Is journalism a profession?

Alan MiddletonBy Professor Alan Middleton

A fundamental question for journalists, about which there is little agreement, is whether journalism is a profession as the concept is normally understood. It is difficult to accept that it is a profession in the normal sense of the word: it is increasingly university-based but there is no agreed core body of scientific knowledge underpinning it; there is no agreed set of values and norms conditioning behaviour; representative organisations and training organisations are disjointed and conflicted; and the majority of journalists are not accredited. The primacy of the attachment to the freedom of the press (that is, the freedom of the organisations journalists work for) also creates a barrier to the development of responsible ethical practice. Throughout the industry, the freedom of newspapers is held to be more important than responsible professional journalism.

If journalism were a profession, British journalists would be in control of the values and norms that guide their behaviour. At the moment, the debate is about the culture of the newsroom, rather than the culture of journalism. Leveson was concerned with the former, but the concept of culture was treated only superficially by his Inquiry and the broader notion of the culture of journalism, as something distinct from corporate culture, was not examined at all.

Professional culture is expressed in the particular values, norms and ways of behaving of a profession, rather than the culture of the organisations where they work. It is also different from the cultural context of the society in which the profession practices, but not necessarily in conflict. It usually represents distinct values and rules of behaviour that are consistent with the wider cultural context. It is difficult to argue that this has recently been true of journalism.

In the post-Leveson debate about Royal Charters, newspaper owners and their editors have assumed the right to speak for the “profession”. They have made this explicit in their opposition to Parliament’s Charter. However, the key to creating an ethical culture for journalism requires journalists themselves to reappraise, determine and agree the limits of their freedoms and responsibilities.

This is a longer-term project than a regulatory fix. Changing the culture of journalism is about more than providing redress for bad organisational behaviour. The immediate need to deal with the criminality of some newspapers has understandably been more important than a discussion of the inter-generational transmission of ideas, attitudes, beliefs and ways of behaving, which are the historical and deep-seated roots of any culture. However, these issues need to be addressed by journalists and those responsible for training new entrants to the field.

University educators are already involved in some of these debates, but they will have an even more important role to play in the future. There is a need for a re-evaluation of journalism as a profession, a realistic assessment of its traditional values in an age of democracy, an examination of professional authority and regulation and, based on the history of journalism as an occupation in search of values, a new proposal for professional practice.

Alan Middleton is Chief Executive of the Governance Foundation and Emeritus Professor of Urban Studies at Birmingham City University. His new e-book, Journalism beyond Leveson: Professional Culture versus Delinquent Subculture is available on Kindle.

I learnt Spanish in an Irish pub

Paddy FreelandBy Paddy Freeland

Royal Holloway University London have kicked me off to pastures new. I am now an Erasmus student, floating off for a year to Cordoba in Spain, then Paris and frankly, I’ve absolutely no idea what I am doing.

Honestly, I really don’t. I didn’t plan meticulously, taking care and much deliberation. I fanned it off, bragging “Yeah, I’m on it guys. Calm down. Now, how much wine is important in Risotto? Best drink half…” and so on. So by the time of the summer, choosing the universities became a simple choice of “WHO will accept me? It’s now August, and I’m going in a MONTH”.

We had to re-arrange our family holiday so I could swing by good ol’Egham and berate the International office, flailing photocopies of outdated forms stained with tears and passport photos ripped off old documents. I booked into a hotel in Argentina because I forgot that there might be more than one place called Cordoba in the entire hispanic speaking world. I bought a dictionary at the airport as I forgot mine.

This is not what I would entirely reccommend for any student, travelling abroad or in the UK. I spent three days wandering the small spanish streets, ripping any phone number for a flat I could find off the walls, marauding the streets, mourning the lack of tea and seemingly random opening hours of everything. I was bereft until I found the irish pub on the second day and spent six hours drinking Guinness and struggling to chat with the barman, teaching him how to pour it correctly and using their phone to call the nameless flats, and bullying José, said chirpy barman, to talk to anyone I couldn’t understand (ie Everyone).

This “luck of the Irish” turned out to be the greatest tactic imaginable. The six hours in the pub got my Spanish to the point where I could, and would after the Guinness, talk to anyone. The seventy eight numbers for flats I collected became bargaining chips for every lost student I found, my numbers for their friendship, an unorthodox but cunning tactic. And wandering the streets for hours on end? It became the metaphorical string that Theseus probably used, before slaying the Minotaur of all the free shots I wrangled out of that “Irish” pub.

