Does this constitute false advertising?

I recently predicted that, on word of the 29th Dáil being dissolved, my constituency would become coated in candidate’s posters despite been quite quiet until such a time – I was right. However, something about Fianna Fail’s offerings struck me.

Sure, FF’s 2007 election campaign is centred heavily around Mr. Bertie Ahern, as Harry McGee points out, and I understand that every constituency’s FF candidates has a poster proclaiming them to be part of “Bertie’s Team”.

I also recognise that putting the candidate’s surname first in huge letters and the forename second in tiny letters is a standard practice in election poster mechanics.

But with all that in mind, couldn’t this count somewhat as false advertising?

God forbid anyone here in Dublin North West thinks that Bertie Ahern is running for election in their area. Then again, I’m sure Noel wouldn’t want to pick up votes just because people like his brother and would be quick to correct any such error.

(Oh, and oddly enough I’ve yet to see a poster for either FF Dub. NW candidate, both of whom are sitting TDs, that features their picture – they all have Bertie on them.)

And so it begins

Bertie snuck off to the Aras in the early hours of this morning to request the disolution of the 29th Dáil, which means that the general election campaign is officially on.

Here in Dublin North West, things have been notably quiet up until now, with no billboards (bar the generic FF ones), no door-to-doors and only a handful of leaflets, most of which were your standard “newsletter” types. That’s probably going to change as of now.

Ahern’s stumped for a Thursday vote, unfortunately, but it doesn’t look like he has escaped the airing of controversial claims against him at the Mahon Tribunal’s Quarryvale Module 2 hearings, which start next week (and must end 2 weeks before polling day). Maybe he thinks another slight against his character will give him a well-timed poll boost…

Things should get interesting now, though, with most of the pre-pre-election posturing over and all the pre-election posturing to come. For political junkies such as myself, it should be an interesting month to come.

And then there’s Dáil30 to work on once the country’s Government has been decided!

HDTV trial to start in July (SBP – 28/April/2007)

My article on HDTV in Ireland, from today’s Sunday Business Post:

Ireland’s terrestrial television broadcasters are expected to start a high definition (HD) trial in July as part of the government’s digital terrestrial television pilot.

It is hoped that the trial, details of which have yet to be formalised, will feature content from RTE, TG4 and TV3 and will continue to run until late 2008, when the DTT trial ends.

HDTV offers far greater detail than the traditional broadcasts currently on offer. The majority of new televisions being sold in Ireland are now ‘HD Ready’, however, people hoping to view better quality pictures through them are still limited in their choice.

Currently, only Sky Digital offers a HD package to Irish viewers, while UPC, formerly NTL/Chorus, has merely pledged to launch a similar service at some point in the future.

Besides broadcasting, games consoles such as the Xbox 360 and PS3 use HD as standard, while next-generation DVDs are also HD. However, players for the competing HD formats, Blu-Ray and HD-DVD, can cost anywhere between €700 and €1,400, depending on the make and format.

‘‘RTE is committed to high definition and as time goes by more of our people are preparing to move in that direction,” said John Hunt, director of operations, RTE Television.

‘‘But it takes a huge investment and is not something we want to rush into doing until everything is ready.”

Hunt said that a switch to HD involved an upgrade on every level of production, from the types of cameras used to the way sets are designed.

‘‘There’s also the point of making the move at the right time, when enough people can take advantage of it,” said Hunt. ‘‘There’s no point in us doing this as an elite thing.”

The potential application of HD content is another challenge facing broadcasters. One natural use for the higher standard is in movies and sports programming, something that Sky has already taken advantage of. However, other programming such as news and current affairs would not benefit as much.

Setanta Sports, which recently acquired the rights to nearly half of all English Premiership matches from next season, has said that it will not be moving to HD just yet, but it hopes to be closer to doing so in a year’s time.

‘‘At present we’re focusing most on launching Setanta Sports 1 in Ireland and organising ourselves for the new season and FA Cup,” said the company’s chief executive, Niall Cogley. ‘‘There are also issues of format and ensuring that we don’t invest in something that becomes obsolete.”

Cogley suggested that Setanta could be nearer to broadcasting in HD by the beginning of the 2008/9 season, something that was echoed by Hunt.

‘‘I think the last few months of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 will be the point to look out for,” said Hunt. ‘‘It’s hard to put a definite time frame on things, but with a full DTT service hopefully up and running by then there’ll be more room for HD.”

On Newstalk at 8:45 tonight (UPDATED)

I’ll be featuring on Newstalk’s Sunday newspaper preview, ‘The Lay of the Land’, as part of Fionn Daveport’s Taste programme tonight.

The segment starts at around 8:45 and can be heard on 106-108 FM (depending on your exact whereabouts) or the newstalk website.

Be sure to tune in if you get the chance and let me know what you thought of it afterwards!

UPDATE: Anyone who did listen in may have realised that due to a minor error I didn’t actually take part – not to worry, though, as there were some very capable hands present to do the job!

Pointing out the faults makes it your fault

Via Blogorrah comes a pretty spectacular piece of spin by Bertie Ahern on the issue of e-voting.

