Robert Hampton

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8th October 2013

I read the news today… Oh boy
Posted by at 8.09pm | In the News, Politics | 1 response

The Daily Mail last week it launched a vicious attack on Ed Miliband’s father. Based on one diary entry, which Ralph Miliband made when he was 17, it described him as “THE MAN WHO HATED BRITAIN”. A pretty nasty smear on a man who is not here to defend himself. The claim was also quite dubious, given that Miliband Senior served in the Navy during World War II.

Ed Miliband, unsurprisingly, came out fighting in defence of his father. He demanded the right to reply, only for the Daily Mail to publish his defence of his father alongside a reprint of the original article and a defiant editorial insisting that they were right.

The Mail may have miscalculated. It is drawing criticism from all sides, including from David Cameron and top headmasters. Also, a paper which printed headlines like “Hurrah for the Blackshirts!” in the 1930s should have perhaps been a bit more careful about digging up other people’s dirt from 75 years ago (see Roy Greenslade’s piece in the Guardian for more on this). Alastair Campbell’s rant against the paper on Newsnight is sure to become a viral internet hit. Whatever you think of Campbell (and I don’t think very much of him), his description of the Mail as “the worst of British values masquerading as the best” resonates.

Miliband emerges from this row with his reputation enhanced, while an opinion poll reveals that a majority of people think the paper is in the wrong, and 57% of the Mail’s own readers believe the paper’s editor should apologise.

Paul Dacre himself has kept a low profile during this row. The Media Blog points out that the Mail is usually quick to demand that heads roll at the BBC or Channel 4 when they broadcast something offensive, however it does not extend that standard to its own editor.

Compounding the offence, sister publication The Mail on Sunday is in hot water after it sent undercover reporters to the funeral of Miliband’s uncle – apparently to try and get some juicy gossip. At least that paper apologised.

It’s easy to put this down to the rough and tumble of politics – the Labour party is ahead in the polls, and the Mail want to discredit the party’s leader by any means possible. There’s a good debate to be had about the merits of Labour’s policies… so let’s have that debate, rather than cheap character assassination.

There’s also a wider issue here: how many other people has the Mail attacked, and how many of them, unlike Miliband, have no platform of their own with which to fight back?

Amidst all this, it’s great news that the Government has rejected plans for a new press self-regulation body – PressBoF – which would have meant the newspapers continuing to, as the Hacked Off campaign puts it, “mark their own homework”. The newspaper groups are opposed to the proposed press regulator backed by Royal Charter. They say it would lead to politicians meddling, and an end to the free press.

It’s a difficult balancing act, but self-regulation has been a failure. From the Hillsborough fans to Christopher Jeffries to Milly Dowler to Ralph Miliband, the papers have shown time and time again that they cannot be trusted to police themselves.

22nd July 2013

Attack the Block

David Cameron has announced that ISPs will block online pornography by default. The “big four” ISPs (BT, TalkTalk, Sky and Virgin) have all signed up voluntarily to the plan, which will see users asked to tick a box to confirm that they want the “Torrent of Filth” (© Daily Mail) to continue to flow freely.

A lot of people are unhappy at this – Virgin Media’s Twitter feed is already overrun with people demanding continued unfettered access to porn.

Won't someone think of the children?!

A typical pro-censorship campaigner

It’s incredibly difficult to argue against this plan, as pro-blocking advocates invariably start shrieking “think of the children!” as soon as anyone dares to question them. So let me say right now that no, children should not be looking at porn. I would argue, though, that is chiefly the parents’ responsibility to prevent this, by supervising their internet access and computer use. Judging by the number of “my 6-year-old ran up a £9,632 bill on an iPhone game!” stories in the press recently, some are not doing so.

I would also argue that adults’ freedom to fap is just as important – and when pictures of naked women are available across the newsagent’s counter courtesy of the Sun and the Daily Star, it’s hard to take seriously any claims that children need to be protected.

Telegraph blogger Mic Wright thinks that the plan is technologically illiterate. He’s absolutely right, but this point has reportedly already been made to Cameron by the ISPs, Google and others – see Rory Cellan-Jones’s reports on the subject. It seems that Cameron simply won’t listen.