Human beings are incredible creatures of neccessity, we’ll always find a way to plod along. A week ago I was pointing at a map to the taxi driver, because my spanish was hopeless. Now, last night, I was renting a room in my new flat to both a German guy and a French girl, whilst clutching two litre bottles of cheap beer whilst on a terrace at 4am, and proving white camp guys from middle class England can actually do the Single Ladies dance just as well as Beyoncé .

So, travellers, I urge you to not worry too much about anything. You’ll find your own way. And if you look back, you might just realise that you’re having the time of your life.

Gloves on – an amateur boxer gets a pounding

By Archie Best

So you decide to try your hands at boxing. The professionals make it seem so easy. Avoid being hit by the Ukrainian troll with breeze-blocks for fists, stay on your feet, and leave the ring with a novelty cheque and the crowd chanting your name.

First lesson is footwork: keep your feet an equal distance from each other and never cross them. You’ve seen it in Rocky. In between pointlessly pounding beef carcasses and congratulating himself on jogging (a measly) 72 steps to the Philadelphia Art museum, Rocky impatiently listens to his coach, Tony “Duke” Evers, instructing him to tie his feet apart to fix his footwork. Second lesson: keep your hands up to protect your face. Simple enough.

You begin shuffling crab-like round the boxing gym, feet apart and arms up, celebrating your newly acquired Mike Tyson stance by passing the trainer as often as possible. He glances at you like he would at the tooth of an opponent he just picked out of his glove. However you assume he can’t make any other facial expression, and were he able, he would be glowing with pride.

“Now pair-up, time for some body-sparring,” he shouts. Suddenly some guy is throwing his fists into your unprepared belly. Avoiding the onslaught means hopping around with your arms protecting your mid-riff. Survival becomes the priority and you wonder why he wants to kill you. “If you screw things up in tennis, it’s 15-love. If you screw up in boxing, it’s your ass” said boxer Randall “Tex” Cobb. You concentrate on not screwing up and, although more chimp than crab, you’re sure the trainer didn’t notice your brief slip in technique.

After training twice a week for six months, and at the end of another brutal session, although it feels as though you’ve been stamped on by Vladimir Kitshcko for an hour you’re happy with your progress. The trainer marches towards you and you assume the prowess you’ve displayed is about to receive the appropriate praise. Novelty cheques and crowds chanting your name flash through your mind. “Is this your first session?” he asks. Before answering you consider whether he might, just might, be joking. However his look is one of pure disdain, without a hint of humour, and the others are beginning to stare. “Um, no, I’ve been a couple of times maybe” you stutter, trying to muster a little dignity, “was I doing something wrong?” He seems to realise he’s supposed to be teaching, not humiliating, you and his look softens: “just stick to the basics, concentrate on your footwork and keep your hands up”.

Mohammed Ali said “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights”, but it seems “the road” is painful and apparently endless. Learning to box isn’t easy.

Cheerleading competition – bring it on Blues

Journalism coursesAlmost two centuries after the first Oxford-Cambridge boat race, the rival universities go head-to-head in their first varsity cheerleading competition. Sarah Reid finds out what it takes to be a champion cheerleader.

Forget the boat race this week; Cambridge students already have something to cheer about. The Cambridge Cougars are basking in their recent success against the Oxford Sirens in the UK’s first ever one-on-one varsity cheerleading match – scoring 74% to Oxford’s 60%.

The brainchild of Cougars president Megan Trimble, 21, the contest involved each team performing a two-and-a-half minute routine of dance, jumps, stunts and gymnastics in front of experienced judges. “I wanted to get the competition going because of the requirements for Blue status, one of which being that you need to have had three varsity matches before applying,” says Trimble, a third year at Homerton College.

A ‘Blue’ is awarded to Oxbridge students who have competed in a sport against their rival university team. Not all sports are awarded Blue status, yet with varsity matches already existing in dance and gymnastics, it’s hard to see why cheerleading shouldn’t follow suit.

Oxbridge students aren’t the only ones picking up their pompoms. Membership of the British Cheerleading Association (BCA) has increased from just six teams in 1984, to 825 registered squads with 24,000 individual cheerleaders. Bring it On-style competitions take place all over the country, some attracting up to 3,000 competitors and spectators.

