance of leading Fianna Fail post general election wipeout.

Cowen apparently won the confidence vote by 2-1 which reflects rather badly on the majority of Fianna Fail TDs who claim to represent their constituents despite polls showing only ten per cent of the Irish population actually approve of Cowen.

 

News Picks: Tunisia, Ireland, Chile

Tunisia

Events in Tunisia just the start? – The weekend’s news agenda has been dominated by events in Tunisia but what’s really interesting is not only what is happening there but what may now happen in other Arab countries of a similar political structure where people young and old are gaining hope from the uprising in Tunisia.

Brian Whitaker, The Guardian’s fantastic Middle East expert, writes about clashes in Libya which, although they may die down in the next few days, are unlikely to abate long term where Colonel Gadaffi still rules after nearly 42 years. Whitaker’s Al-Bab blog is generally an excellent resource for analysis on the Arab world.

A Wikileaks revolution? – Foreign policy magazine speculates whether the diplomatic cables released late last year that highlighted the mafia-esque rule of the former President Bin Ali were part of the reason why the people rose up against their leader, demanding change.

Ireland

Tight vote expected in Fianna Fail leadership contest – Events in Dublin also dominated the weekend news agenda with a leadership battle slightly more civilised than what is happening in Tunisia.

But that doesn’t mask the sheer anger of many in the country as Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen announced his intention to remain as leader of his party Fianna Fail. However this is subject to a confidence vote in his leadership by the 71 TDs (MPs) in the party on Tuesday. Cowen will be confident of victory after reassurances last week from those within the party.

However, Foreign Minister Michael Martin will attempt to unseat Cowen, launching his own leadership bid at a late evening press conference in a swanky Dublin hotel on Sunday.

Martin is blitzing the Irish media over the next 24 hours or so in an attempt to shore up his position. Whilst junior ministers are lining up behind Martin, Cowen, inexplicably, commands a strong position despite desperate approval ratings which would make you question the very sanity of the 14% of people who apparently back him as leader of the country.

Events in the Republic will be extremely interesting to follow over the next day or two. I’d recommend TheJournal.ie for the up-to-date coverage of what happens.

Chile

Fuel price strikes trap tourists – We were all engrossed and utterly charmed by the story of the trapped Chilean Miners last year which sent President Sebastian Pinera’s approval ratings sky high as he was on hand to greet each of the 33 miners who emerged from the depths of the earth. Pinera revelled in the popularity as you would expect. However, there is now growing discontent in Chile with rising fuel prices, people taking to the streets and in some areas violent protests trapping tourists. Pinera’s approval ratings are down.

News Picks: Arizona shooting, Pakistan, Middle East, Cowen, Dalglish

Arizona Shooting

What we know so far Events are still unfolding in the Arizona city of Tucson following yesterday’s awful shooting at a local shopping mall which, amongst others, claimed the life of 9-year-old girl reportedly born on 9/11. The BBC has a rundown of what is known so far.

Some media incorrectly declare Giffords dead – An interesting rundown of the American media’s initial reporting of the shooting in Tucson where the fact that Rep. Giffords was shot in the head appeared to convince some that she had died as a result.

Sheriff says state has “become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry” – The sheriff of Pima County, where the shooting happened, made some interesting comments in his press conference last night not only about the state of Arizona itself but about the “sad thing of what’s going on in America”. His words are worth a read.

Pakistan

Pakistan’s struggle with extremismThe Guardian’s Declan Walsh has a fascinating insight into the story behind the death of the governor Salmaan Taseer this week. His assassination was in response to his calls for a woman sentenced to death for blasphemy to be released, a campaign he learnt about via Twitter.

Middle East

Israel demolishes historic hotel – What hope for peace talks with stories like this as Israel reportedly demolishes a historic hotel in east Jerusalem to make way for a new settlement.

Ireland

Cowen told to stay away – Ireland’s PM has been told to stay away from any election campaigning with some party members with his popularity at all time low. There’s a suggestion that a General Election in Ireland, originally muted for January, will now be pushed back as far as April, a move that could benefit the current government although they are still likely to lose many seats.

Liverpool FC

Liverpool see sense and turn to Dalglish – Dion Fanning writes a brilliant piece in this morning’s Sunday Independent about the reappointment of Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool manager. He points out that Dalglish was inexperienced when he first became player/manager whilst also pointing out that the Scot is a uniting figure, if nothing else, in contract to the departed Roy Hodgson.

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That’s it, enjoy your Sunday. Come on you Reds!

