On The Last Word this evening to talk about defamation online

In light of the goings on at Politics.ie (Mulley has some detail if you’re not sure of what’s happening) I’ll be on Today FM‘s The Last Word at around 17:40 to talk about the issue of defamation online in Ireland and what you can or can’t say or do.

Tune in through any of the various methods if you’re around – Online, radio, TV… or just stand outside their offices with your ear against the glass and hope for the best.

Parental responsibility? Pfft.

The British media gave a lot of time yesterday to a newly published report on the regulation of computer games, the main recommendation of which was to reform the ratings system… again.

Up until 2003 games in Britain (and in Ireland as a result) were given a rating by ELSPA, which is an association of software publishers (it’s in the name!). From April 2003 this was replaced by PEGI, a pan-European rating system (again, it’s in the name) which included age ratings and largely self-explanatory symbols to describe the game’s content.

Neither of these systems had or have any basis in British or Irish law and are merely recommendations – that said the law could be changed to make them enforceable and most big outlets treat them as law anyway (to avoid any bad press, basically). In certain cases games are also rated by the BBFC in Britain and IFCO in Ireland – although this only seems to be the more realistic or gruesome of releases.

This new report, which will probably gain some traction in Ireland too, suggests the introduction of a rating system in gaming that mirrors the one in the movie world – U, PG, 12, 15, 18 etc. etc. This system would be legally enforceable and shops found to be selling games to those under age would be fined heavily.

These recommendations aren’t bad per se – although I don’t see why the report didn’t just recommend making PEGI legally enforceable as the Finish and Austrians have. My problem is with the coverage, which at no point suggested that parental control is the key and that ratings mean nothing without it.

In fact, what I saw was the complete opposite with almost a tone of encouragement to parents who abdicated their responsibility. When the ITV News covered the topic yesterday, for example, they showed two young boys – no more than 12 – playing Resident Evil 4 on the Nintendo Wii, a game rated 15s by the BBFC (a rating which is legally enforceable). The shot then cut to their parents who were suggesting that the new recommendations would be pointless and the only way to solve the problem would be to ban violent games outright.

At no point was this logic questioned on-screen and so the mother sat there suggesting mass censorship for the good of her offspring despite the fact that she was happily letting them play a fairly gruesome game. It was bad enough that she said it with a straight face – it was worse that at no point the package did the suggestion of parental responsibility come up.

“I want parents to be empowered,” says Dr. Tanya Byron, who wrote up the report. Well they already are – it’s just that many fail to take advantage of that. This suggestion that parents lack empowerment because it’s so hard to find out what a game is all about is such hogwash – just as it was when those idiot parents complained about the film Bad Santa, which they just assumed was a family movie because it had the word ‘Santa’ in the title.

It all reminded me of my time working in a game retailer while I was in college, a job that made me realise how common this mother’s attitude is. On one occasion that will forever stick in my mind, I was serving customers around the time of the release of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. A kid came up to buy it and, as it was rated 18s, I refused him. He came back a minute later with his mother and she asked me what the game was like and if it really was “that bad”.

It was of no benefit to me to lie and pretend it wasn’t violent so I told her – as the name suggests it involved the hijacking of cars, there’s a lot of shooting and killing, you have to commit a multitude of crimes to progress in the game, there are prostitutes you can have sex with and as a result it’s 18s for a very good reason.

When I was finished listing off the things that made the game so appealing and so controversial all at once, she looked to her child and said; “OK – but you can only play it for an hour a day,” and proceeded to pay for it. She was over 18 (she was actually in her 40s I’d say) so I couldn’t refuse her but I got the sincere feeling that this is the kind of woman that would go onto national TV or Radio (Joe Duffy, preferably) and rail against how violent these video games were, and probably suggest that it was the game maker’s fault, or the Government’s fault, or the retailer’s fault for her kid saying “fuck” an awful lot more lately.

Just to be clear on this, I have no problem with violent video games. In fact, I’m playing Resident Evil 4 now and I love it – but from playing it I can see why it’s 15s (at times I think it feels more 18s even) and my mind is fully formed enough to be able to differentiate between fact and fiction. With that said, if a parent decides their under-age kid is able to handle a violent game, so be it – once their willing to take that responsibility and not try to pass the buck as if it’s not their job to parent.

One constant counter-argument is that of peer pressure and kid pressure and from my previous experience I can see just how much there is on parents to give their kids what they want – not least because “all their friends are playing it”. But my reaction to this is simple enough, and perhaps easier to form as I don’t have any children. Grow up and grow a pair.