But why has cheerleading gained such a following? Trainee teacher Katherine Scane, 23, who cheered with the Kent University Falcons for four years, thinks adrenaline plays a big part. “I loved performing at comp,” she says. “I got nervous before I went on, but the atmosphere just takes you with it and it’s always such a rush. Then before you know it the two-and-a-half minutes are over and you’ve finished.”

Scane believes that cheerleading can teach you much more than a few acrobatic tricks, and hopes to coach the sport in schools. “It helps you to work well in a team and trust others in your group – a necessity really, if they are going to be throwing you in the air,” she says.

Sounds dangerous? The American Consumer Project Safety Commission (CPSC) reported that in 2011, an estimated 36,288 cheerleading injuries were treated in emergency rooms. The Cambridge Cougars are no different. “We had a couple of injuries as always,” Trimble says. “A flyer sprained her ankle, quite a few people got hit in the face and I had concussion five days before comp.”

Despite the risks, the Cambridge cheerleaders remain dedicated to showing that their sport is not just about glitter and pompoms – especially when it comes to recruiting male members, whose strength helps with stunting.

“Since the competition we have had more boys come to practice,” says Trimble. “They seemed really impressed so hopefully a few of them will continue next year and convince other boys to join the team.”

Food for thought for the Cambridge rowers, at least, if Oxford wins the boat race.


Journalism CoursesBy Cara Cummings

Britain’s first ever Crazy Golf Open took place in Hastings this month. Crazy, adventure, mini – whatever you call it, when did golf’s pint-sized cousin get so serious?

“Why am I standing here on a freezing Saturday morning if I’m not a little bit eccentric?” asks Brad, soaking wet amidst the plastic palm trees. It’s not every Saturday you find yourself stood on the outskirts of Croydon in a torrential downpour, with an “eccentric” stranger called Brad. California, maybe, but not Croydon.

A knight in sodden fleece, Brad Shepherd is my guide around Dragon Quest, an 18-hole minigolf course. He’s also one of 25 British players currently ranked by the World Minigolf Federation. According to the WMF, 36,000 registered players worldwide are waging war amongst the shrunken windmills of the planet’s most glamorous destinations: Antwerp, Birmingham, Margate. It may be more Premier Inn than Premier League, but competitive minigolf’s booming.

Brad’s social life isn’t. Since 2004, he’s given his all to the game, competing in up to 20 tournaments a year. He’s brought his own putter and a bulging man-bag of specialist balls for our knockabout. “I haven’t got as many as some people,” he sighs wistfully. “In Europe, you have people whose job it is purely to maintain the balls, check their temperature…” Brad trails off longingly. I concentrate on keeping a straight face.

Europe’s a sore point for British minigolfers. Regularly walloped by their continental cousins, Team GB sit 18th in a 29-nation league. “Let’s put it this way – we’re not ranked amongst the elite,” admits Jon Angel, a former squad member. “I’m being diplomatic. We’re certainly not. But we’re definitely  improving,” he posits hopefully. “We can get to mid-table within the next 4-8 years; I think that’s realistic.” Minigolf’s clearly a long-haul love affair.

It’s a deadly serious one for the pros. Brad’s playing a complete novice, but he’s going for gold in our game. Every green is analysed for bumps – the minigolfer’s Moriarty – in reverent silence, for minutes on end. ‘Mustn’t get beaten by a girl!’, he murmurs. He’s only half joking. Does good ol’fashioned rivalry keep British minigolfers going when glory’s in short supply?

At first Brad’s quite the golfing gent, squiring me around Dragon Quest with advice aplenty. Until I win a hole by sinking my ball (calm down, dear) in fewer shots than he manages. Suddenly, things get serious.  Gone are the cheery hints; we’re locked in silent, soggy combat. In a damascene flash, I get minigolf’s appeal: anyone can play, so anyone can win. It’s catnip for the competitive.

Fuelling my burgeoning win-lust, Brad says I could make a top 3 UK “lady player”. How many women play the circuit? “Most of the time, two.” Brad giveth, and Brad taketh away.

But by hole 13, the rain’s shedding down in slants and we call it quits for fear of being vertically waterboarded. (Brad doesn’t even have a hood. He’s a mini-golfing alpha male.) As we say goodbye, I ask why he’s stuck with mini-golf. It took him two hours to get here. You could fly to Denmark in less. “For the love of it,” Brad says simply, staring at a fibreglass dragon atop a neon waterfall.