Brian Cowen, the pint(s), and the shame

Cowen (left), not last week, but at some other session

You may have heard last week about the Prime Minister who got himself into a bit of bother by having one too many the night before a rather important morning radio interview. It was an interview in which he performed rather poorly, which didn’t go unnoticed across the world.

This is the kind of story you might hear in some far off land or it might be something that Silvio Berlusconi would get up to in Italy. It’s the kind of thing that gets reported in the “And finally…” section of the news bulletin. You listen to the interview and sure enough the leader of the country is a bit hoarse and not all that articulate.

But this was no foreign outpost, no latest cock up from Berlusconi this was in fact the Prime Minister or Taoiseach of Ireland, Brian Cowen who is supposed to be sorting out a country whose finances are in such dire straits, the International Monetary Fund is dangerously close to stepping in. But instead Cowen is partial to the odd pint or twenty the night before an interview with Morning Ireland, the Republic’s equivalent of the Today programme here in the UK.

Imagine if you will, David Cameron going on Today at 8.10am sounding a bit worse for wear after a heavy night during the party’s conference in Birmingham next month. His voice is hoarse, his words are stumbling out and he’s not altogether 100%. More than likely, this just wouldn’t happen.

In fact anyone going on the Today programme for a testing interview is unlikely to indulge too much the night before as they want to be at their best for an important, agenda setting ten minutes where they will be grilled by John Humphrys or in this case Morning Ireland presenter, Cathal Mac Coille.

Going on the lash the night before an early morning start where you have an important engagement is something you do as a student. It is not something you do when you are the Prime Minister of a country that is proposing to make £3bn worth of cuts that will place an extra burden on the already crippled tax payer.

The job of running a country that is in economic turmoil is one for serious people and yet Ireland has been lumbered with some cute hoor who enjoys a pint and a sing song and embarrassing the country in front of the world on national radio.

The most galling thing is that he wasn’t even elected, stepping in when Bertie Ahern stepped down as Taoiseach in 2008 in the manner of Gordon Brown replacing Tony Blair in the year before.

But at least Gordon Brown was a serious man, a little too serious for some people’s liking but Brown never took the piss out of the taxpayers by getting pissed and embarassing himself and his country. No, that’s been the job of Brian Cowen who remains in charge but by the skin of his teeth.

Talk of a heave is rife and the man who would replace him is Brian Lenihan, the finance minister, who continues to perform his role despite being stricken by pancreatic cancer. A serious man. That is exactly what Ireland needs right now. Not some cute hoor who has done enough damage as it is.

South Africa and going back to Ireland

At the beginning of next month I embark on what I hope will be the journey of a lifetime. I’m spending a month in Cape Town, South Africa working at a local and popular newspaper called the Daily Voice, adding another string to my journalism bow and visiting a part of the world I have always been deeply interested in.

Traveling is something I did a lot as a kid with my parents but I haven’t yet done the backpacking/inter-railing jaunt. While this is not student traveling of a conventional sort it is an incredible opportunity to see a truly beautiful and very different part of the world and hopefully gain unconventional but ultimately rewarding journalistic experience.

Most of my sporadic blogs have focused on mainstream, public interest issues (sadly, there’s probably more public interest in Susan Boyle than in the BNP) but whilst in South Africa I hope to regularly update you on my exploits both professionally and personally, giving you an insight into a naive student journalists adventures in the big bad world.

Beforehand I’m going home to Ireland for a week. My country has been affected worse than most by the recession. The good times were good in Ireland but now the bad times are very bad indeed.

We have government whose incompetency is on a different level to the UK (hard though that may be to believe) and whose response to the recession was not to increase consumer confidence by cutting prices as they did here in the UK with the VAT rate cut but actually raise them in order to raise the money they wasted so frivelously when times were better.

Like Labour, the leading party, Fianna Fail have been in power for twelve years, and like Gordon Brown, Taoiseach Brian Cowen took over from a far more popular predecessor.

However, unlike Labour, Fianna Fail have consumed a previously progressive and lively Green Party, who entered into a promising coalition with them in 2007 but have since seen their standing in Irish politics almost totally obliterated, a great shame but an example of the poisonous nature of Fianna Fail whose standing in Irish politics has never been as low as it is now.

But aside from politics, whenever I go home now the country I left two years ago is almost totally different, a collective gloom has descended on the nation. It’s as noticeable on the busy streets of Dublin as it is in the town of Athy where I am from. Businesses shutting down everyday, a rising unemployment rate and a lot of young people who have only ever known economic growth and general good times.

Now they and the rest of the population face a real test of their resolve to see whether the country can re-emerge and prosper once more. I really hope it can because it’s not much fun going home any more aside from getting to see me mammy!