31 August 2018

TV interviews with politicians

A lesson fromMichael Crick of Channel 4 News on how to interview a politician?

 (The following has been reproduced from https://www.joe.co.uk/news/journalist-decimates-theresa-mays-record-on-south-african-apartheid-in-car-crash-interview-197165 https://www.joe.co.uk/news/journalist-decimates-theresa-mays-record-on-south-african-apartheid-in-car-crash-interview-197165 where you can watch the interview - to whom many thanks):

"What did you do to help the release of Nelson Mandela?"

Having endured a day of intense scrutiny from the media, Theresa May was last night forced to defend her record on South African apartheid ahead of a visit to Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island.
Michael Crick decimates Theresa May's record on South African apartheid in car crash interview
Michael Crick interviews Teresa May

Channel 4 news reporter Michael Crick used the opportunity of a one-on-one interview to question the prime minister about what she had done to oppose racial segregation in South Africa, which was only ended in the country in the early 90s.

During the two-minute grilling, May was repeatedly interrupted and refused to give a straight answer to the journalist's line of questioning, although she admitted that she had not personally taken part in protests against South Africa's white-only regime.

"You were active in politics in the 70s and 80s, what did you do to help release Nelson Mandela?" Crick asked.

May responded: "I think what is important is what the United Kingdon-" But Crick interrupted the prime minister, repeating: "No, what did you do? Did you go on protests? Did you get arrested outside the embassy? Did you boycott South African goods? Did you do anything?"

She replied: "I think you know full well, Michael, that I didn't go on protests. But what is important is the work that -"

"Well did you boycott South African goods?" Crick interrupted again. Only for May to continue:

"The work that the United Kingdom government did to ensure that it did give support where that support was needed."

Although not a member of parliament until 1997, Theresa May was an active Conservative politician and party member during the 1980s and served as a councillor for London Borough of Merton from 1986 to 1994.

Margaret Thatcher, addressing the Tory party conference 
in 1984 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Margaret Thatcher attracted criticism during her premiership of the country in the 80s for dismissing the then incarcerated Nelson Mandela as "a terrorist". Following the end of his 18-year imprisonment, Mandela would go on to become President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999.

Turning to the record of the Tory government at the time, Crick asked: "Hang on a minute at that stage Mrs Thatcher believed that Nelson Mandela was a terrorist. Were you a loyal Conservative member, did you think the same thing?"

May responded: "What was important was the support that the government was giving at the time, often support behind the scenes to ensure that we saw the result that we did in relation to the ending of apartheid here in South Africa."

Theresa May later visited the deceased former South African president's cell on Robben Island. Upon leaving the island, she wrote in the visitor book: "It has been a privilege to visit in this year - the 100th anniversary of the birth of Nelson Mandela. His legacy lives on in the hopes and dreams of young people here in South Africa and around the world."

When Michael Crick was a young reporter in the early days of Channel 4 News, he interviewed me. But not in the way he did here with Mrs May because, unlike a lot of TV interviewers (e.g. John Humphrys) he understood the difference between an interview to obtain facts from an expert and an interview to put the interviewee under pressure.

So he doesn't always interrupt the interviewee in mid-answer as a matter of course (like John Humphrys) but only does so when his question is being as blatantly avoided as is done by the  Prime Minister in this particular interview.

I have no idea why he resigned as political editor of BBC 2's Newsnight, but thought it a damaging loss to the BBC that he went back to Channel 4 News, were he started his TV career. 

Crick is one of the reasons why so many of us believe that Channel 4 News is by far the best news programme on British television.


20 August 2018

Reminder to Joe Root & his colleagues

I can't remember the last time an England cricket captain won the toss, put the other side in to bat and led his team to victory in a home test match. 

I do remember groaning whenever I've heard that he's decided to field first, as happened  when Joe Root did it against the best batting side in the world. 

I'd always thought that every cricketer knew and would have  the sense to act on the advice of W.G. Grace. In case Root and his colleagues think they know best, here's Grace's neat, easy to remember three-part list (with repetition):

"When you win the toss – BAT. If you are in doubt, think about it, then BAT. If you have very big doubts, consult a colleague – then BAT."

Has the WHO given psychiatry scientific respectability

19 August 2018

Jack Nicholson being treated with electro-convulsive therapy (ECT) in 
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
Every day, we hear of yet another reason to get worried about our mental health and about whether or not we are suffering from a mental illness without realising it. The media's covering far more about it than ever before. 

Students are under severe stress at our universities, children are suffering stress from social media, and, according to the iPaper (16 August), the hoarders among us have serious reason to start worrying about clutter: Perhaps we’ve watched, fascinated and repulsed, at TV shows such as Britain’s Biggest Hoarders, which feature homes stuffed to the gunwales with, well, stuff...

Image result for picture of goffman's asylumsThis week, it was classified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation, which explained that “accumulation of possessions results in living spaces becoming cluttered to the point that their use or safety is compromised. The symptoms result in significant distress or significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning.” (my italics)

Mental Disorders half a century ago

Related imageWriters like  Erving Goffman and R.D. Laing (1967) were writing books that questioned what were then common definitions of mental health and illness – long before the 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo'Nest or my own 1978 book Discovering Suicide'.

