Sunday, July 17, 2011

Power tends to corrupt...

...the first part of Lord Acton's often repeated saying which he made back in the eighteen eighties.

It's very relevant to the momentous events going on in the UK surrounding Rupert Murdoch's brand of 'journalism' I would say.

Another saying that springs to mind is 'one law for the rich, one for the poor', but this time it's happening in reverse from the usual meaning.

The hypocrisy of the general public is never more evident than in the Murdoch saga.

He's made his squillons and gained his power & influence by feeding the public obsession with gossip and personal details about people's private lives, the more dirt-raking the better. His papers are as downmarket as you can get, with even the once internationally respected The Times and Sunday Times going on a rapid downward spiral when he took them over.

The public's insatiable appetite for dross gave tabloid rags like The Sun and the News of the World the highest readership in the UK. In Australia it's the same with his tabloids versus the broadsheets. Friends tell me it's the same in India, where he's also building an extension of his empire.

Then the hypocrisy. As long as the gossip and lurid details were about royalty, footballers, politicians and 'celebrities' the illegal means of obtaining the information were not questioned.

But when exactly the same methods were used against ordinary people - an uprising.

It's not the unprofessional, immoral, illegal actions which have caused such outrage. That's been caused by who the victims are this time.

They won't of course, but people should take a long hard look at themselves for accepting illegal practices when they were used against well-known people. That's encouraged the practitioners to see their illegal, immoral actions as normal practice, happily accepted by the public.

Then there's the side to this saga that will be society changing.

When our Rupert bought into the UK's newspaper world he was a breath of fresh air.  He challenged the establishment, as very few did in those days, and broke the print unions which were killing the hand that fed them. (I had personal experience of them when I worked in London ad agencies).

But as his influence with the public - read voters - increased so did his interference in politics. Now there is evidence not only of his power to influence the highest levels of government but of his organisation's illegal activity in phone hacking, fraudulently obtaining personal information ('blagging') and bribery of police.

The mutual back-scratching of News Corp., politicians and the police isn't new but it's reached new depths.

No-one knows how much more there is to discover. Was it confined to the now thankfully defunct News of the World? (Always a dreadful example of tabloid 'journalism'). Was it even confined to the UK? The FBI in the US is looking into alleged breaches of US law. Here in Australia, where his empire began and where he owns nearly two thirds of our big city newspapers, MPs are calling for an inquiry into media regulation.

This time News Corp won't be able to sweep it under the carpet as they did earlier, sacrificing a couple of, albiet guilty, fall guys. I've always maintained that the culture of an organisation is set at the very top. Underlings do what they believe the boss will be happy with, often what the boss indicates he'll be happy with.

To make matter worse, far from making a couple of minor mistakes in handling the crisis, as Murdoch told the (his) Wall Street Journal they'd done, he's made uncharacteristically massive errors. I suspect the years of increasing power and influence have made him overconfident about what he can get away with. But arrogance and treating people with disdain aren't cutting it any more.

It needed an immediate admission that the practices were totally unacceptable. An immediate apology and promise that he was on his way to sort it out and hold those responsible, right to the top, to account. An urgent personal apology to the family of the murdered teenager Milly Dowler, the hacking of whose phone started the public outrage.

He should not have refused to attend the parliamentary hearing - a bad decision since reversed only as he realised the severity of the storm and threats of a summons to appear were made.

He should have immediately dropped his bid to buy the whole of BSkyB, 'pending the outcome of the current investigations'. Instead he tried to remove it from the political arena by having it referred to the competion watchdog, then had to withdraw the bid anyway. Calls are now being made to consider whether News should be allowed to retain its existing 39% holding.

All in all, mistake piled on mistake. As I said, out of character and massively damaging to the empire. Perhaps even fatal to it in its present form.

It will certainly lead in the UK to a formal distancing between media proprietors and politicians and between the media and police. Perhaps a new media regulator, maybe no more self regulation. More attention will be paid to the meaning of a 'fit and proper' person in relation to media owners. Quite possibly stronger regulations about the percentage of media one person can control.

Very senior people are going to be held responsible for their actions and lose their jobs - instead of the usual platitude of  'I take full responsibility' with absolutely nothing happening thereafter.

And much more transparency all round.

The results of all this may well be felt in other countries, including Australia, which could also end up with changes relating to media.

It's a big, big story which will run for a while yet, with more sensational revelations to come I'm sure.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hot & cold

The weather here in Dubai is very different from Terrigal at the moment.

Friends tell me it staggered up to 12C in Terrigal, while here the top today is set to reach 45C.

That's in the shade of course, as temps are measured internationally, so out in the sun it'll be much closer to 50C. The humidity isn't as bad as it usually is in July so as I love the heat for me it's not uncomfortable.

Mind you, you can't spend too much time out and about in fifty degrees.

