WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU GET PREGNANT?

Martha Lane Fox CBE Photo: BBC Radio 4 Website

Martha Lane Fox CBE Photo: BBC Radio 4 Website

It was a clever way to grab attention at the start of a televised address about the internet: the question above and the circumstances it was raised (by a potential investor when she was a young entrepreneur in her 20s) were set out in tonight’s BBC annual Dimbleby lecture by Martha Lane Fox, the UK Digital Champion appointed by the British government. She is a crossbench member of the House of Lords, appointed in March 2013. Still a digital entrepreneur, she is Chair of Go On UK, a charity dedicated to promoting computer literacy among the 10.8 million British people who do not use the internet.

She co-founded Europe’s largest travel and leisure website, lastminute.com, with Brent Hoberman in 1998; they took it public in 2000 and sold it in 2005 for £571 million. In March 2014 she was appointed Chancellor of the Open University. Martha co- founded and chairs LuckyVoice, revolutionising the karaoke industry. She chairs MakieLab and Forum for Good. She is a Non-Executive Director at Marks & Spencer, MyDeco.com and the Baileys-sponsored Women’s Prize for Fiction. In 2007 Martha founded her own charitable foundation Antigone.org.uk and also serves as a Patron of AbilityNet, Reprieve, Camfed and Just for Kids Law. In 2013 Martha was awarded a CBE.

In her blog, she gives a taster of her talk on DOT EVERYONE:

We need a new national institution to lead an ambitious charge – to make us the most digital nation on the planet.I don’t say this because I’m a fan of institutions. I say this because the values of the internet have always been a dialogue between private companies and public bodies. And right now the civic, public, non-commercial side of the equation needs a boost. It needs more weight.

We have an opportunity to make Britain brilliant at digital. We’ve been going too slow, being too incremental – in skills, in infrastructure, in public services. We need to be bolder.

A new institution could be the catalyst we need to shape the world we want to live in and Britain’s role in that world. Today, we’re letting big commercial technology platforms shape much of our digital lives, dominating the debate about everything from online privacy to how we build smart cities.

fact, I probably wouldn’t call it an institution at all. This is no normal public body.

It’s time to balance the world of dot com so I would create DOT EVERYONE.

I would prioritise three areas, that I think best demonstrate the opportunities we should be grabbing with both hands: education, women and ethics.

Firstly, DOT EVERYONE has to help educate all of us, from all walks of life, about the internet. The internet is the organising principle of our age, touching all our lives, every day. As the late activist Aaron Swartz put it, “It’s not OK not to understand the Internet anymore”.

We need to make sure that those in power understand how the internet can help us redefine public services, improve the lives of the most vulnerable, bolster our economy. Leaders and legislators cannot lay claim to grasping the power and potential of the internet just because they’re on Twitter.

Crucially, we must ensure that no one is left behind; that the 10 million adults who can’t enjoy the benefits of being online because they lack basic digital skills, no longer miss out.

Secondly, DOT EVERYONE must put women at the heart of the technology sector. Currently there are fewer women in the digital sector than there are in Parliament.

Something that is for everyone should be built by everyone. Do you think that social media platforms would have done more to stop abuse if they had more women in senior positions? I do. And how about the Apple Health Kit that went to market without anything to do with periods? Building an awesome cohort of female coders, designers, creators would help make us the most digitally successful country on the planet and give us a real edge.

Finally, we should aim for a much more ambitious global role in unpicking the complex moral and ethical issues that the internet presents. For example, what are the implications of an internet embedded in your home appliances? Do children need online rights? What is an acceptable use of drones?

Our rule of law is respected the world over; we should be world-leading in answering these questions.

DOT EVERYONE is new – it won’t and shouldn’t feel familiar. No grey suits, no dusty buildings. It will be an independent organisation. It will have a strong mandate from government, but also from the public – we will be setting its agenda, we will be informing it and taking part in it. It might produce written reports but it would also prototype services. It should show what is possible when you put the internet at the heart of design.

We should be making sure that the original promises of the internet – openness, transparency, freedom and universality – are a protected national asset, as integral to our soft power as Adele, JK Rowling, Shakespeare, or even Downton Abbey.

Britain invented the BBC, the NHS – let’s not have a poverty of ambition – we can and should be inventing the definitive public institution for our digital age.