What these had in common was that they not only questioned the way mental health and illness were defined, but were also critical of psychiatrists and the way they (and their associated staff) treated and managed patients suffering from the 'illness'. 

The medicalisation of social problems 

In the 1960s and 1970s, sociologists and others were arguing that using a medical model to define and explain different forms of deviant behaviour (like delinquency, crime, alcoholism, mental illness, suicide, etc.) was a convenient way of defending and preserving the status quo. After all, if these were illnesses, society could hardly be blamed for causing them. So in that sense, medicalisation involved adopting an essentially conservative model of social problems.

Psychiatry was (and still is?) the lowest status of all among medical specialisms

While doing a PhD on suicide in the late 1960s and early 70s, I came into contact with quite a lot of psychiatrists, some of whom were working in mental hospitals, and others working in research units. 

What surprised me then (and still surprises me today) was how quickly they became qualified in their chosen specialism: after graduating in medicine, it only took one postgraduate year to qualify in psychiatry - which involved spending relatively little time learning about social and psychological factors compared with time spent learning about what drugs should be used to treat which types of mental illness. 

As for defining types of mental illness, that was a blurred issue for psychiatry. Don't expect much clarity when it comes to questions like what's the difference between neurosis and psychosis, what do schizophrenic and paranoid mean, why is something that used to be called manic-depression now called bi-polar disorder?

Perhaps the biggest weakness of psychiatry is that (unlike cardiology, oncology or brain surgery) it lacks a killer disease that its specialists can actually cure. 

Other weaknesses will be discussed in later blogs.

Meanwhile, we should take our hats off and acknowledge psychiatry's PR triumph now that the WHO has classified hoarding as a mental disorder...

15 August 2018

Brexit's all Greek to me

Like many others (or should that be like everyone in the UK?), the first time I heard the word 'brexit' was sometime before the referendum in June 2016.

At the time, I remember having many conversations bemoaning the fact that Cameron and his colleagues had failed to come up with anything like as punchy a name as brexit for referring to enthusiasm for remaining in the EU.

Nor had their chums in PR and advertising.

Yet 'brexit' has now been in the Oxford English Dictionary since December, 2016 - 6months after the referendum.

On looking into where, when and from whom it came there's an irony about it's use by everyone from David Cameron, Teresa May ("Brexit means brexit"), through those who campaigned vigorously for it like Johnson, Farage, Gove, Duncan Smith, Grayling, etc. etc. etc.

The irony is that the word was not coined by any of them but by someone in favour of remaining in the European Union:

The man who coined ‘Brexit’ first appeared on EURACTIV blog

By Matthew Tempest | EURACTIV.com Jan 10, 2017

The word ‘Brexit’ was coined by EURACTIV, according to the latest edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, way back in 2012, in a blog post by Peter Wilding.

The decision came in an update to the third edition of the dictionary, put together by some 50-60 lexicographers, and was put online last month. It gives the definition of the word as: “the (proposed) withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, and the political process associated with it”.
He wrote about "Brexit" in May 2012, eight months before the then Prime Minister David Cameron had announced he would be holding a referendum.
"Unless a clear view is pushed that Britain must lead in Europe at the very least to achieve the completion of the single market then the portmanteau for Greek euro exit (Grexit) might be followed by another sad word, Brexit," he predicted.

13 August 2018

Why doesn't India produce more fast bowlers?

James Anderson
As James Anderson  (left) said after he and Stuart Broad (right) had skittled India out twice in quick succession in the second Test match at Lords: "We would have bowled out any team under these conditions."

He didn't say that even pace bowlers as old as Broad and me were able to dismiss the best team in the world in next to no time."

One of the things that intrigues me about India's leading position in world cricket is that they've succeeded with some brilliant batsmen and brilliant slow spin bowlers - but with fewer fast bowlers than other national teams,  such as. Australia, the West Indies, England and Pakistan.

During one test match against Pakistan years ago (when England were being trounced by their pace attack), I was having breakfast with two Indian students at the Henley Management College.

I asked them why Pakistan always seemed to have had some seriously good fast bowlers (one of whom has just become President of the country) whereas it was more difficult to come up with a list of famous names of fast bowlers from India.

Both of them were agreed that the reason lay in the difference in the main religions of the two countries: "As Hindus, we're far too laid back to exert all the energy needed to bowl faster than medium pace; but Moslems are more aggressive than us so they're not afraid of taking a long run and bowling as fast as they possibly can."

Blogging again

It's 10 years since I started blogging - at the suggestion of journalist Michael Crick, then of BBC's Newsnight, now at Channel 4 News.

It became such a regular obsession that a selection of my blogs was published in my most recent book, Seen and Heard, after which the rate of posting now blogs dwindled for a variety of reasons. Recently, however, I've been updating (i.e. simplifying) the Atkinson Communications website, from which there is now a link to my blog that will make it easier for visitors to find whatever it is that I'm blogging about.

The main problem at the moment is that, silly season though it may be, political news there's so much depressing political news that there's too much to write about!