Archive for October, 2012

A hero will rise and his name will be Norbert Walter-Borjans!

Posted in Politics with tags , , , on October 29, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Sometimes a great story passes you by and you have no choice but to kick yourself that you missed it.  This happened to me in Austria a few weeks ago when I got into conversation over a late evening beer with a German client of mine.

He was explaining the German political structure to me and the fact that the power continues to reside at state-level and Chancellor Merkel can’t actually do much without the say-so of individual state prime ministers.

By way of illustration, he told me the story of Norbert Walter-Borjans, finance minister in North Rhine Westphalia in the Ruhr, who may look like an accountant but has the roar of a lion. Herr Borjans has been more than a little irritated of late by wealthy German tax evaders who spirit away their hard-earned to various Swiss banks before he can get his hands on it, circa Jimmy Carr and Gary Barlow over here.

Traditionally, finance ministers moan about tax evasion but do precious little to stop it. Not so Herr Borjans, who appeared on national television and made an offer of €2 million to the first employee of a Swiss bank who could supply him with a compact disc full of names of Germans with secret Swiss bank accounts.

Lo and behold a few weeks later a compact disc was delivered to Herr Borjans who then went on national television again and, holding up his new present, said the following (I’m paraphrasing): “Right, if your name is on this disc, you have a month to start paying your taxes or we’re coming after you.”

His actions have caused uproar in the normally conservative German political establishment. Chancellor Merkel publicly condemned him, but then started desperately trying to cobble a tax agreement together with the Swiss authorities. Relations between the two nations have also reached rock bottom. In the words of my client, “the Swiss hate us”.

However, Herr Borjans can console himself that the vast majority of ordinary Germans are on his side even if they don’t want to get too close to him. As my client says, “this is not a nice man, but he’s effective”.

For the record, Herr Borjans continues to get little gifts from across the border and Chancellor Merkel’s tax agreement looks like it has hit the rocks.  All of which sends Herr Borjans close to the top of my list for Man of the Year.

Savile scandal is a body blow to the BBC’s editorial credibility

Posted in Media with tags , , , , on October 24, 2012 by Tom Leatherbarrow

The facts behind the Jimmy Savile Scandal are, unfortunately, horribly familiar, but the puzzling bit about the whole affair is not that Savile managed to get away with it for so long, but the editorial decision-making process within the BBC once Newsnight got wind of the story.

Here was a story which was potentially career-making for the journalists involved, requiring brave editorial decisions and the backing of senior management.  This could have been one of the BBC’s finest hours, fearlessly turning the spotlight on itself and, in turn, metaphorically pulling down the Saddam-like statues which were being erected in Savile’s name, not least by BBC Light Entertainment.

It’s not as if the journalists involved were going that far out on a limb.  The investigation had generated filmed witness statements and Savile was known to have been interviewed by various police forces over the years.

There was not even fear of retribution.  It is not uncommon for journalists to want to run a story, but for their editors to be warned off by the in-house lawyers for fear of being sued for six figure sums.  But Savile is dead and the dead can’t sue.

So, instead of being fearless, supporting investigative journalism at its finest and having to put up with some short-term discomfort as part of a whole host of organisations who now have questions to answer, the BBC decided to spike the story.

The lessons of history, from Watergate through to Hillsborough and beyond, show us that the truth will, 99.9% of the time, come out. Somebody will turn whistleblower; a document will be uncovered or someone will listen to the tapes.

Did nobody think to try and get ahead of the story and break it on the BBC’s terms?  Lo’ and behold, less than a year after the BBC decision to drop the story, ITV screened its own version of events which has set off the current storm.

One of the biggest ironies in all of this is that many of those whom we can only assume were involved in the decision, namely Helen Boaden, Head of BBC News and Stephen Mitchell, Deputy Director of News have gone to ground.  They don’t want to talk to the media!

Many of these individuals, from Director General George Entwistle down, are paid huge amounts of money (the BBC’s Head of News is paid circa £350k per year) to get these decisions right.

They have failed and in the process have done enormous damage to the BBC’s credibility.