If you like the idea, I have set up a petition at change.org so please sign it.  And please blog, tweet, respond – lets start the debate.

https://www.change.org/p/the-uk-prime-minister-create-dot-everyone-a-public-institution-for-the-digital-age

IRISH IN BIRMINGHAM

Greetings from Birmingham for Saint Patrick’s Day. A crowd of around 60,000 attended the parade in the city centre on Sunday. But how Irish is England’s second city now? The numbers seem to be lower than they were when I came here forty years ago in 1975 as a BBC journalist. This report is from the BBC Birmingham website.

The Irish Post: September 27th 1975 Words & Photo: Brendan Farrell

The Irish Post: September 27th 1975 Words & Photo: Brendan Farrell

Are the Irish Still Big in Birmingham? BBC News Birmingham & Black Country

They once made up 4% of Birmingham’s population and were its biggest minority group – but official figures say the number of Irish in the city has declined.

Yet 80,000 people are expected to attend the city’s annual St Patrick’s Day parade – believed to be the third biggest in the world after New York and Dublin – on Sunday. Are the Birmingham Irish really disappearing? Or has the definition simply changed?

The city’s Irish connection is plain to see; passengers arriving at Birmingham’s coach station are greeted by a sign reading “one hundred thousand welcomes” – a translation of the Gaelic greeting “cead mile failte”.

Its placement – in “Irish Quarter” Digbeth – is no accident.

The storied Dubliner pub – restored after it was gutted by a fire in 2006 – sits next door while Birmingham’s Irish Centre is a few hundred yards down the road.

‘No work here’

Regarded by some as a spiritual home of the Irish in Birmingham, Digbeth is also the terminus for the St Patrick’s Day parade.

But statistics say the number of Irish-born in the city has shrunk.

The 2001 census counted 22,828 Republic of Ireland-born and 6,086 Northern Irish Birmingham residents in 2001, whereas those numbers had dropped to 16,085 and 4,623 in 2011.

Two other cities in Britain noted for their Irish populations – Liverpool and Manchester – showed a more modest decrease in the same period, and, in fact, Merseyside’s ROI-born contingent fell by just three.

However, 50,900 Irish nationals emigrated from the Republic of Ireland in 2013, and a survey found almost 60% of respondents did so to find work.

The same report, from University College Cork, found New Zealand, Australia and Canada were drawing increasing numbers but the UK remained the most popular destination.

Paddy Foy, chairman of the Midlands Republic of Ireland Soccer Supporters Club, believes young Irish – many of them equipped with degrees – are heading for London instead of Birmingham.

He said the stereotype of the Irish “navvy” – manual workers employed in the construction industry – often no longer applies.

“When my mum and dad moved over in the 1950s the Irish did the jobs the English didn’t want to do,” he said.

“My dad helped to build [Birmingham landmarks] Spaghetti Junction and the Rotunda.

“Now the Irish are going to London to join big corporations because that’s where the jobs are seen to be.”

Maurice Long, of the Kerry Association, said Irish people were still coming to Birmingham to find work, but the flow was “slowing down”.

“The call to Birmingham is not like it used to be, work availability is not here, the cash is not here,” he said.

“A lot of people are choosing New Zealand and Australia – those places don’t seem so far any more.

“When I used to go home to Ireland the journey from New Street station took 23 hours.”

Mr Long, who emigrated to Birmingham 50 years ago, added young people who do look for work in the Midlands often stay for a short time.

“They’ve found Birmingham wasn’t as good as they thought and they’ve come from one recession into another,” he said.

‘Strong Irish culture’

But do the numbers tell the whole story? While the official statistics suggest just over 20,000 Irish-born in Birmingham, they don’t take children – or grandchildren – of immigrants into account.

Organisations such as the charity Irish in Birmingham have said counting second and third-generation descendants in the city’s Irish community would put the numbers closer to 100,000.

Anne Tighe, head of Birmingham’s St Patrick’s Day Parade board, said while the older generation may be fading, their offspring were keeping Birmingham’s Irish tradition alive. Born in the city to Irish parents herself, she said there was still evidence of a thriving community.

“I think it’s a very strong Irish culture in Birmingham,” she said.

“We have Gaelic football teams, a fantastic Irish dancing scene, there are places you can learn Irish instruments and there’s a great music scene for both traditional and more modern artists. There are still  a lot of Irish traditions and Irish family values, those are all very strong in the Irish community in Birmingham.”

