Sky buy into ITV

The news has done the rounds already (I’ve had a busy few days), but I thought I’d comment on Sky’s £1bn ITV share-swoop.

Just like Ryanair’s bid for Aer Lingus, most people seem to have been taken by surprise by the bid, however in hindsight it’s something people really should have expected. With all the talk of an ITV/NTL UK merger, and the media giant that would create, it seems silly to think that BSkyB would have sat back and allowed a serious contender to emerge without doing something to thwart it’s progress.

Unlike the Ryanair/Aer Lingus bid, however, BSkyB has said it doesn’t plan on launching takeover proceedings (possibly because such an acquisition would almost certainly be blocked by competition authorities anyway). That said in both instances the aggressors will benefit from being a very vocal shareholder with a large minority interest (which seems to be the intention of BSkyB but simply an acceptable Plan B for Michael O’Leary).

So will this ruin NTL’s (or should I say Virgin Media’s) aspirations to become a multi-platform player on the same level as BSkyB? Well no, but it does mean that there are 17.9% fewer free-flowing shares on the market for them to snap up, which means that 1) their price offering may need to rise somewhat and 2) they may now have to push certain shareholders harder whom have no intention of selling up.

For us humble viewers, however, it just makes the whole thing far more interesting. With Sky trying to get into ITV to make the network as unappealing as possible and rival bids coming in thick and fast for the station, it’s future is far from certain; although there has been little certain about the channels in recent months anyway.
Of course media consolidation can generally be seen as a negative thing; it’s not an ideal situation to have one owner for both the broadcasting platform and the broadcaster, anyway. That said it isn’t entirely unappealing to have two media giants in the same market in Britain; it’s arguably better than just one (although the cure can rarely be found in the cause).

But what does this mean for Ireland? Well awfully little, I imagine. NTL as we know it has next-to-nothing in common with it’s UK namesake (with the one remaining similarity, the name, about to change on both sides soon). UTV, which is the “third channel” broadcaster for Northern Ireland is also completely independent from ITV plc, as is TV3 since it’s recent sale to Doughty Hanson. BSkyB is, in fact, the only player in this whole saga that has any involvement in the Irish market and even at that it’s current posturing is very unlikely to mean anything at all to customers here.

But as they say, it’s still all to play for and the British media landscape seems to be facing some major changes in the next year.

Vote (Clarke) or die

That’s not a threat, or something hip and cool that some rapper might use as a brainless slogan to seem thoughtful, it’s a full-blown fact that has been proven through genuine scientific research (like the kind conducted by religions and Scientology… they even have it in their name, so the results must be reliable).
Test conducted by the world’s leading testers showed that those who failed to vote for Michael O’Connor Clarke in the Canadian Blog Awards had absolutely no chance of survival, and were certain to die in the short to long-term future as a result of any number of horrific (or otherwise) causes*.

So if you like living, I’d suggest you take every step possible to improve your chances of escaping an otherwise certain demise.

*Voters are not guaranteed complete survival; no refunds.

NoComment: National Security

“The Department [of Justice] does not comment on security matters.”

- Department of Justice spokesperson speaking to RTÉ News on 14th November 2006, in response to comments made by Muslim cleric Omar Bakri where he called for an attack on Shannon Airport. (link – Realplayer file)

“I have been authoritatively advised that it is my legal right and constitutional duty to make public information which is given to me in my role as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform by the Garda Síochána acting as one of the intelligence services of the State when, in my judgment, the public interest so requires. My legal authority for disclosing information in such circumstances is clearly set out in section 4 of the Official Secrets Act 1963.”

- Minister for Justice Michael McDowell, speaking in Dáil Éireann on the 13th of December 2005, defending his decision to leak information to The Irish Independent newspaper. Mr. McDowell stated that it was his constitutional duty as Minister to report publicly on issues of national security. (link)

Ireland.com relaunch

I may not be first off the block, but The Irish Times website will receive a pretty impressive overhaul as of tomorrow, with big changes and improvements on the way (despite the lack of blogs!).

Besides the design changes, which seem to make navigation that little bit easier, their Breaking News service will become free, RSS will be incorporated at a deeper level and video footage will also be used (something that has become quite common across the sea).

Sadly articles from the newspaper itself are still paid-only, although they are at least offering the first paragraph for free (one paragraph at a time, says you).

I’m disappointed that there’s no sign of a blog-element, but that’s not to say it isn’t coming, and I’m still confident that it will happen in the near future. I’d be surprised if the new site wasn’t designed with additional offerings in mind, anyway.

Generally speaking it’s great news for online news in Ireland; The Irish Times website has always been the best going, and only suffered from it’s subscription-based offerings… now it has even greater potential to compete with it’s International alternatives. I look forward to giving it a test-drive tomorrow.

As a whole the world of online news in Ireland seems to be shaping up pretty nicely; besides Ireland.com, the new RTE.ie is due to be unveiled soon while Damien notes some rumblings at Village.ie and I personally know of one other publication that’s preparing for big changes very soon. Finally, we’re getting somewhere!

