23 June 2011

Where are the 'accredited media'?

Home Affairs Minister, Senator Ian Le Marquand
On Monday, during question time, the Home Affairs Minister made a remarkable, and certainly newsworthy announcement in response to a question by Deputy Trevor Pitman. The deputy asked:
St Helier deputy, Trevor Pitman
Deputy Pitman: 'Will the Minister clarify what was the conclusion into the brief investigation into who within the Police Force leaked the interim BDO Alto report to a UK child abuse denier journalist and has anyone been suspended over the action?'

Senator Le Marquand: 'The person most likely was the former SIO (Senior Investigating Officer) who took on the Historic Abuse Inquiry and who left in August 2009 with very noisy publicity for his predecessors.'

The SIO at the time that Senator Le Marquand was talking about at that time was Mick Gradwell. Now, I don't know the rights and wrongs of the handling of the whole Jersey Child Abuse Inquiry (operation rectangle) and the ensuing 'fall out' and various inquiries. But it seems clear to me, that the leaking of a confidential report, before it had been published, is a serious offence for any States Employee. The fact that it attracted so little interest from States Members and in particularly the 'accredited' media, is quite astonishing. 

A fellow blogger asked representatives from Channel TV why they had not reported the story. They told him they did not know about it. Channel do have a political correspondent and although one of their reporters was in the gallery for question time, the reporter had left by the time questions without notice had come about. To be fair, question time was moved to the afternoon and the staff would have had to be back for editing the evening programme, but one does question why they do not have a reporter 'permanently' in the States to cover all business, as the JEP and BBC do. It might help if they had their own box, of course. It will be interesting to see what coverage comes out from the latter two.

At least now they know about the story, by way of a blogger and a States-member-cum-blogger. 

In a previous blog, I commented on how the mainstream media were unable to be present for the public meeting at Communicare a couple of weeks ago, for the concluding part of Mr Michel's black headstone campaign (more to follow on next blog) because they were drinking champagne with the Lt. Govenor. Thankfully, the faithful citizen's media was there to provide footage, so that the meeting could be broadcast to those who could not attend. It is unfortunate that we have to do the work of the media, however we can be grateful for presence of bloggers who come to the rescue, in matters of public interest which would otherwise not be reported.

18 June 2011

Temps Passé

'The difference between the tourism industry and the finance industry: one is driven to provide the most happiness for the greatest number; the other to create the most wealth for the fewest number.' - Anon

Tonight I saw two videos which should be a mandatory part of all Jersey history lessons. This very artistic and political video (above) sums up poignantly (and, appropriately, without words) the unspoken sadness that many islanders share for the decline of the tourism industry (for those of us who can almost remember its hey day). The second is a more nostalgic look at the Fort Regent cable cars. Back then they were an expedient way to get to a vibrant Fort Regent.  Now they would be considered an attraction in their own right.

Enjoy, if that is the word...

16 June 2011

Jackson jacks-in opposition to Black Headstone

Mr Michel's battle with the parish to have a black headstone for his wife's grave has been won. Yesterday the Constable announced that the St Brelade Cemetery Committee, who met for the first time in 5 years, would be willing to change to regulations to permit the stone to be erected. In an email to the Parish deputies and Senator Ferguson, Constable Jackson wrote:

'The cemetery committee decided yesterday to agree to submitting a revised regulation to a Parish Assembly to permit black natural stone in the cemetery.'

The news came as a relief to Mr Michel, who has been fighting for this for over a year now. 

The decision to change the regulation was predictable, in the face of such strong public support for Mr Michel's cause. Two questions remain, however, (i) why did it take so long for Mr Jackson to change his mind; and (ii) what damage has this done to the Constable's credibility in an election year? 

These questions will be addressed in the next blog, with exclusive video footage from the Communicare meeting. 

14 June 2011

Battle Continues for Black Headstone in St Brelade

Constable Jackson, who has refused Mr Michel
permissionfor a black headstone at Les Quennevais

Interview with Les Quennevais resident, Mr Danny Michel.
Footage Couertesy of Citizens Media

Although it was a Friday night, between 55- 60 people turned out at Communicare last week to show solidarity and support for Danny Michel, who is fighting (reluctantly) to be able to have a black headstone erected at Les Quennevais Cemetery, in memory of his late wife, Violet.

The response at the meeting was unanimous: Mr Michel should be allowed to have his headstone and the Constable should take the necessary steps to amend the parish regulations where necessary, to allow for others who want the same.