If your kid came home and told you his friend had a hardcore porn video and he wanted one too, would you rush out and get it or tell him to shut up? It’s an extreme example but the principle’s the same. If you can’t say no to your child for his or her own good then the violence they’re exposed to through a computer is going to be the least of your worries.

These games aren’t for kids, it’s the parents’ job to keep their kids safe and so it’s the parents’ job to keep things that aren’t for them away from them. That seems logical enough to me – but then again maybe I’m missing the point that more games you buy for your child the less actual parenting time that’s required.

Article on the FAI in April’s Village

The latest edition of Village has an article of mine on John Delaney and the FAI.

The piece covers the last decade of the association and tracks Delaney’s rise to power and his involvement in its many crises during this time.

You could quite easily write a book on the FAI during this time-frame and still have to leave some things out, so there’s a lot that couldn’t be covered within the article as a result. That said, it’s still pretty expansive and I think adds a lot to what is already known about the subject.

As a journalist who has never written a sports story before it was quite a task trying to make contact with the right people in a short amount of time. As the FAI has been so factional over the years it was also key that I speak to as many people as possible too to ensure I wasn’t just getting the story of one guy with a grudge.

If there was an advantage to not being a sports journalist, it was the fact that I came to the subject without a reputation for supporting one faction over another. The fact that I wasn’t looking for quotes helped too as much of what I was told wouldn’t have been uttered “on the record” (and much more was completely unprintable!).

It took me over a month to put it all together in a satisfactory fashion but I was happy with the finished product.

You can read the article online here or, naturally, in the magazine itself.

Untruths and misstatements

At the Mahon Tribunal lately we’ve heard a lot of semantics about telling “untruths”. An untruth is much the same as a lie – it is false information and the opposite of the truth – but the logic behind telling an untruth as opposed to a lie is that the former does not appear to carry the cloud of deception with it; not as much as telling a lie does.

We’re seeing much the same semantical juggling in the US at the moment with Hillary Clinton’s “misstatements” about her trip to Bosnia.

In a prepared speech on her foreign policy experience Clinton had reminisced about her trip to the war-torn country, saying “I remember landing under sniper fire. There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but instead we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.”

The first cracks showed when Sinbad, an American comedian who was travelling on the same plan to entertain troops, publicly questioned Clinton’s dramatic account of the event. The mainstream media and even Barack Obama’s campaign didn’t seem too keen to run with this, however, as it was one account against another and as Sinbad was a paid-up Obama supporter it would have just looked like mud-slinging.

Then this video turned up on YouTube, showing that supposedly cancelled greeting ceremony and no sign of panic or sniper fire.

Now Clinton is saying she made a misstatement, which like ‘untruth’ is a synonym for ‘lie’.

What’s hard to believe is that Clinton could have been so mistaken about the event to tell this lie. If she honestly was… well it doesn’t look too good for a Presidential wannabe to have such a bad memory, or worse a delusional one. The only other option is that she made up an exciting story about what happened in Bosnia to make herself look more experienced, put this into a pre-prepared speech and told it to the world. In other words it was a calculated, intentional lie.

Either reality doesn’t look good for her and you can see why she’s trying to brush it off quickly and move on.

While questions have been raised of Clinton’s experience in Northern Ireland, another point she raised to show her foreign policy credentials, that argument has come down simply to two sides having two different stories. That’s exactly what was happening with this Bosnia claim too until the video showed up – now there’s no doubt about what really happened.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out now – it could be critical. Once it seeps into the US public’s consciousness it could paint Clinton as a liar and make the voters question the rest of the claims she made in that speech. In the same vein they might not care all that much and be more concerned with what the candidates have done on more pressing, local issues.

Bí­ ullamh, iriseoiri Óg

I was a member of a scout group for most of my childhood and all of my teenage years, only leaving when I had to travel to England for study. You can learn a lot there on a practical and social level but one thing that’s easy to forget is the lesson that’s at the core (indeed it’s the motto) of scouting – be prepared.

When I left college I was under no illusion about what I was facing in terms of career progression – staff jobs in Irish journalism are hard to come by and most young journalists freelance at first – something which involves dealing with a lot of rejection. I willingly undertook the freelancers path and did so knowing enough about the process to get by but not knowing nearly enough about the nitty-gritty to be truly prepared.

