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Frostie Ban Contingency Plan!

By Sara Scarlett
January 5th, 2013 at 10:22 am | 2 Comments | Posted in Civil Liberties, Culture, Lifestyle Products, Nannying

How to avoid being affected by the Frosties ban.

Step 1: Buy Cornflakes. Available from pretty much every local grocery store and Supermarket.

Step 2: Buy Sugar. Also available from pretty much every local grocery store and Supermarket.

Step 3: Put Cornflakes in a bowl.

Step 4: Using a spoon, apply sugar to Cornflakes to taste.

Step 5: Consume.

Don’t tell Nanny…

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Just what do we mean by ‘media plurality’?

By Leslie Clark
July 11th, 2011 at 2:08 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in BBC, Culture

LV has already posted on the quite unbelievable News of the World (1843-2011) closure. It goes without saying that I also found the paper’s phone hacking activities to be abhorrent and beneath contempt. I won’t mourn its passing.

Notwithstanding what has already been said here and elsewhere, I feel that most of the wall-to-wall coverage has been motivated as much out of moral revulsion over the latest allegations as just another opportunity to berate the evil omnipotent figure of Rupert Murdoch for what he is and what he stands for. To borrow a phrase from the Labour frontbench on the nature of government cuts, it’s ideologically driven.

Take for instance Lord Puttnam’s article yesterday in The Observer. The Labour peer believes that Murdoch has become too powerful to the extent our harming our democracy and should be prevented from creating a “licensed monopoly” through completion of the BSkyB deal. Is Murdoch’s empire really that much of a colossus compared to its rivals?

In one respect, it is. Puttnam draws attention to the disparity of income between Sky and the BBC: “In 1997, BSkyB had revenues of £1.72bn, or 63% of the then BBC licence fee income. In the most recent year for which accurate figures are available, Sky’s turnover was £5.9bn or 163% that of the BBC.”

It should be remembered that the total income of the BBC is of course much more than that raised by the license fee alone, standing at £4.79bn according to recent figures.

However, what Puttnam neglected to mention is that the BBC’s income is assured vis-à-vis the license fee (translation: a de-facto universal and inegalitarian tax) whereas Sky’s income is not (subscriptions will doubtless be affected by squeezes on household income or any future reduction in TV advertising by firms).

Please don’t read this as some Mailygraph style rant against the Beeb. Unlike Charles Moore who dedicated his weekly Spectator Diary column as a crusade against the BBC, this will be the last time I post about it. That’s a promise. I value a great deal of the BBC’s output but it is the element of compulsion I’m uneasy with: if you want a telly, you’ve got to pay your TV license or face prosecution. Conversely, nobody is compelled into buying a Sky subscription package.

Moreover, if one compares another set of figures relating to total news consumption, the BBC is dominant by a country mile – 39.3% compared to the 22% combined figure for News Corp and Sky.

So who’s the most powerful and influential now, eh? Is the BBC not a threat to plurality?

If Lord Puttnam is so concerned with licensed monopolies and plurality, why is he not calling for the break-up of the BBC? If he’s so concerned about the “Stasi activities” on behalf of the NOTW, then he should also attack Google (so far, he’s only whinged about them not paying tax). I find it hard to believe that News International have been afforded the same level of government contact as Google has had in recent times.

Or, is this just another case of a politician obsessing about Murdoch’s apparent supernatural powers of political puppetry, influencing the masses to vote accordingly? Labour still can’t be smarting from The Sun’s infamous 1992 front page (not to mention their most recent political defection away from their party), surely? Murdoch backs winners. It is that simple. The only party that hasn’t demeaned themselves by Murdoch derriére-licking has been the Liberal Democrats. Hello self-righteous moral highground, we’ve missed you!

For many like Lord Puttnam, ‘media plurality’ simply means the retention, if not extension, of the BBC monopoly coupled with the ostracism and marginalisation of any news medium that does not conform to their worldview.

NOTW closing – right or wrong?

By Angela Harbutt
July 8th, 2011 at 10:23 pm | 4 Comments | Posted in Culture

It is both amusing and inevitable that the closing of the News of the World has provked outrage from so many quarters. To hear some of the comments being made on TV and radio in the last 36 hours you would have thought that this was the pinnacle of British Journalism being shut down – not a gossip-filled rag, piled high with accusation, salacious tidbits and blurry photos of pop stars knickers as they scramble from car to club. Personally I can’t see the problem with shutting it down.

I took part in a discussion on this topic yesterday afternoon on BBC World Service. I was thoroughly amused to here old tired hacks and media luvvies berating Murdoch for the closing of the paper. As far as they were concerned, looking down  from their whiter than white ivory towers, all those working at the NOTW today were not involved in the original crimes so why should they be punished? The NOTW was a fine upstanding newspaper with a proud tradition that had been cast aside by the evil media baron. 200 jobs had been sacrificed to save the jobs of a few. One poor NOTW journalist we were told had only just had a baby and had a mortgage to pay – it was all soooo unfair.