Mini-golf’s not just eccentric; it’s really rather charming.

Pakistan’s Muslim Shias hunted down

Introduction to JournalismBy Sadia Humayun

Picture this. As you make your way to work, you are suddenly hauled off the bus, asked to identify yourself by name and the sect you belong to and then without warning, gunned down; or that you are targeted by unknown assailants on a motorbike whilst in your car on a main street, in your office, shop, place of worship or religious procession/pilgrimage. There is no safe place left apart from the inner sanctum of your home. Or so you thought until your home becomes the target of a bomb attack leaving countless dead and hundreds homeless. Why? You happen to belong to the minority sect of Muslim Shia.

Or imagine your little community in a small part of a city suddenly gets raided by a crazed mob that burn down over hundred homes while the police stand by and you are forced to flee for your life leaving in your wake your destroyed house and your entire possessions. Reason? You are part of the down-trodden Christian community where one of your neighbour, already in police custody, has been accused of blasphemy.

Many more of such horrifying stories can be recounted. Their common denominator being that those targeted belong to the different religious minorities in Pakistan and these minorities are becoming increasingly marginalised in their own country.

Both of the scenarios, the second one being on a recent mob attack on Christians in Lahore, are a reminder of how unsafe Pakistan has become for religious minorities. This attack follows a rising tide of targeting on Pakistan’s Shia Muslims.

The media sometimes misinterprets the Shia killings as the product of sectarian conflict. However, in reality, these brutal attacks reflect the Islamists’agenda to purify Pakistan making it a bastion of a narrow version of Islam for the Sunni Muslim. A drive which began as early as the 1940s, picking up momentum in the 1990s, has now taken shape in full blown version of transforming Pakistan into a land of religious purification

The Shias in Pakistan account for roughly 20-25% of the Muslim population. The non-Muslim minorities such as Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, have been target-killed, kidnapped, converted under duress and had their places of worships bombed and vandalised with alarming regularity. At the time of partition in 1947, Pakistan had a healthy 23% of its population comprise non-Muslim citizens. Today, the proportion of non-Muslims has declined to approximately 3%. The distinctions among Muslim denominations have also become far more pronounced over the years as is evident by the persecution of Ahmadiyyas and Shias.

Once, Pakistan as a whole, and the now beleaguered and neurotic city of Karachi in particular, enjoyed a population with a cosmopolitan complexion where people of all faiths intermingled both at work and at home.

In fact, the founder of Pakistan, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, who was himself a Shia Muslim, named a member of the now embattled Ahmadiyya sect, Sir Zafarullah Khan, as Pakistan’s first foreign minister. As originally conceived, Pakistan did not discriminate among various Muslim denominations and non-Muslim minorities too were assured of equal rights as citizens.

No child would question another at school about their religious denomination as nothing was thought of at that time. In today’s Pakistan, even young children are mindful of their own and their peers’ religious and ethnic background. Little wonder as the strong negativity for all minorities is now firmly institutionalised as the school curriculum teaches hatred when it should be celebrating diversity.

Over the years, Pakistan’s constitution has been amended to designate the Ahmadiyya as non-Muslims and the influence of the Salafi ideology from Saudi Arabia, has been undertaken by Deobandi groups against the Shias. A terrorist offshoot of the Deobandi movement has been escalating atrocities against Shias in an effort to either drive them out of the country or to force them to accept a lowered status in an Islamised Pakistan. No one is spared as their targets have included men, women and children.

The targeting of Shia doctors and other professionals in Karachi has also been an attempt to make the middle-class Shia flee abroad to leave only the poor and voiceless of their community behind.  In fact, Shias are being hunted down from city to city and amidst the paralysing fear and cowardice there is a deafening sense of silence.

Whilst on his recent visit to London, I asked Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a renowned Pakistani peace activist and an academician, to give his thoughts on the mute reaction of the society at large. He found the “studious silence of the Shia massacre by the Sunni majority” disquieting. “Describing the killing as sectarian is outrageous because a conflict assumes two warring sides. But in fact here there is just one side – the Shias – which is being massacred.”

“For now the Shias are feeling the brunt along with the Ahamadiyyas, but tomorrow it will be one Sunni faction butchering another,” warned Dr. Hoodbhoy.