Siobhan Mohan, editor of community newspaper The Harp, agreed Birmingham’s Irish-born population was ageing.

“The demographic seems to be changing, on the parade day you used to see lots of first-generation Irish in the crowd but the numbers seem to be dwindling these days,” she said.

Ms Tighe said she felt the St Patrick’s Day parade was a chance to not only celebrate Irishness, but the “unique” Irish culture in Birmingham.

“I think of myself as British but I regard my Irish roots as very strong and I’m also proud of being a Brummie,” she said.

“From my point of view organising the parade is important because I want Birmingham to be proud of and celebrate its history.

“A lot of other cities are much better at recognising that and I think we should be too.”sh traditions and Irish family values, those are all very strong in the Irish

A short history of the Irish in Birmingham

  • Many of the buildings which contributed to Birmingham’s expansion in the 1820s were worked on by Irish labourers
  • Journalist John Frederick Feeney arrived in 1835 and would go on to launch the Birmingham Daily Post. A charitable trust set up in his name to support arts projects still continues today
  • The 19th Century Irish community peaked at 11,322, accounting for 3.8% of the city’s population
  • Born in Belfast, Sir Charles Haughton Rafter became head of Birmingham’s police force in 1899, a post he held for 36 years
  • Anti-Irish sentiment in Birmingham rose after IRA bombs in the city killed 21 people in 1974. The Irish Centre was attacked
  • The St Patrick’s Day Parade – launched in the 1950s – was stopped after the bombings and did not make a comeback until 1996.

BBC PAYOUTS

bbcPlenty of questions remain about the extent of payouts made to senior executives at the BBC during the tenure of Mark Thompson as Director General. One Conservative MP Chris Heaton-Harris quoted in The Guardian said today’s hearing by the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster was “the most bizarre game of whack-a-mole I’ve ever seen in my life, where you hit something down and it throws up another load of questions”.

At the end of a three hour hearing by the committee, former DG Thompson and the Chair of the BBC Trust Lord Patten disagreed over who knew what about the executive payoffs. In July a report by the National Audit Office found that in nearly a quarter (14) of 60 cases it reviewed, the BBC had paid departing senior managers more salary in lieu of notice than they were contractually entitled to. A total of 150 senior managers had received severance payments totalling £25m. A supplementary report published a week ago confirmed that 22 former executives received £1.4m more than what the Corporation was contracted to offer in the severance payoffs agreed in the three years to December 2012 (NAO). The NAO said weak governance arrangements had led to payments that exceeded contractual requirements and put public trust at risk. The BBC Trust accepted at the time there had been a “fundamental failure of central oversight and control” at the Corporation.

nujlogo_burgundySpeaking before the PAC meeting the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Michelle Stanistreet said “this sorry tale is one of a management that became out of touch with its staff and with the ethos of public service broadcasting. The BBC should have put the interests of licence-fee payers first, rather than fill the pockets of its own”. In total more than £25m was given out in redundancy payments to executives.

The written evidence presented in advance to the PAC by former DG Mark Thompson, Lucy Adams BBC HR Director, Andrew Scadding BBC Head of Corporate Affairs, Marcus Agius, non-executive director, BBC Executive Board and former Chairman of the BBC Executive Board Remuneration Committee, as well as by the BBC Trust can be found here.

Margaret Hodge MP Photo: BBC News

Margaret Hodge MP Photo: BBC News

The PAC Chair Margaret Hodge MP described the appearance by the BBC executives as “grossly unedifying” and said it could only “damage the standing and reputation” of the BBC. “At the best I think what we have seen is incompetence, a lack of central control, a failure to communicate. At its worse we may have seen people covering their backs by being less than open”, she said.

Former BBC Chair Lord Grade told Newsnight the Corporation had “a lost sense of the value of money”.

 

BBC ‘JACUZZI OF CASH’

BBClogoLooking at the story about the BBC Trust chairman Lord Patten calling the size of severance payments made to senior BBC managers a matter of “shock and dismay”, I wondered why it had taken so long for the ‘gatekeepers’ of the Corporation’s standards to realise what was going on. Seven years ago a senior NUJ official in the broadcasting sector warned about how BBC executives were “bathing themselves in a Jacuzzi of cash, while staff are experiencing a drought”, at a time of staff cutbacks and reductions in their pension benefits.