What utter rot. The truth is that following the recent revelations regarding the hacking of Milly Dowler’s phone and the phones of 7/7 victims and families etc there was a huge outcry from all quarters. The media went on an anti NOTW spree – they could not write enough, or talk about more, or dedicate sufficient phone-in time to the multiple despicable outrages of the NOTW. Politicians were typically and universally appalled and outraged at the whole affair, demanding public inquiries that could not come soon enough or as far as they were concerned. Advertisers were falling over themselves to be the next one to say – we are out – to disassociate themselves from such a toxic brand. And most importantly came the “public outcry”. Caller after caller and tweet after tweet cried out for a boycott  of the paper, demanded that it be shut, pleaded with the nation to “send Murdoch a message”. Well Rupert Murdoch got the message.

No matter what the intentions of those on social media and elsewhere – their actions made NOTW brand toxic. To hear some of the very same tweeters then pop up on radio this morning saying the closure was not what they wanted was utterly priceless. Beware of unintended consequences my friends.

So was the closing of NOTW right or wrong? Right. Of course. Had Rupert Murdoch taken no action he risked the toxicity extending to other parts of his business. It still might.  He may very well have been facing future job cuts and closures of 2000 jobs not just the current 200, had this been allowed to fester and grow. He still might. I have heard his actions described as cynical. But those cries are from luvvies in their towers who have never run an organisation of any scale. This was an act of necessity. Murdoch’s genius was to do it so quickly and so effectively. Too many leaders would have left it a while, to “see what happened”. That is simply ceding control of the situation- to become the victim of unfolding circumstances. That is no way for a leader (be it of a business or a political party for that matter) to behave. What we have seen is a masterclass in Management Crisis – pure and simple.

It is also with amusement I see that those same politicos and tired old hacks - having criticised Murdoch so profoundly about the closure of the NOTW - are now rounding on him for the expected extension of  the Sun newspaper to 7 days a week. And what I ask is wrong with that? A business man may have found a way of  softening the blows of a deeply damaging crisis with some minor positive outcomes. Give that man another gold star.  

Of course , if some of the NOTW staff are subsequently employed by “The Sun on Sunday” we will hear further outcry. If they aren’t employed – and others are – that too will provoke outcry. The luvvies actually want the NOTW staff to be martyrs to the luvvies cause of Murdoch destruction and to hell with anyone caught up in the middle.

It is clear to me that Murdoch was not only right to shut the NOTW, in truth he had no option but to close it. Given the choice he would obviously much rather none of this had happened (the idea that he somehow orchestrated the inquiry in order to find an excuse to close the paper is up there with the Royal family murdering Diana). He will still find the whole affair permanently damaging. Bskyb shares dropped again today.  His friend and allay Rebekah Brooks will almost certainly have to be cut loose one way or another, his son may well face criminal charges, News International prized relationship with UK politicians has been checked if not permanently halted and his quest to take over BSKYB has taken a considerable step backwards if not been totally scuppered.

What is clear, and of interest to the freemarketers, is that Market mechanisms did in just a few days what no Government or inquiry could have achieved in months or years, if ever. It shut down an immoral and illegal miserable newspaper. Murdoch may have wielded the knife, but NOTW was already dead.

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Smoking, Freedom and all things (ob)noxiouxs

By Tom Papworth
June 28th, 2011 at 8:58 am | 39 Comments | Posted in Culture, drugs, freedom, health, Nannying, Personal Freedom

Last week, Angela kicked off a firestorm with her article about abuse of public money by Action on Smoking and Health, the anti-tobacco pressure-group.

Now, Liberal Vision does not need to dwell on tobacco regulation. There are countless infringements on individual liberty out there to discuss, and we don’t want to develop some single-issue hobby-horse. But tobacco regulation is a good proxy for plenty of other government interventions, and the activities of the anti-smoking lobby are echoed by paternalists in other parts of the public health establishment and beyond. It is therefore worth teasing out some of the issues that tobacco regulation raises so that we can better understand liberty in general.

It seems to make sense to begin with a comment from Martin: “Why on earth is [Angela’s] article listed under ‘Personal Freedom’?”. Martin argues that:

Smoking harms human health, as does secondary smoking… Poisoning other people irrespective of their wishes makes an absolute travesty of the term ‘personal freedom’. A more appropriate article tag would be ‘Blinkered Self-Interest’.

Much to the chagrin of some libertarians, it is a fair question and it deserves a response. It is also not enough to deny the effects of second hand smoke: whether or not you question the belief that evidence of the dangers of passive smoking is conclusive, it is clear that the evidence is not conclusive that it is not dangerous. Furthermore, it is smelly and unpleasant for many non-smokers and so some form of negative externality results even if the health one does not.

Having said that, I do believe that this is a matter of personal freedom, and I hope to explain why.

In a follow-up email to Angela, Martin explained why he felt that smoking was not a matter of personal freedom or one compatible with liberalism:

Liberalism has always been about personal freedoms that should only extend up to the point before they start to harm others…. you are bastardising the central plank of liberalism by linking the slow poisoning of others with some sort of human right.