The big problem we've been having is the sand and dust. For the past couple of weeks the conditions have conspired to give us air we have to eat rather than breathe.

The world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa, has been looking like this:

Photo: Karen Dias Gulf News

The forecaster today added that "skies are beginning to clear". I hope they're right, thick dusty air is the absolute worst condition in my opinion.

By the way, my friends also told me a bloody cockatoo has been stealing all the oranges from the tree in my backyard back in Terrigal. A small tree, it had something over thirty oranges which were ripening nicely. The cockie obviously knew when they were ready and has been taking them so I've told my friends to go and get the rest for themselves.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

A doddle

I'm getting the paperwork sorted out for the move back to Oz and I did the car ownership transfer yesterday. I wasn't looking forward to dealings with a government department and its bureaucrats and I was astonished to discover that it was easy, quick and efficient.

There's a Traffic Department nearby. The information desk person directed us to the adjacent Tasjeel facility where, he told us, they would do everything.

Both buyer and seller have to go together and the car has to be re-tested and re-registered, regardless of how recently it was last done.

I paid AED150 ($37) for Express 'Drive Thru' Service and it was well worth it. We parked the car and sat in the air-conditioned office while someone took the car, jumped the queue, put it on the test bed and did whatever was necessary. Ten minutes later the car was driven back to the office.

Meanwhile we handed over insurance policies (the buyer has to be insured before the transaction can take place), copies of our passports including the residence visa page, driving licences, the existing registration card. Completed a simple one sheet form with basic information about the two people and the vehicle. Paid the fees.

That's it. Ten minutes later we were handed all the receipts, the buyer was given the new rego card. Done

It was one of the simplest transactions I've ever had with a government department anywhere.

One interesting fact. The whole transaction was done in English even though we're in an arabic country and the officer was a local Emirati. Can you imagine the uproar if in somewhere like Australia our dealings with a government department had to be carried out in a language other than English? The Emiratis take it with good grace and humour.

It is, incidentally, a reflection of one of the things I particularly like about Dubai, it's truly international. Emiratis make up only about 15% of the total population and the other 85% is from just about every country on the planet. Fortunately we have a common language, English, with which to communicate.

Monday, July 04, 2011

The move is fixed

The move back to Terrigal from Dubai is fixed.

The container with our belongings has left the huge Port Jebel Ali, forty or so kilometres outside Dubai, and the flight's booked for mid-August.

We've added a few things, especially clothing of course, to what we shipped from Oz to Dubai back in 2005, but not a huge amount. Most of the container is stuff simply being returned. A lounge suite, replacing the one we sold before we left Oz, and a new bed plus few bits of china, some artwork and that's about it for the new stuff.

We're using Allied Pickfords to ship our belongings. The Filipino guys who came to do the actual packing were great but I haven't been impressed with the company's admin/paperwork so far. It's been the usual inefficiencies so many companies are guilty of, with delays caused because files were not passed on to the next person in the chain, documents already supplied being being asked for again, the insurance policy not being forwarded to me until I chased it up.

Still, it's now all done and we just have to wait to see how it all turns up at the other end.

We're sort-of camping in the apartment, with just the basics. The kitchen and bathrooms are fully equipped of course and we have a table & chairs, bed, the laptops and a TV. It's comfortable enough for a few weeks.

The process I'm not looking forward to is dealings with the bureaucracy before we can leave.

Firstly I have to transfer the car to the new owner, which involves a visit by both parties to the traffic police. That's planned for the next day or two. I'm not sure what's involved when we get there, it'll be the usual thing here of playing it by ear.

I sponsor Mrs Seabee so I have to cancel her residence visa and reclaim my deposit of AED10,000 ($2,500+). Not something I'm looking forward to, Immigration is usually chaotic, confused, packed. People at each desk tell you something different from the last person you saw, the signs telling you where to queue are often wrong.

One huge improvement the last time I had to go was that they'd insalled a ticket numbering system. You know, take a ticket and go to the designated counter when your number is called.

That replaced absolute bedlam, where it was every man for himself, 'queues' not north-south but east-west, pushing and shoving, shouting and waving papers in the face of the person behind the desk.

I have my fingers crossed that the improvements have continued and it may be a reasonably orderly transaction. My own residence visa cancellation has to be done by my sponsor.

The Terrigal end is reasonably well set up. Our house was leased out for the past five years but we took it over again a few months ago. I've had a couple of visits to get things cleaned and tidied up and while there's still a lot to do - the house needs a complete repaint inside and out and the garden had gone somewhat feral - it's fine to move back into.

We stayed in Dubai much longer than planned. Mrs Seabee got so involved in her job that she wanted to stay longer and although I was ready to come back we compromised as married couples do and did what the wife says.

I'm really looking forward to being back.