Following my comment on Shane’s post yesterday I thought I might talk about what I feel a freelance journalist should be prepared for to make the early months and years of their career as easy as possible. Many of them are things I’ve still not mastered having only identified them in the midst of the process rather than from the outset – maybe putting it all up here will help someone else coming into the field and will save them a bit of time in the process.

Just to be clear, the following paints a dreary picture of freelancing, and it can be dreary, but it’s something I enjoy, don’t regret doing and wouldn’t stop doing for another career path (and I say that as someone who is just doing this until something permanent comes along). All I’m doing here is listing some of the more negative sides so that people can be prepared for them and more able to minimise their impact. Also, I’m no expert on freelancing or journalism and am only able to give advice on my own limited and ongoing experience – perhaps other freelancers could leave comments with their own tips, advice, suggestions and warnings and I can add them to the list:

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Eddie O’Sullivan is gone

Sports ain’t usually my bag, but this is something worth blogging all the same.

Newstalk had it first (and it was twittered here – thanks to Damien for pointing that out to me) and now it’s confirmed – Eddie O’Sullivan has “quit” as Ireland’s rugby manager.

It’s being spoken about on Setanta Sports News as I type, Sky Sports News seem to have been caught with their pants down and haven’t mentioned it yet.

Will be interesting to see what kind of golden handshake he got – considering the fact that he only renewed his contract in late 2007.

Update: Newtalk’s website is one of the first online news outlets out of the traps, RTÉ News is next.

On The Last Word to talk about digital downloads

I’ll be going onto The Last Word at around 5:20pm this evening to talk about digital downloads – all on the back of rumours about a new iTunes subscription model, not to mention Nine Inch Nails’ recent Ghosts I-IV release.

Tune in online, on the radio, on your TV or through whatever other device you can get your hands on.

iPhone arrives, Ireland doesn’t come to a halt

So yesterday saw the arrival of the iPhone in Ireland and unsurprisingly, it was a very muted affair. The country may have more than enough people willing to spend big bucks for the latest “must haves” but seemingly we’re just not bothered enough to camp out for the honour. Indeed iPhone fans seemed to be in no rush at all – one of o2′s main Dublin outlets had only had a handful of pre-orders as of Thursday night, a fraction of the stock it was due to receive.

Having finally had a chance to mess around with an in-store model myself I have to say my opinion on the device is unchanged. It’s just as slick, sexy and functional as the hype promised but it’s also burdened by many factors that were clear from the outset – for example a very lacklustre internet connection and, in Ireland at least, a contract devoid of value for money*.

Perhaps it was just because I can’t afford one but at no point in my quick demo did I try to talk myself into making an impulse buy, somewhat unusual for me when it comes to gadgets. I was happy to give the text-input a go for myself, though, which I found about as hard to get used to as any phone I’m unfamiliar with.

The most negative aspect of the device that I took away with me was its slow EDGE connection, which was comparable to my 2MB broadband connection’s performance when I try to browse and download torrents simultaneously. I would have be willing to write this experience off as a consequence of the huge demand put on the network as a result of the release itself but from what I saw there weren’t many more iPhones in people’s pockets at 6PM yesterday than there were at 6PM the Friday before.

So what will convince me to get an iPhone? Well put simply, I’ll be far more interested when I don’t have to make a compromise in order to own one. In other words 3G is a must – and rumour is it’s coming soon (for the sake of the people who just sank a week’s wages into a phone that has tied them to an 18-month contract I almost, I repeat almost, hope that’s not true). But I’d also be far more tempted if/when a 32GB model is launched as it would allow me to store all my music [b]and[/b] use the device as an external hard drive, as I do with the 30GB iPod I’ve been using for some time now. I’d also have plenty of space to expand my collection for the foreseeable future without having to start the horrible procedure of cherry-picking.

But even with all of that resolved, I’d still be put off by the o2 contracts which I can’t help but feel will have to be improved upon as they were in Britain. 1GB download limit? 18-month contract? No visual voice-mail? Paying €100 a month for a package that still compares unfavourably with the iPhone’s €45 contract in the UK? Forget about it.

I guess what I’m saying is that when Apple iron out the device’s main weaknesses, it’ll become far harder for me to resist – but even if I do pick one up, it’ll only be with the intention of unlocking it.

* In fairness to o2 the iPhone contracts aren’t extortionate when compared to the Irish market, they’re actually pretty normal. But when compared to the rest of Europe, and the UK in particular, then the shockingly high cost of the Irish mobile market as a whole (of which o2 playing a leading role) is very easy to see.