The fear of a reprisal is always looming large. Unlike the disillusioned Hazaras, who have now started taking up arms to protect their neighbourhoods in Quetta, the Shia community in Karachi remains committed to peace and reconciliation. But with no end in sight to the killing fields, one wonders how much more it would take before they too revolt. The same could be said about the dignified silence of the targeted and vilified Christian and Hindu community.

“United we Stand, Divided we Fall’’ were words said by Mr. Jinnah for the country he founded with high hopes and aspirations. They have never seemed more tragically relevant as they do now.

The war on hunger

Journalism course London

This article by Lucy Mizen, left, won the Guardian International Development Journalism Competition 2012. Shortly after her Introduction to Journalism course she reported from Burkina Faso on the fight against child malnutrition.


“Our grain’s nearly finished,” Lamoussa Ouédraogo whispers, a pale shirt hanging off her thin body. “We have enough food left for three meals. After that, I don’t know what we’ll do.”

It is early morning at the health centre in Noaka, near the city of Kaya, Burkina Faso, but already the sun is hot. Standing in the shade of a tree, rich with green leaves, Ouédraogo cradles her newborn baby in her arms. This is child number four, a beautiful little girl called Claire.

The baby begins to cry and Ouédraogo moves her top. Claire begins to drink, but pulls away, crying with frustration. Carefully Ouédraogo tries to tease more milk from her breast – she looks up, her eyes filled with despair. Her baby is hungry, but she is struggling to provide. “My milk’s not sufficient and I wonder when this food is finished what I will do?” she says.

With four children, plus grandparents, Ouédraogo and her husband have a family of 10 to feed. The lack of rain in 2011 means their farm – a couple of fields – produced only enough harvest to last until Christmas. With no other income, the family had to beg for food from neighbours and relatives throughout her pregnancy.

Studies show that the 1,000-day window between pregnancy and a child’s second birthday is critical. Nutritious food and sufficient calories pre- and post-pregnancy are essential – chronic malnutrition in the first two years of a child’s life causes irreversible effects.

Dr Rajiv Shah, administrator of the US Agency for International Development, explains why: “Good nutrition is crucial to developing a child’s cognitive capacity and physical growth. A well-nourished child will perform better in school, more effectively fight off disease and even earn more as an adult.”

Exclusive breastfeeding is one of the most significant factors in ensuring a child receives the best start to life. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends infants start breastfeeding within one hour of life and are exclusively breastfed for six months. Then, they can start with gradual introduction of safely prepared complementary foods, while continuing breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.

Biochemist and nutritionist, Dr Marcel Bengaly is funded by Unicef to lead research on breastfeeding practices across Burkina Faso: “Studies show that children who do not receive exclusive breast milk in the developing world are seven times more likely to die from diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia,” he says.

According to the WHO and Unicef report, Countdown to 2015, in Burkina Faso in 2009 just 16% of infants under six months were exclusively breastfed. This low number is a consequence of lack of education and belief in traditional practices.

“The first milk, colostrum, the most important for nutrition, is seen as bad milk and so is not given to the newborn,” Bengaly explains.

Another myth Bengaly’s team try to dispel is that a baby cannot last six months without drinking water. As a result, infants are given unclean water – damaging their young bodies.

Organisations such as WHO and Unicef are working to combat these myths and provide education for young mothers to ensure practices change. However, Bengaly believes a possible solution lies with the children’s grandmothers.

“Grandmothers are considered holders of traditional knowledge in the care and feeding of the baby,” says Bengaly, “So by communicating to grandmothers we have seen great success and behaviour change of up to 50% in some communities.”

Education about breastfeeding is essential, yet damage can begin while the mother is still pregnant. Insufficient food during the critical 1,000-day window results in both the mother and baby not receiving the nutrients they need.

Across Burkina Faso, the poor harvest of 2011 has wreaked havoc, with around two million people affected and food prices soaring. Many families grow only enough to feed themselves and once that’s gone finding the money to buy food is impossible. Millet, flour and groundnuts, together with leaves from the baobab tree can provide a highly nutritious meal at a cost of 20 pence per child. However, for many families this is just not possible.

“Last year we used to sell rice and sorghum for 150 West African CFA francs (about 20p) per kilogram,” explains Guiala Agui, who sells at small markets throughout Kaya district. “But this year it is 450 CFA francs per kilogram. So it makes a very big problem in the community.”

