Saturday, 25 October 2008

Jersey Bloggers near to Tipping Point in Media War?

Lately I have been closely following the situation in Jersey. By this I mean I have been reading Senator Stuart Syvret's blog, because this appears to be the ONLY reliable source of information on the island. If you don't know what I mean by the `situation in Jersey', I suggest you read the blog itself. For the purpose of the current posting, the main issues of concern are:

  • the ongoing police investigation of historical child abuse at the former Haut de la Garenne children's home, and the pursuit of justice for the victims
  • the prevailing culture within the political administration of the island which appears, over a period of decades, to have allowed such abuse to flourish
  • the de facto one party state - labelled by some the Jersey Establishment Party (JEP) - that has obstructed the police and the pursuit of justice - the charitable interpretation being an antideluvial attitude towards preserving the international image of Jersey; or, less charitably, a sinister closing of ranks to protect cronies
  • the impossibility of obtaining justice within such a system, where the judiciary and the establishment politicians appear to be less than separate parts of the same oligarchy
  • the formal declaration by the police of a senior education official as a suspect under investigation for child abuse, and the failure of the authorities to suspend the individual pending the outcome of enquiries, pleading a duty of care towards employees that overrides all other perceived duties
Now that is just to set the scene. But this posting is not just about Jersey - it is also about the growing practice of blogging.

You might imagine that all of the above points would have found their way into the local media. Well, actually no. You see the establishment has effective control of the media too. Are you thinking Soviet Union now? - it may sound incredible, but that's not too far from the mark. The local BBC channel actively stifles political debate that might challenge the status quo, and the only local paper, the Jersey Evening Press ( = JEP, get the connection?) even publishes made-up letters in support of the oligarchy. This may sound just too far fetched - but read Stuart's blog.

It is no surprise then that Jersey has a flourishing blogging community (like China I imagine). Many islanders have ditched the conventional media outlets in disgust and have opted to get their news direct from Stuart. The sense of community through a common cause is palpable, and, with Stuart's blog having now attracted over 70,000 discrete readers, a tipping point may be close. Newspapers are running scared of the internet - and not just in Jersey. Advertising revenue, their life-blood, is vanishing as internet-savvy companies learn to exploit the online market. And when the point is reached where most citizens choose to source their news from blogs both the raison d'etre and the viability of the traditional media may disappear forever. And, in Jersey at least, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that this point is rapidly approaching.

I take absolutely no pleasure in this prediction. I am for the most part a staunch admirer of the quality of journalism to be found in the `serious' media in the UK. But "the times they are a'changing" and the traditional media will be forced either to adapt and find a way of living in harmony with the online dissemination of news - or perish. Efforts to manipulate or massage the news to suit a particular political agenda will be more easily and rapidly exposed as more people realise they can locate primary sources of news for themselves on the internet. Thus truth will out.

As ever with the internet, the freedom it brings is a double-edged sword. The technology itself is a morally neutral medium that can just as easily be used as a vehicle for obfuscation and disinformation as it can to reveal the truth. As citizens of the online news community we need well-tuned antennae. We need a `moral compass' that will allow us to recognise and home in on those sources charcterised by honesty, integrity, compassion and a commitment to truth, justice and clear ethical principles.

Where better to test your moral compass than by logging in to Stuart Syvret's blog. You will find all these qualities in spades. He really is setting a standard for committed and principled investigative blogging which should have the emasculated media in Jersey and beyond truly fearful for their future.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Do Directors of Education Abuse Children?

Suppose for just a minute - and I know it is going to sound far-fetched - that a Director of Education and his predecessor had been publicly accused by a local politician of systematic physical abuse of children. And that the allegations were under investigation by the police. What would you expect to happen?

You might expect the employee concerned to be suspended - without prejudice - while the investigation was conducted. You might expect the media - local and national - to afford the matter some attention: it would after all be an extraordinary story.

You might expect all this - unless of course it happened in Jersey.

For such an allegation has this week been made in Jersey - so far to absolutely deafening media silence. And not the slightest hint of anyone being suspended.

I make no apology for referring once again to Jersey Senator Stuart Syvret's blog. You need only know that McKeon is the recently retired Director before I let Stuart take up the story:

In the early 1980s McKeon was the Head of the then child secure unit, known as Les Chennes; this place having gradually taken over child imprisonment responsibilities from the infamous Haute de la Garenne, which closed in 1986.

While McKeon was the Head of the “school” – as it was euphemistically known – his Deputy Head was Mario Lundy.

McKeon, miraculously, worked his way up the Education hierarchy to become its Chief Officer – a position from which he retired only last Christmas. And – wouldn’t you know it – his side-kick, Lundy, followed the same career arc – and replaced McKeon as the Chief Officer of Education at the beginning of this year.
Tom McKeon and Mario Lundy were both in the habit of routinely committing savage, violent assaults on the male children in their care.
And so ‘normalised’ were both men to this criminal conduct they thought nothing of blithely carrying out such assaults on an open basis – in front of other witnesses – children and adults.

And we are not talking about the occasional slap on the wrist or tweaked ear.

McKeon was known as “The Pinball Wizard” because such was his calculated propensity for violent child abuse – he even had the furniture in his office at Les Chennes arranged in such a way as to afford a nice, clear run-up to the walls of the room.

He was then able to grab children by the arm, take a run-up – and swing them –wrestling-fashion – so that the child would smash savagely against the walls.

Bouncing children off the walls and furniture in this way gave rise to the nick-name “The Pinball Wizard”.

Now that's just a flavour of the astonishing allegations. I urge you to visit the blog and read the whole posting and the comments it has attracted.

So where on earth is the mainstream media coverage? Stuart Syvret's blog has attracted 60,000 readers. This is more than the circulation of "The Scotsman". So don't tell me this has somehow escaped the radar of the media.

Maybe they just don't care - Jersey after all is an island with half the population of Dumfries and Galloway, which sits nearer to France than England and enjoys a quaint constitutional status that affords it the same nationhood as Scotland at the Commonwealth Games, along with its vaguely suspicious `offshore' tax status. And sadly it is far from unique in having experienced institutionalised child abuse.

Or maybe they are just too lazy: there is a lot of reading in Senator Syvret's blog. Or maybe too cowardly - fearing litigation perhaps if names are aired. Stuart Syvret has no such fear, and he has explained clearly why. His blog is written in forensic detail and with passion. But it is the regular comments his blog attracts from some of Jersey's abuse victims that ultimately give the greatest credence to what he is trying to do. Beyond question they deserve justice. The UK Government (i.e. Justice Minister Jack Straw) has shown a marked reluctance to intervene to ensure justice, despite their constitutional entitlement - I should say obligation- to do so.

If there are any real investigative journalists with a social conscience still out there, the story is waiting. To capture the current public preoccupation, their starting place could be Jersey's dependence on international banking at this time of crisis, and a few short steps would lead them to the serious failings in the governance of the island and the devastating effect this is having on the quest for justice for the victims of abuse.