Integrity in US media

Carl Sagan once said “The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media”, even going on to say it presented: “a kind of celebration of ignorance”.

The problem is that much of what is presented in the mainstream US media today is short, bright and loud, so is it designed more to attract attention than to inform?

The beginning of the ‘dumbing down’ process started with celeb news. Flash cars, beautiful women and rich men make this type of news very viewer friendly, if not content heavy. The result is the rest of the news then looks rather drab and dull in comparison. This in turn has led to the addition of ‘interesting’ little details and commentaries slipped in to current affairs.

A good example of this is was in late 2013. Fox psychiatrist Dr Keith Ablow came on air and said that President Obama’s difficult early life had “led him to feel victimized, hurt and injured” and went on to say “There’s a real victim mentality here, and it really explains the president’s whole mentality and many of his policies.” Whilst his early life no doubt had an impact on the man he is today, this was a piece of supposition and sensationalist guesswork.

This sense of dramatisation of the news increases the need for stories to have baddies, drama and embellishment (like a Hollywood film), even within stories that are already quite exciting to begin with.

When reporting the capture of Joaquin Guzman (Mexican drug lord) in 2014, the Washington Post decided to add that instead of being caught in the mountains with his wife, he was in fact with his secretary. They then said: “An earlier version of this story erroneously said that Joaquin Guzman was found in bed with his secretary. He was found with his wife. This version has been corrected”.

So with the viewer’s attention becoming so hard to grab, it seems the integrity takes a back seat while drama drives the content. So is media is becoming less and less fact based, and more opinion, guesswork and supposition?

It’s not all bad of course: many media outlets are stricter with their content and it is more informative than dramatic.

The real question is, how long will these outlets last in the face of greater ratings for a Kardashian wedding than a civil war?

Stem cell breakthrough for Parkinson’s disease

Swedish scientists from Lund University have found that stem cell treatment can be used to heal the damage in the brain caused by Parkinson’s disease. The disease, which affects body control and movement, is caused by loss of nerve cells which control the chemical dopamine – essential for these cognitive functions. Parkinson’s UK have come out to say that the research is at a very early stage, but the news is a welcome breakthrough for advocates of stem cell research.

Ethical dilemma
One of the reasons that stem cell research is only now becoming a viable research technique is the ethical issues which have surrounded it for so many years. Up until 2007, stem cell research used tissue from aborted embryos to obtain material to study. This obviously posed an ethical dilemma as it involved obtaining aborted foetuses for scientific use, a process which caused significant outrage. Thankfully, in the last 7 years stem cell researchers have started using a new technique called Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells (iPS). This method allows scientists to obtain the cells they need, without the need for an aborted embryo, placating many critics.

Playing God
The other issues that surround stem cell research surround all types of health research: should we be playing God? What will the information be used for? Divisive as it is, research into terminal diseases has helped save thousands of people and we probably can’t afford to ignore the opportunities that stem cells offer.

Clones
The second concern is that in the future scientists will use the aforementioned iPS technique to create human clones, and at the rate research is progressing this concern could become reality. Can we trust scientists to act morally? Would cloning necessarily be a bad thing?

Present versus future
These questions are difficult to answer, since they concern something that is not yet possible. However, it must be said that because stem cell research has the potential to save thousands of lives scientists have a duty to continue. This new Parkinson’s breakthrough is only the beginning and it is hard to argue against a form of research which can be so medically productive. When it does happen, we will have to ask ourselves if we can ethically justify the scientific creation of human life. The issue of clones is something that will need to be confronted when the time comes, but for the moment it is not the primary function of stem cell research.

Ashya King: lessons to be learned

The parents of 5 year old Ashya King were released from a Spanish prison after a European arrest warrant against them was cancelled; this arose following their actions to smuggle him out of Southampton General Hospital and travel to Spain, believing he was not getting the best care and that his condition would deteriorate. They wanted Ashya, who has a brain tumour, to receive treatment at the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague.

However, the full force of the Law immediately swung into action, involving the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and the Hampshire Constabulary. The couple were arrested, handcuffed, separated from their son and thrown into prison, simply for loving their son and wanting the best possible treatment for him.

Justice for the Kings
Only after a sustained cry of public protest ensued, involving the Prime Minister, were the parents re-united with their desperately ill son. By now the child was confused, depressed and lying alone in a foreign hospital, adding to the family’s anguish.

Mr King said: “We want to help our son get through this bad time because he hasn’t got too many months to live and we’re locked away in a cell…”

Mrs King, said: “I just want to wet his mouth because he can’t drink through his mouth, I want to brush his teeth, I want to turn him side to side every 15 minutes because he can’t move.”

Yet, he could still see and feel emotions. Would deprivation of a mother and father’s comfort help Ashya? How would the little boy’s confidence and trust be impacted long term? The story has touched the hearts of people worldwide.

We have since learnt that the private clinic in the Czech Republic can treat Ashya.

Duty of care v parents love
The CPS said the risk to Ashya’s life “was not as great or immediate as had been originally thought.” The parents had ordered specialist foods to care for Ashya, and had managed to charge the food pump.