Return of the Santa Strike Force

Tom Murphy (aka DeVore of boards.ie) has just announced this years Santa Strike Force appeal.
The idea came about in 2004 when Murphy gathered together donations (mainly from boards.ie users), bought presents (good ones) for kids spending Christmas in hospital and care-centres and then covertly dropped them off at various locations around the country. Since the initial appeal the concept has grown into a full-blown operation, with €7,000 being raised last year through donations, sponsorships, events, gigs and auctions… not a bad amount considering that it only runs for about 1 month of the year).

So the 2006 appeal is up and running, check out the website or forum for more information and to get involved, and those of you on boards.ie are bound to notice some interesting fundraising techniques being implemented in the coming weeks (and if you don’t, suggest one yourself).

The Irish poppy

There’s been an interesting debate in the UK over the use of the poppy by newscasters and TV presenters.

Amidst the whole discussion I got thinking; why is the poppy such a rarity in Ireland? As we were reminded at this years commemoration of the Battle of the Somme, Ireland has lost many men in the two World Wars and yet there is no obvious sign of a public willing to remember them (but that’s not to suggest that we need to wear a badge to remember people).
I have just posted these thoughts on Boards.ie’s Politics forum, and there seems to be the notion that the poppy is a British thing, but while it is sold by the Royal British Legion for British servicemen/women they do not hold domain over the idea.
With the official commemoration of the Battle of the Somme, we as a country seemed to move on just a little bit. We’re no longer ignoring the fact that Irishmen fought alongside the British against a common enemy (with many doing so in the belief that it would further the Nationalist agenda). So why no poppies?

I’m not suggesting the RBL come to Ireland to sell the poppy, all proceeds of which will quickly leave the country again, I’m asking why no Irish organisation for Irish veterans, servicemen and servicewomen has not been set up to do the equivalent over here?
The poppy seems to be quite a charged symbol here, but that’s more through public perception than the original intention of the gesture, and I think it’s another wall we as a country should be ready to overcome.

Britain and the RBL don’t have exclusive rights over commemorating the dead and I doubt anyone would try to claim otherwise, it just seems that many Irish have assumed that they do. The red poppy is just as fitting to remember the Irish as it is the French, German, British, American etc. etc. from any and all wars.
I hope that soon the country as a whole will finally get over the fact that we do share a lot in common with Britain, but that in itself doesn’t make us any less Irish. As it stands I can’t help but get the feeling that many Irish people see the poppy as a symbol of British imperialism rather what it’s actually about; remembering the heroes.

Edit: Just in relation to a comment made by Keith and the links he provided; as I said in the comments, it still seems to me that the poppy could be used by an Irish organisation, distinct from the RBL, to commemorate Irish soldiers of the World Wars or of any war… either way I do think it’s a shame that we lack such a symbol, even if it isn’t a red poppy.

Edit 2: As the discussion develops over on boards.ie, it strikes me that people simply see the red poppy as a British thing, and even though it could be used by an Irish organisation in an Irish context, it would not be accepted… I still cannot understand why no symbol exists to remember the Irish who have fought and died around the world; and perhaps the Easter Lily is the option with the most potential as we go into the future… of course it would need to be taken back from those who claim it now and de-politicised and who knows if that would or could happen.

Tuppenceworth’s Paper Round

Tuppenceworth Blog is pitching an interesting media experiment to the people of Ireland; a weekend-long analysis of Irish newspapers by the general public. The aim? To try and gauge the state of Ireland’s press; is it accurate, is it coherent and is it relevant to the wider world.

Check out the blog post for more, and give your support if you’re interested.

The outcome of this experiment is certainly something I’d be keen to see; naturally the state of the Irish media is important to me and my chosen career path and I already have my own opinions regarding the state of the industry at present (ones I’ve mentioned before and will discuss again soon) but it would be especially interesting to see what kind of journalism people see as readable, what topics they are turned on and off by and how accurate they think various newspapers are.

Are the Irish Times going to start blogging soon?

I’ve spoken ad-nauseum on the idea of Irish newspapers blogging in the past. The print media in Ireland is way behind its European and American counterparts in terms of web-access, not to mention “new media” like blogging, podcasting etc.

However, I’m optimistic that things may change some time soon, and recent minor details have led me to believe that The Irish Times is on the verge of doing something serious in the world of blogging.

The Irish Times has shown plenty of curiosity towards the world of blogging already; it gave coverage to this year’s Blog Awards and the recent Blog Conference, in fact my first nationally-published article was on political blogs in that newspaper.

Moving forward from that, today’s Features section has a nice little rundown on what blogging is and why it exists (subs req.), giving reference to some of Ireland’s more notable bloggers and blog events.
Also, Ireland.com are sponsors of the Best Blogger award at the Net Visionaries, something which surely cost them a few quid and which highlights some degree of interest in the hobby.