The first point is clearly a reformulation of a sound principle, best captured by Oliver Wendell Holmes when he said that “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” However, this must surely be situational: if Holmes is already swinging his fists about when Martin walks up to him, and Holmes therefore breaks Martin’s nose, it is Martin who has invaded Holmes’s personal space and responsibility rests with Martin for the pain he has suffered. Similarly, if Angela is sitting on a bench enjoying a cigarette and Martin comes and sits alongside her, it is Martin, not Angela, who is responsible for any perceived aesthetic or medical consequence. The alternative would be either to ban Angela from smoking altogether (which is the response taken by ASH and the government in banning smoking in many areas) or to empower Martin to force her to stub out every time he approached her.

Of course, it is not simply enough to say “s/he who arrives first gets to decide” (though that is exactly the approach that has traditionally been taken to ownership of resources). Martin may not have to sit next to Angela on the bench, but he may have to sit next to her in a train or a pub. So who should arbitrate in this case?

ASH clearly believes that this is the role of government – which it has encouraged to ban smoking in just about any venue where two strangers might meet indoors. However, it is that which is at odd with liberalism; not the “slow poisoning of others.” This is my second point: that ultimately, the right to decide what takes place in any locale should be at the discretion of the owner of that property. (A unhelpful and circular argument results from adding “as long as the activity is legal” which encourages paternalists to point out that the government can make it illegal on private property, which is true but not liberal. It’s a long-winded diversion, however. Read The Constitution of Liberty if it is troubling you).

Imagine Angela, Martin and I are on Come Dine With Me. When we all go to Martin’s house, he is entitled to tell Angela that she cannot smoke anywhere on the premises. At my house, I might say that it’s up to them whether they smoke, or that they can smoke, but only in the garden. When we visit Angela, she is within her rights to say that we are only allowed in her house if we smoke. Martin will refuse to enter Angela’s house – and mine if I let Angela smoke at the dinner table – and similarly Angela may refuse to set foot in Martin’s. That’s fine. It’s their house; they make the rules.

Why is a restaurant different from a house? Why is a taxi different? Or a pub (which, despite it’s unfortunate name, is a private, and not a public, space)? The answer is that there is no difference. It should be up to the restaurateur, the taxi driver and the publican to set the rules.

Anti-smokers usually fear that this will result in a free-for-all with smoking everywhere. This is unlikely. Truly “public” (or quasi-public) spaces, those run or regulated by public bodies, would undoubtedly remain smoke free. As for the rest, it is unlikely that they would all now revert to allowing smoking: non-smokers like smoke-free spaces, and there are costs to cleaning up after smokers. However, if the balance tipped too far towards smoking establishments, this could be managed by a licensing system: taxi licences would either forbid smoking or regulate the number of smoking cabs; local authorities could license smoking as they do on- and off-licence sales of alcohol. This still undermines property rights, but it is a better solution than the current blanket provision. Why, after all, can the members of a private club that centres around the enjoyment of cigars not smoke in their clubhouse?

The third point, then, must address what is often portrayed as both the main argument and the one hardest to refute – though ASH admitted it was in fact merely a tactical ploy – which is that something must be done to protect the health of workers. This, again, is a property rights issue: every man has a property in his own person, and is able to make an informed decision as to the costs and benefits of any employment. The idea that no person should be allowed to take employment that carries a risk is absurd. Instead, the risks should be made clear and individuals should be free to determine the balance for themselves. If people are able to evaluate the risks of going to war or space, of running into burning buildings or driving 40 tonne trucks across a thin layer of ice above the Arctic Ocean, they are presumably able to evaluate the risks, and the potential rewards, in terms of wage premiums, higher overall levels of employment, and so forth.

Some might not mind working in a smoky bar; some might actively enjoy it; and some might value the extra income more than they fear the health risks. But it is their choice to make. They do not need ASH or the government taking decisions for them. It is that removal of individual choice, discretion and responsibility that is “bastardising the central plank of liberalism”.

BBC saves ungrateful nation

By Andy Mayer
December 3rd, 2010 at 1:19 am | 5 Comments | Posted in Crime, Culture

If a group of international financiers got together and set up a competition to host their four yearly contest between rival national teams of currency traders you might get something of an approximation to the wealth and power of FIFA, without the glamour of the World Cup.

We would find it quite odd should the Prime Minister, heir apparent, and his gym instructor cancel their appointments to lobby the governing body, particularly if several members were facing serious fraud allegations.

We would be entirely aghast to learn further that for the privilege of hosting this contest various national laws would be suspended, in secret, to protect the organisers from scrutiny and tax. We would treat the BBC documentary that exposed these problems as a welcome service from our free press.

Were we fans of the finer points of currency trading, the magic of extraordinary rewards from very marginal differences in ability and luck, we might be a bit grumpy. I suspect though we would not be calling for a Parliamentary Inquiry into the English bid as Labour’s Ivan Lewis has done, other than to ask why on earth the PM was involved in lobbying a cartel for a light entertainment opportunity.

Better surely to spend his time looking at what barriers there are to attracting more diverse international investment in the UK business environment? Less of a PR opportunity maybe, unless of course the BBC do a documentary about it.