Speaking in 2006, Paul McLaughlin added that even though the Corporation had capped bonuses at 10% of basic pay – down from 30% two years ago – salary increases meant that senior executives have still seen their total remuneration packages grow significantly. Mr McLaughlin said that as a result senior BBC managers were guaranteed a fixed annual increase in their overall pay and bonus package of 15%. Under the previous bonus scheme, he said, they could get a bigger rise, in theory, but this was more dependent on hitting performance-related targets.  nujlogo_burgundy

Over the last three years, (2003-2006) basic BBC executive pay has gone up by more than 30%. That’s at a time when the BBC is claiming there is no money and the annual pay deal they have offered this year is below inflation“, the NUJ representative said.

Today the BBC reports the evidence given by Lord Patten to the Public Accounts Committee at Westminster. Interesting to note the comments by Lucy Adams, Director of Human Resources: when asked about why there had been overpayments (severance payments to executives that went beyond contractual terms), she said “the overwhelming focus was to get numbers out of the door as quickly as possible”. I’m waiting to see the report coming up now on Newsnight.

Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge MP who had earlier been grilling Lord Patten and the new DG Lord Hall, told Jeremy Paxman the equivalent of half the cost of running Radio 4 (£25m) had been spent by the Corporation on exiting 150 senior executives. Now the blame game is starting.

But one former executive did the right thing: former director of archive content Roly Keating gave back a payment of £376,000 on the basis that it was not authorised “fully and appropriately”.

FRANK GARDNER BBC

Malachi O'Doherty talks to Frank Gardner

Malachi O’Doherty talks to Frank Gardner

It was a packed audience at the BBC’s Blackstaff studio in Belfast as Malachi O’Doherty resumed his Louis MacNeice QUB Writer in Residence series of interviews with media personalities. His guest was the BBC’s Security Correspondent, Frank Gardner. Gardner almost lost his life in a gun attack nine years ago in Saudi Arabia, in which his cameraman was killed, 36 year-old Simon Cumbers from Navan in County Meath. A media fund has been set up to honour his memory.

Simon Cumbers was murdered by gunmen while filming a report on an al-Qaeda militant’s house for BBC Television News in June 2004. The attackers opened fire on Simon and Frank Gardner in a suburb of Riyadh. Simon died at the scene and Frank Gardner, then 42, was seriously injured. He was shot six times at point-blank range. One of the bullets, apparently fired from a jeep, severed Gardner’s spinal nerves, leaving him partly paralysed in the legs and now dependent on a wheelchair. After 14 operations, seven months in hospital and months of rehabilitation, he returned to reporting for the BBC in mid-2005.

Frank Gardner, BBC

Frank Gardner, BBC

Gardner was educated at a private school in Kent, St Ronan’s in Hawkhurst and Marlborough College. His parents were both diplomats and he developed an interest in travel and exploration at an early age. He learned Arabic as a teenager and as a student at Exeter he went exploring with a friend. In the conversation with Malachi  he recalled his “daft” adventure through a jungle to a volcano, without a local guide: two explorers with just a biscuit to share to keep them sustained.

Recalling the attack in which he was wounded, Gardner said the gunmen drove off, leaving him bleeding in the dust. He remembers screaming for help. A crowd came out to look, but no-one lifted a finger to help him. There was no word of sympathy or comfort. This was very different from the welcome he had received in previous years while getting to know an Egyptian family from the backstreets of Cairo, with whom he stayed.

Malachi O'Doherty & Frank Gardner

Malachi O’Doherty & Frank Gardner

Gardner went back to Saudi Arabia earlier this year and made a documentary reflecting on why the Arab Spring has not happened in the Kingdom. He has worked with the BBC since 1995. Before that he spent nine years working in and around the Middle East region as an investment banker with Saudi International Bank and Robert Fleming from 1986-95. He became the Corporation’s first full-time Gulf correspondent in the late 1990s and set up an office in Dubai. In 2000 he was appointed Middle East correspondent in charge of the bureau in Cairo, but travelling widely throughout the region. In that role he covered the Palestinian intifada and reaction in the wake of the 11th September New York attacks.