12 June 2011

The Democratization of TV

'TV is dead. Long live I-player (and Wimp.com)'

Yesterday, I was lucky to take some time out from States and Parish work to spend some time with friends, playing 'Risk' - a game which I have only ever played once before. Out of the 7 players (6 of them longtime, ruthless aficionados), it was perhaps no surprise that I went out first, following some questionable tactical advice from the player who then went on to win the whole game.
Fortunately, there was sufficient background entertainment, as I sat and ate my take away potato wedges.
I was introduced to a very good website, which in my opinion merits a blog in itself: wimp.com. Of course, the likes of i-player and youtube have been around for a while, and have revolutionized the way we watch television, but the beauty of wimp is that pretty much all of the videos on there are interesting: whether it is the highschool student who built and played his own instrument out of piping, the pop out painter, or the carrot clarinet, you can flick through and find fascinating, original and educational videos that both entertain and challenge boundaries. This is one of my favourites. The Parisian street dancer.

As someone who does not have time to watch a lot of television, and who does not miss it, I  will be visiting wimp.com a lot more from now on.


10 June 2011

Communicare Meeting Tonight, 7:30pm - to support Mr Michel in his Fight for a Blackheadstone

St Brelade resident, Danny Michel
Below is a copy of the BBC Online report of Mr Michel and his 'fight' to have a black headstone erected for his wife, who passed away over a year ago. As the report says, there are already 14 similar headstone in  the cemetery, and it is strange that Mr Michel is not being allowed to have his there. Supporters are most welcome to attend the meeting tonight (Friday) at Communicare. 7:30pm.

St Brelade Constable refuses black headstone for grave

A man is campaigning to be allowed to put a black headstone on his wife's grave in Jersey.
Danny Michel wants to put the stone in Les Quennevais Cemetery for his late wife Violet.
But St Brelade Constable Mike Jackson said there was a clause in the rates book that said only headstones made of local material could be used.
There is no black granite-type material available in Jersey so it would need to be imported.
Mr Michel argues there are already 14 black headstones in the cemetery.
He said: "My late wife and I always used to come to my father's grave and we often commented how beautiful the black and gold complimented each other on these headstones, so it would be nice for my wife to have one of them erected in her memory.
"My wife died on 21 May last year and this has been going on since the end of June when it was rejected.
"It has been playing a bit on my mind. I am just trying to get closure so we can get a nice monument erected for my wife."
Mr Michel is holding a public meeting on Friday at 1930 BST at Communicare in St Brelade to call for a Parish Assembly to change the rules.
His campaign is being supported by Senator Sarah Ferguson and Deputies Sean Power and Montfort Tadier.

09 June 2011

Blogs Flourish in Jersey

The last two years have seen an explosion in the number of Jersey Blogsites that have appeared in the island. This is to be welcomed: (1) Because for many reasons, the 'accredited' media, as they are sometimes euphemistically called, are unable to sufficiently cover many stories that are of public interest to those interested in Jersey politics and affairs. (2) The blogsites themselves have, in many cases, been able to 'break' new stories that the mainstream media would never have picked up on. One example of this, that I remember clearly, was the incident in January 2010, when it was revealed that the Chairman of PPC had failed to share information with the Committee about a complaint that had been made by the then Chief Officer of Police, Graham Power, against the Chief Minister. Were it not for the exposé carried out by Voice For Children, members of that panel would not have even been aware, and nor would the public. (3) It is a combination of a greater willingness to engage in a seemingly greater level of investigative journalism (in some cases) coupled with the fact that bloggers are not commercially motivated, that the types of stories that they are able and free to cover are sometimes much more in depth, controversial and rigorous.
Scrunity has its own facebook page, featuring the iconic
Corbiere Lighthouse - presumably because it know St Brelade is the best Parish
Thankfully, the appearance of such sites is having a corresponding impact on the mainstream media to 'up their game'. What were once entirely print or broadcast mediums, are increasingly expanding into electronic realms, as they fight for webspace alongside increasingly popular local blogs. Similarly, the States is, at long last, having to address the issues of Governance in the 21st Century. It still needs to do more to engage and interact with a new generation of web-literate voters, but at least the realisation of this is emerging. Scrutiny have their own facebook page

Here is a list of some of the very good local blogs that there are to choose from. If you get tired of the usual limited and blinkered views of the mainstream media, why not visit some of these, and get the news straight from the horses mouth. You can even save them to your favourites.