Rather than accept that public money was spent on a system that turned out to be lacking a number of core security measures to ensure transparency and legitimacy, he elected to blame the opposition because they “took off on a political exercise getting in a few people from around the world to try and find flaws with it.”

For a start, Fianna Fail are in a position to bash the opposition on a number of issues, but criticising them for demanding accountability at the very heart of our democratic system is not one of them. Secondly the opposition didn’t need to travel the globe to find critics – the commission set up by the Government did enough of that and it was their report that led to the system being canned.

If Ahern had any dignity on the matter he’d admit the technology needs improvement, admit they made a mistake and stop trying to force Ireland to agree with him by playing up to our insecurities.

Time for the world to deal with a real danger

As the eyes of the international community fall squarely on Iran and its nuclear ambitions there is little doubt in the fact that the Islamic Republic is the latest target in the “coalition’s” boundless war on terrorism. However while the US administration and its unwavering allies paint a horrifying picture of a world where Ahmadinejad has the bomb, a more worrying and pertinent threat is continually ignored; a threat that if made a reality would see most of Europe and even the USA in direct danger.

Fear of the influence of religious fundamentalism has been an ever-present reality since the attacks of 11th September 2001. The US policy to deal with this has been to take the battle to the enemy in order to avoid the same on its own land, but while the main thrust of this war on terror has focused on Middle Eastern countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and now Iran there seems to be an unwillingness to deal with a far greater threat that is far closer to home. World leaders such as the USA, the UK and Australia must realise that tackling this threat head-on would have completely unpredictable and likely devastating consequences, however the longer it is ignored the more potential it has to endanger lives. The particular brand of fundamentalism produced by this rouge state is often disregarded or appeased by democratic nations but it is one that holds far more sway than many may realise –sway that it has maintained at varying levels since its inception many decades ago.

Rather than impose sanctions or encourage internal dissent, various Governments have in fact visited the state over the years in an attempt to befriend and appease its leader who controls one of the last absolute dictatorships in the developed world, one which appeared during and lasted past an age of fascism and hatred. This dictator currently holds total legislative, judicial and executive controls over the state and is empowered by an unelected council of religious zealots who pledge obedience to his word. Democratic elections are not permitted.

Like all dictatorships, this one is largely reliant on dangerous propaganda. On a regular basis the leader’s speeches encourage other countries to follow his fundamentalist beliefs and have chillingly declared that the direct influence of his religion is the only way to save humanity; something that many could consider to be a cloaked warning. Under successive unelected dictators the state has viciously opposed all forms of liberalism, the open market and the advancement of new ideas in the wider world and instead calls for a return to more “traditional” and “conservative” times.

Like most fundamentalist states there are strict rules imposed on the population; for example clothing restrictions apply to women and the fairer sex is largely second class to men, with males being the only ones able to obtain positions of authority.

The state also has a huge military presence with every seventh citizen working as a soldier – this can be compared to military powers like the USA where approximately every 100th citizen is a member of the armed forces. What is worth noting is that despite this high military presence the streets are relatively lawless; the state actually enjoys the single highest per capita crime rate in the entire world. In effect the military exists purely to protect the dictatorship and its high-ranking officials, not the population at large.

Despite the seeming lack of interest in the foreign policies of this state amongst other nations, it has the potential to cause massive disruption in the world. Due to its location the acquisition of any short or long term weaponry would pose a grave threat to most of Europe, a fact that might only be realised once it’s too late. More worrying is the reality that countless devoted followers, potential ‘sleeper cells’, exist across the EU, the USA and beyond and it is certain that many of these groups would carry out any act dictated to them by what they consider to be their supreme and spiritual leader. In fact the unaccountable funds raised by these cells, quite possibly through crime, keep this isolationist state economically viable.

So why is the democratic world so reluctant to deal with this great threat like it is dealing with others? Perhaps because they realise the awesome power it holds and the influence it exerts over so many people, almost all of whom operate without surveillance or suspicion, often in broad daylight across the globe. Whatever the reason is, this state has long been a source of fundamentalist teachings and certainly holds more power within Europe than any branch of the Islamic faith and as a result its supporters should be shown nothing but suspicion.

So, with this State’s complete defiance of the most basic of democratic ideals and with more than one billion devout followers across the globe, it’s time the world woke up to this very real threat. It’s time we dealt with the Vatican City for once and for all.

Bloggers debate code of conduct (SBP – 22 April 2007)

An article of mine from today’s Sunday Business Post, featuring comments from Damien Mulley and Tom Raftery.

One of the central figures behind recent calls for a blogger’s ‘code of conduct’, Tim O’Reilly, now says his idea was misguided.

The suggestion, however, has brought focus on the issue of civility online.

Calls for a code of conduct first arose toward the end of March, after developer and former blogger Kathy Sierra blogged about death threats and abuse she had received on her own and other websites.

Sierra, who contacted the police to follow up on the threats, criticised those who had hosted the abuse and decided to retire her own blog as a result.