VESUVIUS LEGACY

Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius

My summer sojourn for a fortnight on the Amalfi coast in Italy enabled me to visit Mount Vesuvius near Naples and to see the ruins of Pompeii, or at least part of the large site. Time did not permit a trip to nearby Herculaneum. But I watched with interest tonight a documentary on BBC2 about “The Other Pompeii: Life and Death in Herculaneum. Professor Andrew Wallace-Hadrill from Cambridge and Director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project presented the programme.  In it he follows the scientific investigation that aims to lift the lid on what life was like in the small Roman town of Herculaneum, moments before it was destroyed when Vesuvius erupted in 79AD.

Ten miles from Pompeii, twelve arched vaults at Herculaneum were found to contain the skeletons of over 340 people, just 10% of the local population, killed by the volcano. The finds included a toddler clutching his pet dog, a two-year-old girl with silver earrings and a boy staring into the eyes of his mother as they embraced in their last moment. Those found inside the vaults were nearly all women and children. Those found outside on the shoreline were nearly all men, in what appeared to be a selfless act on their part.

The documentary based on the research unravelled a surprising story of resilience, courage and humanity, with the local population going to their deaths not in the orgy of self-destruction often portrayed in Pompeii’s popular myth, but, much more like the passengers of the Titanic, it seems the ancient inhabitants of Herculaneum put women and children first.

Carbonised wooden cradle: Pompeii Exhibition: © British Museum

Carbonised wooden cradle: Pompeii Exhibition: © British Museum

The BBC programme and another related one broadcast last Wednesday on “Pompeii: The Mystery of the People Frozen in Time” coincide with the opening of a major exhibition at the British Museum. “Life and Death: Pompeii and Herculaneum” will run until the end of September and the normal admission price is £15.

Gold Bracelet in form of a coiled snake: Pompeii Exhibition: © British Museum

Gold Bracelet in form of a coiled snake: Pompeii Exhibition: © British Museum

NUJ ACTION

BBC Belfast Strike

BBC Belfast Strike

This was a busy day for NUJ activity. First, union members at Broadcasting House in Belfast (and at BBC Radio Foyle in Derry) joined journalist colleagues around the UK in walking out at midday to hold a twelve hours strike.

BBC Radio Foyle picket

BBC Radio Foyle picket  © NUJ website

The first Radio Ulster programme affected was Talkback. The presenter and long-standing member Wendy Austin was among those joining the line outside the main entrance. Inside, members of management kept some output on the air including radio news bulletins. The NUJ action along with the broadcasting union BECTU is over job cuts, compulsory redundancies, harassment and bullying within the Corporation.

At BBC picket line

At BBC picket line

At the meeting of Belfast and District Branch of the NUJ, members expressed their solidarity with their colleagues on strike. Later some of the branch members including myself joined the chapel members on the picket line. It was an interesting branch meeting, during which we endorsed a statement by the union’s National Executive Council at its meeting last Friday that criticised the First Minister Peter Robinson:-

The National Executive Council of the NUJ has called on First Minister Peter Robinson to withdraw his remarks for the people of Northern Ireland to “stop reading the Irish News. The NEC considers the First Minister’s controversial remarks ill-considered and demands that he withdraws the boycott of the newspaper immediately. The Irish News and its journalists have the right to pursue legitimate questioning in the public interest and the NUJ will defend its members’ rights to do so.”

NUJ Belfast & District Branch meeting

NUJ Belfast & District Branch meeting

The Branch also heard from Ridwaan Haji, a Somali journalist and NUJ member based in London, about the serious situation facing journalists in the Horn of Africa. He told us that eighteen journalists had been killed there last year and so far this year three had died, almost all of them in the capital, Mogadishu. Last Sunday a female radio journalist 21 year-old Rahma Abdulkadir was shot dead near her house by three young men carrying pistols. The Guardian reports that her main focus was human rights in Somalia, particularly womens’ rights. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the killing.

reviews the list of murdered journalists

Ridwaan reviews the list of murdered journalists

Tonight the UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova denounced the murder and called for an investigation into the crime. Members of the media killed during conflict will be remembered during the IFJ Congress in Dublin later this year and it is hoped that the Branch will have a stand at the conference hall in Dublin Castle on June 6th. Preparations are also continuing for a one-day safety conference for journalists and media workers in Northern Ireland to be held before July.