Doctors have a duty of care to do the best for their patients. Do loving, devoted parents also have a right to disagree with their decisions? Isn’t there a case for decent common sense to prevail?

On the other hand, what sort of outcry would have happened if the doctors had let him go without a word and the boy had died? What would this say about his medical care?

The parents have won their brave fight against the institutions yet only after the healthcare system, the police and prosecutors were ruthless in their pursuit of them.

Was their only crime to opt out of receiving NHS care? Having allowed their son to be treated by the NHS they couldn’t escape its clutches and were punished if they dared to disobey the rules? Was this the fault of the doctors or a heavy handed NHS?

Should we question a healthcare system that, instead of apologising to the parents when they thought the service was not good enough, reacted with an unpleasant uproar?

Clearly, there are some lessons to be learned.

Extremism and brainwashing kids at school – A crime against humanity?

In recent weeks, the issue of extremism and brainwashing in UK schools has once again re-occurred in the media and in parliament.

Specifically, education secretary Nicky Morgan announced that there would be certain school reforms following ‘disturbing’ findings in Birmingham schools.

These findings were uncovered by education commissioner Peter Clarke. He was appointed to the role when a letter, detailing what was happening in certain schools in the Midland, was uncovered.

Known as the ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter, it showed plans to push a more Islamist doctrine in some schools – ousting any teacher who did not actively follow the same agenda.

The report

In his report, Clarke found that in some Birmingham Schools there was an Islamist ethos that was not only “intolerant” but also “aggressive”.

In some cases, sexism, homophobia and hostility to other forms of extremism were being actively promoted.

Clearly, this level of intolerance is not acceptable within our schools, primarily because of the ease with which children are easily led.

How do you solve the brainwashing and extremism problem?

In response to Clarke’s findings, Morgan introduced two new reforms, aimed at helping head teachers to overcome any obstacles in running their schools in the correct manner.

She introduced a new education commissioner for Birmingham, where the majority of extremism is in evidence, as well as a new board of head teachers for staff to receive extra support.

These new tiers of oversight were specifically created to support teachers, making sure that extremist views are not influencing their work.

The responsibility placed on the shoulders of a teacher, at both primary and secondary level, is often a heavy burden to carry.

And it is important that they are properly supported and regularly assessed, to make sure the curriculum is being taught correctly.

Religious extremism needs to be avoided and an understanding of difference and diversity should be instilled in our school system.

Conclusion – a crime against humanity

The period up until the age of 18, is one of the most important periods in a person’s life. The ability to absorb information will never be better and a child’s ideals are very often moulded at this time.

For this very reason, brainwashing children to extremist views can be seen as a crime against humanity.

Children have the right to have a balanced upbringing, where an innate tolerance and understanding of cultural and religious diversity is a strong platform for the future.

If our children are influenced by extremist versions of religion, humanity will suffer when our society becomes more fractured and intolerant.

Are Whistleblowers being treated fairly?

Whistleblowers are being victimised when they go back to work.

A recent government report found that whistleblowers were often victimised and bullied after exposing misconduct in companies and public services in the UK.

As the expenditure of public money is often shrouded in a cloud of secrecy, a whistleblower can give us an insider’s perspective – divulging valuable information that lies within the public interest.

Legally protected

The act of whistle blowing is covered, in law, by the 1998 Public Disclosure Act.

For information to be leaked legally, it must be proven to relate to malpractice or criminality.

Atrocities such as the police cover up of the Hillsborough disaster have been revealed because of whistleblowers and it remains an important way to uncover wrong doing.

The second section of the law states that whistleblowers have the “right not to suffer detriment”.

This rule is more difficult to enact because the public body or company, and fellow employees, often suffer as a result of the whistleblowing.

Upon returning to the workplace, whistleblowers are often treated with disdain. They are harassed and bullied and although covered legally, it is difficult to reprimand those who are singling them out.

The report says that: “the whistleblowers fears of reprisal are often justified, and such experiences are likely to deter other employees from raising a concern”.

How is it possible to fairly treat whistleblowers?

If whistleblowers do not feel like they are protected then they are less likely to reveal important evidence.

It is thus important that we push for those who victimise whistleblowers to be given harsher punishments.

Although the law currently protects whistleblowers, punishments for harassment are not nearly heavy enough.

Companies and public services should be forced to do everything in their power to make sure that this consistent problem does not occur.

Conclusion

The report states that: “Where the identity of whistleblowers is known, departments must ensure that they are protected, supported and have their welfare monitored”.

It also offers three suggestions to how companies should work with whistleblowers:
1. “Ownership from the top by assigning a board member who is accountable for the proper treatment of whistleblowers”.
2. “Providing whistleblowers with appropriate support and advice, such as access to legal and counselling services”.
3. “Appropriate and swift sanctions against employees, at all levels in the organisation, if they victimise whistleblowers”.

All of these suggestions, especially the third recommendation, would help to make the life of a whistleblower easier. In turn, this would make it more likely for people to come forward and expose issues which are of great importance to us all.