Of course neither of these things are indicative of a shift within the Young Lady of Tara Street, but it certainly shows that The Irish Times Ltd. is paying close attention to the blog scene in this country. The company is certainly interested in all things online, anyway, with its purchase of MyHome.ie in recent months and its apparently interest in other web-based companies in the country.

The newspaper certainly seems keen to introduce the whole concept to its readers and perhaps spark some interest amongst a more traditional audience. Another example being that I was asked to write an opinion piece for The Irish Times on blogging a few months back; at first to detail the fact that blogging would never overtake the traditional media, however I re-drafted it to talk about the benefits blogging has to newspapers and tv/radio stations, instead of it being some phantom threat.

Frankly I’m not sure why it hasn’t been printed and I don’t say that with an element of arrogance because I honestly don’t know. Maybe it wasn’t up to scratch or offered nothing new, maybe they liked it but just can’t justify publishing it or maybe they’re putting it off so they can give it a whole page to itself, which it surely deserves (!).

What was interesting about it, though, was that the editor I spoke to seemed honestly interested in the whole concept, hence his request to me (after reading this blog, no less). Unfortunately I’ve yet to get an explanation as to why it never got aired in public, but the initial curiosity was a good thing at least.

From what I understand one newspaper (and not the SBP) is due to push itself into the realm of the blog (or at least a vastly improved web-presence) in the not-to-distant future so either way, even if The Irish Times isn’t already planning it’s next step, it should probably start now or look outdated very quickly.

Keep on moving

Well I’ve just finished up an extended stay at the Sunday Business Post (as you may recall it was originally for a month but I was asked to do a few extra weeks).

Simply put the stint has been absolutely brilliant for me; the experience of working in an actual newspaper is priceless, I was given real work to do and treated like any other member of staff (while being given a little wiggle room at time in terms of the odd mistake!) and the staff there were brilliant, friendly and just plain nice.

I’ll talk about the whole thing further at another time (hopefully during the week) but I’ll quickly say that despite my initial nerves about going in it is easily the best experience I’ve had to date.

So what now? Well a few weeks at the Village magazine, starting tomorrow… keep on moving.
I’m not sure what to expect at all, but it should be interesting. Fingers crossed I’ll be given the chance to get stuck in (and I get the impression I will), and given that it’s a politically-focused publication, it’ll certainly offer a fresh challenge and perspective on things.

(I must learn to stop neglecting this blog; I promise to be more attentive from this week!)

So you want to go base-juming (SBP – 5th November 2006)

An article of mine from the Agenda section of today’s Sunday Business Post (direct link):

What it is: An extreme parachute jump from any fixed object that falls under the four BASE categories as follows: B for building, A for antenna, S for span (bridge, arch or dome) and E for earth (any natural formation). When a jumper completes a jump from each of the four categories of objects, they may choose to apply for a ‘base number’, awarded sequentially.

What it isn’t: Sky-diving without a plane.

What it entails: Not for the faint-hearted, base jumping involves jumping from structures and cliffs of minimal heights – usually from as little as a few hundred feet. A sky-diver, on the other hand, typically begins their descent at 12,000ft,with a freefall of about 30 seconds before the parachute opens around 5,500 feet.
One of the first recorded base jumps was undertaken in 1912 when Frederick Law jumped from the Statue of Liberty in New York. A recent jump by French base jumper Cedric Dumont from the Kippure antenna in the Wicklow mountains, however, was from just 110ft.

Due to its extremely dangerous nature, base jumping is not considered a beginner adventure sport but rather for seasoned sky-divers seeking a greater challenge.

The short fall incurs additional dangers such as avoiding surrounding structures.

The lack of time available during the jump leaves little room for error and quick reactions are vital. There has been a number of fatalities in the pursuit of this sport.

Where to do it: Real aficionados head to the base jumpers’ Mecca – Norway – but Ireland presents plenty of opportunities for base jumping.

However, legal issues must first be dealt with, such as gaining permission to use the object that is being jumped, and the area used for landing. Base jumpers follow an ethical code which stipulates that every effort should be made to respect and prevent damage to the property on which the jump takes place.

What you need: A parachute, but not any old parachute.

Base jumping requires speedy deployment of a base parachute which is designed to open quickly at low airspeeds and has a specially designed canopy.

Jumpers use specially designed harnesses and parachute containers, with extra large pilot chutes, and jump with only one parachute because, with a total freefall time of less than ten seconds, there is no time to use a reserve parachute.

Standard safety equipment is also par for the course, while additional equipment such as climbing aids may be required to access an awkward jump site.

What they say: ‘‘Ouch. I don’t think I’ll be trying that again.” – Cedric Dumont after jumping from the West Link toll bridge in Dublin.

Who to contact: Irish-owned and Madrid-based company Freefall University offers a conversion course for sky-divers looking to make the move to base jumping. The intense one-month course can be done in one or two parts.

Students are gradually eased into the art of base jumping, such as making the right exit and the all important landing.

Freefall University can be reached at 01-4361827 or www.freefalluniversity.co.uk