Both Jimmy Wales, creator of community encyclopedia Wikipedia.org, and O’Reilly, the Cork-born founder of O’Reilly Media, came out in support of Sierra and used her experience as the foundation for a formal code which aimed to root out abuse.
The issue became a hot topic among bloggers, with many media outlets – such as the BBC, the Guardian and the New York Times – quick to pick it up in the following days.

‘‘I think it got a lot of coverage just because it was related to a nasty incident,” said internet strategy consultant Tom Raftery of tomrafteryit.net.

‘‘In general, I’d be against the idea [of a code],but any discussion of it at the moment is badly timed anyway, because all discussions now refer to Kathy Sierra and you can’t have a rational discussion about things like this at times like this.”

The immediate and overwhelming response to the suggestion was a negative one. Many Irish bloggers, including Damien Mulley, organiser of the Irish Blog Awards and owner of Mulley.net, detailed their opposition, saying that it was better to ignore abuse than to react.

Raftery said he believed the suggestion of a code of conduct was well intentioned but never workable, something that O’Reilly seems now to agree with. In a recent interview with Wired Magazine, O’Reilly said: ‘‘I’ve come to think the call for a code of conduct was a bit misguided,” suggesting other routes to remove abuse from online debates.

Even if a universal code of conduct were agreed, it would not change the legal protection that bloggers already have from their respective countries.

‘‘If [comments] are abusive to someone on their blog there’s not much you can do unless it crosses the line into libel or threatening behaviour. Then the law can take over,” said Mulley.

‘‘If they are abusive on your blog, then ban them and delete their comments. The Kathy Sierra thing was beyond lack of civility though. Death threats should be reported to the police, who are best equipped to handle these issues.”

The issue of anonymity has also been a major part of the debate, with the original code calling on bloggers to block anonymous users, as they are the most likely source of abuse. But bloggers have argued that anonymity is not the sole reserve of abusers.

‘‘Anonymity should be respected if it is used for the right reasons,” said Mulley.” The press uses whistleblowers and tipsters, but they will not use or tolerate them if they are only going to be abusive about someone. Same goes in blogs.” But while there has been little appetite among bloggers for a formal code of conduct, Raftery believes most bloggers already adhere to its intention.

‘‘I have a comment policy on my website which states my right to remove defamatory or profane comments and I think it’s a good thing to let readers know the boundaries,” he said.

‘‘People, particularly bloggers, don’t like being told what they can and can’t do and, once people started talking about a code of conduct, it wasn’t going to work. But a lot of those opposed to the idea have their own codes already.”

Raftery gave the example of prominent blogger Shel Israel, who has a ‘living room’ policy, which calls on readers to comment with the same respect they would show if they were sitting in his living room. Issues over abuse and anonymity are not unique to blogging.

Chat rooms and message boards have the same potential to be anonymous and to use that to insult people without any comeback.

‘‘Before the internet and before newspapers, people were writing anonymous graffiti on walls slagging other people off,” said Raftery.” It’s just now they have a new technology that allows them to do it in a different way.“

Ireland.com gives us blog #3

It’s great to see Ireland.com roll out yet another blog on its blog sub-site – Shane Hegarty is the latest into the breech with Present Tense, which is likely to be a blog of the weekly column which shares the same name. A big welcome to Shane!
So far all that features is a repeat of Saturday’s column, previously seen in The Irish Times’ Weekend magazine, but here’s hoping it will feature a healthy helping of original content in the very near future, as does On The Record and PriceWatch.

To make the news even sweeter, Jim Carroll makes it quite clear that more is on the horizon at Ireland.com/blogs, although he teasingly declines to tell us any more than that.

The Irish Times seems to be taking careful but confident steps into the Blogosphere – careful not to run before it walks but confident enough to put its best foot forward and keep the momentum going. I’m looking forward to the upcoming additions to the site and whatever original uses the company can extract out of the internet as times goes on.

And here’s what I missed

I was out of the country for a few days and managed to miss two important/interesting media stories while away. Just my luck.

First up came the news that the Supreme Court had rejected attempts to enforce a permanent injunction against The Sunday Business Post (and as a result other publications) which would have stopped them from publishing information from the Mahon Tribunal which had been deemed ‘private’.

As RTÉ.ie News pointed out at the time, this outcome will have major implications on the ongoing Irish Times / Mahon Tribunal spat as the attempt to obtain Colm Kenna’s sources is largely based on the temporary injunction blocking the publication of confidential materials, which is now defunct.

(More analysis on this over at the Business Post itself)

The other big story (at least in blogging terms) was the arrival of two Irish Times blogs at Ireland.com.

I asked the question ‘Are the Irish Times going to start blogging soon?‘ back in November and I’m glad to see that the answer has been a big, fat ‘YES’.
With the quality of both Jim Carroll’s On The Record and Conor Pope’s PriceWatch blogs so far it certainly seems like the newspaper (or at least some of its staff) has already gotten on the right track, and is ahead of the pack in Irish print-media terms too.

I think (and hope) that these two additions to the Irish blog community are just an experimental toe-dip in the ocean and can’t wait to see what else they have in store. A blog by Stephen Collins, or even the Madam herself, perhaps? I don’t see why not – plenty of people are already showing that editors and important politicos can blog.