And all bloggers out there: why not copy and paste this post to your facebook status? 


Sorry if I have missed anyone out!

07 June 2011

We believe in transparency, openness and accountability... but we will not tell you anything about the £800,000* pay-off to departing Civil Servants!

Questions are being asked in the States today about the 'alleged' pay-offs to two top Civil Servants, reportedly totalling £800,000. The amount of secrecy surrounding this subject is both outstanding and cannot help but raise suspicion. Just a few minutes ago, something quite bizarre happened. The Chief Minister, one of a handful of people who actually knows the full facts of these pay-offs said that these were 'alleged golden handshakes', but himself would not let us know whether they were or were not 'golden handshakes.'

Deputy Pitman is one of the States Members
asking a question about the 'Golden Handshakes' to top Civil Servants
Deputy Pitman will shortly be asking a question: 'Will the Chief Minister clarify the exact sums paid as ' golden handshakes' to two civil servants, clarify who was paid which sum and explain why such large payments were considered justified?'

Of course, none of these questions will be answered, but at least they are being asked. The Treasury Minister has already said such details would only be released in 'exceptional circumstances'.

 I would argue that Jersey IS in exceptional circumstances. Public confidence in the States' ability to spend taxpayers money in an effective and accountable way is at an all time low.  Add this to a vicious austerity programme that is being pushed through, with cuts to frontline services (we are even charging patients for bandages now!), I would say these ARE exceptional circumstances.

The current Strategic Plan, the document which - in the absence of party politics - sets out the underlying political philosophy to be pursued by the States until 2012 - has many references to transparency:

On page 7, we find the words –

‘By working openly and inclusively with all sectors of our community we will:
create a responsive government […] which embraces a progressive culture of openness, transparency and accountability to the public.’

On page 32 there is a similar pledge –

‘We will work to improve the public trust in government and establish a
system of greater transparency, public participation, and collaboration to
strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in

Sadly, it seems that these are simply words. When it comes to real transparency, there is little appetite for the type of open government alluded to here.

*Alleged £800,000 pay-offs

02 June 2011

GST goes to 5% - including on bread, milk and vegetables (not to mention books and nappies)

The last State's sitting saw the latest debate on whether or not the island's government should apply the 5% goods and services tax to food, drink and domestic energy. Compelling arguments were given both ways, and even those who thought they knew firmly how they were going to vote were to be found wavering when emotive arguments about the immorality of taxing life's essentials were brought out on one hand, and equally compelling keep it simple arguments were brought out on the other.

For a moment, I found myself waivering too. Was it not true that little real benefit would be derived if this tax were removed from foodstuff and domestic energy? The States was already doing there bit for looking after the poor with the GST bonus, which goes to those who are not on benefits, but who also don't earn enough to pay tax. Meanwhile, tax thresholds had been adjusted to allow more disposable income for people, to allow for the increase in GST, and for those right at the bottom of the income ladder, Income Support had been adjusted to take note of the increase in GST.

This had to make more sense than having a system of exemptions, after all, the GST earned on these commodities was being redistributed to the 'poor and needy'. 

These arguments were not enough to convince 22 States Members, including myself - the only St Brelade representative to vote against putting GST on food and domestic fuel costs.

Rebranding GST
What clinched it for me was the fact that the whole 'redistribution' argument (as used here) is fundamentally flawed. There has been an attempt over recent years to rebrand GST from a 'nasty tax' that disproportionately affect those least able to pay (a 'regressive' tax) into what the Assistant Minister now calls a 'mildy progressive' tax. This is all the more remarkable considering that only a year ago, when taxation went out to 'consultation' (Jersey style), the Minister himself had labelled it 'slightly regressive.' It seems that the meaning of words can be fluid, to suit the circumstances.

So, returning to the the point, this form of redistribution is flawed, because it is not like the so-called Robin Hood tax, which targets capital and those most able to pay, rather, the GST form of re-distribution is very much from the middle/lower-middle to the 'poor'. Whilst it is true that GST does catch 'everybody', it is those with limited income - or low disposable incomes - that have to pay disproportionately. Whilst some protection is given to low earners in the form of increased support and tweaked tax thresholds, those who are above the poverty line, but still struggling in real terms, in an increasingly costly island, are the ones who really miss out. It is they who will be most affected, whilst the real wealth (the hoarded capital, the land banks of the developers, and the large property portfolios of wealthy rentiers) is not challenged.