The harsh reality is that this leaves hundreds of thousands of children at risk from severe malnutrition. Rarely appearing on death certificates, this slow, debilitating illness has been nicknamed the “hidden killer” as it is often the underlying cause of more obvious illnesses such as diarrhoea.

Ending this cycle of hunger requires long-term solutions – helping local governments and communities to establish coping mechanisms. One approach is to offer education about market gardening techniques. As climate change continues to affect rainfall, diversifying their range of crops gives farmers with better opportunities.

Linked implicitly with food security is the need for more health workers across Burkina Faso – improving knowledge and changing perceptions of how young children should be fed.

Save the Children is tackling malnutrition as part of its global newborn and child survival campaign. Nutritionist Aminata Kiemde has been working for Save the Children in Burkina Faso for the last four years. In 2008, Kiemde helped set up 52 community health centres across the district of Kaya.

Run by trained, government-funded health workers, the health centres play an essential role. Every week, hundreds of mothers visit their local centre to have their child monitored for signs of malnutrition. If a child appears to be severely malnourished, they are sent to the stabilisation clinic at Kaya’s regional hospital. Kiemde says all children under the age of five now receive free treatment.

The staff at the centres run training sessions on the importance of breastfeeding, family planning and simple, yet effective, ways to add basic vitamins and minerals to a diet.

Lack of financial support

Save the Children is encouraging the government to provide more health workers and to make healthcare free for children under five across the whole of the country. However, with the food crisis and economic difficulties, the government is unable to provide financial support for this.

While aid agencies and the government continue to tackle the root causes of the problem, Lamoussa Ouédraogo knows the road to recovery from last year’s drought is going to be hard. In the past, the youngest and most vulnerable members of the family would have been the victims, but with free accessible healthca

A hamper full of festive cheer

Creating your own Christmas hamper is much cheaper than buying a ready made one, and a lot more fun too, writes Sabrina Grant

We are barely into November and they’ve already started playing Christmas music in the shops.  The very unavoidable scream of Noddy Holders’ ‘Its Christmaaas…” puts us into panic that December 25th is nearing and it’s time to start thinking about presents.

This year you’ve been invited to your partners’ family home for Christmas dinner. You don’t want to go empty handed but you’re worried about going into the New Year broke as you’ve already totaled up how much money you’ll be spending buying gifts for your parents, brother and sisters, nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles and even the next door neighbor’s cat.

So what can you take round without breaking the bank?  Why not try a homemade festive hamper!

“A store-bought Christmas hamper always seems like a bit of a clichéd gift (not to mention a pricey one). Compiling your own is a much cheaper alternative and will really show your loved ones that you’ve put time and effort into their present.”  Says TV’s homemaker and crafts queen Kirstie Allsopp.

Set yourself a limit and don’t go over it. You can fill it with whatever you like depending on your budget; just remember to include those festive essentials like Christmas pudding, short bread and mulled wine and you’re off to a good start.

Set out early if you’ve got a few shops to go to, that way you can avoid the mad rush of stressful shoppers and the long queues at the till. There are always plenty of deals on around this time of year. Most supermarkets will have great wines and spirits on offer. You don’t just have to fill your hamper with food, you could add scented candles, Christmas crackers or even festive socks.

You may find that the most expensive thing to buy when making hampers is the basket; this needn’t be the case if you think outside the box. Check out your local charity shops, 99p stores or even pop down to your local hardware store and buy a wicker bin, magazine rack, alternately if you really want to save money you could just use and old shoe box which you can cover in wrapping paper.

Hampers really can be the perfect gift for all ages and tastes buds. Earn yourself some extra brownie points this year and save yourself the stress, time and money involved in trawling the shops looking for gift inspiration. Your personalised hamper will tick all the boxes and if you’re lucky you might even get to help the recipients eat some of its contents.

The violent and bloody origins of your smartphone

By Stephanie Bossett 

Metals used in the manufacturing of electronic devices could indirectly fund bloody wars in the central Africa

The everyday portable electronic device has evolved at a fierce pace over the last 20 years. These products have become increasingly powerful and steadily more space-efficient – cramming more technology into limited volume, thus creating an increasingly versatile gadget. In order to achieve this, powerful components called tantalum capacitors are used in the making of circuit boards, which devices like mobile phones are made of. These small capacitors are made of tantalum, an element which is a derivative of the metallic ore coltan.

