Saturday, 15 June 2013

Greek Public Service Broadcasting Close-down: Told You So!

The week's second I told you so (the first one is here), this time with regard to my analysis of the Greek government's shocking close-down, effective immediately, of its public service broadcasting agency, ERT earlier this week.

Friday and today, reports are now coming in that the Greek PM Samaras has been taken aback by the mass and force of protests and civil disobedience, and is offering "to hire a small number of workers to resume public broadcasts". 

You don't say??!! A small number? Carefully selected, I presume? With a carefully selected brief, I presume even more? Exactly according to plan then! Read more here.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Gene Patents: Told You So!

Just this minute, I was reached by the terrific news that the US supreme court has finally ruled against patenting of human genes: here here, here, here, here, here. The ruling itself can be downloaded here.

With respect to my interest in this matter from the point of view of promoting science, health and the interests of patients and the general public, expressed in former posts here and here, this is mainly to rub it in: told you so!!! 

Will Sweden Withstand the Planned EU Tobacco Directive Rules on Cigarette Packet Warning Labels?

News just broke that the current Swedish government is planning to try to resist the planned implementation of a new EU tobacco directive application according to which cigarette packets must have warning labels covering 75% of the packet's surface space. Why on earth would the government of one of the world's top non- and anti-smoking and pro public health countries in this way want to do the tobacco industry's dirty business for them, one might ask. But according to the government, this matter is nothing of the sort. The reason given for why the government plans to resist the proposal is that it allegedly in conflict with the Swedish constitution, more specifically The Freedom of the Press Act (FoP, the original Swedish version of the act, Tryckfrihetsförordningen, or TF, can be read here).

I suppose that what the government think is problematic with regard to the EU tobacco directive proposal in relation to this, is the very strong ban on censorship in the FoP and a very tightly regulated possibility to prosecute for misuse, expressed in the first four articles of the 1st chapter of FoP. However, I very much doubt that any of these generous liberties can be convinsingly argued to apply to cigarette packets. First, altready in article 5, the scope of the act is defined to apply...

1.    a valid certificate of no legal impediment to publication exists in respect of the written matter; or
2.    the written matter is supplied with a note indicating that it has been duplicated and, in association therewith, clear information concerning the identity of the person who duplicated it and the year and place of duplication.
Most cigarette packets will be excluded already st this stage. However, tobacco companies may of course come to have the packets designed so that this condition is met. This will not help the argument of the government much, however, for in article 6 the scope of the act is further limited with regard to what written or printed matter it regulates:

Printed matter shall not be deemed to be such unless it is published. Printed matter is deemed to have been published when it has been delivered for sale or dissemination by other means within the Realm. This does not however apply to printed documents of a public authority to which there is no public access.
Are cigarette packets published?, one may ask. Well they are produced through printing and then publicly offered, aren't they? Well, incidentally they are, but they are surely not sold or otherwise disseminated in the sense intended in the law. First, what is sold are the cigarettes, the packet is a container that is not for sale, albeit accompanying the sold product. We could, of course, imagine tobacco companies try to claim that it is the packet that is the product, and that the cigarettes are just an incidental appendice. However, I hardly think that such a move would exempt them from paying tax on tobacco sales. Therefore, the packet is not what is sold. Neither is it disseminated, since that would imply, e.g., that the address label attached to or any sort of scribbling on a packet of newspapers, books et cetera would be protected by the FoP. Surely they are not.

However, I need not rest my case on that argument alone, for if we continue reading, we come to the crucial article 9, wehre it is said that....
The provisions of this Act notwithstanding, rules laid down in law shall govern:
1. bans on commercial advertising insofar as the advertisement is employed in the marketing of alcoholic beverages or tobacco products; /.../

3. bans on commercial advertising introduced for the protection of health or the environment in accordance with obligations pursuant to accession to the European Communities;
What this implies is that as long as the cigarette packets qualify as either "marketting of .... tobacco products" or "commercial advertisement", FoP readily allow either any sort of censoring ban to be applied, or allow such a ban "for the protection of health or the environment in accordance with obligations pursuant to accession to the European Communities". What was this all about again, please? The European Union tobacco directive?? Uh Oh!