If you want more, Paul Bernal, Lecturer in Information Technology, Intellectual Property and Media Law at the University of East Anglia Law School has written a useful post: 10 questions about Cameron’s ‘new’ porn-blocking. I have some questions of my own, reproduced below.

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6th April 2013

Are the Philpotts a “Vile Product of Welfare UK”, as reported by the Mail?
Posted by at 7.19pm | In the News | No responses


If you need a more detailed explanation, Owen Jones’s article on the subject (written before the headline was printed), is worth a read.

Zoe Williams of the Guardian, meanwhile, has a simple request to all those outraged by the Mail’s front page: “Don’t get mad, get even”.

The right wants to divide and conquer, using the politics of envy and hate so it can get away with its outrageous campaign against the poor. Don’t let it happen.

(hat tip to zone_styx on Twitter who created the Vile Product image)

24th March 2013

Ecce Homo

Rainbow flag fluttering in sunlightGay rights and gay issues have always interested me, and you’ll find reference to them throughout my blog, right back to the earliest days. Nowadays, the reasons are obvious. However, for the first seven years of the blog’s life, I was hamstrung by the fact that I was out to almost no-one.

I thought I was being quite clever, carefully wording my posts in such a way that I could demonstrate I was a champion of gay rights without actually coming out and saying that I was gay myself. However, when I was finally brave enough to start coming out to people, a response I got more than once was, “I know, I read your blog.”

Waiting until the age of 27 to come out is not ideal, and it’s something I regret bitterly (especially as a lot of my friends and family already knew, or at least suspected). There are many reasons that I left it so late, but discussion of those reasons is something more appropriate for a revealing therapy session, rather than the blog. So, on with the flashback!

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3rd September 2012

The Block Stops Here

The Government, following a lot of wailing from the Daily Mail, is proposing that ISPs should be forced to block “adult” web sites by default. I posted at length about this back in May and I refer you to that post if you’re unfamiliar with the issue. In summary, my objections are as follows:-

  • It is not the Government’s job to be babysitter to an entire nation of internet-using children. Children, of course, should be protected, but that is a parent’s job, through supervision and, if necessary, the use of filtering software on the child’s laptop, phone or tablet.
  • Any “default block” will be a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Nobody has defined “adult” web sites properly – is it just porn, or will stuff that’s a bit sweary like b3ta and Viz be blocked too?
  • Inevitably some innocent web sites will get caught up in the block. Two years ago PinkNews, an LGBT news site, found itself categorised as “adult” by mobile phone providers. Imagine if a small business which relies on web customers gets blocked by mistake. It will lose income and suffer damage to its reputation by being identified as “porn”.
  • Anyone wanting unfettered internet access will have to contact their ISP to request it and may have to repeat that request at regular intervals. There are many perfectly innocent reasons for a user to want an uncensored internet, but thanks to the stigma from certain parts of the media, they will feel like they’re putting themselves on a “porn user’s register”.
  • This is, essentially, censorship – and who’s to say that the blocking infrastructure wouldn’t be used in the future for less benevolent reasons? Perhaps UK Uncut’s web site will find itself classed as “adult”?

All of the above ignores the fact that the block will be easily circumvented by anyone even moderately tech-savvy and will therefore be largely useless anyway.

The deadline to respond is 6th September. The consultation web page on the DfE web site is a nightmare, requiring users to download and fill in a Word document. Even then, most of the questions are aimed at parents and not other members of the public – it’s almost as if they don’t want us to have our say!

The Open Rights Group, however, have an easy to use web page to respond to the consultation, and it will even automatically identify your MP and copy him or her in on your consultation response.

I urge you to go and respond, even if it’s only a sentence or two. Remember, this is not about porn, it’s about larger issues of freedom of expression online versus an interfering nanny state.

20th May 2012

The Internet is (not just) for Porn

Those fine upstanding moral guardians at the Daily Mail are crusading against internet pornography. Misogynistic, sleazy, and liable to cause harm to children, the Daily Mail has a circulation of almost 2 million.