Central African nations are responsible for around 44% of the global mined tantalum production. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo alone there are 13 coltan and cassiterite (another mineral used in the production of electronics) mines, 12 of which are fiercely controlled by armed militias. These viciously violent groups use the financial gain from the mining of these resources to fund their brutal stronghold of large areas of Congo.

For the last 20 years, Congolese militias been responsible for the systematic rape, mutilation and murder of 50,000 Congolese men, women and children in a bid to oppress the local population and maintain strategic dominance in a theatre of ethnic war. They are notorious for forcefully recruiting children as young as 11 into the army (the boys fight, the girls are used as ‘sex slaves’). It is thought there are around 30,000 child soldiers in Congo alone.

Part of the reason the militias have gained control of this natural resource is the Congolese government’s prohibitive fee of $500 for mining licences, resulting in a reality where a staggering 90% of the mining carried out in Congo is illegal and unregulated.

Neighbouring Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda operate legal cassiterite mines, however once the mineral ore arrives in South East Asia to be refined to metal, its source becomes untraceable. Consequently, there is a frighteningly high possibility that companies like Alcatel, for instance, purchase conflict coltan and cassiterite for the manufacture of their products.

Slowly, the electronics giants are waking up to the brutality of this situation and are taking small steps to check the origins of the sourced metals. The stricter the companies become, the more the mining situation in Congo will have to improve and be regulated. This, it is hoped, will lead to a decreased control by the militias, who would relinquish authority of these mines due to diminished financial gain.

The modern purchaser of a smart phone is willing to pay up to £500 for a gadget which is indirectly contributing to unspeakable violence in Africa. Since all mobile phones are created with coltan and cassiterite derivatives, the consumer is left with little choice: blindly purchase a gadget without sparing a thought as to how it was built, boycott these products or pester the likes of Apple, Samsung and Nokia until they implement a strict tracing system. Whatever you choose, this devastation should not be allowed to persist unchallenged the way it has been for the last couple of decades.


Oliver Hall

The current revival of the alternative scene is being spearheaded by Peace, who have recently released their debut EP ‘Delicious’. The band is growing in notoriety, so hopefully you’ll be familiar with them. Especially if you live in Birmingham, they’re the band behind “What the Fuck Birmingham” billboard. If not, don’t worry, you’ll know them pretty soon.

Having been hailed by NME as one of the bands to look out for in 2013, the boys are growing in recognition.  Releasing just a few demos was enough to gift the band a mini tour and a support slot with current Indie favourites Mystery Jets. During this whirlwind UK jaunt the band grew by word of mouth which was enough to allow Columbia Records to whip out the ink for their very first record deal.

Following the tropical funk of early demo ‘Bblood’, the band surprised everyone by releasing a one-two punch of singles; ‘Follow Baby’ and ‘California Daze’. Through these releases it was clear to see that Peace was not a band to be pigeonholed.

‘Follow Baby’ channels Nirvana and all the other plaid bands from the 90’s grunge era, whereas ‘California Daze’ caused the band to be thrown in with the likes of Oasis and Queen. ‘California Daze’ is nothing short of an anthem. Will Rees, of Mystery Jets fame, describes the song as “a stone cold classic”. Guitarist Doug Castle in an interview with ‘Brumnotes’ likens their sound to that of Glasgow legends Primal Scream “I think our songs are quite similar [to Primal Scream]…you can definitely hear the acid-house influence with them.”

The band are currently about to embark on their headline tour in support of their recent EP release ‘Delicious’, a four track introduction to whet the appetite ahead of their debut LP expected sometime in the new year. Featuring ‘California Daze’ as well as reworking of ‘Bblood’ (now renamed ‘Bloodshake’), a cover and a new song, the Birmingham lads spill some oil into the milk and create something new entirely. The new ‘Ocean’s Eye’ a short bass driven number, which sticks to the Peace formula of rousing choruses. The EP closer ‘1998’, a reworking of Binary Finary’s trance anthem, shows just how important this new band has become to the alternative scene. They don’t do Indie-by-numbers; they ignore the trend and cover 10 minute trance tracks. Normally we would shudder at the thought but with Peace, you can’t help but be excited.

Nevertheless, it’s clear to say that this is a band for fans of interesting guitar music and modern Indie bands such as Foals or The Maccabees. Their shimmery guitar licks and danceable drum beats are sure to make them not only a future festival favourite but also dance floor filler.