Does churnalism damage your wealth ( and your pension)?

Nigel Lawson: A Euro take on dangers of churnalism.Pic courtesy Daily Telegraph

I am not a natural fan of Nigel Lawson. I didn’t agree with his slashing the higher tax rate when he was chancellor. I don’t agree with his views on climate change. I am sceptical of his Eurosceptism. (though I think there is a major democratic deficit in the EU).

Yet in an interview  I did for Exaro News (see http://bit.ly/vOq5Ap ) he makes a rather clever observation about the relationship between the current  market turbulence and the standard of reporting by journalists.

 He says the combination of  superficial reaction by the markets to the growing crisis in the Eurozone and the unquestioning nature of  journalists covering current financial events in Europe is making a bad situation incredibly worse.

What he says is that journalists  reporting the recent crisis in Greece and Italy – produce instant reports to meet a 24/7 agenda that are superficial and proved wrong within 48 hours.  The practice of this press release journalism – known as churnalism – is brilliantly dissected by my friend Guardian hack Nick Davies in his book Flat Earth News.

The market traders – equally superficial also working to that  same punishing 24/7 schedule believe the press headlines and make equally wrong calls – pushing shares, currencies and debt interest rates up and down like a yo-yo.

You might say so what – it’s only a game played by a load of overpaid market gamblers and equally (sometimes) overpaid superficial hacks. But there is a very serious point.

With the demise of the final salary and public sector pension – hundreds of millions of people are relying on their future wealth and happiness on investments made by these people to fund their lifestyle in their old age.

 It does not help anybody but the most extreme speculators that these are now subject to such superficial judgements and reporting. The losers are the general public, you and me, who could have even lower returns from market madness.

 Lawson’s point suggests the need for some mature market traders. It also makes the case for the relevance of  real journalism and proper analysis. Another good reason why we need good reporters who have time to think and look beyond superficial statements and gloss  made by politicians, both in the media and the blogosphere. Otherwise it could cost us a lot of money.

Incidently he also has the opposite view  to George Osborne, the present Tory chancellor, about what  should happen to the Euro ( this article is at http://bit.ly/t79TJV )

Election Campaign:What the politicians and civil servants didn’t tell us

Are you voting without them telling you all the facts?

The election is virtually over. Tomorrow  you can cast your vote.  The parties will concentrate on their key messages over the last hours before polling day. But have all the issues been covered? No way.
 
Just as there is a black hole in all the parties’ planned spending cuts, there are lots of issues that have not been properly covered and many more that have been completely ignored.
They fall into three groups: there are issues that have been discussed but  not properly explored; there are issues that have been ignored by the political parties; and, perhaps surprisingly, there have been issues that Whitehall – not the politicians – has buried under the carpet.
 
The biggest issue that has not been properly explored is immigration. It was partly catapulted into the election by Gordon Brown’s “Bigotgate” gaffe after meeting pensioner Gillian Duffy, but the parties have tried to obscure the facts.
 
The Tories have promised to introduce a cap on immigration – but it will not apply to the 27 existing members of the European Community. They account for 80 per cent of immigration – according to Channel Four’s fact check file – almost 1.8 million people coming into Britain against 1 million Brits going to live in the EU.
 
While those coming from outside the EU account for only 20 per cent of immigration, according to a BBC analysis for the last recorded year, 8,000 more people left than came in. In effect this makes Cameron’s cap almost meaningless.
 
The Liberal Democrats, while promising to give an amnesty to illegal immigrants who have been here for 10 years, estimate it could help 600,000 – but, as Nick Clegg admits himself, nobody knows where they are. UKIP would block immigration altogether – but that will mean leaving the EU as well. The Liberal Democrats’ policy would mean hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants paying taxes, while Labour say they would deport them all, if they can find them. So more heat than light.
 
Then there are buried issues. The biggest is pensions and how we are going to fund an ageing population. The Tories have promised to raise the pension age to 66 but not until 2016, after the next election.
 
And while the election is taking place, more companies are ending final salary schemes, which will make it more difficult to get a good pension, and the cost of providing care is going up all the time. The parties have touched on the cost of care but the multi billion pounds for pensions has not even been debated. Anyone thinking seriously about this would know that something has got to give.
 
Similarly, for younger people, one issue that might have been raised is the draconian measure – rushed through Parliament just before the election – to curb illegal file-sharing.  There is now a law that could give the music and video business powers to demand internet providers disconnect people from the internet. This has been barely mentioned.
 
Other issues hardly touched on include the environment, overseas aid, transport and housing.
 
But probably the most surprising thing that happened during the election was a decision by Whitehall – which runs the country while the PM is busy campaigning – to ban the release of new statistics which would have revealed how much you are funding farmers and agribusiness through the European Union.
 
Last Friday the EU expected every one of their 27 members to release details of the billions of euros spent subsidising farmers and big companies to produce food for last year. Every country except the UK published these figures.
 
In Whitehall, civil servants took the decision that to release this information in the middle of an election campaign would be wrong. They justified this on the grounds that some Parliamentary candidates might be receiving the  subsidies. I quote the explanation: “This decision reflects the need to maintain, and be seen to maintain, the impartiality of the UK Civil Service, given the potential risk that … payment  information relating to any individuals involved in the election might be used as part of election campaigning.” Possibly as many as 80 candidates, mainly Conservative, and a few UKIP and Liberal Democrats are benefitting from this.
 
Extraordinarily, in Scotland – where there is a devolved government – the figures were released. They showed that 19,000 farmers and businesses shared nearly £600m of taxpayers’ money. The figure for the UK was over £3 billion the previous year.
 
But the effect was to close down any political debate on the cost of the EU to the taxpayer. Other statistics like hospital admissions, road statistics and all the economic data have all been released.
 
So it is not only politicians who have limited debate during the election.

This blog is also on the msn website as part of their general election coverage.