Porn did not begin with the internet. I remember the breathless excitement among some of my classmates in school when a top-shelf magazine was smuggled in. Ladies! With no clothes on! It was less exciting for me, as there were already early indications that my interests lay… elsewhere. Nevertheless, the explosion (bad choice of words) in sexual content online means that it is more easily accessible than it ever was before.

Now, the Mail has had enough. It wants internet providers to BAN THIS SICK FILTH, by blocking internet pornography. At the moment some ISPs will block sexually explicit web sites, but most will only do so if the customer specifically requests it, the “opt-out” system. The Mail wants it the other way round – porn blocked by default with the user having to specifically opt-in to be able to view it. Despite warnings from experts that the plan is unworkable, the Government has taken up the idea and is due to launch a consultation.

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16th March 2012

Power of 2
Posted by at 9.24pm | Gay, In the News | 2 responses

When David Cameron told the Tory Conference in October 2011 that he supported marriage rights for same-sex couples, I wonder if he expected the reaction to be as vociferous as it has been? He didn’t just open a can of worms; he put the can in a microwave, programmed it for full power, and watched the sparks fly.

I will admit that – while I wasn’t surprised by the reaction of certain religious leaders – I was surprised that their views were allowed to dominate the debate, especially on TV and radio (that politically correct liberal media at work again, I guess). I was also surprised – shocked, in fact – at how vicious some of the anti-marriage commentary has been. Some comments have been reminiscent of the nonsense that comes out of the mouths of the religious right in America. I naively hoped that Britain would be above this kind of thing.

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7th March 2012

Viral Infection
Posted by at 12.14am | Web | No responses

I had an interesting experience last week on Twitter. I was going to blog about it, but I decided this was momentous enough to make it the subject of my second YouTube video. Enjoy!

1st March 2012

Put a Ring on It
Posted by at 7.57pm | Gay, In the News | No responses

Today’s Daily Mail ignores minor issues such as the phone hacking scandal and massacres in Syria, instead devoting a big chunk of its front page to the RESURGENCE OF MARRIAGE.

You may have thought that marriage had never gone away, but you’d’ve been wrong. Don’t worry about that though – marriage is now back! According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of weddings rose by 3.7% last year, after 40 years of decline. And the Mail has enthusiastically embraced the findings, to the extent that their usual scepticism for academia has been temporarily removed. They say:-

“All available academic research has long shown that married couples are better off and healthier than others, and that their children too are healthier and do better at school.”

All well and good, but if the Mail truly believes that marriage makes you happy, isn’t it rather cruel of them to support an anti-gay marriage campaign and deny that happiness to a group of people?

A lot of anti-gay people have come out of the woodwork since David Cameron announced his support for same-sex marriage. One tolerant Tory MP branded the idea “nuts” during a rant in the Commons. Meanwhile, celebrity reality show star Ann Widdecombe wants the proposal to be put out to a referendum – because letting the majority vote on the rights of a minority is always a splendid idea.

It’s important not to let these voices dominate the debate. At the very least, please sign the anti-anti-gay petition at Campaign for Equal Marriage (and then follow them on Twitter). Even better, watch out for the launch of the consultation and voice your support.

10th December 2011

Euro-n your own
Posted by at 10.15am | Politics | No responses

So a new EU accord has been reached and the only member not interested in supporting it is, er.. us. Thanks to Dave, Britain has been left isolated. As the Guardian succinctly puts it: The two-speed Europe is here, with UK alone in the slow lane.

Cameron says the deal wasn’t in “Britain’s best interests”. It certainly wasn’t in the best interests of Dave’s political career – his decision appears to be squarely about pandering to the Tory right and the Daily Mail.

There’s a debate to be had on Europe and Britain’s role in it. There are plenty of ways in which the EU could and should be reformed. Unfortunately it’s quite impossible to have a sensible discussion when the country is run by a party of little Englanders and the popular press is full of exaggerated and just plain made-up scare stories about “Barmy Brussels Bureaucrats”. Any debate would be strangled at birth by daft comments about straight bananas and butter mountains.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg (remember him?) — a leader of a supposedly pro-Europe party, continues to back the Prime Minister. Is there anything I can do, even as a meaningless symbolic gesture, to retract my LibDem vote in the May 2010 elections?