Now, I may have gotten all of this terribly wrong and perhaps there is a nice government memo somewhere describing a superb argument for why the EU tobacco directive regulation regarding warning text on cigarette packets is unconstitutional in Sweden. More likely, however, is that if such a memo ever existed it is fundamentally flawed and very possibly a product of sloppy analysis, and will soon find itself crumbling in the waste paper basket of the responsible minister's office. My own proposal is that said minister should inquire his/her legal advisors closely of however they could come up with such folly, and maybe take the opportunity to ask a question or two about their links to the tobacco industry as well.

So, what was the other hypothesis? That the Swedish government is doing the dirty business of tobacco companies for them? It can't be can it?! Especially not since the second argument of the government is that these companies will only have 25% left of the surface space of packets to expose their brand markings. Truly, truly poor them little innocent ones being so unjustly attacked by the vile European Commission!! So it is definitely not a question about that at least - phew!

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

My Reading of the Greek Public Service Media Close-down

With the atrocities in Syria and the desperate political violence madness currently wielded by the Turkish government against orderly civil protests as cover, the Greek government yesterday decided to close down its entire public service media institution (TV and radio) - effective immediately (see also here, here, here, here) – supposedly as a part of its program to restore the country's political economy and public finances. This astonishing action for a European democracy in peace time quickly takes Greece into the same shameful "almost on the brink of leaving the EU by democratic ideological default" league as close to fascist Hungary. An online petition against the action is here.

But the question is why this step was taken, especially why it was taken in the way it was - guaranteed to give rise to much more violent protests than if the institution had been dismantled piece by piece, after having its services undermined by piecemeal cut-downs in the customary way. Critics are reacting to the immediate and symbolic brutality of the decision and understandably reminding about the times of the junta dictatorship of the 1970's, and the technically already unemployed public service media professionals are wowing to somehow continue independent broadcasting: here. In this, they are now actually being helped by the European Public Broadcasting union, EBU (whose members are the public broadcasting agencies of other European states) to do so and the fruits of this ongoing partly public, partly civil disobedience action can be viewed online here.

I, however, do not subscribe to the hypothesis that the Greek government wants to get rid of public service media altogether. Neither do I believe that the action just taken has any direct essential role in the ongoing economic restoration activities - whatever view one may otherwise have about this. It does have an indirect role, since the operation of an independent public service media has made the job of the government in this respect much more difficult. However, a Greek government without access to a public service media institution will be at least as much crippled in the current situation, where any crazy rumour can attain eternal life and set the country ablaze via internet-based social media virals. For a government in crisis and under pressure as the current Greek one, access to a public service broadcasting platform is the only thing left to counter such anarchic forces.

So, here's what I think. The plan is not to get rid of public service broadcasting, the plan is to get rid of its independence. To do that in an effective and rhetorically minimally plausible way, it has to be shielded by a cloak of economic necessity – this leads to the decision to trash the whole thing and sack everyone involved. This will be possible to spell out in terms of an impressive amount of money being saved. However, I'm quiet sure that the government and its strategists have foreseen the protests and problems that are now ensuing to implement this decision effectively. They also know that they need a public service broadcasting platform. So here's what they'll do (and have planned to do all along):

1. Close down the original institution / agency (already done)
2. Watch protests ensue (ongoing)
3. After a suitable time, give in to protests and concede the need for a public service broadcasting institution, maybe a wink or two to a sensitivity to the strong feelings of the Greek people, or similar rhetoric mumbo jumbo that suits time like these
4. Do not, repeat, do not resurrect what was being done with through step 1!
5. Instead, for instance motivated by economic circumstances, decide to form an entirely new public institution or agency, with the mission of providing public service broadcasting on a scale suitable to the current financial limitations
6. This institution will be construed according to the needs of the government to enforce its policies, that is its statutes will guarantee against too much of independence
7. Hiring staff will carefully avoid rehiring of known troublemakers and contracts are engineered so that people who do not conform are easy to get rid of, probably through outsourcing most steps of the production-process to private contractors.

End result: the government can claim to have followed the will of the people, has access to a powerful propaganda tool, has saved a chunk of money and gotten rid of the pest of independent public service media in the process.

Of course, this is just the paranoid, delusional fantasies of a crackpot academic. Just watch them and see for yourself!